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automotive

Lies The Digital Age Told You About Selling Cars [Chapter 1]

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| by David Metter, President of AutoHook powered by Urban Science

As part of Urban Science, it’s in our blood to question everything. Not only do we look outside the box to solve complex problems, but we then question each element that makes up the box, down to each individual line, 90-degree angle and the composition of positive and negative space that define the constraints of the box. Better yet, approaching a problem from a true scientific perspective means questioning why the box even exists in the first place. While the process can be painstaking, making observations through the unbiased lens of science can also lead to accidental discoveries.

Granted, for someone who started in the business as a car salesman and later managed dealerships, using scientific methods to make decisions in the showroom isn’t the first and most natural inclination for many of us. And when I say science, I mean actual science – not the junk out there that claims to be science (remember when everyone threw around the term “big data”), but the kind of science that has no skeptics, that sees trends within a data set that not only others don’t, but that no one’s even thought to look for before.

When we hear a number or statistic over and over again, especially one published by a known source, we believe it to be true because…why wouldn’t we? We all know not everything we read on the internet is true, but this example is perhaps the ideal case in point of one widely accepted “truth” the automotive industry has come to accept without any empirical evidence whatsoever.

Automotive leaders in search, analytics, digital advertising and consumer behavior have all published findings stating the number of dealerships customers visit before purchasing a vehicle is somewhere between 1.3 and 1.6 dealerships. This number has been kicked around at conferences for years. So naturally, we decided to challenge the claim that customers visit less than two dealerships before buying a car.

In May of 2018, AutoHook and Urban Science decided to conduct our own survey. We asked real consumers we know bought a car within the last year how many dealerships they visited prior to their purchase. Out of 2,748 responses, what we found is people are visiting more dealerships than we thought. According to the survey results, people on average visit at least 2.4 dealerships before buying a car.

Furthermore, 70% of customers surveyed visited two or more dealerships before purchasing. Almost half, 46% to be exact, said they visited three or more dealerships before purchasing, and 26% said they visited four or more dealerships. The unfortunate reality is that we’ve all been thoroughly brainwashed with the misconception that people only go to about one dealership before buying a car which we now know is not the case.

Regardless of whether customers visit two dealerships or five dealerships, the takeaway here is that everything we’ve been told about consumer buying behavior in the digital age is skewed. The truth is that today’s car shoppers go to at least 2 dealers before purchasing. What’s so significant about this finding is that it proves people have a choice and decisions are being made both on AND offline. The blindly accepted notion that the majority of car shoppers have already made up their mind on what to buy and where to buy before ever stepping foot in a dealership is completely false. In fact, in another study completed by AutoHook and Urban Science, 78% of over 66,000 respondents said they were still shopping multiple brands before visiting their first dealership.

The underlying message we’ve all come to believe is that customers are making buying decisions based largely if not solely on what they read online…which by the way conveniently plays to the ultimate gain of the big publishers, search and media companies. Maybe they are doing this so dealers and OEMs will continue to spend more and more money with said companies on their digital advertising, but we don’t have the science to back that up just yet.

Anyways, down here in the real world, cars are still bought and sold in physical showrooms and the process is still dependent upon a positive exchange between two living, breathing people. The only difference between today and 50 years ago is that customers walk in armed with information and salespeople need to provide a less painful buying experience. Other OEM-specific customer surveys AutoHook conducts on an ongoing basis show that when asked why they didn’t buy a car from a particular brand, the overwhelming majority of respondents selected “bad dealership experience” as their #1 reason for not purchasing.

So, if you think people are going to fewer dealers than they were ten years ago, it may be because the experience they expect to have when they’re at a dealership is a negative one. Not always – I know plenty of dealers who recognize the importance of their people and the in-store experience they provide, and I also know these dealers sell much more effectively as a result. This alone makes the argument that dealers need to focus more attention on hiring and retaining better salespeople who understand the value of relationships if they’re interested in repeat, loyal customers.

Another common misconception is that millennials are taking over the market and they buy everything online; therefore dealers need to move towards models where ~99% of their selling happens online, and their salespeople just need to walk the customer through the paperwork upon arrival. The first part of that statement is true in that Millennials are quickly overtaking the market as they now account for almost 30% of all new vehicles sold. By 2020, JD Power and Automotive News project they will account for 40% of all new vehicle sales.

What’s NOT true is the assumption that Millennials want to buy their cars online. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The test drive experience is more important to the Millennial generation than ever before, so much so that they want to extend the test drive experience to get a solid feel for how a vehicle will fit into their everyday lifestyle. Millennials also spend more time on the buying process and are less brand-loyal than previous generations. As a result, we see more and more extended test drive programs popping up like Toyota’s Try Before You Buy program which allows customers to take home a vehicle of interest from anywhere between 24 hours to a full week.

Again, whether the total number of dealerships visited before a purchase is 2.4 or 3.4, the more important point is that people have choices and if they go to a dealer ready to buy and have a negative in-store experience I can confidently say based on data (and common sense) that they’re going to leave and buy from someone else.

I’m not saying everything we know about digital is dead, and I’m in no way trying to tell dealers to kill or even cut their digital ad spending. But what I am saying is we as an industry need to seriously reevaluate the amount of time, energy, and most importantly, money we spend on what we know is vital to selling cars and the ongoing growth and success of a dealership…good salespeople.

INTRODUCING: AutoHook® + ServiceSmarts® Integration for KIA

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THE WAIT IS FINALLY OVER...

AUTOHOOK® + SERVICE SMARTS®

LAUNCHES AUGUST 1, 2017

What is AutoHook?

AutoHook specializes in proving sales attribution combined with their untouched ability to increase showroom and service drive traffic. Through their 100% DAS-Eligible incentive solutions, AutoHook supplies true, incremental sales, new to brand buyers, and service appointments to KIA Dealers. Powered by Urban Science, AutoHook proves ROI with the fastest, most accurate sales and service data in existence. 

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What is ServiceSmarts®?

ServiceSmarts® is an online tool that allows all KIA Dealers to identify and target their best Service opportunities. 

What Happens When Two Superpowers Combine?

After establishing a proven track record for driving sales and new to brand buyers to KIA stores, it was only a matter of time before AutoHook brought our high-converting incentive solutions to the service drive! With the all-new AutoHook + ServiceSmarts integration, KIA dealers can improve the effectiveness of every service campaign and TAKE BACK service revenue by isolating, targeting, and incentivizing the customers with the highest level of opportunity. ServiceSmarts data identifies any potential missed opportunities and AutoHook incentives allow you to create campaigns to convert those opportunities into service appointments.

Program Overview

  • Target inactive or at-risk customers using your ServiceSmarts data.

  • Identify and incentivize your greatest areas of service revenue opportunity.

  • Deploy AutoHook's custom email incentive campaigns to secure more service appointments without compromising your price integrity.

How Does it Work?

STEP 1: Service Manager selects a target audience within the ServiceSmarts tool (active customers, inactive customers, first service appointment, or at risk service customers).

STEP 1: Service Manager selects a target audience within the ServiceSmarts tool (active customers, inactive customers, first service appointment, or at risk service customers).

STEP 2: After selecting a list of customers to target, select AutoHook as your Fulfillment Vendor. This will enable you to create targeted service campaigns using strategic email incentives offers. The email creative has already been done for you.

STEP 2: After selecting a list of customers to target, select AutoHook as your Fulfillment Vendor. This will enable you to create targeted service campaigns using strategic email incentives offers. The email creative has already been done for you.

STEP 3:   Select your campaign details including the name of your campaign, duration, email template, the dollar amount of incentives you'd like to offer, etc. Don’t forget to click to preview your service URL to make sure your customers can schedule an appointment online.

STEP 3: Select your campaign details including the name of your campaign, duration, email template, the dollar amount of incentives you'd like to offer, etc. Don’t forget to click to preview your service URL to make sure your customers can schedule an appointment online.

STEP 4: Preview and confirm your campaign and hit submit. 

STEP 4: Preview and confirm your campaign and hit submit. 

STEP 5: Customers visit your service department to redeem their incentive. A Service Advisor activates the customer's incentive using a unique 9 digit coupon code and AutoHook's easy 30-second redemption process. The customer instantly receives their Visa e-gift card while their vehicle is being serviced.

STEP 5: Customers visit your service department to redeem their incentive. A Service Advisor activates the customer's incentive using a unique 9 digit coupon code and AutoHook's easy 30-second redemption process. The customer instantly receives their Visa e-gift card while their vehicle is being serviced.

SIGNING UP IS 100% FREE.

YOU ONLY PAY IF A CUSTOMER SHOWS UP IN YOUR SERVICE DRIVE TO REDEEM THEIR EMAIL INCENTIVE.

SIGN UP NOW TO START TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THIS PROGRAM!

*CAUTION: Dealers using AutoHook Incentives have been known to experience outrageously high levels of ROI. 

Has the Promise of Big Data Finally Been Fulfilled?

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by David Metter

Big data has been a big topic in automotive for a long time now. At this point, I think we’ve all realized there is a limitless digital warehouse of actionable data that exists. However, the struggle remains in deciphering how all the pieces fit together and translate into more sales. At the absolute core of the car business, when all the digital minutiae and politics are set aside, being able to prove sales is the only way to know if something is working. Owning the ability to prove sales in near real time is unquestionably big data’s most powerful accomplishment as far as the car business is concerned.

Perhaps the focus has simply been in the wrong place, or maybe it’s the fact that the focus has been in too many places. Dealers have been forced to adapt, master new technologies, implement new ways to operate and sell more cars all while being pushed in a million directions, attempting to distinguish between gratuitous opinions and actual science. It’s easy for dealers to lose sight of the end game when they’re stuck trying to figure out how the pieces fit together and how to create the story needed to turn data into action. This is why a lot of people view big data as nothing but a big problem.

I’m going to make this whole big data problem very small. The only data you need to start with, the only data that allows you to take immediate action is sales and service data, nothing else - and this is the reason:

We know that when customers physically walk into a showroom, closing rates jump to roughly 60-65%. Therefore, leads are important, but there’s no argument that showroom visits are more important than leads, and sales are more important than showroom visits. That’s the trajectory. If you’re using big data for anything other than proving sales or service revenue, you’re wasting your time. Sales have always been, and will always be the single most important dealership metric.

You also have to look at the history and trends of your past sales and the sales of your fiercest competitors. Too often, some of the most influential players in this industry forget that no two dealers are the same and no two markets are the same. Therefore, the data you need to own more of your market share may be much different from other stores, including each rooftop within a large or small dealer group.

In a lot of ways, big data is like a hammer. We can all go to Home Depot and buy the same hammer, but what we use it for, and what we ultimately build with that hammer is contingent upon its user. Choose to use your hammer better and smarter than the competition. Know that in order to do so, you also have to know how your rivals are using their hammer – in other words, the sales and defection trends of competing dealers in your market. It’s impossible to cut your losses if you don’t know they exist. You need to view both your opportunities and losses from a 360-degree, closed-loop vantage point. Big data exists not only to show you what you sold, but just as importantly, what you didn’t sell.

To put things into perspective, know that the power of big data transcends far beyond the car business. On a global scale, true improvement and change can only occur if a problem or a need for change is identified. Over the last decade, big data has proven its ability to influence the world’s greatest issues, including social change, government policy, and industry laws and regulations simply by its ability to demonstrate a need. When a need is identified, it then opens up the door for change.

In the TEDx Talk, “Stories are Just Data with a Soul, Chris Coates paints a very clear picture that data exposes needs by telling stories. “These stories can help people leaving prison to find work and stay out of prison and build new lives. They can save someone’s eyesight or their leg. Data can give children in the most deprived parts of the country chances in life they wouldn’t otherwise get.” What Coates is saying is that data alone has the capacity to change a life. If big data can change lives, it can absolutely change the effectiveness of your sales operations.

 

SEM Costs on the Rise: How to Adapt

SEM Costs on the Rise: How to Adapt

I’m not saying I have a Master’s Degree in economics from Harvard, but I do understand the fundamental principles of supply and demand. The price of goods and services is a direct reflection of the market’s available quantity and requirement of said goods and services. As I assume you’ve heard, Google - the guru of digital adaptation - altered the layout of their search engine results pages (SERPs) to better align with the mobile movement. In February of this year, they removed paid ads on the right side of SERPs – leaving less ad real estate and of course, more competition amongst dealerships.

The Automotive Marketing Home Run

By David Metter

The four bases that make up a baseball diamond can be directly related to the car shopper’s journey. We all know the path begins online. The final destination, or home base, is the dealership. The goal is to surpass all your bases and arrive back at home, or rather, get buyers into your store. You can’t get a home run without rounding the other three bases - that would be cheating. Similarly, in the car business, there are three obstacles you have to conquer first and foremost, before returning home for the win.

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First Base: Meet Expectations

The expectations of today’s digitally equipped consumers have skyrocketed. Souring shopper standards have caused additional complexities within the marketing landscape. There are more media outlets than ever before. New developments in mobile and wearable devices are generating more buzz than an overcrowded group text. Our access to data is exploding. Social media advertising opportunities are #Trending. But with all this technological innovation has come consequences. These advancements mean one thing for dealers and marketers: more competition. The following are guidelines to rise above and defeat the competition.

In a recent study, eMarketer reported 97% of US corporate executives say their customers expected an efficient, fast, cost-effective, and personalized level of experience. The two most critical components in automotive marketing today are speed and personalization. Cost aside, if you don’t offer a seamless, personal experience that spans from your digital advertising all the way to your showroom, having the lowest price in town isn’t going to matter - because buyers won’t make it to your dealership if you lack the first two pieces of the equation.

When a pitch is thrown to home plate, the batter has less than a tenth of a second to make a decision on whether or not to take a swing. When it comes to your website and mobile site, the same holds true. The modern-day consumer is flat out impatient. Google says 70% of smartphone users will leave a site that has a lagging load time and 67% will switch websites if it takes too many steps to get the relevant information they’re looking for. Dealers have a total of two seconds to ensure their mobile site experience prevails – slightly more time than a player at bat, but a very small window nonetheless.

According to AutoConversion, personalization of messaging is something we can and should be measuring. “Consumers now expect and respond better to messaging that is better customized to them personally, thus customization has become a key measurable characteristic with marketing attribution, an idea unimagined only a few years ago.”

Second Base: Establish Trust

I don’t care how you do it. Or at what inning in the game you earn their trust. But trust is paramount when it comes to selling cars. Choosing which vehicle to purchase and where to buy it is a large, emotionally dense decision. Whether it’s trust in a brand, a dealership, or a salesperson, it is ultimately that sense of security that makes people feel like they’re being provided with a personal, reliable experience. That feeling of comfort will translate across channels into vehicles sold.

Salespeople are already at a disadvantage when it comes to trust. A new survey from HubSpot says, “Only a mere 3% of people consider salespeople to be trustworthy.” Dealers need to be cognizant of this when staffing sales and BDC staff. Your team’s ability to communicate with honesty and transparency should be equally as important as their experience and knowledge of your inventory.

The same rules apply in marketing. Your brand, your digital campaigns, your “why buy” messaging, and your reputation management, all must collectively paint a picture of trust. A dependable brand provides helpful tips and easy access to information. Dealers can establish integrity by sharing useful advice or articles throughout their digital endeavors, not necessarily related to their given product. 

Third Base: Achieve Conversion

We know vehicle details page (VDP) visits are important. There is no denying the correlation between VDP views and units sold. But what is even more important is the experience your VDP offers once the customer gets there. Your landing pages need to do three things: be easy to navigate, load fast, and above all, convert. Ask yourself, how do your VDPs incentivize customers to take that next step toward home base (your showroom)? KissMetrics says a one second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions.

And finally…

Home Plate: Your Dealership

The culmination of the home run occurs when all these factors are simultaneously in play. The trajectory includes every digital touch point (base) that ultimately drove a buyer into your showroom. Just as players must work together as a team, these micro-moments must all work in harmony in order to meet expectations, establish trust, and offer a fast and personal experience.  

4 Absolutes of an Automotive Game Changer

By David Metter

I have great news. You don’t have to be a genius to change the game, and you don’t have to be a World Series winning champion either. But you do have to be willing to disrupt and question the current rules, players, and equipment used in the game. You also have to be capable of placing YOUR right players in your lineup. If you possess the mentality that there is always a better, more efficient method of accomplishing a goal, or executing a play, then you have it in your DNA to be a game changer. Most of the time, it’s simply about combining the highest-ranked players with a little common sense.

The following absolutes are not only a set of guidelines to winning a baseball game, but they also dictate the attributes of a game-winning team across all leagues of automotive marketing.

1.    Have the Proper Equipment. It’s impossible to get a home run without a bat, and it’s pretty difficult to catch a fly ball without a glove that properly fits. It doesn’t mean the talent isn’t there, it just means it’s not being correctly applied. If dealers are the players of the automotive business, then vendors are their equipment. Vendors facilitate home runs and grand slam opportunities in the same fashion that bats, helmets, cleats, and protective gear assist players in capitalizing on their true strengths. It is the equipment, or rather the vendors, that provide the freedom for players to do what they do best – play the game. Or in our case, sell cars.

In addition, just as one baseball glove does not fit all who play baseball, one all-inclusive marketing strategy does not fit all dealership business models. Now more than ever, our playing field is being infiltrated with vendors aggregating solutions into a single, “all-powerful” marketing suite that consolidates all needs into one – everything from search, to social, to email marketing and in-store conversion tools. In theory, this may sound like a good idea. However, I advise you to be cautious of anyone who claims to be a “Jack of All Trades,” as they cannot possibly be as competent in the results they deliver when compared to a company that specializes, and dominates, in one specific area.

IBM’s recent whitepaper recognizes the advantages that accompany integrating the unique mix of solutions that support your individual needs as opposed to a “one size fits all” marketing suite. “In 2016, look for new ways to leverage your technology mix to give you greater agility to innovate and more strongly engage your customers.”

2.    Put Your Players in the Right Positions. Know the distinct strengths of every player on your team. Just as you wouldn’t put a first baseman in to pitch to a batter, you should very carefully consider putting a vendor that began in one segment and now offers “everything” in a position to manage your full marketing needs. Automotive is not a one size fits all business. The same dealers, dealer groups, and manufacturers that have changed the game are the ones that have taken the time to sit down and evaluate new, revolutionary technologies. Why? Because their impacts can be revolutionary on your most critical KPIs.

When considering which vendors to add to your roster, remember to choose ones that complement each other. For instance, if your goal is to increase your website conversion, you first need to secure a method of getting enough traffic to your site. Likewise, when drafting a winning team, the coach is tasked with the finding the right blend of strengths and talents, and placing each player in the right position. When you think about it, that’s really the only way to win at anything – finding that ideal combination of tools that cover all your bases with the player that’s made for the job.

3.    Don’t Throw the Same Pitch Every Time. In order to win the game, there has to be an element of surprise. That’s your curveball. In marketing, there is traditional, predictable thinking, and then there is the kind of thinking that completely obliterates everything it means to be average. Game changers refuse to succumb to all that is ordinary. When you’re working within our current digital playing field, it’s important to acknowledge the dense fog of information attempting to cloud your vision at all times. But never take your eye off the ball, as this is the fundamental secret weapon needed to break through the clutter.

Thinking outside the conventional marketing platform is the clutch, or the fastball, that will ultimately defend your dealership from falling into the dreaded “average” category - which also fails to identify why people should buy from you. Average is not compelling nor is it magnetic. Average online experiences don’t drive buyers to your showroom – and more importantly, all-in-one marketing suites fail to offer memorable experiences for your customers. Who wants to be average in an industry synonymous with competition?

4.    Know the Score. How can you possibly win at anything when you don’t know the score? In order to overtake the competition, you have to know where you stand in comparison. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to be a statistician or analytics expert, nor do you have to know every player’s batting average, but you do need to know what you’re up against and above all, what sets you apart.

To win the game, you have to be ready and willing to change the game. True leaders combine unbelievable technology with a common sense approach. Sometimes all it takes is asking the right questions, which then evolve into ideas, and ultimately solutions that change and improve our operations. Top-of-the-line equipment will never fail to safeguard a competitive edge, but what really sets game changers apart is that they know how to appropriately allocate their assets. They choose to work with vendors that make it possible to transform a single idea into a better-suited reality.  

Solving the Attribution Confusion

How Dealers Can Eliminate Deficiencies with More Accurate Attribution Tracking

By David Metter

Through endless digital and traditional channels, consumer influence is happening both consciously and subconsciously as they navigate along a digital roadmap equipped with double-digit research touch points that follow no predictable path or straight line. This new age buying behavior makes attributing a sale to one source almost impossible. While new and developing channels provide marketers with an abundant assortment of avenues to reach potential customers, the challenge of measuring the return on your investment is becoming increasingly complex.

“Big data” is a widespread term used relentlessly in digital marketing across all verticals. But the question remains, how can we properly leverage big data to attribute a single sale to a single action? And is it possible to attribute one sale to one source within the surplus of information available today?

Let’s first properly define attribution. According to Forbes, “Attribution is the science of using advanced analytics to allocate proportional credit to each marketing touch point across all online and offline channels, leading to a desired customer action.” MarketShare defines it as “giving credit where credit is due.” To simplify even further, attribution is who or what takes credit for a sale.

For auto dealers, attribution is synonymous with the conduit that led the customer from screen, to search, to showroom. Attributing a sale or a lead translates to knowing exactly where it came from, how it came to you, and why. The problem with digital marketing is that this process can be very challenging as there is no conventional path to follow when it comes to tracking online (and offline) actions today. Attribution defines which elements of your marketing compounds will result in a reaction, or which will ultimately prove to be effective.

There is a reason Amazon is the #1 online retailer. The master of digital merchandising has the most straightforward attribution chain in the business - consisting of three steps: a search, a click, and a buy.

On the contrary, there is no such thing as the “search-click-buy” method in the automotive industry. The question of the moment is could there be, and how do we turn that possibility into a measurable science? The reality is, well below 5% of the total buyers in the market behave in a direct, attributable fashion. Therefore, dealers and manufacturers must focus on the 95% of buyers that have to physically visit the showroom to purchase a vehicle and really drill down to determine their personal, unique path to purchase. But dealers are not dentists, and drills are not a part of the standard dealership sales toolbox.

According to a Dataium study, “One-third of autos purchased today are a direct outcome of internet-generated leads.” Lead conversion must be measured at the dealership level. More importantly, measuring attribution, or the accountability of a sale is of growing importance as more and more media and social networks adapt to a paid advertising model.

Tips to Overcome Attribution Hurdles:

1.     Don’t be afraid to get a little personal. Customize your messaging based on a user’s previous actions and their digital footprint. The smartphone is regarded as the most intimate device ever. Therefore our marketing must follow suit and get personal. Custom-built, targeted messages elicit fiercer impacts. Consumers not only want personalized messages, but they now expect them, and respond better when marketing tactics convey a dynamically tailored message.

2.     Implement a streamlined form-fill process on all devices in conjunction with industry-leading responsive design. Evolving technologies have arrived that allow geo-targeting on mobile devices that currently provide dealers with a first ever, “showrooming” solution that is, you guessed it…100% measurable!

3.     The consumer experience plays a significant role in the attribution process. When considering the experience, focus on the variables that include specific IP addresses, number of page views before an initial offer or incentive is provided, and closing the loop with re-engagement and retargeting practices.

4.     Attribution can be more accurately measured when conversion is streamlined via e-mail or text message delivery. When the consumer data is captured during an incentive redemption during a showroom visit, we can then know without a shadow of a doubt which channel led the buyer to your lot. When you offer something valuable in return for a consumer’s personal information, the probability of them completing the form drastically escalates.

It’s crucial we all take a moment to step back and put aside all the math and the logic. At the end of the day, there is a simple method to the madness. Waiting until a customer physically shows up in your showroom to collect their information enables you to collect more information (and more accurate information) than you ever could from a typical dealer lead form. This is simple quid pro quo; you have to give something to get something. We have to think differently in order to capture the information we need to make smarter budgeting decisions.

To learn more tips towards solving the attribution confusion please check out our attribution whitepaper, “Automotive Attribution: Fundamentals and Future.” 

 

The Conference "Pay-to-Play" Mentality: Is it in Your Best Interest?

By David Metter

I want to start here. This may be my Jerry McGuire moment. Maybe I should end here…but this has been eating at me for a while. 

I’ve been in this industry for over 25 years. I started out selling cars at a Chrysler Dealership in Dayton, Ohio. Somehow, I have navigated my career through all facets of the dealership including an executive marketing position for a large dealer group. I have also had the opportunity to work on the vendor side with a start up CRM company in the early days of CRM. My latest startup venture, AutoHook (the artist formally known as HookLogic) was acquired by Urban Science this past year. Along the way, I have had the fortune of building great products, growing businesses, and speaking at events all around the globe. I don’t tell you all of this to stroke my ego, only to frame my position. 

As a dealer, especially as a CMO, it felt like I was asked to speak at EVERY event. Because we were first in with a number of digital marketing initiatives, I had a lot to share, both success and failures. I would often feel like I was on tour. Don’t get me wrong. I enjoyed sharing my experiences with other progressive dealers. I love my industry and want more people to have success. Dealers who can speak can be in demand at conferences but I have noticed a trend lately. There are less and less dealers speaking, with those spots filled with more vendors. Why is this? Have all of the progressive dealers gone away? Are they afraid to speak? 

On the flip side, I have noticed that the majority of the speaking spots are somehow tied to a sponsorship package. I remember a day when you submitted a topic and content that was relevant to the participants, wasn’t a sales pitch, and you were picked to speak, regardless of your checkbook. Yet, lately, when it comes to many of the conferences our industry has hosted, there is a strong emphasis surrounding the “pay-to-play” mentality. Vendors and auto companies can only present if they pay thousands of dollars to do so. Is this really the best way to educate our dealer audience with the information that is most beneficial to them and their business?

All too often the companies who spend the most money on conferences, that secure the biggest and best booth space or a prime speaking position are not in line with the companies that have the most useful story to tell. I don’t say this because I am envious of these companies or I don’t have the budget to compete. I say it because it’s the truth. It’s gotten so bad, that at one of the largest conferences this past fall, many of the speaking halls were near-empty because the content and speakers were practically the same as previous years…and yes, you guessed right - they were from the same main sponsors.

Even if the content or a speaker is chosen for a spot, it might not get the prime speaking position. At another conference this fall, there was a panel discussion that had “heavyweights.” The session was highly rated by the conference attendees and every seat was taken with people standing in the back of the room. However, they were relegated to a “breakout” because the larger sponsors occupied the larger, main auditorium sessions - and you guessed it, those sessions were not as full. 

It seems that more often than not, my experience, my name, and my brand are simply not enough to secure a speaking position at a conference. It’s sad to say, but as an industry, we need to be better than that. We need to share our wealth of knowledge in order to help others and to inspire our audience rather than just share from those that spend the most to host these events.

I am not alone in my thoughts on this topic. Many vendors have expressed the same sentiment, and attendance at a lot of conferences is dwindling. Are we losing sight of the entire purpose of these networking and educational events? Are the messages being delivered merely the ones backed by the biggest budget, or the best content? Are we providing these audiences with the knowledge they need to truly take their business to the next level?

Personally, I’ve questioned the offers to present at conferences if they are directly tied to a speaking spot. I want to be picked because I have a compelling message and the conference is confident that I won’t sound like an infomercial. Arguably, I am a better presenter than I was 10 years ago. I am WAY more mature and have more successes and a ton more failures to share with the attendees. When I am asked to present, I go above and beyond because my first priority is to make the content worthwhile for the audience, as they are paying good money to be there and learn. Let’s be clear, this is not me taking the opportunity to bash the large conferences as they do have a lot to offer dealerships. However, I strongly encourage you to take a step back and be discerning about who you choose to listen to and which sessions you choose to attend.

So, what do I endorse? I see a higher quality of knowledge being shared at smaller, local events that keep the vendor space equal. I see better content being shared in dealer 20 groups that allow presenters to share valuable insights without having to sponsor the event to do so. Dealers share their “best idea” with their non-competing peers. I also see content being shared on the industry blogs, in free (not paid) webinars, and in whitepapers (again free). And I am going to put our money where my mouth is. We are going to be very selective of where we present and make all of our content open to our industry.

Our first example of this will be a mobile marketing strategy whitepaper that is filled with great information from industry experts. It is not an AutoHook sales and marketing document. It will help those dealers who are searching for a mobile marketing strategy. Instead of forming panels at conferences, we will set up webinar panels and open it up to more people; especially those who can’t convince their ownership to attend the conferences.

I want this topic to be out in the open as it is reflective upon everyone involved in the automotive industry, including myself, and you – if you’ve made it this far. We need to consistently represent the values and principals that we’re proud of and that define us.

How do you feel about the exponential rise of the “pay-to-play” mentality?