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Misunderstanding the Misunderstood (A Post-NADA Perspective)

Too often, we mix messages. We misconstrue. We miscount. And most often, decisions based off those actions lead to more of the same. There is a lot of “data” out there: actionable, validated, accurate data, and damaging, paralyzing, inaccurate “data”.

 

Last year IM@CS was fortunate to be involved with a Mercedes-Benz project around lead management and one of the talking points (not from us or our partners) showed the average customer in 2013 submitted a lead to 1.3 dealers. Not only has this been invalidated by at least a half-dozen companies, in speaking with the dealers themselves, the empirical data disputed that. The data. “Data” brought in by (maybe) well-intentioned parties however far from accurate, very far for allowing a proper action plan and light years from having the dealers make sense of it.

 

Too often, the OEMs, and admittedly dealers, are lit up by flashy bids, mesmerizing proposals and the all-too-famous “we also have contracts with Competitor A and Competitor B” line or the notorious “we built the space/were first to launch this” verbal flatulence.

 

Another case in point: Last year General Motors rolled out an initiative for BDC build-out for it’s nearly 4,000 franchises. Good intentions, a little late on the “action bandwagon” (we spoke with GM about his in 2008 and 2009) aimed at mitigating the massive amount of lost sales due to lackluster lead response and follow up (read: all OEMs fall in to this bracket and have subsequently gone at solutions the wrong way). Enter two vendors for those dealers. Yes, two. Two vendors for build out and support of thousands of dealers’ BDCs. Then, the co-op curse, leading most dealers, due to “cost”, to not hire companies that can scale better, are more experienced (in real life, not on paper).

 

It’s time to stop misunderstanding the misunderstood! Who are the misunderstood? The agile, more up-to-date, active, often smaller guys and gals who prove themselves daily, weekly and monthly.  The misunderstood are the companies with great services, not great advertising and magazine cover shots. The misunderstood are the ones who deliver faithfully without contracts or gouging (why would a dealer ever sign a contract for services that must be measured?).

 

There is a prominent Internet/Marketing Director from the Midwest who, a couple months ago, posted on their Facebook page that their group was firing their existing trainer, and looking for a more progressive company that didn’t have an OEM contract. Why? Why? Why? Simply put, the services provided, as do most of the OEMs and the companies they endorse, couldn’t deliver for today’s market regardless of that company’s data!

 

The misunderstood are so titled due to the lack of willingness of dealers to get way from comfortable and, simply put, sell and service more cars. Its not your word tracks, it’s not your phone call scoring. It’s not your trainer that has to repeat him/herself each and every month and bring in nearly-duplicate reports. IF you don’t understand how something works, stops paying for someone to do it. Understand it.. Even if you find a partner to leverage, you’d better understand it.

 

The industry, by and large, still can’t respond to a lead effectively, completely and with a reason to buy in under a day.  We’re starting the 21st year of the Automotive Internet. You don’t need to know ode, you absolutely must understand why having a responsive website is a must. You don’t need to know how Facebook changes their algorithms, you absolutely must understand targeting das and dark posts. You don’t need to how Google leverages directories and local citations to leverage local search, you absolutely must understand how and where to update your information, links and phone numbers.

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

 

What’s Not Coming In 2014: The Anti-Prediction

2013 brought us so much change that we thought it would be best to provide you with a non-prediction, non-forecast, non-reflective perspective…just to throw you off (and get a few more reads). Cut to the chase right now? Naw…let's tease you a bit:

So we still live in a world hell-bent on immediate gratification. The perfect report. Flawless analytics. Immediate results. Impeccable product. Amazing customer service. And all for less than last year. Or last week…and our clients' clients want that, too.

Our challenges remain the same as they were over 13 years ago when the Auto Industry beckoned to me, selling cars to customers "over the Internet". Customers want a seamless, enjoyable experience that allows them to receive value, benefit and satisfaction. From consideration to contact to confirmation to courting to contract. We seem to fail at the essential points: reaching then, setting appointments and storing/sorting data.

Better websites and SEO and SEM and social media and reputation management, better products and marketing and incentives all show the glaring deficiencies we have as an industry when it still takes about 24 hours to get back to a "lead", make actual contact less than 40% of the time and sell under 10% (really under 8%) of them…

So our prediction is nothing will change; nothing more than a tick on the needle of progress. Oh sure, more dealers will do a "better job", their OEM and vendor suits will tell them so. Yes, for the most part the pie will shift its slices however it won't grow like it should.

More consolidation of vendors will happen. Manufacturers will continue roll out and/or mandate mediocre programs while not selling more cars or knowing how to actually measure a thing. Some of 2013's stars will fade while others will receive the spotlight. "Of course, that's the cyclical ways of commerce" you say…we say bull hooey.

2014 is the 20th year of the Automotive Internet, however over half of the market is still waking up to their year one. This is not meant to piss on anyone's parade, however it is a wake up call to the still-asleep-at-the-wheel. Those clinging to their manipulated audits while flying the flappy arm blow up man or building-sized animal, swearing that 3,000 people came in with their direct mail piece…

You can buy the new adaptive thingy. Roll out the chat-to-dance app. Boost your presence with the social-speed transmission. Serve mobile burritos to your clients. Then wrap it all up with some pay-per-view ultimate fighting service sauce. Or not change a thing and sell and maintain just about what you did in 2013. Why go through a business existence like this?

We need real education and investment. Not "training" and "cost". Curiosity killed the cat. And fear is the lengthened shadow of ignorance. So what will you do to support success before the next snake oil rep comes in with the "must have" toy or NADA party pass if you sign up?

2014 will not change a thing. Your customers will, if you allow them. Your OEM will not change a thing. Your service manager will, if you allow them. Your inventory will not change a thing. Your new actions will, if you allow them.

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Note: we've been quiet for a long, long time here on our blog. The "experiment" is done and we'll be more active again. So if you'd like to see a subject covered, let us know here, on Twitter, Facebook or by contacting us directly (310) 377-6481 or info at imacsweb.com.

A lot is in store for IM@CS in 2014 and we'd love to have you along for the ride. Not making it to NADA? Set up an assessment meeting with Gary, JD or Evelyn (for our Canadian friends), we are honoring 2013 pricing until January 15…

Thank you for reading (and participating on) our blog as we start year six of doing so for the Automotive Industry's superstars: the dealers.

Week At IM@CS: Chats With The Industry

It's been a while, maybe to long! Considering what is happening in the market, it's time to get back on track with the folks that power the industry (yes, besides consultants!). This is another mix of providers touching different aspects of marketing and services that hopefully give you a leg up (if not a whole body length or two).

You've heard it here before and you'll likely continue to hear it: accountability. I've not yet met a vendor that tells you everything. Even the most up front company will tell you that they can/do something and then shuffle (some like mad) to get it done, even if they know how to do it. Not only do I expect this, the challenge of new things for clients makes some companies tick, while many just hide.

More than ever, dealerships want the services they pay for to get the
customer in so their sales staff can "close 'em". Just leaves you to
guess that many salespeople still believe that they shouldn't have to work for the close.

Mobile Web: Face it, you have to do it, it's absolutely here (if not passing the auto industry like a freight train), consumers want it and technology is changing faster than prices for NBA Finals tickets right now.

Advanced Mobile Solutions has a great platform they're rolling out for automotive. They know mobile, understand that life-on-the-go will extend beyond iPhones and Android Phones very soon, have the backbone to support it and want to push the ball forward. Many of the platforms I've seen for dealership inventory are lacking. This company has some great promise…oh, yes they can also do your mobile/text marketing so you can have one vendor doing both correctly http://www.advancedmobile.us

Widgets: Plenty of people still question the staying power and how steadfast of a marketing tool having some real estate of a consumer's desktop is, let alone if they'd download it. Outside of iGoogle and the 'techie' folks, many believe that this market is absolutely huge.

Already featured last December in a "Week At IM@CS", DealerBug needs to be checked out seriously (yes, by you!). This versatile tool allows great presence, branding, analytics and adaptability. It's not a question of when you need it, only how will you use it. They're delivering customized widgets for everything from pre-order vehicles (like Camaro), to car clubs (Mustang, Corvette, IS-F, EVO, etc) and developing inventory-based communication. Relevancy and timeliness has a new home on your customer's screen http://www.dealerbug.com

Live chat has developed into a tightly debated sector of consumer engagement on dealership website (and now even on videos and ads playing on non-dealership properties like YouTube). No matter what, dealerships that do it right…get the results.

ActivEngage happens to be where IM@CS believes the market is right now for car dealership live chat (ie real-time car sales folks). Every time there seems to be a wrinkle in the 'get-em-on-the-website' process, this company appears to have the iron for the job. I've been impressed this year in watching the value that they continue to provide http://www.activengage.com

Hopefully we'll keep this section of the blog a little more alive. Please give some feedback on any companies that you believe should be featured or if your experience with any ones that are featured has been less than desired (in all fairness).

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Week At IM@CS: Chats With The Industry

We typically address vendors here for best practices and today will be a little different. When trying to tackle social media, especially as a support for specific marketing online, it is important to be equipped. Some of the most frequent questions heard relate to getting started and how to be effective.

1. Where?
    Twitter, Facebook, Plaxo, LinkedIn, CarFolks, Google, Yelp, DealerRater, MyDealerReport for starters

2. Why?
    People go there, trust them, read them, listen to them more than they do with you, period.

3. How?
    Register, watch others, prepare and create a plan. Don't just set up a Facebook page and leave it. Support it with content, staff and purpose. There are now tools to measure your impact, for example on Twitter:
http://www.webanalyticsdemystified.com/twitter
http://twitter.grader.com/

4. When?
    Now, or as soon as you decide that your brand awareness and people connecting with you are important.

5. Remember
    Nothing, not even the best process, is a silver bullet. If you're planning on inviting more people to come to you, give them a reason. Not a price, not a car, not a showroom, not espresso. Give them a reason that the rest of the 'things' absolutely support.

Nothing can build or kill your business like reputation. What are you doing to ensure that the good outweighs the bad, no matter how accurate? Almost every resource listed above is free, but worth money. You've been spending $3,000-$50,000 per month to get one, two, three customers at a time (at a ridiculously low ROI). Why not spend $0-$3,000 a month using those tools to make sure every customer has a reason to use you, can find you, can read what others say about you and stay connected with you, something they never did with your $20,000 ad that used to run every Saturday.

Stay in front, it's more important than ever today. Stay relevant, your future depends on it. Stay tuned, that way your customers can.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Week At IM@CS: Chats With The Industry

Information: Admit it, even when you're 'on top' of your DMS, know your monthly P/L and even memorize 2,000 customers' names…you still struggle. We live and die by information. When do you act on it? How do you act on it? Is it
relevant? How is it stored? Do you use it to learn? Do you seek it with the determination of an honors student with a 4.3GPA or the person who slides to the back of the classroom? Doesn't matter: your world is ruled by it. Here are some ideas
about what you can do with your information and some great places for more:

Visible Customer:
Have an ILM? Pay for a CRM? If it's not strong enough or your staff can't use it effectively, it's no better than MICKEY MOUSE. Still need to build one-to-one relationships
with your customers? Sean Stapleton and the team at Visible seem to
understand what dealers need to a degree that very few vendors do today
from an execution perspective. The product line is inline with today's needs and their background happens to be solid enough to rest an entire football team on (in case you were wondering). http://www.visiblecustomer.com

Dealer Refresh: A few weeks ago a couple newer automotive "community" sites were mentioned that IM@CS reads and participates in. When it comes to industry blogs (including this one) there is a recognized leader through the observations and words of Jeff Kershner at http://www.dealerrefresh.com Check it out if it's been a while or if you've never laid your eyes on the content from one of Mile One's and the industry's finest.

Arkona: Every once in a while, one of our clients completes their 218-year contract with their existing DMS supplier. Having been around and watching Richard Holland's company for the past four plus years (and acknowledging DealerTrack's great acquisition as well), Arkona seems to do that little bit more, a little bit faster, a little bit easier for a little bit less with a little more focus on you (yes, that's being a little nice to the 'other' guys). Check out their product: http://www.arkona.com

Survey Monkey: "I can't trust my staff to get the data", "No customer is going answer my questions, they don't even answer our surveys" and "it's not my job to follow up with the customer, our CSR does that" are just a few excuses heard typically in the halls, showrooms and back offices of dealerships daily. There is a free way to get your client opinions and comments with a little bit of set up work. If you need to ask more than 10 questions, you'll pay a little but it's worth every penny. What you do with the data is up to you, but get it! http://www.surveymonkey.com

There are many more ways to accrue, store, work with and ultimately monetize your data, but hopefully the above serve as one to a few more than you had before. We'll try to keep these updates weekly and ultimately have an area where you can get in touch with the vendors.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Week At IM@CS: Chats With The Industry

There are some great companies out there and this section of our blog is intended to both look at best practices and provide a more level playing field for those that don't have the marketing dollars or field representation. Sometimes, it's just that the vendor is newer to the space and should get a helping hand.

Both of the companies listed here are neither new or very small, but they do have those qualities. Both are headed by experienced leaders and provide a great service.

1Micro: Integration means different things to different people. Doing a great job with prospects before, during and after their dealership experience requires skill, knowledge and a solid level of integration. 1Micro provides an impressive system at any level, including key systems and CRM. Back at the Digital Dealer conference in April '08 I had the chance to get a thorough introduction by Kris Terp and I've been impressed since. Check them out at http://www.1micro.com

Jazel: Websites are websites until they have strong SEO, are dynamic and allow dealers with different skill levels to admin them. So Steve Hastert and his team at Jazel provide more than just a website, which is what more and more dealers need today. They also have an ad agency background so they know how to drive traffic, create eye-candy and also keep things simple if you prefer that. Oh, they do lead management as well, so you may even be able to simplify things if you like http://www.jazelauto.com

We'll try to keep these updates weekly and ultimately have an area where you can get in touch with the vendors.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Week At IM@CS: Chats With The Industry

With the year coming to a close, it was time for a bigger perspective break from our traditional focus on smaller companies. This is a look back a the bigger conduits that may not always have had the spotlight, considering the focus on the OEMs, economy and other reasons. IM@CS would like to give credit to the following:

HomeNet: If Jesse Biter and the team at HomeNet don't continue to impress, you're not looking. With everything else they're doing to make inventory 'that much better', they added their IOL community to the list of accomplishments. Then they polished off the year by getting Neal Gann on board…great work Jesse and the folks at HomeNet! http://www.homenetinc.com

DealerSocket: We continue to be impressed by their product, innovation and support. The industry is focussed on CRM now, but there has to be more than strong intent to help dealers succeed or put out a great campaign to solicit signups. Some of the smallest and largest dealers in the country rely on Jonathan Ord's company daily and they seem to be sold on the whole package and not an image, great stuff! http://www.dealersocket.com

Automotive Digest: Outside of the fact that their content has been finding its way into the inbox here for a long time, their content is relevant, compelling, easy to read and timely. Chuck Parker and the team of contributors and editors seem to focus on what dealers need most, especially in the online world. There a number of titles to satisfy nearly everyone on your holiday list!! Dealer Digest Daily is the IM@CS favorite. http://www.automotivedigest.com

We'll try to keep these updates weekly and ultimately have an area where you can get in touch with the vendors.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Week At IM@CS: Chats With The Industry

Little fish in a big pond or big fish in a little pond? If you have process, vendors that back you and a great staff, it doesn't matter. In the event that you're looking for some smaller companies that 'fit the bill', you may want to check these out:

Customer For Life: CRM is not just emails. No, seriously! Get the most out of your database, at least until someone at your dealership actually gets to them. Having worked with Salesforce-based systems in the past, the foundation is rock solid. Put Ivan Feher and the team at CFL on the case at your dealership and you might just see great results, for less than you think. In addition, they seem to be launching something of value about every quarter so they like to keep you on your toes! http://www.customerforlife.com

Undertone Networks: Online media doesn't get a lot of attention compared to SEO and SEM for individual dealers but if you're part of an association, 20 group or own a number of dealerships, you may want to know a lot more about ad networks and starting to interact with your public the way that the big boys do. Not for everyone, but this is one of the areas that is a must going forward considering that you've already dropped all of your conventional marketing (or will this month). Contact Brad Fox, he has a great background in everything online automotive (or any of their regional offices). http://www.undertone.com

Free Press Release: When it comes to all of the activities that dealers want to but don't execute on, one that can help greatly and doesn't take a lot of time is press releases. Free is better (if you don't mind Google ads and other no-in-your-control aspects) but there is a minor charge to get rid of the 'other stuff'. Remember, it's a great SEO tool and gets your events, specials and other news-worthy events in front of the public. http://www.free-press-release.com

DealersCompass: Fixed-Ops seems to be saving at least a few lives for the proverbial cat as of late. Outside of merely cutting costs, dealers need ideas. Brad Bossen at DealersCompass has a couple decades of experience in making service and other facets of fixed operations work better, make more sense and deliver more dollars. He's based in Phoenix but planes, trains and automobiles go everywhere. Call Brad at (480) 234-7877 or visit him at http://www.linkedin.com/pub/dir/brad/bossen or http://adpadm.ning.com/profile/BradBossen

We'll try to keep these updates weekly and ultimately have an area where you can get in touch with the vendors.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Week At IM@CS: Chats With The Industry

What drives the traffic in? We haven't addressed that much so let's look at a few smaller providers in the realm that IM@CS believes provides the service, backs it and provides additional value:

GetAutoAppraise: Barry Brodsky and the crew at GAA have been doing appraisals for quite a while and know what is most important: the lead, not the value of the car. While the other companies focus on their own traffic around appraisals, GetAutoAppraise gets it done for the dealer with a great admin tool to boot. Check them out at http://www.getautoappraise.com

SEO For Dealers: When dealers ask about complex services they don't understand, they request to "keep it simple". In regards to SEO/SEM and the areas around that, Jeremy Hambly at SEO For Dealers knows how to get it done right: http://www.seofordealers.com

DealerBug: What in the world would drive a 'car guy' to build a widget for consumer to add to their desktop from their favorite dealer when most dealers can't even communicate effectively with their leads? Thank goodness for engagement and for Mike Jennings (former Ford and Compete guy) who understands one of the things that will drive people to and back to your store: http://www.dealerbug.com

We'll try to keep these updates weekly and ultimately have an area where you can get in touch with the vendors.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Week At IM@CS: Chats With The Industry

Keeping up with the 'Joneses' in the industry is something that most people want to do, if not beat them. The issues are typically time, resources, knowledge and access. While I've been using many of the online resources for a while, it's not the case for the majority of our industry friends.  Also, there is a reluctance at different levels of the industry due to misunderstanding and ignorance.

Part of what IM@CS brings into clients is eliminating mistakes or the 'what not to do and why' as compared to simply telling people 'do this'. There are a few newer resources that address that in a great way, and they deserve plugs.

First and foremost, it is imperative to stay up-to-date with education from your vendors and use their products fully. Second, leverage the eNewsletters, webinars and events that are free to 'inexpensive' (defined by you or your dealership) run by companies including Automotive News, Cars.com, KBB, Automotive Digest, Ward's, Dealer Magazine and more.

Then you have access to sites that are community based and living on the real-life, day-to-day, cut-your-teeth edge in order to provide value where it's needed most.  Here's two that are prominent players and should be bookmarked:

AutomotiveDigitalMarketing – What can you say that hasn't been said about the prolific Ralph Paglia? Don't waste your time (sorry Ralph), just go to the website and immerse yourself in the groups, discussions, blog posts and more because these are the people (about 1,600) making it happen at retail every day. http://www.automotivedigitalmarketing.com*
*The fact that this post will end up on the site as well is not an additional endorsement and no, we're not being paid!

DrivingSales – Jared Hamilton started this site as a way to stay in touch with people he had taken NADA courses with. Still in beta (and a number of bugs to work out), this is another community that aims to be the knowledge base for folks starting and maintaining their digital presence, including vendor rankings, video interviews and more. http://www.drivingsales.com

Nothing is static about our industry anymore. Your success depends on accumulating an incredible wealth of knowledge, deciding how to move forward and then doing it. Both sites are testimonies that these communities must exist and are of significant value. And if you have an idea, comment and question, go ahead and get it out there. Chances are there's at least one other person that has the same.

Best practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results