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Feedback: So What Exactly Does IM@CS Do?

This post is a long time in coming, even though not our typical cup of tea. Why? Because we want clients and the industry to understand more (and in some cases, even something) and talk about us. Tooting our own horn is a turnoff, and publishing papers, studies and books with mostly repeated content is deplorable. However, after nine years of “what does IM@CS do?”, it’s likely (beyond) time to make it a little more known…

Interactive Marketing and Consulting Services (a.k.a. IM@CS) was founded in September 2007, when the amount of non-vendor companies/consultants dedicated to digital in the Automotive Industry could be counted on two hands. In other words, if you don’t count website developers, ad agencies and the like, you could hire less than 10 entities to truly grow your digital results independently.

Some of our firsts that lead the industry:

  • Website maintenance (developed into SEO Services) started December 2007 and micro-sites in 2009
  • Social Media services started in December 2007 (we launched the first Audi and second Porsche dealership on Twitter, for example, and many of the first-10 on Facebook dealership accounts)
  • Vendor coordination/accountability yielding fastest-in-class response times (with Gary’s background at eVox, Edmunds and izmoCars, nearly all OEMs, Tier 1 and Tier 2 vendors were on a direct, one-to-one relationship with IM@CS before other digital consultants knew them)
  • First OEM-direct relationship (Toyota/Lexus) secured in January 2008, educating hundreds of Lexus dealerships around the country (replaced incumbent and scored highest dealership satisfaction from the summits over a five-year period)
  • Mystery shopping of dealers in 2007 (started in 2004 while at eVox), then introduced lead scoring (rather than mystery shopping for clients) in 2011 and rolled out to OEM programs
  • First 20 Group presentations in 2009 (Porsche US Pre-Owned Forum and Volkswagen Canada digital) yielded transformational changes for dealerships
  • Advocating, coaching and maintaining online reputaiton management since 2008

Not easily known unless you followed IM@CS in the early days, our work resulted in many industry-leading benchmarks as well as brought other consultants and vendors to the forefront and awareness over the past nine-plus years. Gary May has been a sought-after speaker since opening the J.D. Power & Associates Internet Roundtable at Red Rock Casino Resort in 2008. In addition, Gary has spoken at the first six years of DrivingSales Executive Summits as well as dozens of other conferences, 20 Groups and private vendor events. Eric Trytko and the content team have driven industry-exclusive vehicle editorial and content direct from auto show launches since 2010, something that no other dealer provider has done (most repurpose OEM and publisher releases and articles or use spun -software based- content, a search-engine flag).

IM@CS has created over 350 blog posts and has contributed to top Automotive forums.

Our team (currently a staff of nine) touches all parts of your digital presence:

  • Website maintenance
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
  • Social Media content management and marketing (organic and paid)
  • Reputation Management (tracking and maintenance)
  • Creative assets (banners/graphics, landing pages, email marketing)

We carefully vet all dealer digital processes through hands-on assessment, highlight low-hanging fruit as well as build long-term strategies, weigh competitors plus develop strategies around acquisition and conquest, bring unrivaled education to executive and management-level staff and build unmatched results for salespeople.

Some of our competitive advantages and benefits to business leaders:

  • Out-of-the-box solutions (no cookie-cutter/duplicated approaches including content and lead management/CRM/templates)
    • what works in your store, not others
  • Commission-free vendor recommendations (giving up 5-and 6-figure revenue per year in kick-backs)
  • Best-practice approaches influenced by both automotive industry leaders as well as out-of-the-industry strategy and results
  • Six day per week support 6a-6p PT and beyond
    • Most requests receive 24-hour turnaround

We have been a trusted, non-contracted (month-to-month services since day one) partner for dealerships with an average duration of over two years and we have been hired back or advised by 25% of our clients. Our partnerships with stores develop long-lasting results while keeping executive management up-to-date with all digital aspects. Our R.O.I. is unmatched in over 90% of clients.

When you and your business are ready to stop splitting hairs with me-too vendors and are ready to grow your sales, marketing efficiencies and knowledge in order to build sustainable results, contact us for a review call or an assessment meeting. Yes, it can be this simple to stop receiving only slight benefits while paying vendors for their lifestyles. And understand why, in most cases, your co-op OEM-run programs will never serve you to profit and actually only serve your vendors and manufacturers with piles of data about you and your operations.

 

Here’s to your success in 2017!

The Year 2012 In Review? (What’s An Automotive Industry Nutshell?)

(Warning, 1000 words below!)

OK,
who's got their 2013 game face on? Nobody? Good, let's make things difficult!!!
2012 was one heck of a year: consumer demand is still up and growing for cars
(although demand still outstrips what sold), mobile use is skyrocketing (albeit
not remotely matched by dealers providing strong solutions), digital demand is
still growing at a breakneck pace (while use of traditional media by
dealerships is up), vehicle technology, especially in-car, is amazing and
overwhelming (while we still can't truly get a MPG sticker correct without driving like we're dying) and quality
is better than even with IQS improving (hand-in-hand with more
"media" coverage of massive recalls). Yup, 2012 was quite the year…

So ask
a car dealership what they're doing and about 16,500 answers will flutter
around "more _________ and less ________ while focusing on our key
strengths in _____________". And that, by the way, will be the answer
around January 5-15th because, unlike other industries that revolve around
retail, we seem to be focused on a date non later than January 5 to close the
year. Newsflash: 2012 is done. Make more calls, send more emails, offer more
dealer cash/rebates/incentives/consumer cash/financing discounts and leases and
you're still not going to sell more. Hello?!?! The "Oh, we pulled 10 more
from our competitor" crap doesn't fly. You'll sell what was essentially
already in the hopper and be happy with it.

Over the last twelve months we saw
highs and lows in the automotive industry, mostly driven by International
factors like economy, emerging markets, regulation, partnership and bankruptcy.
As a matter of fact, we are more tied than ever to what happens in Europe and
Asia, even considering how insular as we tend to be. Whether or not we get to
see a new Cadillac in the States depends more on what happens in Germany than
ever while BMW's success likely depends on what happens in South Carolina. 2012
saw the continued demise of storied as well as soft brands everywhere.

In the passing of this last year, it's
important to reflect on how we actually invited people into showrooms while not
making it any more enjoyable (except for the new showrooms which mostly made
the factory happy while getting better looking floor tiles and slightly better
tasting coffee to customers and some of those neat kids' play rooms we desperately needed). We
switched website CMSs, dealership CRMs, DMSs, SMSs and POPs but did satisfaction with
dealerships actually go up as much as 2012 IQS? Jaguar is still tops
(well, 2nd behind Lexus for 2012 models) on the list and they can't seem to
sell the damn cats…

What did 2012 deliver to your business?
If you've not asked your customers more than your factory reps, your
salespeople and your accountant, you will miss the boat by a larger gap in
2013. Yes, you will continue to sell cars next year and maybe, fortunately more
again, but where does that stop based on solely looking back or not at all?

Where your concentration needs to be,
right now, is around March 2013 because your next 6-8 weeks are already figured
out for the most part. No matter how many "cycles" we have, after 100
years of automobile sales most think that there is some magic to the last few
weeks of the year. Bullhooey.

If you want to succeed starting next
Tuesday, there is no other way to do it than be steadfast in every aspect of
your staff, processes, facility and follow through. Your greatest efforts need
to be put into place around the touch points (hint: it's not the cars!). Those
are showroom (real and virtual) and people. Nothing else matters without those. We are asked regularly how to "jumpstart" sales to the
effect that many talk about in the industry. If you've not been bombarded by
spam marketing and videos, it usually sounds like "100 to 500 cars
overnight with our processes" and "our sales events will have people
driving in from everywhere" and don't forget "our websites will
optimize so well (or drive leads so easily), no other dealer will be able to
touch your numbers, you'll dominate and just have to deliver cars". Rat
dung!

Get the best assets in your business
today that understand how everyday people use technology and expect to be
communicated with. If that means more green peas, then do it! Training?!?!
Tearing down your salespeople to build them back up means you have the wrong
people and wrong processes! It's not "that Internet thing" any more
than your cars are "those things that have engines and tires". It's
time to grow up and look forward. If you 15-pounder 15% of your customers, expect 50%+ of
your reviews to scream you suck.

If you want to look at things in a
nutshell, read another whitepaper about how great a solution is (6- to
12-months after it's relevant while you signed up to get marketed like mad by the
same company) and look backward. Our industry is depending on people who look
forward with only what's needed about past performance as indicators, nothing
else. Improve incrementally prior to making the huge, sweeping changes like we
hear about so much and maybe, just maybe, you'll see about 3-4 months that the
big stuff is not so big after all because you were able to move the needle
consistently. Overnight success is a short-term facade over impending disaster.
Count on it.

2013 can be great for many, even
amongst the raising concerns about economic and other pressures. The best
always raise to the occasion, it's just that it needs to be done in newer ways
more consistently. And remember to make changes with anything that you do by
benchmarking and recording first because so many will pull the wool over your
eyes and scream "we did it for you!". We see it every day. There are
some great dealership partners out there. Remember that opportunity is missed
by most because it comes dressed in overalls. It's work and most of the time
it's slow.

So relish in the success you've had in
2012, you deserve it! At the same time try not to look back all that much. It
will take longer to catch up than you realize. The automotive world moves at
the speed of retail. That is the only truth. So stop slowing yourself down more
than needed.

Much success in 2012 and thanks for
continuing to read…

 

Best Practices: Professional
Insight,
 Powerful Results

The cost of information versus execution

We hem. We haw. We decide. We buy. We go. Then what? First,
let’s go back to the start. What is the education budget of your dealership?
There is likely a marketing budget, a maintenance budget and even a coffee budget
(especially if you’re a high-line store). Where is your education budget? How
much is spent on outside support and consulting away from a vendor rep or “consulting”
reseller that simply pushes products and trains on them specifically?

Sure, it is important to take care of your image, your
facility and your customers. However today, more than ever, the investment made
in dealership staff is more important than the payroll investment and on par
with any other expense or cost center. The number one thing that can move a
business forward is typically forgotten, let alone budgeted for.

So the dealer, general manager, marketing or Internet
manager make it to a conference. Once everyone is happily back in the nest, 30-95%
of what is learned is lost or not executed on (delayed loss). $2,000-3,000 is
spent to have one to two people there; however sustainment investment typically
runs about 5-10 times what the event does. Where’s the investment to ensure the
information, implementation and platform for success? $10,000 will usually be
spent in a flash to simply appease the manufacturer’s rep with some local newspaper
advertising to push the new model,
where’s the $10,000 over six months to keep the dealership staff on the leading edge?

Information is great, fantastic, liberating and exciting.
However the actual implementation and sustainment is more so and the other
benefit is you actually get to see the results rather than simply reminiscing “remember
back at that conference when the guy (or gal) talked about doing that new thing”
and then getting back to doing things the way you…always have.

The cost of the information is practically zero. Yes, some companies
and publishers in the industry charge you for webinars with expert speakers but
where’s the follow up and how do you actually do what they’re talking about.
The cost of implementation is significantly higher but it’s the only way to get
the results.

Don’t go to the conferences if you won’t back it up with the
real investment. Don’t send your staff to get information that, with about five
minutes of searching on Google, is otherwise available within the confines of
your dealership. And don’t send your Internet director for the “amazing networking
events”. Get the rubber to meet the road by attending, considering, spending,
measuring*, reviewing and reinvesting.
 *measuring that involves using a proprietary
dashboard rather than an unbiased third party is typically a short-sighted
move.

The greatest reward any dealer will receive from their
digital marketing is no different than any other investment, like a facility
upgrade or a redo of the fixed operations department. It causes people to work
and think in fresh ways, generating better results.

Invest in the best assets you have and make those efforts
ongoing. Replace "I liked that conference a lot and will likely go again, especially if I can fit in a couple rounds" with "I can't believe the growth we've had from doing what the speakers taught us about and am already booked for next year".

See you at the conferences!

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Four Down, Seventeen Thousand To Go

The last four years have been a blur. Everything has been. From search to social. From template to script. From inbound to outbound. From high line to in line. From DMS to CRM. There have been times where the greatest part of building has simply been the lack of tearing down. It’s been work, even a pain, and it’s all been worth it.

The clients, the information, the partnerships, the alliances, the events, the suppliers, the sources, the reading, the sharing, the confusion, the mistakes, the opportunities, the defeats, the victories. One thing doesn’t stand out more than the other except the constant movement. Each day, all one thousand four hundred sixty of them, has started with an enthusiasm, a passion, a dream, a goal, a commitment, a push, a joy.

Yes, we've been eating the elephant a bite at a bite. One of the most gratifying parts is the tasty pieces. One of the most humbling parts is realizing what you’re doing while you’re in the moment. Our industry now moves at the speed of retail. Which means it moves at its ability to get out of its own way. Much too often there is a focus on moving ahead before there is even an understanding and acknowledgement of a desire to do so. Sometimes the hardest part of moving is the willingness to stop, look and listen.

Obstacles aren’t hurdles, they’re gut checks. They’re sometimes ways that remind us to adjust and sometimes they’re simply a deep breath before continuing on the path. Changing businesses is not a small undertaking. The level of trust required is awesome. Remember that success is measured by how long the changes last, not how fast you simply make change.

Right now is such an incredibly dynamic time. Better said, it’s likely the most dynamic ever. Yet businesses are being led down more paths than ever on guarantees that can’t be made, or measured, or tracked. If you do what we do and you do it more for a check than leaving a legacy, talk with yourself.

Four years later the work is harder, the goals are greater and results are sweeter. Every one of our clients deserves a heartfelt “Thank You” for making us work, keeping us honest and staying committed to their vision. Thank you to the clients that let us go too, as humbling as that is, because is made us think and become better.

And an important thank you to the entire industry. The good, the bad and the ugly. May we raise the determination to learn and change, ridding ourselves of old school mentality, waste and reluctance. Just because something worked for decades doesn’t make it right nor beneficial. Remember that at the end of the day we are all consumers. There a lots of “us” coming through the doors of dealerships. Let’s recognize and celebrate that. Let that fact evoke a stronger calling to improve. Every day.

Four years since IM@CS started. 17,000 more dealerships to improve. Who’s with us?

 

Man isn’t afraid of his own shadow. Just getting out of its way   –Gary May

 

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

 

I Before We, With No Exception To D(ealers)

It's the end of the year and the heart of the holiday season, right in between being thankful for everything we have and swearing off more than half of it (mostly weight) for the coming year. It's the time of the year when a few minutes on the automotive networks and news sites gets the mind going. It's also right after last week's (first ever) rant….

So in spelling, it's i before e except after c. Makes sense. Well, it makes no more sense than if it had never been that way and we simply didn't make the rule. No different than putting I before we, especially for the D's. The I's are the loud talkers, advertisers and general blow hards. We…in case people forgot, are the industry. And alas, the D's. The D's are the dealers. Those are the ones that move the industry.

In the event that those that believe the real deals are: the ones doing all of the talking, the media, the OEMs and the old boys club…you're dead wrong. Not that more than an acceptable level of that goes on, it clearly does. But the writing on the wall is getting more clear by the day: the dealers, customers and (ahem) the banks/captives move our beloved industry. Just because an outside person can come in and put a deal together doesn't mean that anything….anything improved the dealership.

More and more dealers are waking up to the simple fact that they've been taken for a long drive on a short road for quite a while. And since the days of milk and honey have been over for a bit, it's more painful than most would care to admit.

So check out the majority of content on our favorite places to read. More #1 this and that's. More white papers. More new, unbelievable this and that's. More covers and articles blaring horns and sirens. OK, the numbers are up in 2010, thank goodness. Even if we're at 12M new units, that's not 17M. Not playing the downer here, lots of stuff is good, but realize that yelling about being the best at something does nothing for business at retail.

Heck, there should be more practicing of the preaching. Any company claiming they're the best, don't just back it up with 1-5% of the client base with quotes. Get the bottom percentage to do the same thing. Ask them to write testimonials without any favors, kickback or kudos of any type. And if you have three times the customers of your next competitor, you should have at least three times the reviews.

We need to move the industry at retail. We can't change the banks, so let's put our efforts where they matter most. Yelling about moving a dealer's Internet sales from 25 to 50 per month, when you didn't? Screaming that you can do the best job in the industry at whatever and your clients aren't the best in the industry? Promoting as best-in-class when the company's experts can't get on the phone for days to review the company's performance in what should be their core competency? Shame on us. How many things have become more important than the customer and how many things are in the way of simply delivering?

Let's make dealers better tomorrow. If a dealer is paying for a service, every 30 days should be better in some measurable form. It's not always units or profit. Sometimes, it's efficiency (which drives profit anyway) or education or communication or retention. Something that makes more sense than simply spending more. Let's put the dealers first. Before the next award bought. Before the next accolade spun.

I before we, with no exception to D is the wrong approach. Pass on the awards, the half-baked "third party" certifications, the advertisements (please!), the 'unbiased' networks, the bling and the paid glorification. Let's get more DEALERS on the cover of Newsweek, not CONSULTANTS on the cover of….

Whooops, that one almost got out….

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Resultsego,

Flipping The Light On: Life After The Pitch

You heard about them. You read about them. You phoned them. You had them in. You listened to them. You took the pitch. You signed the deal. And now, with services starting, either everything is the same as it was before……or the lights are on and it's kind of "ohh my my".

(Twilight Zone music in the background) You thought it would be different. You thought you knew what everything meant. You made that final turn…welcome, to real life after the pitch.

So what happened? Everything seemed fine. Well, what did you expect from adding the services? Did you write down your goals? Were resources already set aside to handle the new vendor? Was their customer service department part of the initial pitch at all? You know, the people that you'll call with questions and issues? Did you get an "out" clause or are you roped in tighter that a M3's engine in the space under the hood of a MX-5? Did you ever think "what happens if they don't do what they say they'll do?"

Let's face it, retailers want a fast, easy, painless, seamless, passive, snap-your-fingers solution. So why in the heck would anyone, unless they are offering an education with full disclosure in their pitch (read: NOT most vendors), tell you that they can't do what you need? It's so much easier to add modules and updates rather than focus on the effectiveness of a core product. It's a lot more fun, apparently, to fill up review sites with bogus users' glowing reviews than actually make it a dealership process to get recommendations. That's why dealers' investments fail and vendors fast profits are usually replaced with a shrinking client list over time.

Without question there are a few companies in the industry that are in a position to add to their product line. And because they can and are able to. Not just because they want to or are getting pressure from compoetitors. Can you find Nike golf bags, backpacks and glasses? Yup! If their shoes started sucking, those superficial products, as profitable and lifestyle "branding integrated" as they are, would be inconsequencial if the core product failed.

And, as a dealer/client, it's your job to turn the lights on. And that means ask the tough questions. Don't take the reports to heart, especially if there's no validation. When you turn the bright lights on, the cockroaches go running! When you have a partnership with your suppliers, guess what happens? Real growth, real education, real improvement. After the pitch should be the best part. If companies knew what was good for then, they'd pitch modestly and over-deliver. Now THAT'S a concept!

And life after the pitch should get progressively easier. Here's a great test and maybe something you want to try in 2011. When you start a new agreement with a vendor, ask for no more than 6 months commitment, maybe less if not month-to-month. After 50-75% of the initial period is done, indicate you're going to cancel at the end of the term and watch/listen to the response. That will tell you volumes about who you're doing business with.

Here's a few things to think about in your next (and likely soon) approach to new providers:

Ask:
1. How long have you been providing this service and who can I talk to about it?
2. What is your average turnaround time for support and completion of a ticket?
3. What hours does your customer service department work?
4. What is your after-hours/weekend customer service policy?
5. When was your last failure/cancelled client and what happened?
6. How many of my competitors to you currently work with?
7. How well does your service integrate with the system(s) currently used by my business?
8. Do you use internal or third party reporting of metrics?
9. Can I cut back on part or all of my services and what kind of notice do you need?
10. Do you subcontract and services and have you experienced service outages?
11. Is ongoing training or field support (not sales rep visits) part of your service?

Thinking about what your needs are away from how much more product and services you're being told you'll sell is critical. And go with your gut. If it sounds too good to be true (1,000 Facebook fans in no time, 200 glowing reviews per month, best sourcing of all customers of any ILM/CRM ever, increases conversion 20% every month for a year, sells cars for you 24/7, builds your client base while you're sleeping and more), it probably is.

And then there's the Golden Rule: Generally stay away from "#1 in (fill in the blank)". If you can see marketing from a vendor you are considering on every automotive network, in every publication, on every B-to-B forum and in your showroom (more often than you'd like), pretend you're a consumer –because you are!– and ask yourself this: do the best working companies in a vertical advertise everywhere? Are they screaming "we're number one"? Now, if you are always screaming "we're number one!" yourself, it might just be a match made in heaven.

Otherwise, for the rest of us, chances are there's too much focus on the frosting and not enough on the cake. Some frosting is so good, it can cover up what looks like a full, well-made, perfectly done cake. Remember that next time you simply grab the box and drive back to the office, thinking about how great everything will be, pull in, run into the store, flip on the lights and open the box. Ooh bummer…

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Gut Check: What Are We Doing? Oh Yeah, Measuring!

Overstated? Maybe….but likely not. What are we doing? If we go by the numbers, and they're estimated but well known, we've got the second largest employer in the Untied States behind our back. The automotive industry is massive, even if you don't consider the associated businesses it keeps thriving. So, let's say we have a few million directly employed in the car biz (which is likely conservative) and had less than 3,000 in Las Vegas recently for the most important events that actually can move the needle. Pitiful. This week's SEMA show will kill that in attendance. And within the first hour.

What are we doing? So add the OEM eCommerce summits, conferences and events (which represent vendors more typically than push owners and general managers into the uncomfortable zone) and you've got at best a few thousand more that are around the discussions of online marketing, online customers, online retention and online success.

Ignore it at your own willful demise. Attack it like people trying the 72 ounce steak at Big Texan, you might go crazy trying to figure out which end is up. So how do you go down the road somewhere in between the two extremes and still try to maintain that "blocking and tackling" BS mentality that makes ownership and management comfortable? Simple: a plan.

While they are in fact out there, the count of dealers who have a written-down, approved, executable monthly strategy for doing and increasing amount of activities to promote success is likely somewhere around the chance of us having a space program in 2011 that lands us back on the moon. It's on the radar, they're might even be some dollars against it but I will venture a strong guess that it won't happen. That's not quite as disappointing as a dealer that is a few months from increasing their results and market share significantly, and does nothing about it.

Folks, the information is out here. And don't be afraid to ask. Yes, you might have to do some digging through the typical crap: an article on one of the popular automotive communities that doesn't answer your question but does have the "expert's" contact information. Or one of our recent favorites: white papers that will confuse the &^@# out of dealers that also end with a signature block that looks more like a proclamation. (Hint: generally speaking, automotive communities are not the place for white papers. Link to your website from the community website. Better yet, if it's a white paper done in conjunction with a company OUTSIDE of the industry, definitely publish it but keep your post on the communities to the synopsis. Please. Tip: not only that, you get back-links!!!!!!)

There have been fantastic pointers and forecasts about what will happen in the digital/online space for the past two years. Over 95% of the dealers missed or ignored them. Maybe it's time to have 2011 be "The Year Of Great Automotive Listening" (do that will your Movie-Guy voice). No matter what, this is the year of honest measurement, in our opinion.

So here's a few places to go to get your feet wet (or immersed) in measurement:

  1. Google.com (Analytics, Trends, Insights, Alerts, Webmaster tools, etc)
    A. If you've never used the above, start with going to Google and entering "links:www.YOURDEALERSHIPWEBSITE.com" or "site:www.YOURDEALERSHIPWEBSITE.com" and see what Google sees!
  2. Hubspot.com (Website grader, Facebook grader, Twitter grader, PR grader, etc)
    A. If you attended DrivingSales Executive Summit, you got more than you need!
  3. SEOmoz.org, Yahoo Site Explorer, etc (Linking and content tools)
  4. Twitalyzer, TwitterCounter, Untweeps, TwitterAnalyzer, etc (amazing tools if you're on Twitter)
  5. FourScore (found this recently for your FourSquare ranking/effectiveness)
  6. Compete, Alexa, etc (even though many dealership sites won't rank, be creative!)

There are so many other great FREE tools available for you to do more than just count on others, like your website company, and actually improve while holding people accountable but too many to list.

It's time for a gut check. How much further can you go down the road mostly (or absolutely) blind to what is essential to grow your business and be able to talk to the main points….without fudging it anymore.

Here's to doing things with more tools than just passion. Here's to knowing what we're doing!

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

What Have You Done For You Lately? (Ooh ooh ooh yeah…)

You're back but your bags (and head) may still be packed from your Las Vegas departure. The whirlwind of powerpoints, data, applications, widgets, speakers, vendors and pitches that opened October 12 with Digital Dealer and ran through DrivingSales Executive Summit at Encore, came to a close mid-day last Friday with the departure of over 1,000 from JD Power's Annual OEM and Ad Agency shindig called Internet Roundtable at Red Rock Resort (where more upfront talks than Internet dealings happen, but let's digress).

So your notebook, FlipCam, voice recorder and brain are packed with thoughts, visions, ideas and goals around everything you heard. But the "back to normal" is so gratifying that you may have not done a cotton-picking-thing since switching off the neon and turning on the flourecents. And besides, it was kind of touching to see that 88-day old unit turn 100 now that you're back (ooops!).

So if you're stuck with not knowing where to start, you didn't leave with goals. If you've got three or four places you want to start at, you may not know what your greatest weaknesses or opportunities are. And if you didn't gather enough information on how to get started and the first steps to take from that high-ranking speaker, call them for a freebie. And you may just want to "x" off that session or conference next year because the value didn't get delivered.

So, what have you done for you lately? (Sorry Janet, it's not about you). It's time to crank that Internet machine thing to the next level, right?! Do yourself a favor and start looking everywhere else but automotive and get your bearings. Why? Because there are Facebook pages selling more Snuggies than your website sells in service. There are blogs feeding more contacts to start-up S-E-O, K-E-Y, M-O-U-S-E companies than you get leads from $199-a-month leases. And we have ourselves (and many vendors) to blame.

Start Thursday with a goal to add one task from your volume of Notes 'de Las Vegas and start it. Not Friday, not next week. October 28. Haven't secured your Google Places/Maps location? Do that or learn about it. Haven't secured your Foursquare venue? Have 60 domains you registered a bunch of years ago and one is perfect for a blog? Start it and who cares what it says as long as it says something about what your store is passionate about regarding your customers and the products you sell. But what have you done for you lately?

"Good thing I cook or else we'd starve to death…" How appropriate is that today? Automotive retailers must thank their customers for coming in year after year and driving off in new and pre-owned cars with little more than a smile. It was about the badge, the new product, the incentives and the advertisements. Now it's about you. Matter of fact it always was but the industry lucked out for more than a decade. So what have you done for you lately?

Yes there's half-cooked information all over. Yes, there's "experts" who haven fallen into something that, for obvious reasons, they can't quite explain in an hour on stage. Yes, there's going to be more consolidation in the indsutry which means your ____________ company may become part of another company you're not doing (or don't want to do) business with. But what have you done for you lately?

There are many really good, and some extremely good, tools and providers out there to settle for what someone in your Twenty Group has or what your read in an ad or study. Last week it was amazing to watch the Innovation Cup at the DrivingSales Executive Summit. The "let's never settle for me-too" juices were really flowing there. Put easily, if something can't be verified by a neurtal third party, don't necessarily run away, rather gain more information before making a decision. Chances are you're right that it wasn't a good choice in the first place.

Today you have to be prepared to do something for yourself and stick with it. Even though it's so easy to quit and go back to what you knew. It's also more costly than ever. If you invested the time and money to be around that much addictive behavior for a week or two in Las Vegas, everything you brought back deserves to come to life in your store. That is if you can find your notes among the free schwag of flying monkeys, free model cars, light-up bounding balls, mints, pens, flash drives, logo hats, t-shirts, notepads, shopping bags and fliers for products that are pay-for-it-now-cuase-it's-almost-to-market-so-you-can-be-first (wink, wink).

So what have you done for you lately? Come on, we've got to …….uh, wait….come on…..wait for it…..wait for it……you know you want it…..SELL MORE CARS!

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

Don’t Let Social Media Get In The Way Of Your Success With It

We're bringing a petition to DrivingSales Executive Summit, JD Power Internet Roundtable, SEMA and NADA. But you can be first to sign it here and now. The law we're hoping to get passed in the retail automotive industry is "stop calling it social media and start calling it die without it". It's not something you try, experiment with, make efforts toward or the like. At least no more than you do with sales, service, F&I and your P&L. Do more. And stop thinking so much you can't do much.

Sick and tired of consumer communication and engagement, as well as fundamental business improvement, being hawked, pitched and sold by fly-by-night companies (as well as legitimate ones) with getcha-while-you're-looking tactics, it's time to discuss, use and improve platforms no differently than you would want a CRM or website technology used and improved.

Simple question: Do you want to stay in business? Your answer has to be all the way in yes or all of the way out no. There is no in between. Many (not all) companies that have tried to be somewhere in between over the past few years show up today as the many For Lease or Going Out Of Business signs on your daily drive. Don't think for a second that we're saying that had those businesses been in social media that they'd be vibrant and profitable today. Not at all.

But to sit and wait, guess and judge, delay and save or flat out refuse social media as part of your business strategy every day is the fastest path to demise today. Period. Remember that no one aspect of your business is a silver bullet. At the same time remember you can save yourself to death no differently than you can spend yourself to death. You're not "in" Twitter and Facebook. You're (hopefully) in business using a database/contact management system, a series of processes to sell, track and report, and a solid foundation of online media to showcase your business.

Saying "I'll try Facebook for 6 months and see if it works" is the same exact thing as saying "I'll try selling our services for 6 months and see if it works" or "I'll maintain my storefront for 6 months and see how that goes". If you want to see how things go, get committed or get out. If you truly aren't prepared for success in your own business, do it for someone else and leave the tools that professionals use to…a professional.

Blogs, Wikis, Display advertising/SEM, Review sites/reputation management, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Google Places and more are tools to be a more effective, yes effective, business. Not a trend-setter, not a groupie, not one of the cool places to hang or any other way of minimizing your way to profit. Can your business survive without being on Facebook? Chances are yes if at least for a short time. Can you survive without the fundamentals that have social media thriving and being "buzz" in mainstream media? Not for one New York minute, to steal a great song title from Don Henley.

So please don't let social media get in the way of your success with it, knowing you'll not experience success without it. Even if you don't set up that Twitter page you've been hemming and hawing about for a year… Oh, and one more thing. If you're a car dealership, don't pay $4,000 plus a month for social media services. That is unless you're getting a cut of the profit.

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results

The Disappointment Your Customers Experience Comes From Within

Let's face it, we're all consumers. Even the highest-paid CEOs in the world have to do it: shop and buy. They will engage a brand, a retailer, a transaction with one expectation in mind: satisfaction. Whether a $4 latte or a $4,000,000 property, there is a process we go through to self-determine the investment of time, research and transaction as well as intended outcome. So if your only measurement is analytics or items sold, you're sorely missing a huge part of what is needed.

Go to the majority of automotive websites, mobile sites, social media and advertising. Ask the average consumer, let alone highly-compensated executive, and you are likely to get an answer you don't like. Why is that? For the most part, we've been buying solutions while being complacent in our happy place: doing what we know and not changing that one bit.

The first layer of measurement was the showroom floor and service drive. Sentiment was shared, while not always freely, in a controlled environment where the impact was mitigated to the most part. That gauge has moved, for the most part, into the most transparent of places: the Internet.

And that is a double-dose of pain. So how do we change what is commonly referred to as one of the least-desired activities (going to a car dealership) that is connected with one of the most accessible of engagements (going to the web)? For starters, do it yourself. Go through your website. As a consumer. Hard as it may be, do it. Take off the dealer hat and pretend you actually need to find something you want. Easily. Quickly. The same way you'd buy an airline ticket on www.yourfavoriteairlinewebsite.com.

Then visit your website on your mobile device. If you are one of more than half the car dealerships in the country, you'll likely see a thumb-sized version of your full website. Disappointed yet? Now hop over to your Blog, if you have one of the best places to build your brand and capture eyeballs online. Because based on your website response, you likely don't offer the image, message, layout and experience you'd like yourself.

Have Facebook and Twitter pages? If not, don't necessarily jump in but if you do, look. What are you saying? Are you just displaying inventory, a feed of random content from somewhere else? Is it representative of what you do your store? Is it, like your CRM, automated? Or is it genuine?

And what about reputation management? While some have embraced it for more than a year or two, the neccessary processes and engagement still don't exist for the most part. And don't get disappointed yourself when you don't have a strategy and are ticked off with what gets displayed online.

Some dealers are starting the next generation of their dealership with consumer engagement. And guess what?! That's perfect. What better input than the people dropping thousands of dollars at your business? Customer advisory boards. Meet the dealership events. Club meets and other non-transactional ways to engage and ask your customers.

The disappointment your customers experience comes from within. And if you don't have a plan to assess, measure, change and improve consistently, the numbers that matter most will go in the least desireable direction.

If you are one of the dealers heading to Las Vegas for Digital Dealer, DrivingSales Executive Summit and JD Power Internet Roundtable, take advantage of the wealth of knowledge. But don't do it simply to compare and buy yourself. Stop. Sit down with other dealers, consultants and outsiders. Take a deep look at what consumers see. Ask the tough questions. Then engage the reps and vendors.

Start delivering online what you say you do in your brick and mortar existence. It's your greatest opportunity.

Best Practices: Professional Insight, Powerful Results