Commentary & Insights

The Not-So-Hidden Gold Mine That Could Increase Dealership Revenue Instantly

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A customer for life goes a long way in automotive. It’s not just the vehicle purchase, it’s everything that comes with it: maintenance, service, add-ons, renewals, and, of course, referrals.   But it’s hard to scale personalized campaigns to past customers and to leads that ghosted. The messaging is different, the approach is sensitive, and the timing has to be perfect. There are also several factors that come into play like the last website visit, VDP views, and lease/finance renewal.  While no human can physically scale this kind of personalization, this is just another application of machine learning that could turn your CRM into a money-making machine. Think about it: if your CRM has 10,000 non-active leads, and you can reawaken even as little as 10%, you're looking at 1,000 new customers for life. It’s really pure gold waiting to be discovered.  It’s all about the audiences  The first step in making sure you’re investing in the right technology to turn more of your CRM into revenue opportunities is the audience game. You want to make sure your dealership isn’t bucketing opportunities into irrelevant audiences, like lease renewal for someone who has more than a year remaining, or service for someone who just came in. The demanded-- and expected-- hyper-personalization starts with the right segmentation, so you need to be optimizing audiences like people who recently visited VDPs, cash renewals, and cold “non-buyers” (leads that converted over 8 months ago and did not buy a car from you).  Make it dynamic  Once you have the right machines in place to identify and segment appropriate audiences, you need to make sure your email templates and SMS marketing have dynamic templates and merge tags. No one wants to receive an email without their first name or pre-filled forms. If you’re sending the email, you should know who they are!  But it goes even further than this- as you send traffic from an email blast to a specific landing page, your dealership can have dynamic videos and forms already embedded on the landing page to maintain that 1:1 conversation with your prospect. Once someone clicks on a hyperlink from your email, you will know how to identify them and greet them when they land on your website, keeping the transition and user experience extremely smooth. You can also personalize things like vehicles of interest or relevant services with dynamic templates.  Don’t forget connectivity  Even if your dealership invests in the best technology for mining your CRM, real-time machine learning can’t possibly function at its best without connected data. Make sure your dealership’s website data and ad activity is connected and communicating with the CRM so you have a full picture of the prospect’s digital footprint. While CRM information is critical, it has to be coupled with shopper activity in order to make the most of every opportunity and turn more (dead) leads into sales. When data is connected it also provides you with the most updated version of your customer’s story, bringing you one step closer to conversion.   There are a lot of pieces to pull together when thinking about personalized lead nurture at a scale that can convert more of your database into business. And while no human can possibly do this, your dealership should consider AI-powered technologies that can learn your audiences, segment, and target shoppers with just the right message on and off the site. Your data and your customer base could be the gold mine you’ve been looking for, so don’t miss out. 
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Connecting & Collaborating to Grow to Boost Your Dealership

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By now we have become all too familiar with the realities of limited inventory, looking for alternative ways to help customers and create profit can give you the boost you need to get through lean times with a little more ease. With our normal trade-in cycles disrupted, customers are facing expiring warranties, increased maintenance, and repairs. The place customers are still doing business face to face is service, putting extra emphasis on needs discovery and solution sharing in the service drive can benefit the whole dealership. Working Together to Grow When we think about Finance and Service it may seem like they operate in completely different worlds, they should be symbiotic. When was the last time you saw F&I Managers and Service Advisors working together to grow in opportunity areas? There is much to gain from these departments understanding how they can support each other’s growth and working hand-in-hand. Service Advisors are the long-term salespeople in your dealership, they see more customers per day than any other sales point in the store, with the most one-to-one consistent contact with customers they have more opportunity to grow relationships and trust. When it comes to building value in service contracts and warranty products with customers, educating Service Advisors in F&I product areas could be key in planting the seed for future purchases and selling contracts from the service drive. Knowledge is Power Consider the exponential increase you will see in service and warranty contracts when you educate your Service Advisors on your F&I products. “Extended warranty” calls have been a long-standing joke for years, they’ve even been made into memes, there must be people buying when the phone rings for us to keep hearing “I’m calling about your car’s extended warranty”. Often those calls are inconvenient and come when customers are not amid vehicle maintenance or repairs. Imagine this offer coming at a time when it is most needed, while the customer is in the service drive, presented by a trusted source; a knowledgeable Advisor could give customers immediate value, relief from repair costs, and peace of mind. Training is Key Providing your team with training on how to drive F&I products will help Advisors refer to those products and their benefits when working with customers, the more familiar customers are with what the warranty and service products provide, the more likely they are to consider purchasing. Often, when introduced to products in F&I, customers have already been bombarded with purchase information, they get to the service and warranty portion and it is more money, more decisions, and they are overwhelmed. Customers are not always in the right frame of mind to process the value of those products. You do not have to train your Service Advisors to sell like F&I Managers, that is where the F&I team comes in, a referral from the Service Advisor to F&I will allow Finance to finalize the details while the customer’s vehicle is being serviced. Having service Advisors who are knowledgeable on the features and benefits of service and warranty contracts is not just an investment towards increased profitability, it is investing in greater customer satisfaction. When your team on the drive has a complete understanding of the products your customer has purchased in the finance office, it eliminates confusion, frustration, and conflict from misunderstandings over coverage when it comes time for customers to use their products. With added training, advisors are equipped to head off potential complaints and dissatisfaction when they can quickly identify misaligned customer expectations,  Building collaborations between F&I and the Service Drive is a solid investment in the future of your dealership, each department builds value for the other and customer loyalty to the dealership. The two also lay the groundwork for and maintain ongoing long-term profit. 
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RIP Facebook Marketplace for Dealers?

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Facebook Marketplace underwent some changes in September and no longer lists vehicles from partner catalog feeds. This includes the entire marketplace experience: homepage, search function, etc.  There is a lot of debate on how this will affect the industry. But before we get into the juice, let’s clarify how dealers can still reach buyers on Facebook, even with this change. Create vehicle listings from the “inventory” tab on your dealership/business page Dealers still have the option to upload their inventory from their personal business pages (instead of having this also aggregated in Marketplace). While this is still a free option, the click rate on the inventory tab on business pages is quite low, so it’s critical to monitor this. It will be interesting to see if click rate and engagement rate will increase as Marketplace becomes more lean with inventory after this change.  Create AIA ( Automotive Inventory Ads )  AIA gives dealers the ability to upload an entire catalog of vehicles to Facebook so that the Facebook pixel can then target the best shoppers with the right inventory at the right time. The upload process is similar to the one disconnected with Marketplace, where you can send a feed automatically to Facebook. While this is not a free option, it’s an efficient way to get your vehicle listings seen by in-market shoppers (including placements on Marketplace among other placements on Facebook).  Manually create listings in Marketplace  This option does allow for dealerships to continue to showcase inventory (certified pre-owned only) on Marketplace, but since it’s manual the dealership would have to upload every/all relevant listings with all associated information. This is extremely time consuming, and for some, probably not worth the hassle.  So, what’s the field predicting with this change?   Some think it really won’t matter since AIA is the same idea, just paid, and will include ads on Facebook Marketplace when relevant. This is probably true for larger dealerships and/or Franchise dealers who have the means to do this through AIA.  Others think this will be a beneficial change for small and independent dealers since they usually entered manually anyway. Now, these smaller dealerships will also increase visibility since the larger franchises won’t have the capacity to upload manually. Cutting the competition and the noise can skyrocket results for these dealerships.  Lastly, some predict it will be similar to Craiglist’s change a few years back where they also eliminated the overwhelming amount of organic posts and in turn, helped shoppers find what they are looking for faster with a cleaner user interface.  What happens next? Like any big change in automotive, it’s going to be critical to watch trends for the next few months-- understand if this change was good or bad for your business. Do you have fewer leads? Do you have more qualified leads? Is your marketing team being more productive on other channels? Did your predictions for the change match reality? These are all important questions to tackle as we go into October and November and learn as an industry.  *This article was inspired by a forum thread in Dealer Refresh . 
An Excellent Customer Experience Needs the Human Element

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Think about the last time you had a really great conversation.  When I think about a great conversation, my mind goes to those a-little-too-long lunches with business colleagues. Game night with friends on the weekend. Laughing until I cry until the wee hours of the morning after not seeing family for some time.  Great conversations stay with you. You reflect on them warmly, and often, they feed future conversations. They become a part of our fondest memories.  I believe in all of these situations, I am being sold on something.  Authentic Conversations Make for Authentic Sales Interactions  I feel like I must clarify — I don’t want to cheapen the authenticity of these wonderful moments with a sales analogy. Rather, I want to do the opposite. My aim is to enrich the authenticity of sales opportunities by comparison. In those moments, I’m being sold on a good time. I’m being sold on a connection, relatability — a togetherness that keeps me present in the conversation with a desire to keep it going. I feel heard and appreciated.  We should be authenticating the sales experience by tapping into and drawing from those moments. Make customers feel heard and seen at every point in their shopping journey!  In car sales especially, which have high-pressure connotations even with a lack of pointed pressure from sales, a great conversation can shatter the fog of “dealership dread.” A point of connection between shopper and associate can open up the conversation beyond the product. Good conversation puts customers at ease. It welcomes them; they let their walls down a bit.  A.I. and Chatbots - No Human Experience In Sight  This is the age of the digital dealership. Without context, recommending A.I. to accompany your digital dealership might sound logical. Sane even. Fielding your online, or "digital", clients while your team concentrates on delivering the best possible in-store experience is an objectively good idea. Except that these consumers aren't digital, they are humans using a digital platform. How better to set yourself apart with a "wow" than humanizing your digital platform? Sure, the COVID-19 pandemic threw a bit of a wrench in onsite visits. But at the end of the day, if there isn’t a living, breathing person at the end of a dealership’s communication touchpoints — well, let’s just say there are other dealerships down the road, and certainly on the internet. The usefulness of A.I., and A.I.-powered bots, begins and ends at that first point of contact. They can’t hold and sustain that all-too-important conversation.  Let’s look to Carvana briefly. Consumers are attracted to that straightforward process that saves them time. But they still lack that conversational touch that makes great, welcoming salespeople at dealerships a more trusted resource. I believe if dealers can engage in this straightforward way of handling business while maintaining that human connection, they can win big.  A conversation isn’t just a simple exchange of words and information.  It’s so much more than that. In automotive sales specifically, car shoppers are about to make what is likely the most expensive, emotional purchase they can make. And they aren’t just buying an engine, wheels, and seats. A vehicle is an extension of a unique human being with specific interests and lifestyles. Does it make sense to utilize a tool that can’t emote?  How can a chatbot relate to the mother of two who needs all of the best safety features? Or the owner of three dogs who needs ample space for them when they go on their beloved outdoor adventures? A.I. can’t sympathize and empathize with a customer's perspective.  They don’t share that human experience.  Those in automotive sales know that you have to act fast on a lead. Customers need to be engaged promptly so you can keep them on the line. At the same time, it might serve us better to slow down. Ask some different questions upfront - get to know your customers on a deeper level. Discover their yet undiscovered needs.  Create and foster a great conversation. Make this a memorable experience, one that they can reflect on later where they felt like they mattered. There’s something about great conversations that make you want to have them again and again. What better way to build customer loyalty than by bringing that human experience to each and every sales interaction?  No matter what, in and out of the showroom: keep having great conversations. I know I will.
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Be the Ultimate Pro at Effectiveness: Ready - Set - Poised for Success

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Maybe it’s a strange-type A-Virgo-slightly OCD-anal retentive personality trait that I have or perhaps I’m just an old soul who is hard to explain. Either way – I like things “topped off”. Who doesn’t? For instance, right after I make my coffee in the am (don’t hate me for using K-Cups), I pitch the grinds and immediately grab my smart water and start filling up the 48oz reservoir on my Keurig – so that the next cup is ready to go, even though I could let it get low and then run out of water. When I am not giving people tickets to the magic show at the dealership, you’ll find me on the ski slopes of Colorado undoubtedly. I always leave downtown Denver with a full tank of gas and upon arriving on the other side of the continental divide, I stop and “top off” the tank. I do this for a variety of reasons. First, I want to already be full when I leave the mountains headed to downtown Denver. Secondly, I want to be prepared for worst-case scenarios, i.e., sitting in I-70 eastbound traffic in a blizzard/freezing conditions and high winds. I also do the same thing with washer fluid. I don’t always need it, however when I get a chance to top it off at the dealership or a gas station, I do. Not because it is needed right then, but because the last thing I want to find myself in, is a situation where I need something I don’t have that could have been prevented by paying attention and taking action early when I had time.  The same concept can be applied in the business office. How many times have you been in the middle of a busy Saturday and you are about to spin your 5th deal and you have 3 waiting and while completing a deal for a customer, you look down at the printer under your desk and realize the temporary permit forms you are waiting for are pending because you are out of paper? Spending the extra few seconds at the beginning of each day to properly prepare ourselves for activities that are to come, eliminates the downtime of “topping off” the printer. I like to always make sure I am prepared for whatever is to come. This isn’t always possible in EVERY situation; however, I feel that if you are diligent in being faithful in the ordinary, you can achieve more greatness each day by paying attention to the little details that really do matter. It allows you to traverse the day with more confidence and less aggravation.  When you are constantly on top of everything that is asked and required of you during the day, it makes new requests and favors easier to say yes to without added stress. When you know that you need to have your monthly numbers updated for a manager meeting on Wednesday morning, but you have time to do it each day, I like to spend 3 minutes updating a report daily rather than spend 30 minutes once a week working on the same thing. Why? Because on the off chance the owner wants to move the meeting up, instead of scrambling, stressing, and suffering with the task, you can breathe easy and know that you need 3 minutes to be ready or better yet, you ARE ready.  Having the mentality of “DO IT NOW”, instead of “it can wait until later” is what separates the real pros in this business. When you are prepared and have your life dialed in, in all aspects, you are more likely to win and win big. The feeling of being ready for whatever happens to you each day is a feeling of confidence allowing you to have a better attitude and a more stable approach at the daily tasks and interactions with others. I encourage you to look around your life – at home and the store, and find ways to be more proactive and look for things to “top off”. See how that impacts you later on. My guess is once you try it my way, you’ll enjoy the results so much, you’ll adopt this as your approach for being ready, getting set, and poising towards continued improvement & success!!
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Embrace Change as a Leader for Your Dealership to Thrive

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If we have learned anything during the pandemic, it’s time we get comfortable with being uncomfortable ! The good news is leaders that embrace and encourage change have a dynamic team with a stronger and healthier culture, whereas dealerships that aren’t open to change tend to BE stagnant and vulnerable to failure. In other words, if you’re not willing to change, you’re not ready to lead. One of the biggest reasons that embracing change leads to success is because when we try new things, we learn from the new experiences, and we innovate new improved ideas. Whether the outcome is good or bad, every time we navigate through the unfamiliar, we undergo processes that will allow us to grow.   “The world as we have created it, is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein Whether it is new digital retailing technology or implementing a new DMS, when leaders frame change in the right way and take action to support that change, team members are way more likely to embrace it. And guess what? The need for change exists everywhere, no matter how successful the company or dealership, and yours is no different. As a leader, you should constantly be asking yourself how to improve and be willing to test the waters when needed. Once you do identify the need for change, reflect with your team about how to address that change. How does your team feel about the change? How can you support them? Do they have any questions? Next, you must understand that people will be naturally resistant to change, and even if everyone appears to be on the same page at first, it’s going to be your job to usher people past the disruption and create a new status quo. Effective leaders are able to communicate change in a way that takes into account their team’s perspective, including their emotional well-being. In times of change make it a point to check in with emotions and concerns whenever possible. Strong leaders are able to see the change through the lens of their team, always consider how will this change impact the service technician, the valent, or the new sales consultants and understand how to best connect value to each individual. There is always a question of value when we make significant change. This is when it is time to tune in to my favorite radio station, WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) Remember, you are asking people to change from the comfortable, “the way we have always done it around here”, to a new way in how we do business so always understand the shift you may be excited about, can feel overwhelming to some Most people won’t buy-in 100% until the either recognize the individual positive consequence it entails. The more you can communicate and cast a vision that connect with their individual “Why”, the more they feel trust you, the more you commit to helping them, the more they will invest their hearts and their time. Make sure everyone has a clear role they feel good about. The whole team should be crystal clear about what everyone’s role is so that things can run as smoothly as possible, with minimal confusion about who is responsible for what. Understanding where they fit in to the new change initiative, will help them feel less anxious about the change.   We know that dealerships must change in order to thrive in an always-changing market. In order to help your team (and yourself) stomach change in a manageable way, break down each step of that change into small steps. Do your best to map out any major hurdles and plan solutions for dealing with them. This eliminates an enormous amount of stress, burnout, or disengagement.  The more that you map out your path, the easier the road will be! “Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” ― Rob Siltanen