Industry Events

A late Review of the 5th Digital Dealer Conference with Gerald Hand

Gerald Hand has written this past waaayyyyy back right after the last Digital Dealer Conference. I was in the middle of transitioning over to the new site and his post fell through the cracks. Gerald, I know we have spoken a many times since then but thank you for your patience. I told you would would get it up for you!

This is Mr. Gerald Hand‘s review of the 5th Digital Dealer Conference.



Well, it’s over. Another successful Digital Dealer Conference, the 5th one, which was held at the beautiful Gaylor Texan in Grapevine, Texas. Attendance was good, and the agenda, as usual, was chock full of talent. If I have one complaint, it is there were too many sessions going on at any given time because it was hard to choose which ones to attend at the risk of missing something critical in another presentation. Oh well, c’est la vie!

I attended sessions within the Internet Sales Track, choosing topics on UGC/SMS and newer technologies as well as some on the fundamentals of the business- how we got to where we are today. Here are some of my observations on what I saw and heard:

The keynote address with Cory Mosely was short and sweet, but alas, the people needing to hear it weren’t there! How so? You know, the people who still think Internet is overrated? It is more of a pain the in the you know what than a valid source of business. I know, I know, some people will never get it, but they would if they pull their heads out of the sand, oh, I digresss.

At any rate, Cory popped them right in the nose, lamenting how they have ignored a key segment of business by addressing the old school style and philosophies. He lauded the early adopters of technology, using the iPhone owners in the audience as an example. Take away message: “Don’t be afraid to be first! Get out there, do it, make it happen!”


#206 Make your SEO, SEM, Web 2.0 VSEO and All online marketing efforts matter! Tim James

Tim did a good job of covering the different venues and how they play together (or not) depending on the situation. Topical, I was again looking for a little more substance, but based on the number of questions asked, the audience definitely received it well and go a lot out of it. Tim’s core was around the Reach, Frequency and Emotion as the 3 keys to an Inet customer.

Reach- getting your presence in front of more customers, getting you more exposure and more leads. The website is a media source, enrich it with video, content, etc. By putting the information there for the customer, you start building trust early on. Ensure OEM info is on your website for continuity and continued growth of trust. Provide virtual test drives, build a car, actual inventory, etc. And BRAND your website- get it out there in front of as many people as you can.

Frequency- get your vehicles up as quickly as possible. How many people search for a specific vehicle in your area? 100/day? 1000/day? It varies by auto, but if your car is not up for 3 days, well, do the math with how many potential customers you just lost on the ONE car!

Emotion- Make them WANT the car. Most people aren’t doing a description which makes customer HAVE to have YOUR car. And make it specific to the buyer. A van buyer is probably not terribly concerned about handling and horsepower any more than a Corvette buyer is concerned about cargo or seating capacity. Nearly everyone has 6-9 standard photos. Go a step further. Take 3, 6, 12, 15 more. Show what is unique about your car, even if it is damaged! Don’t hide anything. Build that trust.

When displaying your vehicles on inventory, make sure there are options (others like it) on the page as well. Notification when one comes in that fits my criteria- email me!

#213 Social Networking and Blogging, Ralph Paglia

After my first two sessions, I was becoming a little concerned whether I would be able to pick up what I was needing- substance. Ralph really delivered the goods! Talking not only about where to go, but how to do it and how to maximize/utilize the various websites to your advantage. He didn’t, but I will recommend his website, for internet automotive professionals. It is setup to link to other popular networking websites and help increase your websites’ organic listings.

Ralph suggested signing up for dealer rater. But what if we get a service weenie complaining about the “bad” service he got here? Not a problem. You call the customer, empathize with them, tell them we really missed you. Ask them to bring it back in and let you help to make it right. When they agree, ask them to reply to the initial complaint the dealer is working with them. Then, when it is resolved, ask them to write it had been rectified to their satisfaction. Talk about loyalty, wow! (This is similar to what the Ritz Carlton would do. They would knowingly have a defect in a room, and have someone at the door shortly after the patron had checked into the room, giving the illusion they were really on top of everything).

Did you know the average Facebook users’ age is 33? Hmmm. Social networking is not just for high schoolers any more. Did you know 60% people making over $270,000/year have their own social network page? Did you know closing ratios from social networking referrals are 2x from OEM websites? So would you rather have 1,000,000 facebook hits, or 100,000 hits on a specific vehicle? I’m all in on the facebook hits!

I could carry on about what he delivered, but there is no point. Suffice it to say he hit it out of the park! Thanks Ralph!

#217 Technology- what is driving the needle? Panel of experts, moderated by Phil Sura

(This segment will be very disjointed because of the format)
One key point made during this session was the treatment of an ISM as a virtual dealership. He makes the advertising decisions, pricing, hires/fires, trains people, etc. They also ensure BDC people are trained JUST LIKE the floor! Why wouldn’t they be? If they are the first line of defense for your store, I (as a customer) would want someone who can speak intelligently about the $25-30,000 car I am considering, wouldn’t you?

Key metrics included conversion rate, appts set/leads, show rate, sales ratio vs. response time (VERY INTERESTING: 9-12% closing ratio under 1 hour response time, dropping dramatically to 3% over 1 hour!)

They also use welcome video, thank you video, service walk video, etc. to better engage the customers.

Microsites were mentioned, and some still believe them to be a real factor in the future of SEO, and one or two still see a lot of value in SEM (I believe it is useful, but only for short-term gains. Organic listings are the best way to go!)

Are you mining your customers? If your store is any age at all, there is a plethora of great trade vehicles in your service department. Start an email campaign with coupons to get them back in, offer a buy-back if you need to. Whatever, just capitalize on that captive market!

What about chatting? Great idea if you have the staff. Staffing seemed to be the problem, and having a surrogate at a vendor fill in for store personnel seemed to do more harm than good.

#225 Keeping it simple- Key metrics for optimal lead marketing Mike Spadafore

Mike touched on the key areas for an ISM to follow to stay on top of your business. He also touched on new technology emerging with lead delivery where leads can be “scored” and given a value of 1-10, with a greater likelihood of the lead buying for a “10” vs. a 6. There are a handful of providers using information exchanges (R.L. Polk is one such provider) to provide ostensibly higher closing percentage leads for, you guessed it, a higher fee. It was troubling the rates were not higher, but perhaps the rates will raise with time (a 10, for example, has a likelihood of 37% of buying).

One thing he did touch on and several others did as well is BRANDING your Internet department. By that I mean is your URL listed EVERYWHERE? On t.v., radio, newspaper ads (and I mean BIG, like the phone number!), or is it noticeably absent? Is it on your loaner cars, in customer waiting areas, on the call holding line, on correspondence? What about on your UGC (user generated content or social networking) websites? Is it everywhere? If it isn’t you may want to rethink your store’s strategy.

Metrics he mentioned were:

  • Close rate (sold/leads)
  • Cost/sale (total g.p./units)
  • Internet share of sales (Inet deals/total store deals)
  • Lost opportunity (deals sold in area – your dealer sales = X lost opps)

This last figure to me is problematic and dubious at best. How can you measure lost opps? Do you know how many of YOUR leads B/E? Can you ACCURATELY determine by pulling car titles or a cross-sell report? I don’t think so, but I may be wrong.

Mike also coined the term of the convention: “Infobesity”. Think about it! Too much info (TMI) is NOT good. It is very appropos!

#234 Marketing through mobile phones Rich Abronson

Rich has his hands on some exciting technology with SMS/text messaging. I had been thinking about how to get text messaging working for me, and how to engage the MTV generation to get them to buy from me. Rich, like Ralph, not only talked about what, but how! He gave numerous examples of uses for the techology like texting service customers when their vehicles were done, setting an appointment, even tracking radio, t.v. and newspaper advertising. Let me repeat that: Tracking advertisement here to now was not trackable! How? Putting a specific call to action (CTA) assigned to each form you want to track (think of it as a who’s calling number for text messaging).

How about putting a text message address on EACH of your used cars?! How about having a virtual lot attendant broadcasting information on your specials, hours, etc while your store is closed? How about true couch potatoes being able to check YOUR inventory while they are on the couch watching your t.v. ad or reading the Sunday paper? How about, well, you ge the idea. The sky is the limit here, and the early adopters will have a HUGE advantage. I frankly was shocked there were only about 60 of us listening to this presentation. Keep you eye on!

#303 understanding and selling to the unique buying motivations of the Internet customer Rob Lange

Rob made a session which I think ordinarly would have been a little redundant for me sit up in my seat and take notice. Not to say I have all the answers (I did at one time, but misplaced a couple), but he dug into the session with a passion and zeal which was truly admirable. He pointed out some great strategies for contacting and following up with customers for enhanced results, and I am looking forward to implementing some of those suggestions as soon as I can. He provided a terrific booklet with some templates and the process he suggests, and he would be happy to get them to the subscribers to DealerRefresh- he loves the site! (Thanks again for the plug in the session, Rob!)


#318 Centralizing Internet Operations in a multi-point organization Erin Touponse

Erin had the dubious honor of being one of the last presenters for what I anticipated a terrific presentation on handling several stores. The challenges of managing the distinct personalities of the different people within your store is challenging at times to say the least. Now try tackling that with the distinct personalities of buyers from different manufacturers (Erin’s people sell Nissan, Infiniti, Subaru and Chevy, about as across the board as you can get!) and they seem to do it well.

With 12 points and 8 locations, geographically, they are spread out. They had tried several different models, but finally realized CENTRALIZED control is where the best solution lay. Now, being an old soldier, I was against centralized control (the Russkies were big on this during the cold war so we trained on how to use that to our advantage), but I must say, she laid out a cogent argument for keeping everything together under one roof. You can imagine there would have to be a lot of information flowing to and from the Internet Department in one location, but imagine the complexities if they had 8 different Internet departments! There would be even greater chaos! Additionally, they are able to save in payroll ($200,000 by her count!) by not having to have as many people as they ordinarily would with all the stores.

They also save on phone lines, command and control, have an integrated message between advertising, the stores and their customers. Accountability is naturally much easier with this model as well. The only tricky part seemed to be when a customer would shop one store against another store, so the managers make sure they put in all info into the CRM to prevent the customers playing each store against itself. (Kind of schizophrenic, playing one store against the other, even though they are under the same roof?)

The most telling success was their first month after consolidation, closing ratio jumped from 7% to 9%! That’s hard to argue with, since that was an additional 32 units based on 1,600 leads/month!

Erin’s reasons for centralization:

  • Uniform online messages
  • Tighter control over communications and personnel
  • Decreased repsonse time
  • Increased employee retention/satisfaction (they are working their leads, not doing balloons, or other distractions)
  • Don’t compete with sister stores
  • Cost/delivery is lower

At any rate, the success Erin has enjoyed is the result of an airtight process, one she and others developed over the years, and continues to inspect to manage her subordinates’ continued success.

About the Arthor: Gerald Hand is the Internet Director for Park Cities Chrysler Jeep Dodge

Founder of DealerRefresh - 20+ Years of dealership Sales, Management, Training, Marketing and Leadership.
Having 3 sessions at once to pick from does make it difficult... but I think they released a lot of them digitally afterwards
It seems like there is a lot missing from Gerald's article... Where's the rest of it?
Sorry for the glitch. The rest of the post is now live.

Another thanks to Gerald.
Thank you for the kind words Gerald and not to worry. I too have learned that we never have all the answers...and just when we think we do there are so many more questions. I'm thankful to have so many people and resources to continually learn from and a chance to spread the message. I've said it before and truly mean it. We're all in this together and it's great to have forums like Digital Dealer and Dealer Refresh to share ideas and learn from each other.
  • G
    Gerald Hand
  • November 25, 2008
You're right about that, Rob. We ARE in this together. The more we can share ideas and sharpen our skills the better we ALL will do. It is written in the good book, "as iron shapes iron, man shapes man".

In other words, we may all be individually strong, but we can always make each other better.