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I was told a few days ago by a close friend that works at a marketing firm specializing in automotive internet marketing that car dealers are normally 1-2 years behind the internet and technology trends. Most dealerships with the help of the industry are now going from zero to 60 to try and catch up or ramp up to this curve. A couple of years ago when other industries were getting into e-Commerce, dealers were still putting up single page advertisements as their websites with no inventory, just an address, a phone number, and a bunch of promises.

I truly believe in the next few years 100% of all people will search and research online for their vehicle purchases before coming into a dealership. Gone will be the days of people walking in off the streets with your dealerships newspaper ad under their arm...YOU see it already. Our children and their children will be and are internet smart. The older people that do not know or refuse to learn the internet will and have started to die off, leaving only internet experienced people left. Those people GO ONLINE every day...

In the past year, I have come to a few conclusions, and it might hurt us to hear them......

1) Dealers are STILL trying as hard as they can to cling on the remnants of the “automotive glory quarter century” and the days that they could easily make $3000-$7000 on the front end of almost every car deal. This amazes me, as I still hear old veteran salesmen tell me stories of the good old days..... those days are in the past and will never be back, destroyed by the very thing we need to grasp..The Internet. There is no room in your dealership for someone that doesnt grasp the internet, we should all be internet salesmen.

2) The Internet scares the hell out of dealerships. With so much information and car buying tips out on the internet, they want to keep as much of a distance from it as possible as they feel most shoppers are too educated now and the old trade "tricks" don't work. This should be the opposite we need to be taking the bull by the horns and accept, cultivate and develop technology and a new business model.

3) Dealership decision makers are often too busy with today to worry about tomorrow. New technoloy such as, You tube, blogs and other videos have a long-term stand with todays young people and will not usually yield immediate results, mixed with the pressures in an industry that does not remember how good you were last month, you can see why they are reluctant. This is a huge mistake for dealership. Dealerships must now have a long term plan and start implementing technology now.

Lets look at the trends that are here and have been here and those you should be looking at for your dealership:

1.) SEO/SEM
This optimizes your website for search engines
This can optimize your website for targeted areas (geotargeting)
You can create targeted PPC (pay-per-click) campaign(s) for immediate visibility
You can create custom landing pages that can be used to track visitors and conversions to visits to sales ratios.

2.) BLOGS, You-tube, Video forums such as "My-Space". Let me ask you a question??? What does everyone under the age of 25 understand, participate in and grasp...Forum and social net-works...Who will be your next vehicle buyers? These same people...
Isnt it a logical step to be targeting these areas with dealership information?? The cost is extremely low and if you sold 1 car a year off of it, your return is 2000%

3.)TEXTING- I truly believe this will be one of the next waves in marketing. Think about this as most all people have cell phones. Our youth of today are texting freaks, My daughters can text faster then I can type. Also, customers drive by your dealership every day....so why not have a "Number" on each vehicle that they can text and get information on your car...Somethig this like...Text "12234" for information on this car".
The technology out there sends back information, pricing and contact information...Its another tool to get people 24/7 when your dealership is closed.

4.) E-negotiation- This is a great tool if everyone realizes that HUGE grosses on the front end are few and far between and quantity is whats now. Back-end, after market and fixed operations are where the money can be. So for the front end selling, there is technology now that customers can actually log onto your website, and see your whole inventory and bid on a car and the system software will counter bid and negotiates a floor pricing or "Buy it now price" for the vehicle. The customer after winning the bid, places a small deposit, comes into your dealership, looks at the car you can sell back end products, the front end id already done and the customers leaves happy and you take off 1 hour or more of the sales process. Skoots.com is a great company for this.

5.) Live Chat and real time talk- This has been around for a while...so, why are you not using it?? ZaZa Chat offers a live chat for $24.00 a month that tells you when a customer is on your website, alerts you and you can engage the customer in real time RIGHT NOW on your site. It lets you store templates and type anything you want. I have sold dozens of vehicles over the past 3 years just offering live help or steering the customer around the website...my ROI.....5000% or more..its crazy..USE this simple tool...

6.) The all inclusive hybrid Internet/BDC/fixed operation department- I am a huge advocate of having one big department that handles all of these items together. I am not talking finance or service, or floor sales. I am referring to one department that handles the internet/BDC customer from start to finish, including calls, e-mails, sales, closing and after market. The department handles service appointment set up calls or internet appointments, sales calls and e-mail marketing follow up. I am not saying take the people aways from service and other areas, just have your calls and internet handled by one department, dont have a seperate BDC or internet....Merge and conquer!!

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Hi Tim,

Great comments and insight. As a vendor, I've been amazed at how some dealers in my current, soon to be former territory of Tucson Az, are afraid of or don't care about the Internet. When I started in the online advertising world in 2000 I could understand the computer still in the box but in 2008!

I do have to take exception with one of the things you said and I know I will hear about it since this a digital forum. While the number of people are using online sources for shopping, research and in some cases buying, we still have to keep in mind the importance and viability of traditional media channels for the dealership to be sure the integrated marketing communication plan is complete and effective. If we look at traditional media as nothing more than branding and vehicle to drive traffic to your site(s) based on interruption marketing to drive to targeted information.

One of the dealers I have seen do this the best (and this maybe considered kissing up to Ralph) is Courtesy Chevy in Phoenix AZ. Being in the Phoenix market and the Las Vegas market as long as I have, I have not seen a better IMC than Courtesy put together (although Chopper at Towbin Dodge thinks he has it figured out). They have conquered the web in the local market, they have targeted TV ads when needed, radio that brands and refers to web and Out of home advertising, can't go by a bus stop without seeing their message. Do one of these medias produce more results than others or is the success a function of the whole? The only way to know is to trial and error and track results and see what happens to sales. I've had dealers that drop on form of advertising and saw no decline in results while they drop another form and the decline is dramatic. The one size fits all doesn't really work since buyers ultimately are still in control.

This long diatribe I guess boils down to dealers are behind the curve to some point, but they may also be seeing the Internet as another advertising channel and the challenge is how to define it (since we as an industry are redefining ourselves almost daily) and how do we use it most effectively. What we think the Internet should be and the departments that handle it and what they really are may be 2 different things.
You raise some great points. I happen to believe that most of the dealership issues really arise from an outdated factory sales model forced on dealers by the manufacturers. A single price to dealers, across the board pricing structure would without inventory steps and backend kickbacks would:
Benefit the customer by ending residual loss when the factory offers $3000 rebates...
Provide the dealer with a margin he/she can build a business model around and create a focus on customer service instead of price...
Better facilitate Internet business transactions...

The fact is the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. One doesn't need to look to far into the distribution chain to see where much of the blame lies for creating the current automotive retail environment. The Internet has helped overcome some of these issues but greatest Internet success stories grew out of streamlining or changing the distribution chain altogether. See an Amazon book store in your neighborhood? When is the last time you went to an auction for photography equipment in your town - like you can find on eBay?

These were fundamental changes in the way business is done. When the Internet burst on the scene the OEM's tried to throttle it. They created Internet companies to control leads to the dealers. Started companies to build websites making you buy them so they can control the marketing and now they dictate to dealers how they need to respond to leads.

I don't think all dealers are years behind the rest of the marketing world. I work with a lot of dealers who are interested in provinding the best service and value they can for their customers. They want to provide the customer with a "real" price and provide good customer service and value. What happens, the next email has outrageous pricing that we know the dealer can't keep. The customer is off chasing geese again.

I see dealers spending a fair amount of their budget on SEM and SEO. Blogs are a great idea but you need to have time to write and resond. Some dealers like Checkered Flag do a great job but many just don't have the time to keep up a blog. e-Nogtiation-if every car had a bottom line price we could go to e-Commerce! I'm all for any for of communication that helps seal the deal. Chat has been around a long time,texting is a newer method to utilize. You can't convert if you don't engage!

You have listed some great ideas here. If the model would change so much more could be done for the customer...
Tim, Mike & Scott,

All three of you are well ahead of the pack. 'But Scott, you hit on the absolute root cause. The supply chain is in a mess. The auto industry isn't 2 or 3 years behind, its at least 10 years behind the leading e-marketeers. The only car companies that have the slightest clew about brand capitalization and managing supply and demand are Porsche, Ferrari, et al. The Detroit three are absolute wizards at brand destruction. If business is about making a profit then the US auto industry have no place to hide. You and I have been trying to drag them kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Only now 8 years later and almost bust are they willing to lend us just one ear.

Granted the old franchise system is very difficult to change under current law. Detroit has been trying. It is no longer appropriate for new automobile sales. New automobiles are commodities, but not simple homogeneous commodities that can be traded on any old exchange like NASDAQ or eBay. Forget it, so many variables that most people cannot even recognize them as tradeable commodities, but thats what they are. Heterogeneous multi variable commodities that almost nobody knows how to handle.

What does all this mean. Well it means that they are all trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Many people believe they have the answer. So do we. Only time will tell.
I am running late to a meeting... But, I had to chime in and say that this is one of the more fascinatiing discussions on ADM since this forum was started! More from me later...
I agree Matt real video shot of a vehicle is probably the future, eventually that process will be more mainstream and feasible for dealerships to cover their entire inventories.

I also agree automated videos are neat, and especially when you can automatically upload, tag the videos, and get top tier "natural" listing ranking on Google search.

Actually that might fall in the "very cool" category:)
I have previously looked at VinSolutions camera and recommend that others look at it too. It looks pretty good.
Video is certainly a tool of the future and video inventory can help get dealers CARS noticed. So let's take the discussion to the next level. Dealers seem adverseto the concept of putting a "real" photograph of a new car on the Internet. This has impacted the implementation of video inventory to be restrcited to used vehicles only. It is a sad situation and I would encourage you to do a personal walk around of each model you have in stock and post it to the Internet.

Overall, dealers need to do a better job of using video to sell the benefits of doing business with them. I have seen too many TV commercials on dealer websites. There is no value in a TV commercial. There is value in telling your value proposition. What benefits do you offer the customer. Real benefits-being in business 50 years doesn't mean anything if you can't quantify the results. An example, if you are in business 50 years, you should have long tenured staff, leverage the relationships they have built with customers over the years by interviewing a salesman with three generations of car buyers from the same family or interview a mechanic who has worked on the cars since 1964 who can talks about the changes he has seen and the complexity of today's autos.

This is the type of thing that will change the perception of the dealer. That is the advantage of video, it allows you to tell real stories, not just about cars, but about people. That is what I do (Tell All VIdeo) with dealerships and it does work.
Hi Tim,

I am renting a boat to check on my horses in Ocala - wish me luck - but on the way out the door I took the time to read your forum. I AGREE WITH ALL OF IT!

Most specifically, I agree with the central communication concept and I would appreciate your insights and assumed confirmation in one of my previous forums suggesting a Customer Communication Center - CCC - to replace the BDC. It is on ADM in the "early days" so click back to, type CCC into the forum search or use the link below. I trully would appreciate your input as we obviously have a shared vision for the future of the "brick and mortar" dealership maturing into the online "virtual showroom."

http://adpadm.ning.com/forum/topic/show?id=1970539%3ATopic%3A2669

Like Ralph - I will get back after I bail out the boat and get back with some existing inexpensive solutions for the other missed opportunities itemized in your forum.
Tim,
Some great ideas,some new some not,but all very valid in an ever tightening and competitive market.
Funny how we all may have the "tools in the garage" but only want to complain that the shed isn't being built.
Like always it comes down to great people doing common things consistently and well.
Hi Tim,

I couldn't agree more that dealers are light years behind the trend. As a salesperson I owned one of the first apple computers manufactured. When I placed it on my desk at the dealership the owner asked me to take it home. He told me it was going to take time away from desking deals and selling cars. I guess that atmosphere still exists today. Many dealers just don't understand what technology can bring. They look at it as a huge expense that doesn't prove results. Yes, they are often stuck with the $3000 dollar front end they enjoyed years ago.

This may give you some insight of how dealers think: I recently called on a dealership in up-state New York to do some training. When I walked into the conference room they had an old "dial" phone on the conference table. That's where some dealers are in this technological age. I had to beg the dealer to purchase a computer for the showroom to display inventory and other essentials for the salespeople. The computer was $3000 dollars. You would think I was robbing them for $50,000! The IT person at any dealership location has a huge job on their hands and most of the time they have to pull teeth to get something new added. It's those dealers that ignore the techology needed that will later be closing their doors. I know because I have requested new solutions at the dealership level and it was always the same response..."we don't need it right now." That's the sad reality of where some dealers prioritize on the lot over real substancial leads.
Hey! You guys quick talking all of this gibberish and get out on the lot and sell something!! Internet Shminternet! :-)

Isn’t it nice to be in a group that is a bit ahead of the curve? Folks, we are seeing over the horizon in this conversation, and that is vital to our growth. The fact is, WE will outlive and survive where others in our industry will not. Including many who sign our checks at this juncture. Talk about job security!!! (Watch me get blown out tomorrow!!! Hahaha)

We are really dealing with some historical realities in this conversation. It always makes me smile (and a bit sad inside) when I talk to someone who is PROUD of not being technologically proficient. “We still use rotary phones here and sell 15 cars a month!” “The internet ain’t never sold nuthin!” “Well drive on up the road and get Kelley Blue Book to write ya a check fer that sumbitch then!” (had to put that in for you Joe! J)

Here are the facts:

1. At some point in history, a group of folks were standing around in the jungle, talking about how they were going to whup up on their enemy with their wooden knives. The enemy showed up with guns…and well…we all know what happens when you bring a knife to a gunfight.
2. We are in the crowd that is in the jungle. However, we are the folks on the edge of the main group saying “Hey! Ya might wanna call the Smith & Wesson factory before the enemy gets here!” And yes, they look at us and sneer. “Pffft….I ain’t never needed a gun before and neither did my daddy before me…sissys!” they retort.
3. And so here are the facts: We are NOT in a Down Market! We are in a Changed Market! And when things change…usually only the strong survive. And the KPI for the definition “Strong” has changed!
a. We all see that 1,000-yard stare in the eyes of our coworkers.
b. I used to fight quite a bit. I love to fight! And I learned a human truth that is so very important…when things change (the economy, your OEM, whatever)…watch people experience that moment of abject fear and clarity that they do not know what to do next. THAT is when you attack! That little moment of wide eyes, stopped breathing, freezing up…. BOOM! And instead of a fist, Go With What You Know! You can do most of what Tim proposes on the cheap!
c. Just do it! I know many of you feel like you need to get a note from your mom and submit a DNA sample before you activate some of what is proposed here, but think about it? What do you have to loose? You can start a blog yourself for about $9.99 and build your own micro sites with RSS fed inventory for about $200.

Because this is really simple. If I waited to get what I need to excel, I would still be using paper, pencil and rotary phone. Like I have said in other posts…YOU need to be the Results Delivering Expert. And part of being that person is knowing how to articulate the Value of these systems, stratigies, and processes to people such as your GM or Dealer. They are all still very skeered of what they do not understand! What if YOU, the one they know, where an expert in this field and could help create transformation and change? Invest NOW in this knowledge and be the new era hero! I know I will be!
Tim,

Great points. As a vendor it amazes us how many dealers are still in the 90's. It is really funny and ironic in a way, because back in the 90's we developed one of the first CRM tools for BDC's. At that time many dealers were saying that CRM tools were just a fad and would never last...Which one of the hundreds do they have implemented now?..Go figure! Sometimes we feel that we are about 2-5 years ahead of the industry with our current product, to your point. However, we are seeing the light in the eyes of those that are on the cutting edge. We look forward to continueing to bring more to our side...Good Selling!

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