There's something special about the annual National Automobile Dealers Association convention that cannot be matched by other events throughout the year. There is certainly value in the education at events like Digital Dealer, Driving Sales Executive Summit, and AutoCon, but they are missing one major component that you can only get at NADA.
It's not just the bulk of dealers that attend. It's not simply the bulk of vendors or industry speakers. It's the bulk of needs fulfilled. Dealers have needs. OEMs have needs. Vendors have needs. Everyone has the ability to get their "fix" at NADA regardless of whether a dealer attends or not.
If You Attend...
One key to success if time permits is to go in with a plan. You know what your dealership needs. You will most likely discover new needs, learn of new products and services, hear new strategies, etc., but you should know going in what the real challenges at your dealership are. Go in with a plan to solve those challenges because there is no other venue that will have a wider range of solutions available.
- Don't be shy. Take pitches. Brochures and swag are nice but they don't translate into much at all. That's not the vendor side of me speaking when I recommend taking pitches. It's the reality. If you don't take the opportunity to stand or sit face-to-face with someone, to ask them pointed questions, and to get the information that you need, you won't get the most out of NADA. Some dealers prefer to go "wide" and get a taste of everything, then make their decisions about follow up when they get home. Anyone who has tried this strategy is probably aware that most of the things they thought they would remember ended up not getting the appropriate attention. These are big decisions. NADA is a big opportunity. Take advantage of it.
- Take notes, or even better, shoot video. You have a smartphone. Use it. If something is extremely interesting, ask the presenter to stop and repeat it. Nothing can remind you about why you liked a particular product or service better than reliving the experience when you get back to the dealership. Show your managers. Get their input.
- Skip the gimmicks. I've always been amazed at how people will waste time standing in line to get their picture taken with Dan Marino. Sure, he was a great quarterback and you might be a big fan. The problem is that the time spent collecting a souvenir could be spent improving your dealership. Go with a mission. If everything's perfect at the dealership, there's nothing wrong with having your caricature drawn. If your dealership can accept improvements, use your time wisely.
- Enjoy yourself but learn more after hours. Nothing brings out the truth serum as much as the networking events and cocktail parties. Talk to other dealers. Talk to vendors. Get the real skinny.
If You Don't Attend...
Here's a little secret. Every vendor spends more money than they get back in return from the event itself. Sure, the extended value is strong for vendors who do it right and the business they can gain over the months following the event are worth it. However, the opportunity to get extra deals during or immediately after the event are hard for vendors to miss.
- Contact vendors immediately after the event. Tell them that you didn't attend NADA this year but that you're interested in taking advantage of the deals that were available for attendees. No vendor will turn you away. In fact, they'll be excited to get some side-NADA-action going.
- Call your friends at the event and ask them to get you some videos. We all have friends or 20-group members who are attending. Tell them that you are considering some SEO solutions and ask them if they can record a mini-pitch for you while they're attending.
- Check out these networks - ADM, DrivingSales, DealerElite, DealerRefresh, etc. Once the event is over, the automotive social networks and blogs will have wrap-up posts. Take advantage of them.
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Whether you attend NADA or not, it's the right time to hop in and learn what you can do to improve your dealership's performance for 2013 and beyond. Participate while you're here or participate from afar. Either way, you'll win.