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Larry Bruce

Larry Bruce Founder / President / CEO

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The Digital Divide – it’s not what you think it is


“Communication with you customers has never been easier…and yet your customers have never been further away.”

For some time now I have been thinking and battling it out with several blog opponents on conversion and why it is so important. It really comes down to breaking through the Digital Divide between you and the customer.

To do that you need to PERSONALLY INTERACT WITH THEM and to do that you need contact information… PERIOD.


The Digital Divide is the growing digital gap between the customer and the personal connection to a salesperson.

“Whether you like it or not there is a huge technological wedge between you and the customer.”

No matter how hard you rail against it the technological wedges keep growing. When you think about it the Digital Divide didn’t just sneak up on us it’s been happening for some time.


the telephone

In the 50’s the way you shopped and bought a car was you went to church, rotary, some social function

 ect. with the person who was selling you the car that’s how you knew them and why you bought from them. In the late 60’s as the Telephone became more ubiquitous people started calling the local dealership to get more information, talking to more salespeople (shopping), the first digital wedge creating a small divide between buyer and seller.

In the 70’s and 80’s as Radio and Television became more affordable and these technologies drive another wedge to the Digital Divide further disconnecting the customer from the salesperson.

In the early and mid 90’s technology hits the showroom with CRM systems and we begin to ad our own wedge to the Digital Divide as our communication starts to become more systematic and less personal.

In the late 90’s the mother technology hits… the internet... driving the largest technological wedge between buyer and seller in history, so large was the belief in this disconnect between buyer and seller that even JD Power and many others were predicting  the end of the connection between buyer and seller in the retail auto business completely. We all rushed to get websites and drive another technological wedge between us and our customer.

The Internet

In early 2000’s when it became apparent that the personal connection would not be substituted by a website along came the listing company ( & AutoTrader) and in consistent fashion we happily turned our inventory over to these online classifieds helping to establish themselves as the online retail automotive authority and driving the next technological wedge between us and our customer;

Are you starting to see a sadistic pattern here yet?

2004 enter social media a twist on the mother technology and another wedge between us and our customer. By now there are so many technological wedges between us and the customer the Digital Divide is incredible.

SO HOW DO YOU CLOSE IT?Break through

The only way I know how… a good proactive personal interaction with a knowledgeable, professional salesperson. 


To do this you have to get the customer to share contact information with you, you have to work to break through the Digital Divide. Make no mistake car sales has become a step by step process that starts online and you break through the Digital Divide wedge by wedge with good direct response marketing tactics.

However if you just leave it to the customer cross your fingers and hope you did a good enough job online for them to come to your store, if you think you just need to be out there and the internet is an “influencing medium” it won’t be too much longer before the Digital Divide erodes your customer base and you’re left with a smaller and smaller group. Gone are the days we spend huge sums of money to drive people into your store to close that miniscule percentage and out run the ad budget. There are more than a few dealerships within the last few years that found that is no longer a sustainable strategy, due in large part to the Digital Divide.

Bottom-line Connect… as early as possible and as often as possible with good relevant information, this can only be accomplished if you have contact information (a conversion).

At my Digital Dealer sessions in Orlando and the Digital Dealer workshop I go into more detail tactics needed to break through the Digital Divide.

How are you breaking through the Digital Divide, let’s hear about your strategies and tactics…

For those attending Digital Dealer here are my session dates and times:

Tuesday 4/19 – 3pm Microsites What Are They & What Do They Do Really

Wednesday 4/20 – 9am General Session What You Thought You Knew About Online Car Shoppers

Wednesday 4/20 – 11am Local, Mobile, Social This Future Has Arrived

Looking forward to seeing every one there and hearing great ideas to break through the Digital Divide. 

Marc McGurren
@Jeff - I would agree and disagree all at the same time! Yes it gave us another "outlet" to communicate with the customer yet we still aren't directly communicating with the customer. It is a heck of a lot more personal than what we have had in the past - but it is still a divide. @Larry - this is becoming how we communicate as a culture and it just happens to be the way the car business is going as well. We have more ways to communicate to friends and family than we have ever had before. I have got a facebook message from a friend, replied to them by text, then followed up with an email. Seriously! Don't forget about actually just picking up the phone...ha! But Larry you are 100% correct - connection is the key. Once I can get my foot in the door with the customer and all things being equal - my chances of selling that car sky rocketed! Why? Because I am selling myself, my customer service, and my company - not just a price.
Larry Bruce
Jeff don't get me wrong, I am not a social media hater. In fact I am a big proponent of social media. But you have to admit its another technology that allows your customer to just get online instead of coming down to the store, and in the store is where we do our best work. My point here Jeff is that these wedges are there whether you like them or not and the only way you break through them is with communication that starts with someone contacting you or you getting their contact info and contacting them. That is why I am obsessed with conversion. More conversion = more sales ALWAYS!
Larry Bruce
Marc I agree connection is key no car sale ever occurred without some level of connection to the store and/or salesperson. That being said, would you rather have that connection from more people on your web properties through a call or web form. Or just do a catalog type site, cross your fingers and hope the customer walks in your door?
Ed Brooks
“Communication with your customers has never been easier…and yet your customers have never been further away.” Larry, as always, interesting and thought provoking. I think what you may be observing is not the customer and dealer moving away from each other, but rather the dealer having influence (and the ability to monitor) much further out in the shopping process. At no point in time has it ever been as easy as a customer saying “I need a car! Phil from Rotary sells cars, I’ll pop in to see him.” Consumers have always followed the same 5 steps in the buying process and still do today (remember this from Marketing 101): 1.) Need Arousal – Identifying a Need or Problem 2.) Information Search – Finding a Solution 3.) Evaluation Behavior – Clarify and Evaluate the Alternatives 4.) Purchase Decision – Actually Buying the Product 5.) Post Purchase Feelings – How do They Feel After They Bought In the past, the manufacturer always owned the first few Steps. The dealership picked up somewhere around Step 3 or 4. We never saw the consumer taking Steps 1 and 2. Just because we didn’t see them taking the first steps doesn’t mean they weren’t taking them. Need Arousal and the Information Search was largely left up to the manufacturer. It’s why GM sponsored the Parade of Progress from the 1930’s on. General Motors toured the country getting folks excited about its cars and demonstrating how they were superior to the competition. It’s why car manufacturers spent so much time and money attending Auto Shows. Radio was a lousy way to get someone fired up about a car, but the car could be brought to the customer. So folks saw cars at Auto Shows and Fairs, they collected brochures and looked at magazine ads. They gathered information and evaluated the alternatives. The dealership saw them, in many instances, after they’d already made a tentative purchase decision. Then as now, if a customer walks onto the showroom floor, we have a pretty good shot at closing the deal. A better shot today, in fact, because in many cases they have completed more of Step 3 online. So now a question; is a dealer’s website their online showroom? I think the answer in some cases is yes. But it’s also the Auto Show, the Parade of Progress and the brochure. It’s where a customer comes to gather information and evaluate their choices. It’s no more a wedge than a newspaper ad or a vehicle brochure was in the 50’s. So back to “Communication with your customers has never been easier…and yet your customers have never been further away.” I don’t think the customer is further away at all; they are simply with your dealership for more of the process today. We never used to see them until they walked in the door, now we see them (at least their online footprints) from step 1 on. This isn’t a negative, it’s a huge plus. Another lesson to remember from Marketing 101 (besides the 5 Step Buying Process), is that there are different types of purchases. Low Involvement purchases are generally inexpensive and require a very short evaluation process. High Involvement purchases are generally much more complex and expensive – a home or a car for example. High Involvement purchases are much less likely to be transacted online and have a much longer evaluation process. So if that lesson from Marketing 101 holds true today and they are conducting that lengthy evaluation process on dealer websites, this isn’t some new wedge, it’s a new opportunity – an opportunity to influence the decision from earlier in the process. Going back to Larry’s idea of car buying in the 50’s, how many cars do you think a salesman would sell if every single time he saw someone, he hounded them for their address so he could bring a car by their home to look at? “Come on Bill, what’s your office number?” That’s not how it was ever done. You made friends first and when they were in the market for a car, they thought of you. If you met someone at Rotary in the 50’s and they said, “Wow! Glad I met you. The wife and I are in the market for a new car.” Now that was a customer! They’d been through the first few steps of the buying process and were looking to make a purchase. You’d be right to try and set an appointment with them. Understand that many (perhaps most) of the visitors to your website aren’t there yet. They are just beginning the process and aren’t ready for Step 4 – the purchase. But isn’t it every bit as vital that you give those early stage shoppers the information that they want, when they want it, the way they want it? Or they will find someone that will. And if you force them to another dealer, you’ve lost your shot at them when they hit Step 4. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to assume that everyone on your site is at Step 4 – ready to buy or even ready to make contact. Your website provides a great opportunity to get your message to customers very early in the process. Don’t miss that opportunity. If you think of your website as nothing more than the online dealership or showroom, the conversion rate must seem frustratingly low. If you understand that your website attracts customers all the way out at Step 1, it all makes much more sense. With that said, make it as easy as possible for the customer to contact you once they are ready for step 4. Whether it’s a form submission, a phone call, a chat session or they walk into the dealership. That customer is yours! So has the Internet created a huge digital wedge between you and your customer or has it created an opportunity to be more involved with the age-old 5 Step Buying Process than ever? (Social Media is a great way to influence your customer on Step 5 and keep in touch until they are ready to start Step 1 again.)
Jared Hamilton
Larry, I agree there is a digital divide, but like Jeff I think you are mistaken about Social Media. Social Media, when properly understood, simply mirrors social actions that takes place in the real word. Social media brings people together, does not drive them apart. I do believe conversion is important, in fact i believe its one of if not the most important site metric to watch. However, relationships lead to the best transactions and social media is about relationships. IT closes the digital divide, does not create it. (Plus, social media certainly was not a present force in our industry in 2004.)

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