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Best Practices

Why You Should Be Concerned About Regulatory Oversight: How Regulators Do What They Do

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For this month, something new. I’ve written this article so you can copy it and have each employee at the dealership sign it. Having written employee acknowledgments of your policies is an important part of a robust GRC program at the dealership (Governance, Risk, and Compliance). If a regulator comes to visit, having this signed acknowledgment in every employee file would help you quell any claims of “willful non-compliance.” Here is it: Regulators are those governmental agencies that have oversight of our dealer operations.   When a regulator calls us or comes to visit, it is usually the result of an unhappy customer(s) – which we have not satisfied – who complains to them. Subsequently, the regulators will ask many questions about our business practices and how we operate. They have the authority to fine us and try to impose penalties to ensure our compliance with the myriad of laws we must follow. Here is a partial list of regulators:   The Attorney General The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) A Member of the House of Representatives (Federal and State) A Member of the Senate (Federal and State) The State Police The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) The Treasury Department The United States Secret Service To understand the depth and breadth of what they look at, please see the attached page entitled “ CFPB Supervision and Examination Process .” (Page 12 of 1814.) While this is a specific page from the CFPB operating procedures, it is analogous to any regulatory agency’s daily operating procedures. We discuss this as our training this month to highlight the continuous cycle of supervision each of these agencies performs when it comes to businesses within their purview.  1. Pre-Examination/Scoping The CFPB is looking for “risks, areas of inquiry, and focus.” From their perspective, this means they are trying to examine those areas where businesses may take advantage of customers. Suppose the CFPB has reason to believe your dealership is not acting within the scope of accepted business practices. In that case, they will “Request and review documents and information needed to begin examination.” That means they will ask for your “internal policies, audit reports, training materials, recent data.”   It’s likely that if they come looking, they will find something. At a dealership and any business, for that matter, when a regulator examines a company, they find problems. Ultimately this will cost the dealership both time and money. One former dealer used to advise frequently, “When you shine a light on any one item at a dealership, you will find issues and uncover problems.” He is right.   2. Examination (offsite and onsite) This section talks about who the regulator(s) will interview and which operations they are going to examine. It further states they will “compare policies and procedures to actual practices by reviewing a sample of transactions.” Further, they will “compare the conduct to legal requirements.” No company wants a regulator to interview employees. With further examinations and this type of unwanted scrutiny, additional issues will be brought to the surface.   3. Communicate conclusions and required corrective action This is when the regulator tells you or mandates to you how you must run your company going forward. If you are not cooperative, they will “pursue supervisory agreement or formal enforcement action as needed.”   This means that the company would have to agree to a written understanding of how the company must operate on a go-forward basis. If a company declines to comply, the regulator will pursue “formal enforcement action,” which means costly court or administrative proceedings in which the company will have to spend a lot of money on attorneys to defend itself. Fines can be “nuclear” as recent dealers were tagged for more than $10 million, $3.380 million, and even a dealer in California who were fined $27 million.  4. Monitoring The regulator will periodically come back to the dealership and examine reports, transactions, and corrective actions which the company has performed in order to meet whatever agreement was reached. So, the regulators return to ensure compliance with all rules, laws, and regulations. If the dealership has not complied, they will bring the company back to court. This may subject the business to additional fines and penalties, and suspensions. This cycle may continue until the company is out of business or is compliant.  Compliance with any regulatory process is cumbersome, time-consuming, and costly, even if the inquiry is for one customer. An example of a written employee acknowledgement:   Our company is educating you as to these issues as we do our very best to run things in a professional manner while satisfying each and every customer. This also serves as a reminder that it is the company’s policy to follow the laws, rules, and regulations which have been communicated to you during your employment. If you find anything out of the ordinary, please report this to your supervisor or one of the owners. My signature below indicates that I: 1. Will comply with company policies and procedures 2. Will ensure that the company’s customers are satisfied with our dealership 3. Will communicate with my manager of one of the owners if I see items that are out of compliance with the company’s rules and regulations 4. I will immediately communicate with one of the owners if I receive a regulatory or media inquiry.  These things, I promise. _________________________ ________________________ Employee Print Name Employee Signature   January _____, 2023 *If you’d like a Word copy of this document, please reach out to me at tomk@bettervantagepoint.com, and I will be happy to send it along to you.  Thanks for seeing things from a Better Vantage Point. For more information:  Phone Number: 757-434-7656  Email Address: tomk@bettervantagepoint.com Website:  https://bettervantagepoint.com Website:  https://alwaysdobetter.com/howwehelp YouTube Channel:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-ytHE0-c5lUJbzm0H4drog LinkedIn Profile:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/tompkline/

Commentary & Insights

Meet Laurie Halter

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Owner of Charisma! Communications and the Carearing Podcast Host The Start "I would create a family newspaper when I was in elementary school with pictures and articles." Laurie Halter always loved writing stories and, from a very young age, knew she was destined to connect with people by sharing their stories.  Laurie Halter: I was going for broadcast journalism. That's what I wanted to do. I had a professor at the time who said I think you would be fantastic in public relations. I remember saying, "Oh, I will never be in public relations. I'll never sell products that I don't believe in for companies I don't believe in." Laurie was right. She would never sell products she didn't believe in nor work with companies she didn't believe in. Instead, she would go on to build a brand that is two decades old, a brand that connects people, shares stories, and seems to thread a large part of the automotive ecosystem together.  "I didn't think I'd ever have my own PR company." After College, Laurie moved to Portland, Oregon, and found herself at a career fair, speaking to tech companies. Chrome Data, now known as Chrome, didn't have any positions open but created a Marketing Manager role for her, "I was there for three years and loved all of the people that I met," Laurie smiled. "I really loved the team I worked with. I just really started feeling stuck and like I could do more. It was difficult for me to stay in a seat for eight hours." Chrome Data became Laurie and Charisma! Communications ' first Client. That was over 20 years ago.  The Foundations It’s the early to mid-2000s, Laurie's business, had, at the time, only one Client. "I didn't have enough work, I didn't really have any backup plans or clients, and so for the first six months, I would go into my office and create work for myself," Laurie giggled. She would force herself to sit down and try to figure out how to generate leads and strategize about getting more Clients. Laurie had given herself one month to secure more clients, or else she would need to "return to her job." "I want to give you your first break." One of the other Board Members took a shine to Laurie who was in her mid-twenties and on the Board of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation , giving back to a non-profit. At the time, he had a 20-property retirement community group and gave Laurie the opportunity to help with the marketing and PR for the different retirement communities.  Greg Roderick gave Laurie her big break, and they are still good friends today.  "He gave me my first big opportunity, and that allowed me to have a stable monthly base of money. I was then able to build the rest of my client base," Laurie beams, "he knows. I tell him all the time. He saved my company." "I still have mentors today." Laurie Halter: John Traver, the CEO of Traver Connect , called me, and he said he'd like to mentor me. So I still have people coming forward and trying to help me in different ways. I think there are absolutely people willing to step in and help. You just have to let them. The Wins "And here we are 20-plus years later, and I own a public relations firm." Laurie Halter: I love people, and I love hearing their stories. I love feeling the connection of what draws them to the industry. I like telling their stories so other people can understand who they are.  Public relations is a really big offshoot of journalism; it is about making connections and introductions for my clients and different people in the industry to help further their product, their careers, and themselves, as thought leaders.  I really love the idea of working behind the scenes and connecting people in the industry in that way. "I made a lot of mistakes early on, and it was an expensive lesson to learn." I've learned the hard way. I've done it a number of different ways through the years to try to figure out how to scale because the truth is, there's only one of me, and it is tough to scale when you have a service-based company.  I hired a lot of account managers and tried to push my clients through to the account managers. That doesn't work because what they're buying into is me, and they're buying into working with me, and so I finally figured that out, but it cost me quite a few clients. Now I am purely focused on client relations and bringing in new work, so all communication between our clients and prospects goes through me directly.  "My Team deserves so much credit." I have an amazing team that I work with. Ali Livolsi handles all of our PR activities and helps manage the contractors. She executes the strategy that I put together with our clients. Brian Pofahl is my marketing and social media lead. He does all the social media content for clients and helps create all the marketing and branding campaigns. We have a whole stable of writers, producers, and video producers that then create the content that we're strategizing for on a monthly basis with our clients. Ali and Brian are incredible. It's really all about your team and who you bring on board, and what they bring to the table. Staying at the center of client relationships is my goal while focusing on the strategy, which my team then executes on.  I think one of the most important lessons I've learned is to do what you're passionate about and let other people do what they're passionate about in your organization.  The Future I'm honestly in the stage where I'm trying to decide if it even makes sense to grow. We're doing great work, and our clients are very happy with that. My team is happy, and I'm happy. "I'm actually questioning growth." We have a waiting list, and so I would like to get enough people on board so that we don't have that waiting list anymore. But I'm really asking myself the questions; if we want to grow, why, and what will that bring into the equation? And will that be good for my team and our clients? How can we get better for the clients we already have? They are giving us their risk, their time, their resources, their money? Can we be doing things better instead of kind of continuing to grow? For me, it's always been very much about figuring out the balance of the life I want to live.  Laurie Halter is one of the most put-together yet warm people you will ever meet. And as she continues to create the pathways which connect the automotive ecosystem, we are sure that she will grow, perhaps not necessarily by the book. 

Commentary & Insights

Building Integrations for Automotive: An AdTech and MarTech Journey

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Through the years, I would ask myself, "Is the automotive industry ready for this?" In my sixth year in the space after nearly two decades of building marketing tech companies before that, I am doubling down on my commitment to this industry. It isn't because the industry spends a boatload of money on advertising across all tiers or because the industry's adoption of marketing acronyms makes me feel at home. It is because I feel that this ecosystem is finally listening. So, what is everyone finally listening to? Before we answer that, I should explain some of my background. I've started and sold four mar-tech and ad-tech companies, and between all those, I've been involved in dozens of successes and failures in and around marketing. For all intents and purposes, I'm from "outside of automotive." For this reason, I am very opinionated about the things I've experienced. You might witness this when listening to me on a pod, stage, or conference call. What's unique about my perspective on marketing is that I've been involved in almost every important aspect of marketing through the years. And now, automotive has given me a chance to put it all to work and share it, and I finally feel heard. It isn't easy when the industry is sometimes enchanted by the notion of "outside of automotive" perspectives. I am hoping that dealership marketers realize, though, that picking up out-of-the-box (and outside-of-automotive) marketing technology won't bring lasting results. In fact, it's more work trying to connect the dozens of components needed to make marketing work these days in and out of the industry. It sure doesn't help that inside, the gap between the haves and have-nots of marketing know-how is so wide that it costs dealerships piles of money on expensive software and advertising commissions. What this industry really needs is a fully integrated capability that won't break the bank, that takes decades of ad-tech and martech history into account, and makes it work with our industry's nuances. Luckily, after many have tried disconnected tech from inside  and  outside the industry, the market is listening to what's possible. Of course, given that I lead a company that serves dealerships, it takes some work to earn that outside-of-automotive street cred. I also don't have a long history of selling expensive tech to dealers. My way around it is to just stay the course and leverage all the things that I've learned in ad-tech and mar-tech to pull together great software with integrations that are more affordable than ever before yet is as advanced as any other offering in any industry, so that dealerships can do more with less, especially in the coming downturn. What I believe we are achieving will serve as a role model for the future of digital marketing tech in any vertical. I'm so glad I fell into automotive and continue to have the chance to work with all of you. I'm astonished by the long careers many of you have in this industry – at dealerships, OEMs, vendors, and every combination of those. It turns out I've been in a parallel universe, learning as much as I can about digital marketing so that one day, I could collaborate with all of you to invent concepts that take the best of both worlds and make a huge impact on the customer's experience in ways other industries will learn from. And if you are ready, then so am I, to listen and get to work. 

Commentary & Insights

Meet Dennis Ephlin

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The Head of Auto Industry Innovation and Transformation, Mobility & Connected at Capgemini Invent The Foundations "When I was 5 years old, I built Lego towers representing the General Motors headquarters." Dennis' father inspired him to get into the industry, to fall in love with the industry he would be professionally involved in for 30-plus years; "I dreamt that someday I would be the CEO of General Motors. My father worked 40-plus years at General Motors in the Union. So he ended up being Vice President of the UAW and helped create the Saturn brand and all the new business models that came with that." Dennis Ephlin: People always say, Oh, you're in the automotive industry. You're a car guy. I'm really not a car guy. I'm an industry guy. I love the industry and what it is, and I believe in what we are becoming.  So I joined General Motors out of college and worked on consumer relations, a 1800 line, talking to a lot of senior citizens who drove 1980s Cadillacs. I worked with dealers to get them the right repair, goodwill, out-of-warranty expense cleared, and so forth, and I worked my way through General Motors for a while.  In my last role there, I worked with several consultants from different companies, including McKinsey and PricewaterhouseCoopers, and others, on the future of luxury and automotive, not just cars but of luxury. As a young brand manager, I found myself feeding these consultants a lot of great ideas that they then put into fancy slides and use them to convince my upper-level management how brilliant they were. They enticed me to hop over the fence into consulting,  Dennis has been in the industry for over thirty years. "I've worked in every part. I've worked in a plant. I've worked globally. I've worked in a dealership. I've worked in headquarters, doing all kinds of things from sales, marketing, incentives, distribution, business planning, etc." Dennis shares. Twenty of those years were spent working in both digital agencies and consulting. Dennis Ephlin: The five-year-old me, all the way up to today, wants the same thing: to have impacted our industry in some way. I hope to touch and impact the industry for the better because I love the industry. It's been such a part of my life, my family. It's great because the client changes daily, and the opportunity and challenge change alongside them.  The Wins Obviously, I'm not the CEO of General Motors. And I don't know that I would want to be. The experiences I've had have been varying and all so different. I think I've made many personal accomplishments, but to me, the greatest ones are team achievements.  Being recognized in the industry as having a good, provocative point of view, somebody that is connected and networked together, good people that I can call on as well. That, to me, is success: having a good professional and personal career amongst a community of other passionate folks. I love being associated with that. Dennis shares the scale of some of the projects he has led and, alongside his team, implemented for their clients.  "When all those people's lives come together at that moment to work as a team with the client to do something impactful, that is the true value and accomplishment."  Winning a project that impacts the industry as a whole and then going on to manage the execution of that for the next five years seems to be incredibly rewarding for Dennis. "I get phone calls every day, asking for advice or counsel; being a trusted advisor to a client is a pinnacle of accomplishment," after over thirty years of working to enhance the industry through relationships, Dennis has certainly established himself in our industry and community.  The Future “Technology plays a role, but technology's not the answer. “ Dennis Ephlin: The future will be a human-centered, people-centric, relationship-building. A personalized mission that we need to continue to drive towards, or we lose.  Our industry has always been transactional. The OEM rings the register and puts on the accounting books a sale and profit the second they push the car off the factory, and it's then on the dealer's books. The dealer puts it on the books as soon as they sell to the customer: it is all very transactional. “It all comes down to the retail experience and retail operation; all the parts are working together to create a true experience.”  Millennials would rather go to a dentist than a dealer. Hopefully, before I'm done, and many of us who I know in this industry are done and retire off to Florida, we will change that perception. That's what gets me up in the morning and gets me excited. A major focus area of mine is how we make that whole process better, more efficient, more experiential, and something people enjoy. So that mission and the way we measure success in the industry has to change. Otherwise, technology won't matter. It's about the people. It's about value. It's about success in an industry that becomes more personalized. Technology is an enabler, not the solution.  We've now been through the waves of e-commerce and digitization and connected and IoT, and now Metaverse. Of course, those aren't solving anything. They're only perhaps enabling a better process or a better tool. But we still need the right strategy, the right go-to-market approach, the right value proposition, the right people and skills, and training. The size of the industry and how many people's lives it touches, and how interconnected it all is still amazes Dennis. "There's such an emotional attachment to our industry. It's such a massive industry in terms of volume and size, in terms of the global impact, but also in terms of touching people's lives". Dennis reflects on his time at IBM coupled with an amazing experience and Nordstroms, "we had a saying at IBM, the last best experience in any industry becomes the standard of every industry for that customer, which is true, and I hold the auto industry accountable to that of a Nordstroms experience."  Dennis Ephlin: There are a lot of different industries that offer better quality products, better quality experiences, or much better processes and technology, and the challenge to innovate in a big industry like automotive or even automotive retail, in which everything is so ingrained, is still a challenge.  I think we're on the cusp. We are headed through some decent transformation, and COVID certainly accelerated that. We will not see sales volumes as we saw three years ago because people will access vehicles differently. So there's a lot in favor of disruption and transformation, and the change has to happen. It's now upon us. The most surprising thing about the industry is how massive yet intimate it is.  I focus on what the future experience could look like. What would the future value delivery look like? And if people can relate to that, I know we have a connection of the same goal, and we can work together to create the future of experience.  Its a real story, a real dream, and a real drive. "I always could multitask and take on a lot of stuff at once," Dennis shares. He is part of the 4 am club but "don't get excited. I go to bed at 9 pm," he smiles. Dennis keeps the balance by managing team capabilities and client expectations and focuses on impacting and innovating in our industry. "I am an orchestrator," he explains. When asked about how he goes about this and how he manages his day, he smiles:  "It's firefighting. It's drinking from a firehose. It's a lot of craziness. But, I love a chaotic day. There's so much opportunity within it."

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Best Practices

Live Launches: Commitment to Innovation

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Live product launches have become an innovative marketing strategy aimed at creating hype around the introduction of new products and technologies to market. They have become quite the trend as more companies seek out the benefits of such an event, like creating a wider reach, increasing engagement, and optimizing marketing costs. We expect to see more industries embrace virtual live launches and adapt their marketing strategies to include a launch experience.  Whereas in the past, only industry bigwigs had access or information on the latest technology and products, live launches take these innovations directly to interested audiences, enabling buying customers to get in on the excitement directly. Live launches also allow companies to host demonstrations of the product or technology, highlighting product design, functionality, and key features so those potential buyers can see it in action. By satisfying customers' needs for both entertainment and information, live launches help facilitate better sales conversations and create a unique customer experience. Interestingly, over the last year or so, several OEMs have learned from tech giants like Meta and Apple and have also started hosting live launch events to release new major features or to create hype around a new vehicle. As this trend picks up in the industry, it will be interesting to watch and see which OEMs will dedicate themselves to creating consistency with their live launches that build excitement and hype over time. Quarterly Launch Events: Commitment to Innovation  At AutoLeadStar , quarterly live launch events have become part of our DNA as it commits us to disrupting the industry with new technologies quarter after quarter. With each launch, we aim to release a product or feature that actively solves a pain point dealers are facing in the realm of data connectivity and orchestration. This undertaking ensures that we constantly have our finger on the pulse of the automotive industry so we can tackle the real-world problems dealers are facing in their day-to-day business management.  We held our  first launch in Q2 of 2022  with the release of our Customer Data and Experience Platform, and we have been one-upping ourselves ever since. The AutoLeadStar product team performs intensive research in tandem with our sales and support teams to get a view from the field and to better understand the pressing needs of dealers. They then determine what the next big project should be and get to work on development and production. While they work on the technology, our marketing team sets up everything else needed for the live launch - from scoping out a location to ensuring the smallest logistical details are spoken for.  If you've seen our live launches before, you know they always deliver. From missing cookies to high-speed car chases, we try to deliver an experience along with every product launch. In case you missed our live launches until now,  here  is a quick summary to get you caught up.   Q2 Live Launch in Miami: CDXP In Q2, we launched automotive's first Customer Data & Experience Platform (CDXP), designed to help dealers consolidate their data sources and leverage the data to create seamless omnichannel marketing journeys. The introduction of an automotive-centric CDXP has shifted the way the industry thinks about data connectivity and marketing strategy. With the power of the CDXP behind them, dealers can now compete on the level of global corporate giants by providing shoppers with the personalized shopping experience they have come to expect.   Watch the full live launch  here  for a closer look at the groundbreaking technology that is the CDXP.  Q3 Live Launch in Cleveland: Data Lake In Q3, AutoLeadStar focused on handing dealers the keys to their first-party data with the introduction of Data Lake. With the impending elimination of third-party cookies, dealers are beginning to recognize the value and importance of their own first-party data.  With Data Lake, dealers can finally analyze and dissect their first-party data and use it to improve their marketing strategy and make smart, data-backed decisions to help them build stronger, more resilient businesses.   Cookies, data, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame all feature proudly in this live launch. Watch it  here .  Q4 Live Launch in Atlanta: Service Email Campaigns  The importance of a fixed-ops strategy is clear: when a dealership has a strong, efficiently run service department, they are able to remain flexible and dynamic in any market condition. With Service Email Campaigns, dealerships can reach out to customers and previous service clients with timely engagements, extending the shopper journey and generating new streams of revenue.  If you love the high stakes of a good car chase, this live launch is for you! Watch it  here .  Our next live launch is set to take place in March of 2023, and you can bet we are already looking for ways to outdo the last one! We hope to see you there! 

Commentary & Insights

Meet Atul Patel

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Co-Founder and CEO of Orbee and Dealer Marketing Magazine Expert The Foundations "I actually went in with the neuroscience and genetic engineering curriculum at UCLA." We met with Atul Patel, CEO of Orbee . A serial entrepreneur with a level of genuine excitement and energy which is unmatched. Atul Patel: Fast forward to two years later, I got a letter from the Department. I forgot to tell them that I had decided to go over to Economics.  Maybe it was natural gravitation; maybe it was the fact that I was partly lazy and felt that I was done with all this schooling and academics. Maybe I was already burnt out, and maybe part of me was never made for academics. Maybe I'm more of the street guy? And so, with all that said, I learned economics. I think anything you learn will apply to anything you do. You just have to apply it.  The Start Atul had spent five years in a corporate environment after college. At a big mortgage bank which was "buying up every and any lead," he shared. Atul worked on highly advanced analytics and reporting. "I started thinking, okay, what if I could give this to the smaller mortgage brokers, credit unions?"  That is when Atul left the bank and created his first startup, a lead management business. "After I sold that company, I learned that there was a lot of fraudulent lead selling going on. So then I co-founded a company that validated leads and the quality of leads." Atul then went on to build another startup that did social ad buying before starting his next, a video syndication company.  Atul Patel: So along the way, and there are dozens of other startups in between, I've learned so much stuff, and now I actually feel like automotive and specifically Orbee is this canvas for me to splatter different experiences that I've had into a single platform.  "I'm excited to bring all these historical experiences into this one scenario. Automotive has been good to me." Atul Patel: I had recently sold a startup, and I was sort of in the circuit of speaking to entrepreneurs. I met my co-founder, who was working on this new 360-degree photo-taking app. And so Orbee's actual name comes from that, "around a car." We had built the app, and dealers were like, "great, what do I do with it?" So we created a customer experience widget that shows that medium.  The next step was to measure the engagement, and so we created analytics which then evolved into "can you show me analytics of everything that I'm doing? Can you tell me what is working and what isn't, and can you also fix it for me?" Sometimes it's hard to comprehend how we are able to pull all these pieces together, but I've created and founded many companies that all had a very similar journey or a similar DNA to it. "Orbee has become an incubator of lots of ideas. And it just so happens that Orbee has such a solid foundation that we can add components." The Wins Orbee had become a marketing stack based on customer needs. Orbee had become its namesake, a 360-degree tool. Pohanka Automotive Group, Flow Automotive, and the Holman Group have all invested in Orbee this year. They are also all Clients of Orbee's and will remain that way.  "I have very minimal hobbies." Atul Patel:  I feel like I'm now starting to explore it. Some of our investors are recent investors, these large automotive groups. We talk about, oh, let's go hunting and let's go do this, and stuff I've never done.  Atul doesn't know who is playing in the World Series this weekend. "That space in my brain is already filled up; it's about family and work" Atul smiles as he shares stories about his kids. "We are experimenting with content at Orbee. My twelve-year-old has a YouTube channel where he drums, we talk about the Youtube Algorithm, and he is teaching me that you have just got to get out there. Who cares if your room is clean? Who cares if your videos aren't perfect?" Atul smiles again. "I play Fortnight with my ten-year-old, and I tell him, you being such a great Fortnite player means that you may control robots in the future because that's what you're doing in visual three-dimensional space." Atul's six years old is still "figuring things out" but it's so clear that everything Atul does and says, interconnects to something else, somewhere deep in his thoughts. The Future Atul Patel: I believe that the market has enjoyed a very lucrative period where you could pay lots of vendors, try lots of things, and have the staff that connects all these disparate workloads. And I feel that now what we've set out to try to be is this cumulative Martech cloud. "The industry is finally saying: I want to bring things together." I do want to leverage my data and squeeze more value into what I already have in front of me. My audiences, my shoppers, my database, all of the systems I already have in place, and what can I do to glue together all of this?  It's almost like Legos. We have so many Lego sets built up from so many different Lego themes. "Over the next year, I feel like we could turn around the whole message and say: what are you trying to achieve? " Because we have a toolkit for that, we have all the Lego pieces, and we know how to connect them. Someone might argue, yeah, but that seems off because I don't want it to be Frankenstein. But it's not like when you think about Legos. They have standard connectors, so you can intermix your Star Wars with your playground set.  And that's what I feel we've done. It might seem like it came from different sets, but they all connect, and you can actually do very interesting things when you have all these pieces. We are not just building new capabilities.   We will be able to answer dealers when they say; this is my problem. This is what I want to do. Can you help me?  Yes, Atul and Orbee can help you. 

Best Practices

Why Having an Accessible Dealer Website Matters to You

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You have no choice but to care about whether your website is accessible for people with sight impairment because the law tells you that it must be so. If your site is configured well for assistive technology (think website readers that read text out loud or make text larger), then you're good. But say your website is not configured properly, then what happens? Simply put: You are at risk of violating the  Americans with Disabilities Act  (ADA), and that puts your dealership at risk of a lawsuit.  _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ This article was written by Adam Dennis, Principal at SurgeMetrix and Tom Kline, Lead Consultant and Founder of Better Vantage Point. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The Facts We like facts. Facts aren't opinions. They don't have feelings. They tell you what's up and, when used properly, inform good decisions.   As we've discussed in previous articles, we've analyzed over 35,000 dealer websites for a variety of performance issues as well as demographic and digital market data to set a context for the industry and individual dealers who want to see how they rank relative to their competitors.   In this article, we are reviewing the Accessibility of a website as per Google's algorithms. Now you might look at the data and conclude it means nothing to you, but the reality is that with Google being the dominant force in the search market and recognized authority of website performance, you can't ignore their conclusions. So let's look at the facts. Of the 35,444 dealer websites we analyzed, we could not match 5,930 of them due to a range of issues, from configuration problems to software setups that retard Google's ability to analyze certain data about a website. Consequently, our actual surveyed total was 29,514; a not-too-shabby number all by itself. When Google ranks a site for its technical Accessibility, it does on a three-part colored scale out of 100. The sweet spot you want your website to occupy is the 90-100 bracket. This rating is the best and indicates that your website is technically very well constructed for people with sight limitations to be able to read and for those people who use assistive technology, to be able to understand the website as well.   The other two ranking categories stake out in brilliant clarity those websites that do not perform well in terms of their technical configuration for meeting accessibility requirements. The yellow category covers sites with ratings from 50 to 89/100. This is a nether world where you're meeting some, but not all, of the ADA requirements. The lower you are, the greater the risk. Finally, if you are in the red zone, you are in potential trouble. Simply put, you are broadcasting to enterprising lawyers that you could be sued. The red zone covers ratings from 0 to 49. What did we learn? We found the following results with 1.8% of the websites in the Red, a whopping 76.5% in the yellow, and only 21.7% in the green.    That big yellow area was concerning, so we broke that down even further into 10% chunks giving us 50-59 for the first chunk, 60-69 for the second, and so on. We did this because we still see a risk for dealers in the yellow area, especially if they are in the lower ranges. Here is what we discovered: Would you want to be in those lower ranges with an Accessibility rating of 68 or 72? I wouldn't; I have faith in opportunistic lawyers. If I were a dealer who wanted to mitigate risk, I would ask my website vendor to improve my performance: at the very least, to the high 80s.    The Risks According to the Seyfarth law firm, ADA website accessibility lawsuits filed in federal court were up fourteen (14%) percent from 2020 to 2021. This translates to 2,895 cases, an increase of 372 actions. These numbers do not account for the following: Demand letters that were sent and/or settled; State court actions; or Mobile application lawsuits were accounted for differently Just as there are attorneys specializing in suing dealers in the automotive industry, there are plaintiff lawyers specializing in ADA lawsuits. The  Center for Disease Control (CDC)  cites these statistics: "Approximately 12 million people 40 years and over in the United States have vision impairment, including 1 million who are blind, 3 million who have vision impairment after correction, and 8 million who have vision impairment due to uncorrected refractive error. As of 2012, 4.2 million Americans aged 40 years and older suffer from uncorrectable vision impairment, out of which 1.02 million are blind; this number is predicted to more than double by 2050 to 8.96 million due to the increasing epidemics of diabetes and other chronic diseases and our rapidly aging U.S. population. Approximately 6.8% of children younger than 18 years in the United States have a diagnosed eye and vision condition. Nearly 3% of children younger than 18 years are blind or visually impaired, defined as having trouble seeing even when wearing glasses or contact lenses." These are large numbers. Unless you have addressed website ADA accessibility, you open yourself up for exposure to these enterprising lawyers who make a living from ADA-based lawsuits. As with any compliance topic, "willful non-compliance" opens you to higher settlement numbers and further unknown liabilities, and other unintended consequences.  Willful non-compliance  is a term we use to describe a situation where a business lacks a robust Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) program. In short, a GRC program follows the outline of what a "prudent business person" would do in a similar situation. This entails having written (and acknowledged) policies and procedures with your employees, which are then checked by someone performing an audit function. Remember, you manage what you monitor.   Importantly, depending on how the allegations are crafted in the lawsuit, your garage insurance may not cover any of the allegations. If that is the case, settlement indemnities will come from your dealership's bank account.   What To Do This is a simple one, folks, with just three steps to get you compliant.   Step 1, have the website reviewed for accessibility compliance using a tool such as Google's  PageSpeed Insights  tool. The tool has an "Accessibility" section that, when selected, will give you the issues that will need to be addressed.   Step 2, once you understand what needs to be fixed, buy a tool to install on your website to help make it ADA compliant very quickly. We really like Userway ( www.userway.org ) as the interface is simple and clean. Its pricing starts at $490 per year for up to 100,000 website page views per month, to $3,290 per year for up to 10 million page views per month. Finally, for Step 3, test your website again with PageSpeed Insights to see if you have improved. Our experience is that most dealer websites will quickly go into the green. If not, then ask your web provider to use the PageSpeed Insights data as a guide to improving performance. It's that simple. Test, buy Userway, install it, test again to validate (and fix anything that remains), and then eliminate this risk. Don't make it easy for the attorneys.

Commentary & Insights

Meet Ilana, VP of Marketing at AutoLeadStar and Dealer Marketing Magazine Expert

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The Foundations "I did two years as a shooting instructor, and it was really fun!" If you know Ilana, you know she doesn't fit any mold.  We met with her on a video call; she was in a coffee shop and warmly greeted someone she knew as they walked in. That is Ilana. Welcoming, open and kind; relatable. She began to unpack her "start," an exciting story of army duty, exploration, and essentially, finding her team: her home base from which brilliance has come.  The Start "At the time, we weren't working in automotive. There were only five people at the Company, and I decided to take a chance because I liked the mission and the leadership. It was the best decision." Ilana worked through college and attained a degree in Psychology in the US, where she had grown up. "I knew that I wanted to do my army service. It's mandatory in Israel, and although everyone was going off to start their careers, it's something I knew I wanted to do." After completing her service, Ilana was introduced to someone who would become pivotal in her career.  "At the time, we weren't working in automotive. There were only five people at the Company, and I decided to take a chance because I liked the mission and the leadership. It was the best decision." Shortly after Ilana joined the Company, it changed its name to AutoLeadStar . It also changed its focus and began serving the automotive industry. "In the beginning, the CEO and I would travel back and forth while managing all sales from Israel; it was crazy!" In 2016, Ilana and Aharon Horwitz , the CEO of AutoLeadStar, attended their first NADA and then, a few months later, their first Digital Dealer. A lot has happened since then. They were able to meet people, have conversations and began truly understanding how to optimize for automotive dealers. "We understood some of the challenges. We began to focus and build relationships. It was an amazing experience." The Wins? "Building out a marketing team is actually way more aligned with what I want to do than I ever imagined." Ilana Shabtay: We're at over 100 people in the Company, which is, I think, the most exciting part about that whole journey is being able to be a part of building something and scaling a company now with way more experience but having been involved in the nitty-gritty from the beginning. I never thought I would be running a marketing department, but once we had a bigger team, it made sense for me to focus on and scale up the marketing department. We have people that focus on conversion optimization, we have a Growth Manager, a Content Marketing Manager, and they own it, which allows me to focus on the relationships. Being authentic is important. And I think that sticks out because I don't think it's very common. There's something about just being very real. When you build relationships, that's really special. And I think part of that is also just being able to remember things about people. And when you care about those relationships, people remember. The Future? "How do we stick to our mission when we're growing a company and obviously, you know, make money, but there's more to it; sticking to the core values." Ilana Shabtay:  This means making sure that people have a work-life balance and ensuring that our organizational values trickle down throughout the organization to all 100-plus people. This is just as important as delivering a successful business.  _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ On the 30th of November, AutoLeadStar's Q4 Live Launch Event, "AI-Powered Service Campaigns," took place, the third of the Company's commitment to a new product or big feature, released quarterly.  "We really care about disrupting the industry, and we commit to innovating quarterly."

Best Practices

Establishing Connections Through the Parts Department

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Creating connections with customers is vital for any business to thrive, whether you are trying to acquire new customers or sell to existing ones. By selling parts online, the dealership can connect to a wider customer base that expands across the country. This can provide additional revenue and help it build loyalty for the dealership and the OEM brand. The sales department often comes to mind first when we think of establishing connections with customers and building relationships. If a dealership wants to drive new opportunities, it will need to seek new ways to make connections with a broader customer base.  The parts department is often one of the most underutilized departments in the dealership when it comes to making connections with new customers. The dealership can expand its reach to customers nationwide through the parts department, breaking through localization barriers. It can do this most effectively by becoming the center for online sales.  The online parts market is thriving. In fact, it’s expected to reach  22 billion dollars by the end of 2023 , according to Hedges & Company. Despite the high demand for online OEM auto parts, most dealerships do not have an online parts business. As a result, many of these dealerships have difficulty establishing a strong network of customers. Connect Nationally by Selling Parts Online Adding online selling channels helps your parts department connect to more customers outside of your local market. Creating an online parts business also opens up new revenue opportunities and helps future-proof your department against local and national economic challenges. Dealerships may also find it valuable to sell through today’s biggest online marketplaces, like Amazon and eBay. Dealers that relied solely on brick-and-mortar sales took a major hit during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. According to NADA,  parts departments across the United States lost 6 billion dollars in 2020 . The business that came through their typical in-person buyers had plummeted.  However, dealers who sold parts online with RevolutionParts saw a  27% increase in online parts sales . When most parts departments were experiencing layoffs, dealers partnered with RevolutionParts were hiring more staff to support their additional sales growth. The flexibility of selling online allowed them to grow their customer base at a low cost. These dealers were able to increase their business because they were able to make convenient connections with a wide scale of customers. They were also able to provide a safe shopping experience for their customers, helping them establish a trusting customer base that would continue to grow long after COVID restrictions were lifted. Build Strong Local Connections for the Entire Dealership Aside from establishing a parts web store or uploading inventory to online marketplaces, dealers should sell parts through their dealership website. This is valuable for local retail and wholesale customers.  Local consumers can go online to evaluate prices, see availability, and order OEM parts without needing to call or visit the parts department. Offering convenient pickup or delivery options can help further secure business from your local customers.  This can be especially effective for growing your wholesale customer base. Make it easy for them to view your online inventory and more, help them get quotes on prices instantly, and check for part availability without having to pick up the phone. By providing a convenient shopping experience, you help both your department and your customers save time.   Giving local customers a positive online experience can build loyalty for the entire dealership. Those that purchase parts online will be more likely to return to the dealership for parts installations and other services. Getting that customer to the dealership increases the likelihood that they will return to purchase their next vehicle, leading to more revenue and a higher absorption rate for the dealership.  Don’t Overcomplicate Online Connections It’s expected that over  274 million Americans  will make online purchases in 2023. If your dealership is not selling parts online yet, you should make it part of your overall strategy to grow revenue, build brand loyalty, and expand your business. It’s time for dealerships to invest in parts eCommerce to drive connections for their local and national parts buyers. 

Commentary & Insights

Non-GMO Dealerships

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I'll bet you one dollar ($1.00) you have this issue, too. When you're shopping at the market and see a food product that's "non-GMO," don't you stop and think about it? Follow my logic here, please. If it's "non-GMO," that means it's "natural," right? I mean, if it's not genetically modified, it's natural? So, if it's natural, that indicates it's "real food." So, they didn't insert not-real food into my food. Amiright? So, why do they feel the need to tell me that my food is made up of one hundred (100%) percent food? Why can't they just leave that off the labeling? Am I missing something here? I just want true and genuine food. Likewise, shoppers want a "genuine" dealership, not an artificial corporate one with no personality and a queue for everything. How do you translate this to action, so the customers feel what you are about? Let's just take one step today, and here it is: Respond to your online complaints like a human (and definitely not a robot) and invite the customers into the store to get their problem resolved. You cannot resolve these issues by communicating through postings on websites. All too often, I see dealers have "robo-responses" posted by real people telling the customers that the dealership is "sorry for their experience" and then offering nothing to the customer. Zero, zip, nada. What function is that fulfilling exactly? How does that help either the dealership or the customer? Even worse, I was recently at a dealership group in New England whose policy was to post something which said, "Please email xxxx@dealership.com and tell me your concerns." This was posted after the customers had just spilled their guts telling the dealership, and elaborating to the public, the very nature of the problems. At best, it appeared the dealership was insincere. The issue here is not just a reputational one. When potential buyers are scouring the internet, looking for where to purchase, they read these reviews to determine the genuine nature of the dealership. You really can tell the culture of a store by how its employees respond. So, responding to these reviews will help you sell units, too. I've seen it happen over and over again. Beyond this, an even better practice is when you have earned the right to ask the customer to "update" their review after you have fixed their problem. Here's what those updates should look like. And these are posted from the internet: "Previously, in a letter, I complimented the salesman yet slammed the dealership, which, in hindsight, was unfair since I never met Mr. Kline. After reading my letter, Mr. Kline was concerned enough about my feelings and thoughts about his dealership to invite me into his office and explain why I was so distressed. We listed my complaints and found that some were just anger on my part and unwarranted, yet some were justifiable. He fixed the ones that were justified. I guess the point I am trying to make is that he didn't have to do that. The owner of a corporation took the time to satisfy the concerns of one individual. I think that was great, and he'll have my business for life. Most times, you can get the help you need from the managers, and I'm not saying everyone should be running to the owner with every problem. It's just nice to know that Mr. Kline's door is always open. Thank you." Here's another: "At first, when I got the response back from Tom Kline, I did not respond back. I felt why bother if that is how his employees treat customers. I am sure it is the same way. Well, Mr. Kline kept calling, trying to settle this matter. Finally, he got a hold of my daughter, and we agreed to meet with him. I really did not want to, but my daughter said that it wouldn't hurt anything. I have to say that today I met with Tom Kline, and he was much different than what I accepted. He apologized, listened (truly listened to what I had to say and how I felt). He fixed the problem. I was so far off in my judgment about him, and I am glad that I listened to my daughter. I just knew that I would never use the dealership again for anything, but after dealing with Mr. Tom Kline, I have changed my mind. Thank you very much for your assistance and truly listening." Finally: "First, I want to thank Mr. Kline for his response. I was indeed contacted by Mr. Kline today and have set up a meeting with him soon. I must say any company that will take the time to not only listen to a customer but agrees to make it right is a place I want to do business with. I have never seen an organization except for the military to respond and address a problem so quickly. I look forward to working with Mr. Kline in fixing some concerns I have." There's nothing magical here, just good, old fashioned work. Fixing these complaints is money in the bank. And if you are not going to repair your customers' problems, the government will. Regulatory actions almost always start with unsatisfied customer complaints. Look at the recent regulatory actions against dealers resulting from upset and unresolved customer issues: Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Napleton Automotive $10 million Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Passport Automotive $3.380 million Commonwealth of Massachusetts Jaffarians Ongoing State of California Paul Blanco $27.5 million So, you can sell more units, have happier customers (who will continue to patronize your dealership), and avoid lawsuits and regulatory issues by controlling your online customer issues. By managing and overseeing these internet complaints, you are minimizing your risks and increasing your revenues. Now, that's a non-GMO deal if I've ever heard one!