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?   

70% of all vehicle purchases come from leads scored 7 or higher - Free Download

Last year Polk and HookLogic worked together on a pilot program with a dealer group to test the concept of combining Polk Lead Scoring with HookLogic’s incentive program. As part of the test, HookLogic passed copies of the email leads it received from the dealer group and gave them to Polk to be scored. Leads that scored 7 or higher were sent an email with a test drive incentive that could be redeemed when the shopper visited the dealership. The pilot test yielded the following results:

  • Nearly twice as many people opened the email and printed the coupon vs. previous dealer group emails (23% for the pilot test)
  • Polk became a finalist in the DPAC (Digital Publishing and Advertising Conference) Awards 2010 for Best Digital Direct Response Campaign

Because Polk has a record of every vehicle transaction in the U.S. Polk can track all automotive purchases. Based on Polk Lead Scoring, Polk sees that about 70% of all vehicle purchases come from leads scored with a 7 or higher.

The question then becomes not which leads are most likely to close but WHERE will they close? At the dealer that received the lead or somewhere else?

Polk looks at specific information in the lead itself coupled with Polk’s proprietary database information associated with the lead (e.g. address, demographic and vehicle information). This combined information is used to determine the score. Each element in the model is weighted for its ability to predict likelihood to purchase a vehicle.

Last month a webinar was held where Polk walked attendees through the lead scoring process and how HookLogic is working with Polk to drive these shoppers into the showroom.

Those that attended the webinar already received a free copy of the presentation deck but if you are interested in receiving your free copy of it then fill out the form below and we will send you a link. Upon doing so you can also expect to receive invites to other upcoming webinars and events sponsored by or in partnership with HookLogic.

Know the Future and Know Your Customer with Dataium's Cloud Intelligence

Dataium Cloud Intelligence Webinar
Dataium Cloud Intelligence Webinar

One of the greatest challenges automotive sales professionals experience in their jobs is knowing when the right time is to follow up  on a lead that only a few short weeks or months ago had expressed an interest in a vehicle at your dealership but never came through as a sale. But now-a-days with so much tracking available of people and their online behavior, the days of guessing are going away. A New Era

With each click, search, and submission, consumers leave behind valuable and insightful data and statistics about their habits, interests, and future behaviors. Like footprints in the sand, these behavioral events leave behind digital footprints---data. These footprints, when collected, aggregated, and analyzed, provide important information regarding online purchasing behavior and activity, consumer trends, interests, and intent, and the effectiveness of promotions and web design.

One such company that knows this all too well, is the data utility company Dataium. Founded by industry gurus Jason Ezell and Eric Brown, Dataium is the largest aggregator of automotive Internet shopper behavior. The company tracks tens of millions of behavioral events weekly and is the only cross-platform website analytics solution.

There are three things that Dataium does very well...

  1. Knowing the Future - Today's shopper behavior predicts tomorrow's shopping trends.
  2. Knowing Your Customer - Dataium sees the entire online buying process, from keyword usage, inventory searches, lead submission, and everything in between.
  3. Knowing Your Website's performance – Unlike most other web analytics providers, we enhance website statistics with comparative industry, brand and market benchmarks. As an independant web analytics provider our only goal is timely and accurate metrics.

It is these things and the information that Dataium is able to collect and analyze that led to HookLogic's partnership with Dataium earlier this year. And it is these things that Dataium will be discussing on April 18th in our Advanced User webinar.

Cloud Intelligence Webinar - April 18

Slated to talk about this fascinating topic is Dataium Enterprise Account Manager Sean Murphy. In this webinar, Sean will introduce Dataium as a utility company and bring to light the many types of information about people and their online behavior that companies like Dataium are able to track. He will also dive in to the three things identified above that puts Dataium above the fray in these areas.

Sean Murphy of Dataium
Sean Murphy of Dataium

Sean Murphy is a car guy and tech geek with more than 20 years of experience in both the automotive and enterprise IT sectors.  He is currently the Enterprise Account Manager for Dataium, helping bring Dataium's solutions to a variety of automotive clients.  Prior to joining Dataium, he was a cofounder of Buycentives, which developed technology to deliver data-driven incentives to online auto shoppers; he spent several years at leading ad agency, JWT, delivering product and consumer insights to Ford Motor Company; and worked for almost a decade at GM's Saturn Corp., handling everything from product strategy and planning to dealer sales, service, and parts.

Webinar Registration Link

This webinar will be held on Wednesday April 18th at 11:30am EST as part of our Advanced User Series. To register, click the link below. For more information about the AutoHook Webinar Series, visit our post titled, AutoHook Webinar Training Coming in January.

Wednesday April 18 at 11:30am EST – REGISTER HERE

Polk to Discuss Passive Lead Scoring in March Webinar

Last month we wrote about passive vs. active lead scoring here on our blog. In this post David Metter explained how the practice of lead scoring was co-created with Polk and that while somewhat controversial, the practice of scoring leads is ultimately a smart choice for most dealerships. The part that is controversial is more about the idea of assigning a score to a lead for your sales reps to size up potential customers, and not so much about the importance of knowing the real potential of each lead coming in to your CRM. We agree that it does not behoove the dealership to know the score that each person has been assigned, after all, the score is only temporary. We do believe however that it is important to know each person's real potential to become a customer. Thus the practice of passive lead scoring was born.

To score leads, people coming in to your CRM are evaluated based on certain criteria using an algorithm that helps identify where about in the buying process a person might be. With passive lead scoring, an action is taken that is appropriate to their current situations as opposed to blanketing everyone with the same message.

This action is not a conscious or deliberate action that a sales rep takes because of the person's score, but an action that is automatic and unknown to the sales rep all together.

In our case, this action is an automated email offering the recipient an incentive for coming in for a test drive, something that a person with a low score is not likely to be interested in whereas someone with a higher score might be.

The result is that more qualified buyers appear in the showroom for your reps to work with, less time is spent courting people (or annoying people) that aren't ready for the showroom to begin with.

Lead Scoring Discussions Led by Polk

To talk about this important topic, we have invited our lead scoring partner Polk to lead discussions this month on the significance of lead scoring and the process that Polk goes through to score dealer leads. Representing Polk will be Senior Solutions Consultant Mark Pauze.

Since starting with Polk, Mark has worked closely with clients to understand their diverse business, research and analysis needs, developed solutions to meet those needs and directed teams to deliver customer solutions. He works with clients to help focus their consumer and industry intelligence efforts and develop integrated solutions that will address their needs. Mark has been focusing his efforts most recently on lead marketing at Polk and has worked with a wide range of customers on diverse lead marketing solutions.

Webinar Registration Link

A webinar will be held on Friday March 16 in our Advanced User series for auto dealers. To register, click the link below. For more information about the AutoHook Webinar Series, visit our post titled, AutoHook Webinar Training Coming in January.

Friday March 16 at 11:30am EST (For Dealers) - REGISTER HERE

AutoHook Webinar Training Series Coming in January

In effort to keep pace with our amazing growth in AutoHook customers and evangelists, HookLogic will be launching a webinar training series beginning in January. The series will consist of at least one weekly live webinar, with each session concentrating on a different subject and oriented for specific segments of our audience.

New User Webinar

Every FOURTH Tuesday at 2:30pm EST - REGISTER

Every SECOND Thursday at 11:30am EST - REGISTER

This recurring webinar is meant for users that are new to AutoHook. In this webinar we will discuss the coupon redemption process, web overlay features and options, and best practices for web overlay users. It is recommended that all new AutoHook users attend this recurring webinar until you are comfortable with the process and all its features. There is one held on the second Thursday of each month and one on the fourth Tuesday of each month. Topics are the same between the two.

Advanced User Webinar

The 18th of every month at 11:30am EST - REGISTER

This recurring webinar is meant for users that are more familiar with AutoHook, using Web to Show and Lead to Show. In this webinar we will discuss best practices for for both products and for our Advanced Tools. This webinar is held once a month and is recommended for all AutoHook users interested in maximizing their experience with the web suite. Days and times will vary to help minimize attendance conflicts. The webinar will be re-scheduled when the 18th falls on an observed holiday or weekend.

Evangelists Webinar

The 1st Wednesday of every month at 1:30pm EST - REGISTER

In addition to these webinars there will also be a monthly webinar for product evangelists which include resellers, affiliates, and API partners that interface with our technology as part of their own product offering. This growing segment of evangelists must know about and understand the full capabilities of the AutoHook technology, how it is sold, and what sort of challenges and obstacles we encounter distributing and implementing the software to auto dealers, ad agencies, etc.

In addition to registering for the webianr series that is right for you, please also subscribe to our blog so we can keep you informed. Additionally you may connect with us on Facebook and LinkedIn for updates.

Dataium Webinar Hosted by PCG Digital Marketing

In case this slipped under your radar, we wanted to inform you about an upcoming webinar taking place Monday November 7, 2011. The webinar is being hosted by Brian Pasch of PCG Digital Marketing but leading the webinar is Dataium co-founder Jason Ezell. Dataium is somewhat of a new kid on the block but is already raising eyebrows amongst industry professionals.

Dataium’s cloud intelligence data and reporting tools are expected to revolutionize CRM systems as we know them today.  The first CRM companies that fully integrate Dataium’s API may very well have a distinct market advantage.

Jason discussed the benefits that dealers can realize today from business intelligence tools based on consumer shopping behavior on the Internet when he presented at the 2011 Ignite Dealer Summit and Digital Dealer 2011.

Reserve your seat now by clicking on the link below:


As a special bonus, the first 100 dealers to sign-up and attend will get a free trial of the Dataium base platform.