Professional Community for Car Dealers, Automotive Marketers and Sales Managers
Picking The Best of The Best
By Steve Stauning
As some of you may know, I served as the director of ecommerce for the Asbury Automotive Group (NYSE: ABG) a few years ago. One of the most rewarding things about working for a publicly-traded MegaDealer Group was the ability to not only negotiate from a position of strength (we had over 120 franchises back then), but also the luxury of relying on a team of experts to help us always select the best of the best providers of any product or service.
While our process was exhaustive (we once issued an infamous – and wholly unnecessary – 33-page RFP during a search for a new website vendor); we had a distinct advantage that most private dealerships do not have: we had the time to fully and deeply investigate all potential vendors. Our corporate staff didn’t have to worry about selling cars or responding to leads, so we had plenty of time to properly vet the suppliers.
Snake Oil Sellers Need Not Apply…
I’ve always had a passion for cutting through the BS in the automotive vendor world; and it actually makes me sick to read some of the gaming that goes on in the blogs (including this one from time-to-time). Not because it’s allowed – I don’t think it’s the editors’ jobs to investigate the veracity of every discussion post – but because private dealers are most often the victims of these opportunists. At Asbury, we could easily see through the smoke screens and sniff out the snake oil; for private dealers, this is not always so simple.
That’s why I’ve been so excited by what’s going on at Dealers United.
As some of you now know, I’ve had the privilege of helping Dealers United with their ambitious launch. Among the very cool things I get to do, is leading the vetting team for Dealers United approved vendors. This process, as I will describe briefly below, is hands down the most intensive investigation I have ever heard any company undertake to find the best of the best providers in our industry. (Even more exhaustive than the searches we conducted at Asbury.)
It’s No Beauty Contest…
I can tell you that assisting the Dealers United team has been unbelievably rewarding. The first deal (releasing March 28) is for Search Engine Optimization (SEO) services, and we left no stone unturned.
We didn’t just pick the most famous, most vocal or biggest names in automotive SEO and hand one of them a contract; although we certainly invited these companies to participate. We also didn’t care what the blogs said about a company (I already wrote that those can be gamed); so a self-made industry reputation and lots of dubious industry awards only got you an invitation to participate in the search.
These particulars didn’t sway us just as they should never sway you; and I can guarantee these wouldn’t influence the publicly-traded MegaDealer Groups when they’re looking for a provider. Simply put: we were on a mission to find the best, not the loudest.
A Dealers United Vetting is not for the Weak…
We started with 35 SEO Companies (yes, thirty-five); and over the following four weeks, we completed an intensive investigation into their abilities (both stated and not). We examined the search engine optimization content they were capable of creating (and replicating and maintaining) for their clients; and we studied hundreds of their client websites and tested these for search visibility on Google and other search engines. Additionally, we scrutinized their processes, strategies and tactics to ensure everything they provided was true “White Hat” SEO.
Finally, we studied their ability to generate meaningful (and authentic) offsite content and links for their dealer-clients.
So, after four weeks of this thorough investigation that included webinars with those we felt were the top six vendors, we whittled it down to the very best provider. This supplier not only has a fantastic SEO solution, but they also understand private dealers enough to know that their job is to deliver great search visibility, while allowing the dealers to sell cars.
In other words: they are physically doing the SEO work, and not busy trying to train your team on the ever-changing world of search engine optimization. (While we value private dealer education above nearly all else, the realities of SEO and dealership turnover do not lend themselves to wasting a dealer’s money on SEO training for his/her team. As I’ve learned over the years, your team should be busy selling cars, not writing SEO content.)
It’s Not About Price…
The best part about our process is that we only considered a vendor’s ability to provide great SEO to the Dealers United members. We didn’t care about personalities; we didn’t allow any gaming; and we weren’t swayed by anyone’s PR machine. We were singularly focused: great SEO and nothing else.
It wasn’t until we felt we’d found the best of the best did we consider pricing in the equation. In fact, pricing was not even contemplated or discussed with 29 of the 35 invited companies – their solutions (for various reasons) were obviously no fit for our dealer-members, so why ask how much it cost?
Once we found a great fit with an exceptional company providing world-class SEO, we worked to negotiate a deal… and boy oh boy, did we negotiate one phenomenal deal for our dealer-members. (Sorry, but you’ll have to wait until the deal is released to our members on March 28 to learn the details.)
I Know There Will Be Sour Grapes…
During my days at Dealer Specialties and Reynolds Web Solutions we occasionally lost large OEM bids; and each loss stung for a short period of time. The difference between those losses and the ones that we will dish out every month with Dealers United is that being selected from an OEM RFP process is most-often associated with providing the lowest price, not necessarily the best service. So the “endorsement” value a winning company would receive from an OEM bid was often worth very little.
Not so with Dealers United.
Given that we’re still experiencing phenomenal growth – while already three times larger than all of the publicly-traded MegaDealer Groups combined – a winning vendor in our search can truly hold their head high, because unlike an OEM RFP, this is not about price; and unlike industry awards or ratings sites, the Dealers United vendor selection process is intensive, exhaustive and comprehensive; and it cannot be gamed.
By the end of the last week of this search I was physically drained; but I can state without reservation that we selected the best of the best – and that makes me genuinely proud to be associated with something this important to dealers.