NADA 2013 was a whirlwind. There was more activity, more excitement, and most importantly more hope than I’ve seen since 2008. Dealers were excited to see more, to learn how to go beyond the survival mode that has been fading in recent years and to concentrate on thriving mode. It was the most encouraged I’ve been about the industry in decade, but there was one thing that has me a little concerned.
It may be a minor blip on the corporate radars of the mega-vendors that are eating up chunks of the industry and it might go unnoticed by dealers who are so busy improving sales that they don’t even notice, but I was fortunate enough to take note during the show and after. What I saw was this: there is a distinct lack of trusted advisers and dealer partners in the industry. I know this because I had many more dealers finding me or calling and asking questions about other products and services than ever before. It wasn’t even close. This year, everyone’s looking and there aren’t enough people to go to for answers.
Here’s one conversation I had yesterday minutes after getting off the plane:
“Hey JD, what do you know about [video company]? Is it worth $[x,xxx] per month?”
I gave my opinion that it may be worth it if he was willing to work with them to maximize the effects. Then I asked him a question.
“Just out of curiosity, [dealer], why are you asking me about [video company]? I have an opinion for sure but there are others who know more on the topic than me.”
At this point, I had talked to somewhere around 30 dealers who wanted to know about product X or company Y. It was flattering, of course, but it’s not something that I’ve ever seen during and after other conferences. The dealer told me about the trusted advisers in the industry; more importantly, he described the lack of them. We’ve worked together for several years and he said I was his “go to guy” for internet marketing questions.
Again, I was flattered, but again I was alarmed. Have industry vendors distanced themselves so far from their clients that they don’t believe them as much anymore? Not to shine the spotlight on us, but it’s part of my company’s DNA to give advice, to help with everything that falls within our expertise even if we don’t sell it as a product, and to educate without an expectation of payment or returns. We run a minimum of two webinars per week at no charge with the intention of earning the trust of current and potential clients because we know that helping dealers will make us more successful. When did this become such a rare trait?
I explored further and was a little shocked to find out that nearly all of the dealers I called said that they didn’t consider their vendors as anything other than vendors. The partnership concept is gone. The trusted advisers of the automotive world have been pushed aside by the companies whose executives don’t talk to more than a handful of dealers per year.
This is not the right direction for the industry.
To the dealers who are reading this, now is the time to expect more. Demand more. We cannot allow the industry to be so numbers-driven that your vendors don’t even know your name or face if you aren’t running a 30-top. You deserve better than that.
To the vendors who are reading this, help us make the shift back to a more personal experience. Even with a good number of customers, we have more executives and digital advisers in dealerships at any given time than in the office. Shake hands. Reach out and talk to your clients. Visit them. It’s a competitive industry and we’re always up for the challenge of going head-to-head with others, but we cannot continuously beat each other up for the sake of the bottom line. This industry was built on handshakes and eye contact. Don’t get stuck in the office. Your clients deserve better than that.