Best Practices

Internet Managers Know it All; Their Dealer Principals, Not So Much


Running from Training?

Just as some top athletes train by running, many senior managers in the automotive industry run from training.

Perhaps it’s due to the way most managers came up in the car business; or maybe it’s simply a fear of technology, but it seems that more often than not, Dealers, GMs and other senior managers avoid even the mention of digital marketing or Internet sales process training.

From the free webinars offered by companies like to the informal in-store vendor visits to the full-blown Internet workshops and conferences, it is rare to ever see a General Manager or Dealer Principal in attendance. Are they really too busy to learn what’s happening in the medium that attracts at least 90 percent of their customers?

What makes this phenomenon the most troubling is that the Internet is no longer a “specialty” reserved for the “computer literate” among us. Regardless of age, background, or income; virtually every consumer in the US has a high IQ (Internet Quotient) – this includes the very GMs and Principals who leave the basic understanding about arguably their most important asset – their online persona – to the “techies.”

It’s Not That Difficult

Interestingly, digital marketing and the tools that drive great Internet sales processes really aren’t that difficult to comprehend. This is especially true when you realize that most senior managers in the automotive business can whiz through green screens at mach speed using every sort of nonsensical shortcut and outdated DOS prompt. It’s enough to make an Internet manager’s head spin when they see a parts manager checking inventory, a service manager closing out an RO, or a GSM running reports for his save-a-deal meeting.

Ninety-nine percent of the tools used by Internet managers aren’t half as complicated as those used by other departments in the dealership. Learning to master these new tools, however, is vital for today’s GM – that is, if he/she still intends to be in the car business in five years.

Learn Now or Suffer the Consequences

If today’s desk managers, new car managers, used car managers, GSMs and GMs don’t learn how to manage sales activities using their dealerships’ CRM tools, for example, their Dealer Principals will soon have no use for their services. Likewise, if these same leaders don’t understand the basics of Search Engine Optimization, Search Engine Marketing, Social Media and Reputation Management, they will forever be at the mercy of unscrupulous vendors out to take their money or younger managers out to take their jobs.

That’s the bad news for these managers. The good news is that learning about digital marketing is cumulative: the more you know, the easier it is to learn new concepts. This means that those managers who learn some basic website design strategies today will more easily grasp the concepts of how small changes affect visitor counts and conversion rates later, for example.

From CPM to PPC

Internet marketing concepts, even those in the so-called realm of Web 2.0, are often so intuitive and practical that most older managers who finally learn the basics generally go through the following three phases:

  1. The Huh, that’s it? Phase – This phase occurs when you explain how simply something on the Internet works, like how Google decides which website to rank 1st and which one to rank 10th. GMs will often lean their heads slightly to one side and utter, “Huh, that’s it?”
  2. The Wow, that was easy. Phase – In this phase, the GM learns how simple it is to make a huge impact on their store’s overall sales just by employing some of the rudimentary concepts of digital marketing. You’ll hear them exclaim “Wow, that was easy,” in a moment of great self-satisfaction and triumph.
  3. The Why didn’t you teach me that sooner? Phase – In this phase, the GM realizes that they were foolish for ever being afraid to learn about the Internet, and so he will often blame the messenger for having hid this great and powerful knowledge from him.

Actually, blaming the messenger isn’t too far off from what should happen. While there are certainly plenty of GMs who have had no desire to learn anything about the Web, the fact is that many early Internet managers (and even some today) squirreled away their wealth of knowledge to improve their job security.

It’s now time to share the wealth – senior managers and Dealer Principals who get a taste of Internet skills training aren’t going to want to stop.

This is the case with every dealership I work with, as I find it silly not to include the Dealer Principal, General Manager and any other dealership leader we can find to join in the training. Once they understand how simple the Internet concepts are – and how a pragmatic approach keeps them from overspending or overreacting – they want more.

So Where Should I Start?

Dealership vendors are the most logical place to go for some basic skills training around the tools you’re using. Chances are that in-dealership training might be something you’re already paying for, yet underutilizing. Even if in-person training isn’t included, nearly every vendor will provide regular webinars or an online library of training. Seek out the free stuff first.

Of course, if you don’t know what you’re looking for when you read a Google Analytics report or a Daily Activity Sheet from the Lead Management Tool, simply knowing how to produce these isn’t doing you any good. In cases like this you likely should seek professional help. (Hint: professional help doesn’t always mean costly.)

From online resources like blogs (such as the one you are reading now) and e-newsletters to great conferences like Digital Dealer and even your own 20-Group meetings, you can always find Internet sales experts willing to share their knowledge. Additionally, most of these folks love their opinions so much that you can often engage them for some free advice. Of course, with these methods you don’t get the whole picture all at once, so you have to be diligent about seeking out the next expert or topic.

If you’re in need of something more in-depth and complete, NCM (the company that started the 20 Group concept) is rolling out the most robust eCommerce Management training ever offered. It’s a two-session, full week comprehensive immersion into the Internet. Coursework includes everything from developing a proven Internet sales process to leveraging social media to drive more sales. The curriculum is intense, but promises to be delivered is a way that even the uninitiated will easily grasp.

The NCM Institute is offering four separate sessions in 2010, and GMs and Dealer Principals can attend for free (provided they have at least one paid attendee from their dealership). The best part is that you don’t have to be an NCM client to attend. For more information, visit NCM at and click on the Education link.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of the trainers conducting these seminars. Of course, that’s also why I know how valuable these sessions will be to senior leaders in our industry.)

About the Author:
Automotive industry veteran Steve Stauning has served on both the dealer side and vendor side of the business. He is the former director of eCommerce at the Asbury Automotive Group, and he currently heads up both a digital marketing solutions firm Pladoogle and an automotive ecommerce consulting firm Kain-Stauning.

  • M
  • January 16, 2010
The thread title made me chuckle a bit. I'm actually doing some work for another GM in our company and he's pretty clueless. As are his sales managers.
  • D
  • January 16, 2010
I wish the knowledge gap stopped at the GM or principal level, but it permeates the corporate offices of large dealer groups too.
It is not easy to manage a company. It is even more difficult to promote a business especially when there is stiff competition. That is why supervisors or marketing managers need to update their strategies every now and then. This is a very complicated process and the people behind it should be properly trained.
Nice article Steve!

I would like to reiterate the point about not keeping information to one's self. There are certain things I don't want other employees messing with unless they have the proper training (like our SEM campaign, or backside of our website because they'll mess it up), but that doesn't mean they can't tell me what they want the messages to be in those areas.

Educating DP's, GM's, and even sales agents will yield better results and create buy-in.

At the end of the day these guys typically don't want to get their hands dirty in the actual ditch digging, but they sure want to have some input on what that ditch is going to look like and how it is going to make the water flow. If you dig the ditch and get the water flowing, they'll hook the sink up to it so people can drink it. But no one gets the benefits you provide until you teach them how those benefits work.
Funny reading this makes me think of what I go through daily with upper level and junior (deskmen) managers and the lack of motivation to learn, to try to understand, to even realize there has been a major shift in how customers come to us and what they have done when they do actually get to us. Most surveys tell us that the average consumer whether they send us a request or not have probably spent 6 hrs researching the car, the dealership and pricing, the question is when was the last time the average salesperson or manager spent 6 hrs doing any of those things? Most leaders in a dealership are like the dinosaurs looking up in the sky at that comet saying "oh look it must be another sun", later wondering what the hell was that, that just hit the ground and changed the world as we knew it.I am sure 80 to 90 yrs ago there were a couple of managers standing out front of the dealership saying to one another " I hate these phones, I wish they were never invented they have screwed up the car business so bad".I know all of the people on here have and are experiencing the same frustrating things that I am so how do we get this message across to the people who have the power to do something about it? How do we get them to pull their head out of the sand and realize that we have seen the enemy and it is us?
  • J
    Jeff Reardon
  • January 22, 2010
Skip - Send your dealer principal and GM a link to the NCM seminars Steve is writing about.

Of course, if they don't get off their rear ends and learn this stuff soon, they're going to be unemployed and then INTERNET MANAGERS WILL RULE THE WORLD.

Tough choice.
As a GSM it was never my first choice to be an Internet Manager. However I do like to feed my family, so I figured it was make the commitment to myself and my family to learn or find a business that isn't affected by the Web.....should be lots of those left, right?

I'm just glad most in my position choose to hope the WWWeb goes away, sure makes it easier to stand out in a crowd.
I think that Dealer Principles just try to get a scope of what is going on without really digging too deep. They figure since they are paying the internet manager, let them be the expert. Well, if the dealer principle is a fool they are set up for foolish things. They are set up for having an internet manager that can steal and lie about stats. They are set up for failure because they have no control over the situation. In many ways, they don't see the results that really are coming in because they choose not to. This is why there is such huge turnover with internet managers in the end. A lot of great internet managers out there, very few that I know that have lasted at one store for over 1 year.
Sounds Good Steve;

As recently as mid-December I had the fate of joining the ranks of your previous employer. The idea that the Internet is of humongous value for the future of this industry is a direct attack on the senior brass at the group, though.

Think about it. The automotive bureaucracy corporations all are tumbling fast because they are tenured on the basis of living between a glass ceiling and a steel roof. If they were to succumb to the new vision or zeitgeist shift of the industry, it would mean professional suicide in most instances. Who would do this when they have only to hold their spots for another couple or five years and retire with handsome pensions?

If the way is going to be made for the cream to rise to the top, then the milk in the container must all spoil, first.

NCM is fortunate to have pulled together a respectable format for educating on the topic of e-dealering (the future of all dealering in some aspects), but the reluctance of top brass to accept their fates is not soon to change.