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Through our many interviews at NADA, we uncovered at least three key areas where product integration is and will benefit dealers. One of those three areas is through new products. Most Internet products either participate in at least one of the following areas:
1. The process of linking shoppers to the store (e.g. listings, leads, search, websites)
2. Facilitating or improving the store's initial engagement with the shopper (e.g. auto response, call whisper, chat, phone recording, and phone training)
3. Improving the store's ability to close and maximize profitability from walk-ins and appointments (e.g. sales training, desking tools, and tools for selling accessories and F&I products)
Nearly all of these produce information as a byproduct. The more of these pieces a vendor can stitch together, the clearer the picture they can obtain for the entire process. This gives the vendor an opportunity to see additional needs and build products to fill those needs. But how each vendor does that varies as widely as the needs themselves, which is why we spent time at NADA interviewing the top people in prominent vendor companies to get an understanding of their approach to new products as a means of integration.
Sometimes, the use of data between merging companies is as straightforward as one group throwing it to another to see what they can do with it. In talking with AutoTrader.com CEO, Chip Perry, this was the case after they acquired vAuto. After sifting through the mountains of online shopping data that is a natural byproduct of AutoTrader.com's listing service, vAuto was able to come up with the Provision tool. Today, a free version of Provision is available for the benefit of all AutoTrader.com customers and a premium version to vAuto customers. Additional advances are needed to help dealers obtain the right used vehicles at the right price, but the product has widely been acclaimed as a step forward for the industry.
Acquisitions have been important for ADP/Cobalt as well. The organization's network of sites now receives over 1 billion impressions per month and employs dozens of analysts to sift through it all in a big-picture fashion. As CMO, Chris Reed, put it, "the acquisitions got us out of our stovepipes." However, integration need not be exclusive across one's own suite of products. ADP/Cobalt is massive, yet it freely integrates with over 400 vendors. The company is happy to work with others, but prefers to have an API for an integrated view of performance – once again demonstrating the integration of data to form a more complete picture of online auto shopping.
In addition to acquisitions and free integration with other vendors, companies can also begin to grow their own suite of products to extend their reach in the overall marketing and make it possible for that integration to occur accordingly. Dealer.com continues to grow as major player across dealer advertising. It's roots are in dealer websites, but this has lead the firm to expand into virtually everything that drives traffic to the site, content generation for the site, social media, and an upcoming CRM. The path appears clear: the more the firm learns from the data it collects and research it conducts, the more products it can expand into in a way that integrates with the core platform. The more product areas it expands into, the more it can learn from the data collected. On and on it goes. Many of the product lines Dealer.com has expanded into are not new, but the firm has brought new features into those product areas. Some of these features are completely dependent upon the pieces of the system working together.
Conversely, some organizations remain eager to integrate their products with others, but have maintained a strict focus on their product development efforts. Cars.com's Bill Swislow and Alex Vetter made it clear that once the consumer contacts the store, the rest is outside their area of focus. This allows them to focus on more mobile products. Cars.com was an early entrant into mobile solutions for consumers and was quick to launch an iPad app for shopping in 2012. The percentage of consumer traffic coming to the Cars.com network from smartphones and tablets continues to increase. In short, Cars.com is integrating a number of ways consumers can shop for a vehicle into the products dealers already buy.
In a more minimalistic fashion, Autobytel has shed off a number of businesses over the years to focus on the effectiveness of their primary one: connecting online, in-market consumers to dealers. In many ways, this takes Autobytel back to its roots. Steve Lind, the firm's EVP of Corporate Development, is proud of this focus and the fact that it has taken the firm to profitability. The focus here has been an improved website and better SEM practices, allowing the firm to create far more of the leads it sells to dealers. Lead quality is a concern for every lead aggregator (Autobytel, Dealix, AutoUSA, and Cars.com's NewLeadsPlus). Creating more of what one sells is the surest way of controlling quality.
As pointed out in our first article in this series, Profiting from Product Integration, the industry has come a long way since Dennis rubbed its face in the Spaghetti Chart just 29 months ago. Many of the new products coming out of this integration era will profit dealers directly. There are enough large players to prevent any type of oligopoly situation in the market, and dealers are gaining the tools they need to hold vendors and team members accountable for performance. But many dealers are struggling to keep up. Can products and service become simpler for dealers as they continue to become more robust? We’ll take a look at that very topic in the next part of this series.