Mission Improbable: A Game of Technology Tag

Automotive Marketing Silos

Before I get to the heart of the article…you might rightfully point out that I missed a few large technology silos. You are correct. I ran out of room, so I included the most common and universal categories that apply to franchised dealerships’ most popular sales and service advertising strategies. And, you would also be correct that some excellent companies are missing all together. Agree, let me know who is missing. The companies included are all great at what they do, and I listed them alphabetically. However, adding more silos and logos only makes the reason I am writing this more relevant to the challenges faced by dealerships in the current 2020 ecosystem.

Now, if you are an entrepreneur, what an impressive list of companies that make up much of the technology ecosystem in the automotive industry for advertising. Some of them cover one silo perfectly while others dabble in 2-3 silos. A few of these companies are worth billions of dollars and many worth hundreds of millions. Not bad, right? But when I reviewed this graphic with my dealer friends, I discovered the average number of companies they work with to help sell and service cars was between 10 and 12 from these main ad categories alone — but way more vendors are required. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

I call this “Mission Improbable”, meaning it’s highly improbable this siloed model is going to succeed. Here are some comments from good, really good, retailers who passionately want to create a frictionless customer journey for their new and existing customers and do it in a way their internal teams can efficiently and profitably execute.

“A world-class customer journey isn’t possible with this many companies and competing technologies involved. It’s too hard, so we settle for mediocrity.”

“It’s like a game of Technology Tag and I am always it. Nothing quite works together like we are all promised.”

“We have 8 offer management platforms just to price out cars and create compliant offers. None of them are consistent. It’s no wonder customers lack trust in our process.”

“I have 4 franchises; my OEMs all use different certified vendors in their Co-Op programs. It compounds our challenge by 4x. It’s getting worse every year.”

“It’s too expensive and the real costs are all the people we need to hire, train and re-train in order to use these technologies that were never designed to work together.”

“All these companies are all chasing the exact same people. I only have two types of people to sell or service…my existing customers and prospective new customers in my market. Is it really that hard?”

“We have all been so focused on the customer journey, we all forgot about the dealer journey through all of these independent platforms.”

So, the problem for dealers is logical and well-said by the growing frustration of dealerships who are spending more for technology and getting less of a return, if any.

What’s the solution?

With every big challenge comes a great opportunity to solve it. As we enter the new decade in 2020, I would propose some or all the below suggestions to help combat Mission Improbable.

Here are my Big 5.

  1. OEMs. I would encourage you to do this ‘silo’ exercise with your current and future programs. Some technologies are setup to share data and integrate with other companies through secure API’s. Some are not structured to integrate and never will. The current universal method of sharing data is through ADF-XML which is 20 years old. This was originally designed for getting lead forms with very basic data into a CRM. The entire world has changed, and data integration has exploded. You have the power and position to force real integration across silos to dramatically improve the customer journey while reducing the burden on your retailers.
  2. In 2020, you will see companies (like ours) continue to develop and rollout technology that already integrates and connects the silos. We won’t be alone, but the customer journey now touches everything from targeted communications like email and mail, to all the major digital media companies to websites. Integrating all those offers and experiences is the best way to ensure a positive customer journey. Just look at the most successful digital retailers like Tesla, Carvana, Amazon Prime, etc. Less technology silos, less friction, less expense, and more of what you want…transactions.
  3. We must rethink 20-year-old technology as the primary manner to share basic data amongst companies and platforms. I am hopeful, but doubtful, that the current landscape is ripe for this type of cooperation.
  4.  Consolidation and/or real integration. Some of the companies should get together and start creating “Reese’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups” with their ingredients. Dealers want less solutions that do more and are easier to use. I can see some solid partnerships forming in 2020 that offer dealers and/or OEMs fully integrated solutions that were intentionally designed to work together.
  5.  Go Direct. Digital advertising is perhaps the most siloed, crowded and fragmented of them all. Starting with the public groups and the large privates…dealerships are going to start to bypass traditional digital vendors and OEM programs all together. By either creating a solution themselves, or by endorsing a few existing tech platforms, the big media companies have everything to gain (and so do their advertisers) enabling dealers to advertise their inventory and services directly without the need for an agency. Think about it, what value does a travel agent offer its passengers these days? Very little. Google, Microsoft, YouTube and Facebook will have to look at this in 2020. There is too much at stake not too. And while standalone franchises might be able to muscle through the myriad of companies in these silos, large groups have to scale and be more efficient. Dealers will develop direct relationships with the major digital media companies that the vast majority of their money is already flowing into. It only makes sense for them.

I am going to be at NADA this year with Team Velocity at Booth #4288C in the main hall. If you want to talk more about this, or set up a time to see how we are solving the game of Technology Tag, please send me a private message.

Digital Retailing or Digital Roadblocking?

Digital retailing continues to be one of the hottest topics in our industry, but almost everyone I talk to has a different explanation for what they consider digital retailing to be. So, on a recent cross-country flight, I Googled What is digital retailing? I thought the following definition was most logical:

Digital Retailing, at its most basic level, is a series of experiences that allow consumers to easily maneuver and engage with your website at different stages of their purchase journey.

Personally, I believe that every dealership attempts to have a great digital retailing solution. Who doesn’t want to execute the above definition for their current and prospective customers? But, in reality, are we? Consider your most important customer, the one your dealership already has…your existing customers. They make up a vast majority of your sales and service transactions. But how easy is it for them to maneuver and engage with your website at different stages of their purchase or service journey? Most likely it is not easy, regardless of the dealership’s brand, size, or location. Although I love Audi, my personal experience with my dealership is a good example of what consumers experience every day.

 

Here’s how it started:

I received a nice personal email from my dealership with a lease offer on an A6 Premium for $469/month for 36 months with $2,999 down, driving 7,500 miles annually. (The disclaimer listed some nice rebates, but it is doubtful a typical customer would read the fine print.) So far, so good. Interested, I clicked the link that directed me to their website/VDP.

 

Once there, I hit my first roadblock:

  • The dealership links me to a full MSRP VDP with a price of $57,895 and zero lease payments – not even close to the offer advertised in the email. Confused, I click again – this time on the CTA labeled Make Your Deal – in the hopes of being redirected to the advertised $469 lease payment.

 

 And, I am met with a second roadblock:

  • The dealership is asking me to give them my information. Considering they just emailed me a personalized offer that included my name, email, and phone number, don’t they already have my contact? This was supposed to be an easy process as an existing customer, and too much time later, I’m still jumping through hoops.

 

Invested in time and now just curious, I resubmit my information and click for a third time and – unsurprisingly – am not taken to my personalized offer. I spend more wasted time configuring a lease on their digital retailing widget, careful to make sure I replicate every term listed in their original email to me. And finally, my offer!

 

Just kidding, I hit roadblock #3:

  • The best offer I am given is $667 per month – which is approximately $200/month above the $469/month lease payment the email promised to me as well as the rest of their customers.

Surely, I’ve just made an error and can still get the offered lease payment? Just in case, I Google Audi A6 Premium lease payment, and…

 

Roadblock #4 appears:

  • My dealership is advertising payments as low as $399. Now I’ve been given three completely different payment terms for the same model. Consumers are more frustrated than ever. Why is this process so difficult and time-consuming? At this point, most dealerships would have lost any previously interested existing customers.

About an hour later, a nice young lady from Audi calls me, and I ask her about the personalized email offer I received earlier in the day, and politely explained I was unable to find it on their website or in any of their advertisements.

 

Roadblock #5 is presented in the form of her explanation:

  • “Unfortunately, it’s inconsistent, and it makes it hard for us depending on what you received or looked at online because none of it is usually realistic. But if you can come down, I am sure we can work out a great deal for you.” I thanked her, but thought why do we roadblock customers online?

This made me wonder, as I often do, if the dealership leaders spend any time walking through exactly what their customers experience? It sounds simple, but I am guilty of not doing this at my own company.  It’s like calling our main phone numbers versus dialing our employees’ mobile phones directly. The phone systems and processes are so bad, slow, and cumbersome that we just go around them now. The bottom line is that it’s a painful process even for your best repeat customers to get realistic and accurate information to purchase their next car or schedule their next service online, and it shouldn’t be.

 

Some people reading this will correctly state that the dealer is not allowed to share their best prices until a one-on-one relationship is established. However, how much more established can it get from a current customer who purchased an Audi and services it at that same dealership? Technology, as advanced as it is, should be able to distinguish between an existing customer and a prospective new customer. In fact, automotive dealers are in the rare group of businesses that don’t separate customers online experience from their prospects. If you think about the businesses you interact with almost daily – Amazon, your bank, insurance, credit cards, online entertainment, every major hotel and airline – they already know who you are and treat you as such. Customers are roadblocked because they are treated like a “lead” instead of as an existing customer.

You would also be correct to point out that the company who emailed the customer also has no control over the website company, which has no control of the retailing widget to configure payments, and the website company has no control of the company that does the Google Ads. This is true, and part of the issue that makes Digital Retailing feel way more like Digital Roadblocking for customers.

The solution is in the palm of your hand! Consider Apple: they created a platform that integrates and interacts seamlessly with consumers and their lives. Conversely, look at dealerships: consumers are forced to jump through hoops when it comes to dealership technology. They are forced to juggle a brick flip-phone, an original iPod, a digital camera, all of their credit cards, cash, and a clunky GPS system just to keep track of their journey and reach their destination  – when all they need to be given is a single smartphone (i.e., Apple). Consequently, the lack of consistency kills a dealership’s credibility.

Realistically, Digital Retailing is only going to happen in our industry with integrated technology platforms that provide a series of experiences that allow consumers to easily maneuver and engage with dealership websites at all stages of their purchase journey, not just the one that particular vendor executes.

Mission Improbable 2.0

As I have both previously said and written, it is improbable that most dealers can truly be successful with so many different companies and technology platforms being utilized to operate their businesses. Most dealerships are up to 10-15 different ad/technology companies even before you start counting all their 3rd-party widgets/plug-ins. How can any business create an excellent customer experience for sales or service with so many independent software applications that were never designed to integrate with each other? It’s the definition of Mission Improbable.

I generally spend more time with friends not in the business on these longer holiday weekends. And since they know what I do, I get to hear about their car-buying experiences, which I love. Below is a quick summary, from a friend’s POV, of a Labor Day Event email designed to upgrade his 2017 Audi Q7 to another Q7 or the new Q8 over the long Labor Day weekend.

I told him what the dealer does behind the scenes to execute even the most basic shotgun email marketing, much less something more complex like digital advertising, which could involve another 4-5 additional companies:

  1. Dealer hires Company A to design the Labor Day email blast, and they have offers for their lowest priced models. None of it really looks “Audi,” but whatever, it’s a one-time blast to everyone.
  2. Company A sends the designed email template to Company B, which selects the audience and provides some small customizations like “Joe, you’re eligible to upgrade your 2017 Q7 during our Labor Day Sales Event.”
  3. Company B deploys the email and sends the customers off to a landing page (no matter what they are driving) somewhere on Company C’s website.
  4. My friend pecks his way around Company C’s website and finds a few logical vehicles he wants to consider leasing. He claims to spend more time closing “popups” asking his name (ironic since the email included his name) than doing anything else.
  5. He hits the “Buy Now” link on Company C’s website, which opens up a different digital retail solution from Company D.
  6. Company D promptly requires Joe to provide his name and phone number in order to send him a special code to continue or get an “e-price,” a term he is unfamiliar with.
  7. Wait… what?
  8. Joe is the current customer driving a Q7 that Company B emailed, and Company C and D force him to submit a lead form to continue? Yes, this is real.

Before I tell you the ending, I asked him for his opinion on what he thought about the process:

“Awful. Absolutely nothing makes sense. How can they know my name and my current vehicle but send me a blast with an Audi A3 and A4 offer? I drive a Q7; do customers downgrade that often? Why didn’t they link me to the vehicles I would logically be most likely to buy? Finally, when I did find the vehicle and wanted to get more information, I clicked the link to ‘Buy Now’ and a new experience opened up, and they asked me for my name and phone number to continue. Why would the dealership send me an email then ask me to provide them with information they already know? How much more difficult can they make it? The button should have said ‘Don’t Buy Now.’ And the capper – even after I did all that, they called me and didn’t even know I was already a customer.”

I was shaking my head and thinking Companies A, C, and D don’t have any idea who you are, what your relationship is to the dealership, or the car you drive… so to them you are Joe Public. Company B knows more, but it doesn’t matter because they are sending you to Company C’s public website with a retailing widget from Company D. It’s just broken. Mission Improbable.

He continued, “They don’t treat their customers like the public – they treat us worse than the public because they make me provide them with data, like my name, car, trade value, that surely they have since I am already their customer. After all, they emailed me, right? And the more places I shopped online, the less consistent my experience became. It ended up being just as hard to buy somewhere else.”

I explained that dealerships get stuck with so many platforms that don’t integrate, that his “awful” online experience would have been pretty similar at 95% of dealerships. His online experience, however, was (to him) a direct negative reflection of how he perceived this dealership’s operation – four independent companies involved in a basic Labor Day email that ended with Company D asking a current customer to fill out a form before he could have the privilege of upgrading his vehicle.

And we are so numb to this poor experience that we celebrate the 1% of consumers who tolerate this “upgrade” experience as a victory. Company D didn’t generate a lead; they simply gave the dealer back very basic information of a current customer the dealership already had.

I firmly believe we can do so much better, but not without new integrated technology platforms or the adoption of new modern standards of integration, which seems quite unlikely given today’s climate.

My wholehearted belief is that one fully integrated platform should be used for the majority of a dealership’s marketing and advertising, as well as technology that clearly distinguishes between existing customers and new customers. I am hoping that OEMs will take a strong look in the future at how they endorse or include stand-alone “silo” solutions that will never integrate with each other versus broader platforms that are already integrated by design.

The goal should be to provide consumers with a consistent and relevant experience with single platforms that can easily be managed by Tier 1, 2, and 3 advertisers.

Just Text Me

Text is now the preferred method of communications for U.S. adults. It has a 99% open rate compared to email’s 20% (at best), making it a far more effective form of communication. However, most dealerships’ websites still have countless clever – and annoying – ways to attempt to get a consumer to fill out a lead form. I get it, but it’s time to think like customers living on mobile devices in 2019. Ask yourself: when was the last time you filled out a form or chatted with a company from your mobile device? Now — when was the last time you sent a text?

Some dealers have a basic widget on their site allowing customers to text their major departments. That’s a start, but it’s an overlay or pop-up that often interferes with the user experience and must be closed in order to navigate. Like most things in our industry, these widgets stand alone and don’t integrate with a dealership’s customer database. For text to really work, it must integrate with your most important database and be prolific in ALL your advertising.

Heeding these new stats, we recently developed a new texting platform for consumers and dealers within the Apollo platform, aptly named Apollo Text. This is a quick overview of how it works and why it is performing better for our dealerships than the 3rd party widgets they used before.

If you want to substantially increase engagement from your marketing as well, I suggest following these five winning principles of text:

1. Integration. Integrate a “text us” option throughout all your advertising mediums. Give your consumers the option to text your dealership(s) everywhere – search ads, video, email, direct mail, Google Business Listings, and all the major areas of your website. This way, your customers know it’s a legitimate and even preferred option for them to engage with your dealership. You will immediately receive more texts from in-market consumers that have not yet visited your website but have engaged with your marketing. See below for examples.

 

 

2. Customer Identification. This is key. Make sure you have a texting application that cross-references the inbound text number with your customer database. Most consumers only have one mobile device, so chances are, if they have ever done business with you, their mobile number is already in your database.  Today, about 50 percent of all inbound texts are from customers that can be easily identified by cross-referencing their phone number. By instantly identifying the customer your team can review all available and relevant data before formulating a response.  This is what makes text so much more powerful than any other engagement or method of communication.  From a simple inbound text, you can learn everything about the consumer before you respond. For example, vehicle history, trade value, equity position and more.

 

 

3. Customization. Customize your inbound text options with custom and/or pre-populated responses to match what’s most important to your customers – current offers and promotions. For example, if you are offering a $39.95 oil change or Free Pick Up and Delivery, make that an option for your service texts. Or, if you have a promotion for $500 in Bonus Cash, make those readily available options as well. Your platform should be flexible enough to be updated instantly.

 

 

4. Automation. Text is about quickly giving the customer the information they need. Make sure you have pre-populated all the typical and most common responses ahead of time so you can rapidly respond to their inquiry. See below for some examples.

 

 

5. Attribution. Attribution is the very best part of text. Retrieving a mobile number during any engagement (sales or service) makes it easy to attribute your marketing to a transaction and determine an ROI. A reliable mobile number is one datapoint a dealership almost always receives during the sales or R.O. (repair order) process. Your platform should automatically provide you with a match report that enables you to see which marketing initiative your customers are responding to (Google, Microsoft, VDP, Email, Mail, POS, TV, etc.).

 

 

So, not only do many customers prefer to begin and end their engagements with text, it’s also the best datapoint your dealership can gather. The ability to cross-reference consumers unique mobile numbers against your sales and service transactions make text the most reliable way to attribute an ROI to all your marketing and advertising efforts.

No matter who you work with, if you follow these five principles for text, I guarantee you will see an increase in qualified leads, response-rate, and ROI attribution.

David Boice
Founder and CEO

#NoMoreCoreModels

Remember the good old days. “Hey Mr. GM, the incentives just came out and I was hoping you could email us the very best offers on your top core models? From there, I can forward them to our (human team) and have them create your ads as quickly as they can. Next, we can rush these ads to your OEM compliance group and after 48 hours of back and forth, our team will send the compliant ads back to you for final, final, final approval. By then you can make sure the offers are still correct. Now it’s somewhere between the 10th and 15th of the month and we can start marketing for about 15-20 days. As soon as the new incentives are released next month, we can start this circus all over again.” Sound familiar?

Ask yourself, are those really the good old days? Not really. If you are still doing this with multiple vendors every month, it’s a colossal waste of your time, highly inefficient and has your dealership on the advertising sidelines for far too long. If your vendor suggests you utilize a “tool” so that you can figure all this out yourself, it’s even worse. Don’t forget, your job is to sell and service cars and ensure your customers are taken care of 24-7. It’s their job to handle all your marketing and advertising initiatives.

Typically, this is the trend I tend to see. You’re still getting some of those “offer” calls or emails, but not from your digital partners. See… they just went way, way, way back to the ’80s. To the point where your ads probably look like the version below.

generic ad examples

They are so generic they don’t even need to call you; they are near useless to the consumer and easily compliant because they have no relevant information that an OEM compliance department would even bother to check.

Your ads should be based on your inventory and the vehicles you have in stock to sell and deliver. You should spend time pricing your cars competitively and consistently on every digital medium you can. By the way… so should your pre-roll videos, display ads, TV commercials, emails, direct mail, etc. For example, your ads should look like the ones below and the rest will take care of itself.

consistency across all mediums

You should be in “play” 24 x 7 x 365. Why? Because technology has changed so much that Google, Bing, YouTube, and Facebook all have technology platforms that allow your inventory to be uploaded and updated daily. Remember, your sales ads should always reflect your current inventory. Why advertise something you don’t have?

That being said, technology has changed but your consumers have not. They still want to know two things, “do you have it and how much is it?” What has changed is their ability to find out relevant information instantly… anytime and anywhere.

So, what does this mean? Stop generically advertising your models, none the less your “core models.” It does not work with today’s consumer. Eliminate the phrases so often associated with our business that instantly create distrust such as but not limited to:

  • Payments as lows as…
  • Savings up to…
  • Huge selection…
  • Great deals…
  • Limited time…
  • Quotes online…

Together, we can end generic advertising.

David Boice
Founder and CEO

The Ultimate Conversion

I love when technology is developed that improves our fundamental ability to better serve our clients. Mostly, we must create that advantage for ourselves. But, our thanks go out to Google because they have carefully been releasing new technology that tracks when customers who have previously engaged with their advertisers also visit their place of business. I would call a person who shows up at our dealerships “the ultimate conversion”. While there is a growing capability for dealers to both deliver and pick up vehicles…99% of all sales and service transactions still occur at the dealership. Ask yourself, how many times have you shopped online, then showed up at a business and purchased their products or services? It’s a weekly occurrence for me. Isn’t that the ultimate conversion? A dealership visit is better than a click, a form, or even a call, which is commonly a point of failure for businesses.

We are fortunate to have a significant number of clients who already meet Google’s requirements to utilize this technology. The best part is we can now report on the correlation of people who show up to our clients’ stores with the exact campaign(s) they engaged with. Tracking logged-in devices is the primary method of collecting data today, but the new technology wave includes tracking beacons and other Geo-Based technology placed within showrooms, service departments, and pre-owned departments to further improve the tracking at a granular level. These enhancements allow us to create and properly bid on campaigns that we know with certainty will drive showroom traffic that our clients are most likely to convert into profitable transactions.

Here are the top 10 things we have learned so far:

  1. Inbound phone calls from PPC campaigns and store visits have a strong correlation.
  2. To my dealer friends, your inbound calls are golden. Please monitor them closely.
  3. Obviously, Brand and Geo Brand campaigns drive significant store visits. No surprise there.
  4. The good news, the store visits for Brand campaigns are inexpensive and average less than $10/visit. For those that say don’t do it, the math says it would be foolish not to.
  5. It’s critical to have campaigns and ads for every single new model you sell, not just your 3-4 most popular models. You should also be running ads on your pre-owned inventory but we will get to that in a minute.
  6. Campaigns that promote specific inventory, pricing, payments and updated incentives produce significantly more in store visits and have the lowest cost per visit.
  7. Get in the game with service marketing on Google. Don’t bid on your name, but rather the services you provide with a competitive offer. Next to brand campaigns, these will be the campaigns that drive the most store visits at the lowest cost per visit. The ROI is at least 5:1.
  8. Run ads on every used vehicle you have and update them nightly. The store visits are significant after online shoppers have viewed a pre-owned vehicle you have in stock.
  9. Both Re-targeting and Behavioral Pre-Roll video are incredibly effective. I was skeptical of Google’s statistics that 46% of people who view videos from a business will then show up…until I saw the data.
  10. Don’t think twice about re-deploying some of your traditional budget into Pre-Roll. Its targeted TV and it works to drive showroom traffic.

The Future of the Auto Industry

Mission Improbable

There are so many excellent, innovative companies in this industry. I left out our companies’ names from the chart, because whether you feel we are leading in any of these areas isn’t relevant to this article. Point is, dealership managers are left to themselves to aggregate processes within at least 6 separate technology platforms. In our opinion, it’s Mission Improbable for most. Running a dealership is hard, it’s competitive, and it isn’t easy. Adding a technology integrator into the mix shouldn’t be part of the job description.

It doesn’t matter how great individual companies are or become in their respective swim lanes. There are just too many different technologies that will never integrate, strongly biased opinions, glowing reports, and conflicting priorities for dealerships to make sense of it all. I applaud the effort (we are participating) in trying to develop a new integration standard (ADF-XML 2.0) across multiple platforms. But at best, it will only make a small dent in the real challenges dealerships face in today’s increasingly complex world of retailing.

Not even Fortune 500 companies have as many technology platforms to communicate with their customers and market themselves in an integrated fashion. Every speech I hear has at least one reference to Amazon or Apple. They deliver world class experiences because they have a single fully integrated platform that connects their marketing, their customers, their inventory and their logistical operations. They treat their existing customers (like me) very differently than new customers, by heavily factoring my purchase history and my relevant data across every touchpoint I have with them. That’s one of their most powerful advantages. 99% of dealerships can’t do that because their data lives in 6+ places, not including accounting. Just go to any dealership’s website and look for the ‘Sign In’ button or ‘Current Customers click here’. You won’t find it. When someone who you already do business with starts out by asking your name…well that says it all. Today’s consumers demand to KNOW ME BETTER. SERVE ME FASTER. WOW ME EVERYWHERE.

Even if a dealership kept it simple, and only picked the largest company in the limited number of technology categories I outlined, they would still be left trying to make it all work. These companies are hugely successful and best in class. Guess what? They also have the least desire to work together, are fiercely competitive, and nobody can blame them for that.

When I started in the business, it was common for dealerships to use separate finance systems (like Coin) or service retailing systems. We walked many deal jackets upstairs to accounting for them to keypunch into the DMS, which sounds nuts by today’s standards. But, once dealerships got used to the integration – they couldn’t live without it. Most of those independent companies were either purchased (like us) or they vanished. Not anymore, they are now entering the space as fast as they can, typically with a singularly focused solution, and a pocket full of investment cash.

I was fortunate enough to start my first company at 22. I worked in dealerships nights and weekends, plus developed and sold some great software during the day. After 3 to 4 years, I was able to just focus on building our first business. So, I asked lots of questions to anyone who was successful so that I could learn -because I knew nothing except how to out-hustle most. I truly did not know what I did not know. I heard a lot of inspiring thoughts, but the one piece of advice that remained consistent was, “Do one thing, and do it well. Do it better than everybody. Focus.” And ultimately, we did. It was good, sound advice, and I think most entrepreneurs in the automotive space subscribed to the advice I was given both then and now. That’s why all the leading and largest technology platforms are still different today. They stayed in their swim lane. But a whole bunch of new platforms are on their way. Because Silicon Valley is betting and banking that these siloed tech platforms are the answer.

That strategy no longer makes sense in a complex business environment like automotive retailing. In fact, I think the opposite. So much has changed, and today’s consumers’ expectations are now being established by companies like Apple, Amazon and Google. They are fully integrated across every touchpoint. The bar is high.

That’s why we have been on a long-term mission (aptly named Apollo) to build one fully integrated omni-channel technology platform that can facilitate every ounce of communicating, marketing, retailing and servicing a vehicle online or offline from one database. We couldn’t license or buy the technology, or piece-meal it together through a series of acquisitions. It had to be designed and constructed from the infrastructure level up. It’s been difficult, it’s been filled with setbacks, and it’s been five times as challenging and expensive to create as we initially thought. We are not done, but we have tackled the most difficult technical aspects of the mission. We are doing this because we firmly believe this is the only logical way for dealerships and OEMs to facilitate the changes required to meet the demands of today’s consumers through one integrated omni-channel platform. The large aggregators have struggled to cobble together integrated solutions, through acquisitions, and the start-ups don’t have enough capital or the desire for this level of competition.

Something as basic as making sure that every single medium a dealership is advertising with (from free to paid) consistently has the exact same offers, payments and disclaimers for every single model, trim and for every piece of inventory in stock. When something changes like incentives, price, compliance, or a state regulation, within minutes everything is automatically updated across all the mediums and on all the major platforms. Retaining current customers is so vital to a dealership business that it has to be 75% easier and faster to transact in sales or service than it would be for a brand-new customer. A dealership’s primary website should cater to their existing customers as much as it does to the public. By simply cross-referencing a phone number from a customer who is speaking, texting, or using Voice, you can find out 100 other pieces of critical data to make it so easy to facilitate another profitable transaction in minutes with zero friction.

My gut is that we are not only going to continue to see further dealership consolidation, but we will see vendors consolidate, merge, get acquired or vanish because omni-channel technology integration is going to be the future. OEMs are going to start looking at the logic and power of entire platforms for their retailers that connect Tier 1, 2 and 3 seamlessly. Today, they overload their dealers with individual technology platforms, picked out by some uninvested third party to evaluate, primarily based on getting the lowest price. The CO-OP programs have a purpose for sure, but dealers are left to try and make sense of all the separate technology platforms that will never work together. So, who wins? Not the dealership, and certainly not the customer.

And finally, the consumer experience itself won’t be frictionless because so many important touchpoints are inconsistent and SLOW on mobile devices. 85% of customers finance or lease their vehicles. So just start with something as basic as payments, much less actually attempting a transaction online.

Take one common vehicle/trim that you have in stock (that you are advertising), and do the following:

  1. Search for that car in Google, and jot down the payments and terms you are advertising -if any exist.
  2. Do the same thing on YouTube.
  3. Then go to your primary website, jot those down.
  4. Then go into your Equity Mining Tool, jot those down.
  5. Then go into your CRM and see what those emails would have for payments?
  6. Then go to Facebook, jot those down.
  7. If you send mail and/or email, jot those payments down.
  8. Then pull up your Retailing plug-in (if you have one), jot those down.
  9. Then go to the Third Party Sites and jot those down.
  10. Then call the store and ask about the payments for that same car you might purchase or lease.
  11. Then email your dealership and ask the same question.
  12. Now, be the customer. Because many of them are exposed to all of the above.

If you are advertising or communicating payment-based offers (which work two times better), you had a massive amount of work to do make sure everything was consistent. But most dealers give up, because it’s Mission Improbable. So, they go back to the ads that don’t include the single most important information that should be available to today’s consumer which is: “Do you have it, and how much is it?” Especially repeat buyers.

To my many dealership friends, do your best, don’t get frustrated, don’t switch vendors as often. Start asking questions about how things work together, demand consistency because your credibility depends on it, shop yourselves everywhere. And most importantly, start looking for omni-channel platforms that do more -and are as integrated as your phones, computers and the favorite companies you transact with. Licensing more single-channel technology platforms just overloads you with tech and requires more of your time to learn it.

Fuel Your Dealership

What’s the ROI on my digital advertising?

We have different piggy banks in the automotive industry. Dealers need to deposit local, profitable sales and service transactions into their piggy banks to measure growth and success. The metrics on the right of the image above are useful measurements, but can’t be deposited as real profit. I wrote this article in hopes of gaining feedback and insight on a subject where I believe our industry could improve. A new, smart client of ours asked me a basic question that served as the catalyst for this article. Before I could answer he said… “You are not allowed to use any of these tech words: Conversion, Impression Share, Clicks, Cost Per Click, Cost Per Lead, Time On Site, Bounce Rate, Engagement, VDP, or anything similar. You can use words like Transactions, Sales, Repair Orders, Gross Profit and any other industry term you like as long as it involves us making money.” Seemed like a reasonable request and right down my alley.

His question: “What’s the return on my digital advertising investment? I know how much money I spend with Google, Bing and Facebook…prove to me the transactions and money we deposit in return for our investment.”

In their new digital playbook for dealers, Google classifies the ability to answer this question in the “advanced attribution” category, which is basically their futuristic bucket because of how rare it is for a digital vendor in the automotive industry to prove attribution. Many dealers I know would respond with “are you kidding me if you can’t answer this basic question”. This is where the disconnect has happened in the industry. The mediums that capture the most consumer data should be the easiest and most logical to determine an ROI based on a dealership’s actual sales and service transactions. Dealerships today are putting more of their ad budget into digital mediums. Naturally, they want to fish where the fish are…but very few digital agencies can identify how many fish are actually caught and how much they weigh.

After all, we have the data, right? In order to determine an ROI, all you need is two readily available pieces of data. First, you need at least one unique data point on a consumer that identified themselves while engaged in shopping online…like their name, address, email, or their mobile phone number they may have used to call, text or chat. The second is a list of all the sales and service transactions and the gross profits associated with each of those transactions. Just cross reference the people who engaged with your advertising against your transactions. Pretty basic, but why do hardly any digital agencies do this? A dealership could get that information from TrueCar in less than 1 minute, but not from their digital agency? Is that logical?

This new client asked me for something so simple and he claimed he just can’t get this basic transactional ROI data anywhere else. All he wanted was for us to give him a list of everybody that used Google, Bing or Facebook, who clearly identified themselves by calling, filling out a form, claiming an offer, chatting, etc…who also completed a transaction at his dealership. He then asked us to divide the matched list into folks who had already done business with the dealership before and those that had not. For a dealer, that makes perfect sense and connects all the logical dots from his investment in Google, Bing and Facebook right into their piggy bank.

You simply add up all the money the dealership ACTUALLY made on real transactions where customers were influenced enough to identify themselves and subtract the digital spend to acquire those customers. So, if Susan Jones, who never purchased a car from this dealership, saw a Google ad on a pre-owned vehicle, clicked the ad to call the dealership from her cell phone, spoke for 4:18, then provided the dealership with the exact same mobile number she originally called from (2 basic data points) when she took delivery the next day…and the dealership made $4,000…and that happened say 10 times in a month…you get the math.

I wrote a previous article that provides anybody a step by step process on how to do this. It’s not rocket science, which is why so many other types of marketing vendors do this routinely, but very few digital agencies consider a sales or service transaction as the ultimate conversion. Let that sink in. Rather, they use technical jargon which collectively sounds impressive, but doesn’t necessarily ring the cash register. After all, the only reason a dealer advertises anywhere is to ‘ring the register’. Why is this considered advanced or aspirational? A transaction is the only way dealers make money and the only way they can properly attribute their advertising to a real ROI. They certainly can’t deposit ‘clicks and views’ into their bank accounts.

Some of you out there will read this and claim this is trying to give 100% attribution to a particular search or click. That isn’t the case at all. This purely provides a starting point that shows the influence each medium has in the actual buying process. We can get into complex attribution models in the next article but not until we answer these simple questions dealers are asking first.

My hope is the best digital agencies in the industry will improve the methods we all use to deliver an ROI and a better level of standardization develops. I see dealerships changing digital vendors with totally unrealistic expectations based on promises that sound incredible, but often fail to deliver a return on their investment. In the meantime, we are going to keep working closely with companies like Google, Bing and Facebook to include simpler, easier to understand transaction based reporting.