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Jim Ziegler Has The Cars.com Marketing Strategy All Wrong

I love Jim Ziegler's passion and his steadfast defense of the dealer. I share Jim's passion with doing what is right for car dealers.  We work side by side educating dealers. 

In the case of Jim's recent criticism of Cars.com on their recent lead email marketing strategy, I will have to respectfully disagree with Jim's case against Cars.com.  Take a minute to watch my video response to the recent dialogue on ADM.

 

I am completing my response to the concern's that Jim has outlined on his blog post on ADM.  I will post my response next week. I will allow dealers on the ADM community to decide which argument is the most relevant for car dealers who are looking to connect with consumers in the Zero Moment of Truth.

 

As a friend of Jim and active member of ADM, I am glad that we have a forum to challenge opinions and strategies that impact dealers.  So why am I challenging Jim?  

 

Simply because he has it all wrong!

 

It should be a fun week of dialogue ahead!

 

 

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Brian Pasch, CEO
PCG Consulting
732.672.2356
Google

 

Views: 2813

Tags: brian Pasch, cars.com, cars.com marketing, jim ziegler

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Comment by Joshua Michael Friedman on July 22, 2013 at 6:10am

"Polk data about customers who's leads have not closed within 7 days, showed that there was a 71% chance that the customer had changed brands.  Pursuing a buy or die strategy on a customer who was no longer interested in that brand, seemed a challenge to the limited resources of salespeople along with an irritation to customers, at least if focus group feedback is to be believed."

Now that's a refreshing dose of data-based selling behavior few of us are willing to adopt!

Comment by Ralph Paglia on July 22, 2013 at 2:29am

Why Cars.com Engages Shoppers Beyond the Lead

Reposted from Cars.com's DealerAdvantage post by  


Q: Why is Cars.com emailing shoppers after they contact my dealership?

A: Before our email campaign started, 58% of shoppers who submitted an email lead on Cars.com returned to our site. That tells us shoppers are still actively engaged in the decision making process and proactively researching their alternatives long after submitting their first email. With respect to this campaign, we are seeing open rates well above industry benchmarks. This is another indicator that shoppers are still actively seeking more content, and that there is an opportunity to continue moving them closer to purchase.

This is a best in-class web-experience popularized by leading sites such as Amazon.com.  By constantly testing programs like this, we are able to find ways to bring more value to our partnership. So far, our data shows this campaign has the potential to do that.

 

Q: Is Cars.com sending my leads to competing stores?

A: Cars.com does not send lead information to competing stores as part of this program. Consumers who submit email leads receive a follow up email highlighting inventory matching the criteria of their original search. The email prioritizes matching inventory from the store of the consumer’s most recent email submission, then provides other relevant search results. The final decision of which dealership to contact is ultimately left to the consumer.

By delivering a great consumer experience that helps them through the process and offers relevant content, we are able to provide additional exposure and ultimately sales for our dealer partners.  In fact, initial program results indicate that, in most cases, shoppers are re-engaging with the dealer they initially contacted.  More than 60% of click-throughs are on the initial listing or for inventory at that same store.

 

Q: When did the campaign launch?

A: Cars.com has always sent a confirmation email following lead submission. Last year, we launched a follow-up campaign that directed shoppers back to Cars.com to conduct additional searches. In March we began testing additional time-triggered emails that include dealership information and inventory that matches the shopper’s interests to give shoppers more relevant information.

 

Q: How does the campaign work?

A: It’s important to note that only a very small percentage of car shoppers, on Cars.com or elsewhere, submit traditional email-form leads. This program targets those who do with a series of time-based triggers that drive shoppers back to Cars.com at key points after they have submitted a lead.  We know that many shoppers have not yet made a decision on a vehicle and are still actively seeking more information. The goal is to make it easy for them to reconnect with dealers and inventory they interacted with. In the current program there are a series of four emails: 

1. Confirmation Email: When a shopper submits an email lead, we send them a confirmation email to verify their submission has been sent to the dealer. This email showcases the dealer’s name, logo and contact information and feature links to their complete new and used inventory. This reinforces the dealership’s brand when the consumer is most likely to be in communication with that store.

2. Three-Day Email: Three days after the initial lead, we re-engage shoppers with inventory and dealerships with which they interacted on our site.  By this point, dealers have had the opportunity to respond to initial inquiries and driving them back to Cars.com gives you another opportunity to stay top of mind and influence decision making.

+3 Email

3. Day Five and Day Eight Emails: On day five and day eight, we follow-up with alternative inventory options that meet the shopper’s initial search criteria.

+5Email

+8 Email

 

Q: How are the vehicles featured in emails selected?

A: While we’re still testing various selection parameters, currently a vehicle must be an exact make/model match, while also meeting location, price, year and mileage criteria.

 

Q: Did Cars.com get input from dealers before launching this campaign?

A: Cars.com has a comprehensive strategy to build our brand and drive in-market shoppers to our site. All of these campaigns are intended get the most exposure for your store.  We regularly get customer feedback on these programs through our local market consultants, dealer roundtable discussions and by listening on industry forums. We’ve taken your feedback to heart and made several modifications to this campaign as a result, such as extending the time before our first contact to give you more time to engage with the shopper. We’ve also prioritized the inclusion of inventory from the dealer upon which a lead was submitted.

 

Q: Will Cars.com continue with the campaign?

A: While this is currently a test, we plan to continue the program based on the results we are seeing. We’re confident this is good for shoppers and that it drives value for the dealer by keeping you in the shopper’s consideration set beyond the first point of contact. We build our advertising strategy and products with a consumer-centric focus, because in the end, this is what drives the best results for you.

Updated 4/29/13


  1. Pingback: Cars.com Followup Emails With Other Dealers Inventory - Page 4 
      

  2. Donald R. Latham April 30, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    As a dealer that pays monthly for your services, I see no reason not to divert my advertising dollars to a media that represents me and not an organization that “pin hooks” from the inventory I pay for and directs inquiries from my offerings to a competitors products. Classic conflict of interest where a third party accepts no risk/cost of providing for the customer other than “representing” my inventory for a fee in an attempt to profit from the labor/risk of those of us who maintain a complete shopping experience for our current and potential customers.



  3. a Paying Client May 1, 2013 at 1:25 am

    You are doing a good thing for the customer, but not who pays your bills. You are a tool for displaying inventory, and should be a client based business…leave the car selling to the professionals, and we will work our customers the way we feel needed. As long as we pay our Cars.com bill, you shouldn’t be looking to capture that customer from a paying dealership, and suggest competitors! This is very wrong and needs to be fixed ASAP.

    Do you guys even know how hard it is to sell a car in this market in 2013? Maybe you should try it someday…it’s hard enough. We don’t need YOU creating even more competition for us. THanks.



  4. Pingback: Could the Cars.com Debacle Have a Win-Win Solution? 
         

  5. Joe Healy May 2, 2013 at 9:47 am

    This is alarming and a another reason to spend my advertising dollars with a real partner.



  6. Ryan Esler May 16, 2013 at 6:59 pm

    We believe Cars.com is a great partner. They are providing the best-in-class experience for the customer. The problem is that dealers don’t feel like they are in 100% control of their experience and process. If you really think that you’re not being shopped and that the customer isn’t looking at other options anyways besides getting emails from Cars.com, you’re crazy. Let them do what they do best. This isn’t AutoTrader who focuses solely on how to get the most money from our dealer pockets and forgets customer experience. This is a partner that genuinely wants the best experience for the customer. I’d rather have the later, with confidence that my cars and my staff can sell themselves.



Comment by Ralph Paglia on July 22, 2013 at 2:21am

Yago De Artaza Paramo Anytime there is a "cancellation uproar" called by digital marketing leaders without more knowledge of what is happening is a digital lynching.
For what is worth, Cars.com response:

http://dealeradvantage.cars.com/da/2013/04/why-cars-com-engages-sho... 

I have expressed that I don't agree or disagree with what they did until I see the results. But here was also one of mine concerns; we are discouraging vendors from investing in R&D:

From Linda Bartman: "This is a best in-class web-experience popularized by leading sites such as Amazon.com. By constantly testing programs like this, we are able to find ways to bring more value to our partnership. So far, our data shows this campaign has the potential to do that."

dealeradvantage.cars.com
We recently began testing an expanded consumer email program on Cars.com to keepshoppers engaged after visiting our site and to help them move closer to purchase. Since its launch, we’ve received ...
Comment by Gary Marcotte on July 16, 2013 at 1:45pm

I have stayed out of it also.  I learned from my defense of TrueCar in the past, that from time to time, challenging views can be received as attacks, and like Ralph, I have alot of friends at Cars.com and admire both how they manage, and their ethics and transparency.  In my previous role at AutoNation, which included responsibility for managing AutoUSA and buying more than 1MM leads annual, I help create lead multi-select and was (still am actually) a big fan of the alternative vehicles.  Here's what my analysis and experience taught me:

1.  Part of the economics that allows leads to be priced from $15 - 22 includes the ability to sell it multiple times.  An exclusive lead should cost much more to the dealer.

2.  The close rate for customers who leads are sent to more than one dealership tend to close at a higher rate.  In addition, the data that I remember (so not current) showed that the individual store close rates did not deteriorate more than the volume increased to each store, so it resulted in a marginal decline in individual close (like 50bp) but a big increase in total sales.

3.  Polk data about customers who's leads have not closed within 7 days, showed that there was a 71% chance that the customer had changed brands.  Pursuing a buy or die strategy on a customer who was no longer interested in that brand, seemed a challenge to the limited resources of salespeople along with an irritation to customers, at least if focus group feedback is to be believed.

4.  In a study of traffic to dealer web sites, customers reported that 75% of the time, they were not totally committed to the brand they chose.   It would seem that a reluctance to probe on other brands would merely cause and uncommitted customer to go to a different site.

5.  A fair amount of additional volume is created in the whole system when customers are given more choice.  And while, it may dilute the individual close on that specific car from time to time, it would seem to benefit other cars that are an alternative on someone else's lead.

6.  Customer marketplaces for used cars only work when there is meaningful volume.  The idea that smaller marketplaces than a cars.com or even autotrader.com would produce similar volume and conversion is not support for the facts for the many, including me, who tried it a number of times.  Customer demand choices and go where they are.

7.  There is a great deal of data and science that goes into which vehicle is presented where and to whom.  This improves conversion on dealer used vehicles by a significant amount.  There are many daily tests on most sites to improve conversion for the benefit of both the site economics and dealer sales.  This kind of testing and science is not possible at lower volume levels, without significant infrastructure and without the data scientists that the major portals have.  It is a real win-win.

I will also admit that I didn't like the heavy handed way many portals went to market when I made the decisions to spend more than $20MM annually with those portals.  I think that dealer's should be featured more and have shared same with portals when asked.  I think that changing vehicle sort order and the like based on who paid how much serves neither dealer nor customer and worked hard to eliminate it, but failed.

Most of the good portals have dealer advisory boards that really listen to dealers and really care about making these things win-win. Cars.com is a leader in this area and really does listen.  I run three advisory boards for portals in this space and have served on most every one, including some OEM one's.  I would invite folks to reach out and join the boards.  I would invite folks to offer alternatives that make things better, respecting that economics must be win-win-win. 

So for what it is worth, that is what I have to offer today.

Comment by Ralph Paglia on July 16, 2013 at 11:04am

For a variety of reasons, I have tried to stay out of the whole "Get Rid of Cars.com" discussion, one of those reasons being that I have so many friends who I trust and enjoy working with at Cars.com which makes me somewhat biased... So, I probably should have been paying more attention to this thread. One of the gems posted below is from Mike Warwick who wrote the following: "I think it's a low blow to point out a strategy that Tim employed which, at the time, was kicking ass.  We all play in Google's pool and we understand who makes the rules.  There are MANY vendors on these boards who have promoted strategies that at one time or another made complete sense, only to have the rug pulled out from under them by our friends in Mountain View.  Before Tim became a vendor, he made his small dealership in the middle of nowhere a major player in the metro Boston market where they had no business competing. I know, because I had to compete against him! As I've said in the past, if I opened a dealership tomorrow, I'd want Tim handling my digital.  Great discussion that didn't need to go down that road."

As many times as I have butt heads with Tim as he attempts to divert traffic from sites I manage, which is part of what he does for his dealer clients, I have a tremendous amount of respect for what I saw him accomplish at Marlboro Nissan and the work ethic that he has demonstrated for many years.  Many thanks to Mike Warwick for pointing out Tim's accomplishments because what Tim did for his dealership is what we would like to see many more members of the ADM Professional Community do for theirs! 

 

Comment by Bill Cosgrove on May 17, 2013 at 4:21am

As a business person I am for full disclosure. If I was going to do something that was going to enhance my value proposition with a new program and would offer an advantage to my customers I would put it out there for my current customers as well as potential customers to see.

And if there was something that they did not agree with I would then listen to their concerns and make the appropriate adjustments or changes.

If this was to be to be such a big benefit to the dealers you would think that Cars.com would have had press releases and have their reps presenting it to their dealers. I know I would as well as any business person would. Why didn’t this happen? This is my question.

These forums and discussions are just that. We need to stop all the accusations, insinuations and name calling and just agree to disagree like professionals should.

This isn’t Star Wars and even if it was Darth Vader never showed up for the fight so it makes no sense to be exuding such animosity. They are probably enjoying the infighting that is going on because it distracts everyone from the real issue that caused all this in the first place. This is a maneuver that has been used for centuries.

I admit that and I am not happy with these Mega Companies buying up the vertical in this Industry. Because these are the things that happen when companies get so large that they feel they know what’s better for their customers than the customers do and if you don’t agree I am so big that I don’t need your business.

This type of arrogance is littered with tales of economic Goliaths that were slain by the David’s that listened, respected and cooperated with their customers. 

Comment by Yago De Artaza Paramo on May 16, 2013 at 4:22pm
For all the accusations about Cars.com I thought it was funny when I found the attached paper at Brian Pasch Automotive Bootcamp in Philadelphia.
It is an advertising piece from CBS radio who is just trying to build an advertising network with a lot of small partners instead of just one big one. Just a different approach to the business. One fee and you get to a lot of sites.
There are some good things about this. One is the dealer doesn't need a lot of contracts, another is that the dealer manages one vendor and gets visibility in a lot of sites. Referral links and traffic from multiple sources is also welcome in your overall SEO strategy. 
There is also the fact that CBS charges $1,000 for this so its comes to $25 a website. If each site had to manage the feeds on their own or had staff to manage each and every dealer feed network preferences the price couldn't be $25. I'm trying to hire a PHP developer right now with some account management knowledge and people are asking upwards $90,000/year. We can no longer manage these systems with college kids at $10/hour. These networks offer a viable and cheap resource of sites to the dealers.
You may not think that participating in these networks is a good solution and you may also agree with Zig and followers that the two giant 3rd part sites are expensive and over priced. You may not have a lot of friends or ever loved a dog. Then you are one of those that may be unhappy the day is sunny and unhappy again the day it rains. You need to go see Cardone as I can't help you here.
For those of you that want to learn about the business, look carefully at the sites offered in this partnership and you will see CarGurus, the same site that some vendors have deemed as bad for the dealers but also the same site they blamed Cars.com for sending feeds to them. Later we have discovered that the manufacturers send feeds to CarGurus, not we also find that CBS sends feeds to CarGurus.
3rd party advertising sites do better when they share assets. They also do better when they link to each other creating small networks of relevant and similar content. These networks work best if the websites different in the nature of their proposition (MSRP seekers, Cars for Women, financing sites, etc).
So why are we still blaming Cars.com for sending feeds to CarGurus? I think we will end up finding that EVERYONE may be sending feeds to CarGurus anyway. Maybe Cars.com didn't tell anyone that they were sending feeds to CarGurus because they already had so many feeds from others that it didn't make a difference anyway. 
Maybe Cars.com also thought that by networking your inventory with other sites they were serving you better since everyone else seems to be building little networks of their own. You may disagree with whether that is a good strategy or not, but as I have stated before I see someone trying to think ahead how to get you more exposure and not trying to take your sandwich from the dealer's fridge.
I hope that this shows that feeds are not unique to Cars.com and they are not part of the evil empire. I hope tat this helps dealers understand that as a vendor we try to get ahead of the other vendors by providing a better service for your dollar.
I say all this because I have been working with feeds for a long time and I was caused once to send too many feeds (I have never charged dealers or vendors for feeds) then I was accused to hold up the feeds when I required other vendors for dealer authorization! I'm not associated with Cars.com other than I give them money for their local golf tournament (BTY- they don't sponsor mine) and I had never heard about CarGurus before in my life other than they are another site of the thousands floating around.
Comment by Timothy Martell on May 6, 2013 at 2:57pm

Comment by Timothy Martell on May 3, 2013 at 12:33pm

I appreciate the kind words Mike. You, sir, are loved and appreciated! 

Comment by Subi Ghosh on May 3, 2013 at 11:31am

Agreed with Mike! Nicely said.

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