How to Build Your Dealership’s Ecosystem

If you’re trying to do it alone, you’re doing it wrong

“You have the power to choose relationships that support the ecosystem you want to build.”

Years ago, when I was managing a website development company, we had a newbie salesperson who was struggling to meet his numbers. Because his performance impacted the company, he obviously needed “the conversation”to get back on track.

You may not know how complex building websites can be, but it can get complicated fast. Because of this, the sales process ends up being a team event.

You need a designer to figure out the customer experience and how the website will look. An IT person is helpful for custom programming, hosting, security, third-party system integrations, and to actually create the site. A digital marketer can help guide content and search engine optimization. You also need a project manager to act as the central contact point to bring all the pieces together.

My newbie sales guy was trying to be a hero doing it alone, and failing at it as a result. My words to him were simple: “If you’re doing it alone, you’re doing it wrong.”

The job was too big and involved for any single person to manage. Plus, the customer value is in the collective talents and resources—our ecosystem—that are brought to the table during the sales process, the build, and with ongoing support.

Our customers did not want a cookie-cutter approach, and yet that was what he was selling. Because that was all that he could do by himself.

The same can be said about dealer systems. Today’s environment is too complex and competitive to rely on one provider. A statement from Deloitte in its whitepaper Navigating the New Digital Divide sums up the point well:

“Retailers [including dealers] need to understand that—for better or worse—they are now competing in the age of the ecosystem. Ecosystems typically bring together multiple players of different types and sizes in order to serve customers in ways that are beyond the capacity of any single organization. Retailers need to begin to develop strategies by which their relationships within an ecosystem create value [my emphasis].”

What this boils down to: You need to choose best-in-class systems, integrations, and partners that share a similar ecosystem philosophy. Whether you’re looking at website plug-ins, lead management, CRM, desking, credit applications, menus, contracting, or all these and more, a smooth sales and finance process necessitates that your systems work nicely together.

They can’t work in just any dealership in some plain-vanilla fashion, however. They need to work well together for your individual dealership and the unique way you sell to and serve your customers.

One of my favorite business books is the Myth of Excellence by Fred Crawford and Ryan Mathews. It outlines five attributes companies can compete on:

  1. Price
  2. Service
  3. Product
  4. Convenience
  5. Experience

The premise is pretty simple: Try to compete on all of them, and, at best, you end up wasting money and risk mediocrity, or, at worst, you fail.

Instead, you need to pick one attribute to truly excel at, another one to differentiate on, and the rest to simply maintain. For example, Walmart competes on price, then product. Target, in contrast, competes on product, then price. Two similar types of retailers, but with very different approaches that have made them successful.

I mention this because the unique way you deliver customer value—your dealership’s competitive strategy—is based on (or, if it is not, arguably should be) some version of this concept. By extension, the systems and partners you choose need to support your strategy versus their own.

If you’re in a spot market, for example, the e-contracting process takes on extra importance. If you’re in a spot market and your dealership represents a luxury brand, how you capture customer data, present contracts, and get signatures (e.g., signing on a tablet device) is part of the overall experience.

If your systems make the contract process chunky because they don’t play well together, the experience you provide will likely suffer, impinging upon the customer value you provide and, possibly, sales in the long run.

Continuing the example, because I know the e-contracting process well, I know it’s not something that can be done by any one player. And because you’re a dealership and not a software company, there is a heavy dependency on your vendors to make it work.

You do, however, have the power to choose relationships that support the ecosystem you want to build, which starts with first knowing how you want to deliver value to your customers. As a marketer, you play a key role in defining and communicating what that value is, and your dealership’s ecosystem as a result.

So what happened to my newbie sales guy? His performance did improve, but not enough, so he had to leave. He never fully understood the importance of the ecosystem.

Todd Mason is chief product and marketing officer (CPMO) for RouteOne, a joint venture created by Ally Financial, Ford Motor Credit, TD Auto Finance, and Toyota Financial Services. He is responsible for managing product conception, development, and strategy, as well as implementation of all marketing-related strategy and tactics for RouteOne.

Todd Mason


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