aid, rather than address the math of the situation as you requested - which is obviously flawed since dealers are self sufficient on many levels including marketing expenses, floor plan, tools and the day to day cost of running a sales/service facility under the strict guidelines of their respective O.E.M - I prefer adressing the true issue which is the decision by our administration through their Car Czar and related Marxist methods to dismiss the rule of law when they stole the auto dalerships that they arbitrarily decided to eliminate.
The free marketplace has a mechanism to reduce unecessary businesses which has been in place for a few hundred years serving as the differentiator between the United States and the various socialist, Communist, Facist and Marxist regimes and their restricted economies that we have been so succesfully competing with. The abuse of our established Federal Bankruptcy Court and Chapter 11 process by the administration was a blatant attempt to nationalize the auto industry following similarly subversive tactics to take over the banking and insurance industry with the health care and energy industries in their line of sight!
The administration's supposed desire to "protect their less tangible brand damage caused by under capitalized dealers" is overshadowed by the much more immediate and proven impact that closing auto dealerships in small communities will have on the reputation of the brand. Simply put, relationship based selling is alive and well in rural America and the insult of STEALING your neighbors business will have long lasting impact on decisions to buy American for many years to come! Of course the more universal issue of not having a local dealer for future sales and service is more tangible, however the net effect is the same.
In my considered opinion, Chrysler and Government Motors intentionally dismantled the american auto industry under the DICTATE of the administration to accelerate the destruction of capitalism , the free marketplace and the United States as we know it. Obama's stated decision to "REMAKE THE UNITED STATES" as he has repeatedly promised before and since his election is a distortion of the word "change" that was not understood by those who unwittingly voted for him under that platform. Unfortunately, as he has so often reminded us - there are consequences to an election so our only hope is to believe him this time and next time we need to vote for our constitution and the free marketplace with individual rights - like those of the impacted auto dealers - as our preferred way of life.
Simply put, the "intelligencia" and big government that Obama is positioning to take over our country and our lives has their own set of rules and math so the only way to answer your question is with a question;
Did you vote to replace our constitution and the rules of law with a Car Czar or would you prefer to have allowed the free marketplace to decide which dealers should close and how they should have been allowed to do it?…
not the customer and dealer moving away from each other, but rather the dealer having influence (and the ability to monitor) much further out in the shopping process.
At no point in time has it ever been as easy as a customer saying “I need a car! Phil from Rotary sells cars, I’ll pop in to see him.” Consumers have always followed the same 5 steps in the buying process and still do today (remember this from Marketing 101):
1.) Need Arousal – Identifying a Need or Problem
2.) Information Search – Finding a Solution
3.) Evaluation Behavior – Clarify and Evaluate the Alternatives
4.) Purchase Decision – Actually Buying the Product
5.) Post Purchase Feelings – How do They Feel After They Bought
In the past, the manufacturer always owned the first few Steps. The dealership picked up somewhere around Step 3 or 4. We never saw the consumer taking Steps 1 and 2. Just because we didn’t see them taking the first steps doesn’t mean they weren’t taking them.
Need Arousal and the Information Search was largely left up to the manufacturer. It’s why GM sponsored the Parade of Progress from the 1930’s on. General Motors toured the country getting folks excited about its cars and demonstrating how they were superior to the competition. It’s why car manufacturers spent so much time and money attending Auto Shows. Radio was a lousy way to get someone fired up about a car, but the car could be brought to the customer. So folks saw cars at Auto Shows and Fairs, they collected brochures and looked at magazine ads. They gathered information and evaluated the alternatives.
The dealership saw them, in many instances, after they’d already made a tentative purchase decision. Then as now, if a customer walks onto the showroom floor, we have a pretty good shot at closing the deal. A better shot today, in fact, because in many cases they have completed more of Step 3 online. So now a question; is a dealer’s website their online showroom? I think the answer in some cases is yes. But it’s also the Auto Show, the Parade of Progress and the brochure. It’s where a customer comes to gather information and evaluate their choices. It’s no more a wedge than a newspaper ad or a vehicle brochure was in the 50’s.
So back to “Communication with your customers has never been easier…and yet your customers have never been further away.” I don’t think the customer is further away at all; they are simply with your dealership for more of the process today. We never used to see them until they walked in the door, now we see them (at least their online footprints) from step 1 on. This isn’t a negative, it’s a huge plus.
Another lesson to remember from Marketing 101 (besides the 5 Step Buying Process), is that there are different types of purchases. Low Involvement purchases are generally inexpensive and require a very short evaluation process. High Involvement purchases are generally much more complex and expensive – a home or a car for example. High Involvement purchases are much less likely to be transacted online and have a much longer evaluation process. So if that lesson from Marketing 101 holds true today and they are conducting that lengthy evaluation process on dealer websites, this isn’t some new wedge, it’s a new opportunity – an opportunity to influence the decision from earlier in the process.
Going back to Larry’s idea of car buying in the 50’s, how many cars do you think a salesman would sell if every single time he saw someone, he hounded them for their address so he could bring a car by their home to look at? “Come on Bill, what’s your office number?” That’s not how it was ever done. You made friends first and when they were in the market for a car, they thought of you.
If you met someone at Rotary in the 50’s and they said, “Wow! Glad I met you. The wife and I are in the market for a new car.” Now that was a customer! They’d been through the first few steps of the buying process and were looking to make a purchase. You’d be right to try and set an appointment with them. Understand that many (perhaps most) of the visitors to your website aren’t there yet. They are just beginning the process and aren’t ready for Step 4 – the purchase. But isn’t it every bit as vital that you give those early stage shoppers the information that they want, when they want it, the way they want it? Or they will find someone that will. And if you force them to another dealer, you’ve lost your shot at them when they hit Step 4.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that everyone on your site is at Step 4 – ready to buy or even ready to make contact. Your website provides a great opportunity to get your message to customers very early in the process. Don’t miss that opportunity. If you think of your website as nothing more than the online dealership or showroom, the conversion rate must seem frustratingly low. If you understand that your website attracts customers all the way out at Step 1, it all makes much more sense.
With that said, make it as easy as possible for the customer to contact you once they are ready for step 4. Whether it’s a form submission, a phone call, a chat session or they walk into the dealership. That customer is yours!
So has the Internet created a huge digital wedge between you and your customer or has it created an opportunity to be more involved with the age-old 5 Step Buying Process than ever? (Social Media is a great way to influence your customer on Step 5 and keep in touch until they are ready to start Step 1 again.)…
g String's activities has been at the request of my dealer clients, and not always something that myself and my team at Tier10 Marketing were necessarily happy about. Because of being the dealer's creative design shop, we had to work directly with String Automotive, which resulted in my team getting involved with these people. Also, as a qualifier to express my opinion about dealer website suppliers (Brian Pasch in NOT the only person qualified to form an opinion about dealer website suppliers!), I have been intimately involved with several dealer website supplier start-ups over the past 15 years, and I participated in their success... You could even make a case that my last two years of entrepreneurial activity has been funded by the sale of a certain Coventry, RI dealer website supplier to ADP. So, it is fair to say I am familiar with the pros and cons, as well as the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to dealer website suppliers.
Although... Like any other dealer website supplier, String Automotive is far from perfect, and they have some idiosyncrasies I find more amusing than harmful to the work they do for dealers. The following is a partial list of what I have seen after participating FROM THE DEALER'S AD AGENCY PERSPECTIVE, and as an (almost) competitor to String Automotive, during the changeover from other dealer website suppliers to String Automotive. My involvement has varied from being annoyed by the extra work my team had to do, to assisting in the design requirement sent to String for over 50 dealerships since January 2011:
1. WEBSITE DESIGN SERVICES - So far, String Automotive has not used design templates, ever time they create a website platform for a new dealer client, it is designed from scratch by Alan Ezzati, who is one of the more advanced web designers in the country and was famous for his work in web design before he ever thought of designing websites for car dealers. There is one skill String has that some would call good, and others would wince at... These people are the best at copying somebody else's design over to the auto industry! When it comes to creating virtually perfect duplicate "knock off" dealer website designs, String is exceptionally talented... For example, they duplicated the Nordstrom Department Store's website, but made it into a car dealer's website! If a dealer sees a website he/she really likes, these people will mimic every aspect of that site's design and functionality, adapted over to a car dealership's functional requirements. Considering the sheer vacuum of actual web designers in our industry, a dealer website supplier that is OWNED by formally trained web designers that are creative and highly skilled, is an exception.
2. GOOGLE BUSINESS PARTNER - I started out this comment by stating that I have worked with several dealer website suppliers since 1998... What has mystified me since around 2005 when SEO emerged as a Top Of Mind issue with car dealers, is that whenever I would suggest taking our website platform architecture team to Mountain View for meetings with Google's own engineers so that we (ie: Reynolds Web Solutions, AutoMark, AutoFuze, BZ Results, ADP Web Solutions, etc.) could build in close integration with Google Webmaster and Analytics, and you know, actually get some help in making sure the dealer websites were going to work well with Google's indexing systems and stuff... The developers would glare at me like I was some kind of Judas turning traitor and belch out something like "Google does not know anything about what car dealers need in a website" or "It is none of Google's business and WE ARE the people responsible for designing the new website platform so inviting Google to interfere is an insult to our capabilities..." Yada, yada, yada... It drove me nuts that over and over again I would listen to all these website developers from several different companies get all up in a huff and act like I called them idiots when I offered to set up meetings with Google's engineers. Well, so apparently the people at String Automotive seem to have escaped this specific form of delirium that seems to effect most of the dealer website suppliers. Without any shame or bruising of egos, they went to Google's facilities in Mountain View and built their website platform architecture in conjunction with as much assistance as they could squeeze out of Google. They went so far as to build their entire platform to be complaint with Google Webmaster and Google Analytics Certification standards... Now, everybody who hates to see anyone do something different and better than in the past in this business is going to say the same thing that they said when I insisted that ADP Digital Marketing Consultants get Google Adwords Certified... "It doesn't really matter if you are Google Certified, we can do anything they can without going through Google's Certification nonsense..." OK, maybe yes, maybe no... But in my expert opinion GOOGLE CERTIFICATION AND WEBSITE DESIGN STANDARDS MATTER!
You know, you can drive a car without car insurance and probably do just fine... However, when it matters, IT REALLY MATTERS!!!
3. CUSTOMER RESPONSIVENESS - Having lived through many life-cycles of starting with excellent customer service for our dealer website clients, and then making dealer support "Scalable" by making it suck, I am acutely aware and appreciative of fast and personalized customer support for dealers where you call the person who managed the initial website design and launch project, so he/she makes the requested changes while you are on the phone and the conversation sounds more like two business partners collaborating then taking a number at the supermarket deli. So far, and all bets are off if these people sell String Automotive to some big conglomerate (that hardly ever happens, right?), String Automotive provides such personalized and direct support to the dealers (and me) that i work with, I think they simply do not know any better... so PLEASE do not tell these people what the other website suppliers do! For right now, they are my favorite dealer website company to work with because when you call and ask the account manager to make a change or fix something, it happens right away and you speak to the same person every time you call... I like that.
4. DATA EXTRACTION AND INVENTORY DISPLAY - Somebody forgot to tell the founders of String Automotive that you do not need to build your own data extraction and inventory display page generating application, that you can just buy it from one of the major suppliers of these services... Because they built their own inventory system! Now, this is actually kind of a scary thing for me, and I do not recommend you kids try this at home. This stunt is performed by highly trained professionals on a closed circuit course... Anyways, I watched the brain damage the people at String went through to get their inventory system built and working right for a major dealer group that was a mutual client at the time. I saw these characters actually do their own "Customer Focus Group"... yeah, for real... Just like you see in TV shows like Mad Men. They brought in groups of in market auto shoppers and observed them using different dealer websites, tracking and recording what the customer liked, did not like and what compelled customers to come to the dealership, call on the phone, engage in a chat session or complete a lead form. I know that sounds really goofy, and a lot fo us were kind of chucling at the money they spent behind their backs, but darn if all that first hand customer research did not result in one of the best Vehicle Detail Page (VDP) designs in the business. Go figure!
So, do I like the people, products and service at String Automotive? Yes sirree, I certainly do, at this point in time... Plus they brought on one of Toyota Motor Sales best and brightest marketing and sales executives who has spent a good portion of the last 12 years inside many of the most successful Toyota dealerships, Mr. Chris Cento. Chris is String Automotive Chief Marketing Officer...
PLUS, String Automotive hired three of my favorite people in the auto industry that I recommended to them so they could launch an actual sales team (Yeah, they never had a salesperson prior to 2012...):
I have worked with Charlie and Steve shoulder to shoulder for several years and from over 300 sales team members at ADP, I have cited their integrity and dealer focus on many occasions... Then there is Terry Gibson, who was my room mate at NADA conventions, so he has a lot of dirt on me... I have to say good things about him (just kidding! Martell is already flushing out the conspiracy).
As for the history of me and String Automotive: Back when they called themselves "Captive Lead" (they seem to have a problem with names), I met the owners, Alan and Ken through a mutual client... My initial impression is that I did not like the way their websites were making my company's websites look bad... I wanted to put them out of business, my competitive instincts told me to do everything possible to crush them. Over time, I really got to know the people at String and we became friends. When they started to recommend that their dealer clients use my team at Tier10 Marketing for digital advertising, our friendship became stronger and we worked together via phone and email on a daily basis. Today, I find myself helping them by referring employees, making advertising recommendations and pushing their team to write and publish articles like the one above. They are my friends. Ask anyone in the car business who is my friend, if I am willing to help them be more successful. (other than Tim Martell)
As for recommending any website supplier, I do not really care which website supplier a dealer buys their sites from, I cared a lot when I worked for companies whose primary business was selling dealer websites, but I don't any more. I have plenty of friends working at ADP, Cobalt, Dealer.com, Naked Lime, DealerFire, AutoFusion and several other website suppliers. But, when I discovered that the Rick Case Auto Group was using a VERY lame dealer website supplier, who I will not name because they have an accessory sales application that I really like a lot... I recommended String Automotive. When their IT Director, Naz, who is EXTREMELY knowledgeable and is no easy IT professional to impress, looked at String Automotive's technology and site architecture, and the custom work they do, she bypassed all the other big name website suppliers and selected String Automotive. She said the decision was actually very easy to make.
As for Tim Martell's penchant for repeatedly questioning my motives (like his are so pure!), he can kiss my ass... BUT, since he sort of recommend this sort of thing, I am going to go try and sell some advertising to String Automotive because I like their products and if I am going to defend their capabilities when people like Martell question them, then I think String Automotive should man up and start supporting ADM and dealerELITE with some advertising sponsorships like several other suppliers are doing (Notably absent is Tim Martell and Wikimotive)...
Are you listening Mr. Chris Cento??? Your Automotive Media Partners, LLC Advertising Rate Sheet is in your email inbox... I will be calling you soon!…
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