Last month, hundreds of the nation’s most progressive auto dealers converged in Las Vegas for the 2011 DrivingSales Executive Summit(DSES). The event was roiling with progressive thinking and tactical battle plans. I could write pages about the CEO panel alone, which featured top technology leaders discussing their vision for the future; or Dennis Galbraith’s amazing social media breakout, or Aaron Strout’s keynote on location-based media, or Jason Falls on the social web—not to mention the tactical teachings on automating inventory, selling accessories, and maximizing SEO, mobile marketing, website performance, and so on. I recommend that you visit www.DrivingSalesTV.comto watch these sessions as we post them in the months to come.
For now, I want to focus on two key takeaways from the conference: People matter and so does their chatter. We learned from Rob Siefker of Zappos, a hugely successful business whose foundation is customer service, and the extraordinary Gary Vaynerchuk, who rocked the house with his ‘thank you’ department, that if we don’t start looking at our customers as people, and if we don’t start listening to what those people are chatting about across the social web, we might as well throw in the towel, because guess what folks? Social media matters.
When Gary V. asked for a show of hands of people who, a year or two ago, said they would never be on Facebook, but then each of those hands rose again admitting they were all on Facebook today, that was startling. That simple show of hands validated Dealer.com’s groundbreaking social media study, released at the event, revealing the impact of social media: 38 percent of new vehicle shoppers used or will use social media to research their next vehicle purchase; 41 percent of those added a brand or model to their consideration because of a post; 28 percent said a post caused them to add a dealership to their consideration, and one in four used social media post-purchase to broadcast their purchase and ownership experience. In essence, social media sends us back to small town living with all the implied interaction and intimacy of human contact…where a personal referral means everything.
It’s a basic human imperative to connect and that is all social media does, which is why I find it interesting that so many jump to be dismissive, or overly tout the cool factor, of what is simply a channel, albeit today’s most compelling and relevant one. As Gary V. put it, “I have no interest in social media because it’s cool; I don’t give a c*#p about Twitter or Facebook or FourSquare. The only reason I care is that social media sells stuff…And the people in this room will be out of business unless they understand this.”
Which brings me to perhaps the most inspiring person at the summit: 23 year-old Grant Gooley, a digital marketing manager for a Toronto dealership who paid his own way to Vegas, and stayed at one of Vegas' more ‘economical’ hotels, taking the bus to the summit each day. He was on a mission to prove social media ROI—and brought a video of sound bites from the smart and well-meaning folk at his dealership that had me spinning back to the anti-internet talk of the nineties. Here is a sampling: “I don’t understand how social media would help sell a car…You can’t really sell a car with the internet…I don’t use Facebook, because people come in to the dealership…It is hard to gain rapport and trust through typing…”
This is not to ding a very successful dealership in Toronto, nor to in any way be prejudicial about our very progressive neighbors to the north. I believe that what Grant is hearing is what many young people starting in dealerships are hearing from management and sales people across this country today, expressing their dilemma just as Grant's sales manager did: “Can I honestly say that it has generated X amount of sales? No I can’t…I don’t want to be bothered with it…it is the generational swing that you have to be ready for, which are the teenyboppers, like yourself…” What I love about this dealership is that they were all willing to go on camera about social media and I am confident that they will be receptive to the information that Grant devoured at the summit.
Grant is young, eager, energetic, and passionate and he knows that to survive, dealerships must continue to focus on how best to reach the people that are their customers, and where to find, understand, and interact with them—and how to thank them. Spending three days with the most progressive dealers, and seeing the face of the future in Grant, left me truly excited about what will come next for all of us and the ways in which digital media and rational tactical thinking will bring us all an even more prosperous 2012. To see Grant’s video go to: www.drivingsalestv.com/2011/10/grants-journey-to-the-summit-and-beyond.
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