Gilbert Chavez, one of the most respected automotive Internet experts in the country, traveled to Salt Lake City in May to spend the afternoon with Jared Hamilton, founder and CEO of DrivingSales, Inc., to discuss dealership Internet strategy, the evolution of online automotive retailing, and the newly launched - DrivingSales.com. Chavez spoke with Hamilton about how dealers like him will benefit from DrivingSales and participating in its social network and online community.
Chavez: Thanks for taking the time to discuss DrivingSales with me, Jared. I'm glad we got to continue our discussion from the Digital Dealer conference this spring. In a nutshell, how would you describe DrivingSales? What's your elevator pitch for dealers?
Hamilton: DrivingSales.com is an online community and social network for auto industry professionals. We interact on a platform that was custom built for our industry in order to create the most efficient and user-friendly environment for people like us to network, share best practices, and get objective reviews on vendors from other dealers - plus any other information we need to maximize our success.
Chavez: Everyone I talk to agrees there's a need for this. Our business is changing more rapidly than any time in history, and it requires keeping up with a lot of information and new technologies just to stay in the game. When you say "online community" and "social network," the first things that come to my mind are MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn. What does DrivingSales offer that's different?
Hamilton: There are definitely some similar functionalities in these platforms, and all of them have sprung from the next evolution of the Internet otherwise known as Web 2.0 which embodies a very efficient way for people to connect and share user-generated content. However, MySpace and Facebook are known for having more of a social focus, while DrivingSales is tailored to the professional networking, strategies, and helping them be more successful in their businesses. Though that doesn't mean you won't see a lot of fun and entertaining content on the site!
The way it works is our community members create a profile and in doing so, they tap into dozens of valuable resources. The most notable are our dealership strategy sharing, vendor ratings, blogs, the networking utility, where you can search and connect with old friends, colleagues, and industry experts you'd like to meet and share ideas with. So, we are more like a LinkedIn, but there are key differences there too.
Chavez: Yeah, when I hear about a "network utility" it sounds more like a "let's get down to business here" kind of experience. LinkedIn is pretty huge at this point. Why would someone come to DrivingSales vs. LinkedIn.
Hamilton: I liken the difference to a suit you buy of the rack vs. one that is custom made for you by the best Italian tailor. DrivingSales is tailored specifically for the auto industry, and dealers in particular, with the core goal of helping dealership professionals connect and get the specific information they need to be more successful.
Chavez: It's interesting how that works with automotive. For instance, there are many companies out there that build websites, but the best sites in the industry are the ones that are developed by the providers who specialize in automotive. Same with CRM, leads, search. We're a rare breed, I guess. We demand customization!
Hamilton: Definitely. DrivingSales profiles, groups, content, and other information on the site are all centered on the car business, including vendor profiles, job descriptions, strategies, blogs, etc. Everyone on our network is in our industry, so it's a network of peers collaborating on relevant ideas and content. You don't have to weed through a bunch of junk to get what you're looking for.
Here's another example. In LinkedIn, all of your contacts become public information. This is not the case with DrivingSales. Our members can easily make connections with others, but they can also maintain private addresses books, if they want. Meanwhile their address books will be updated automatically when their associates change their information. In an industry where people move around a whole lot, that's very important. We are working with different affinity groups to create niches within the big niche.
Chavez: What inspired you to create this type of community?
Hamilton: It came, simply, from an immediate necessity. In 2003, I was attending NADA's Dealer Candidate Academy. There were 30 of us dealers in one place, sharing ideas and pushing each other to solve problems, develop better processes, and essentially push the envelope. It was amazingly helpful for everyone. But then when we all returned to our stores, it was difficult to keep the positive communication going. One of our assignments was about using a personal computer to run out stores better. DrivingSales resulted from that assignment and that need, and my classmates were all over it when I presented it to them.
Chavez: Have you gone through some revisions since your original creation?
Hamilton: Let's just say we'vecome a long way since V1! The first version was actually a problem solving Wiki. My classmates could create a membership and then post problems and edit solutions directly on the web pages themselves. Honestly, when I created this there wasn't even such a thing as Web 2.0. As it turned out, the Wiki functionality for this was a head of its time. To date, we'vehad a very select group of users, but happily, by popular demand, it's starting to take off, so we'veopened it up to the whole automotive community. You know, two heads are always better than one, well, we're going to have thousands upon thousands of heads sharing best practices and getting a whole lot smarter at the same time.
Chavez: Ok, that all sounds cool. But the golden question: how the heck is this going to help me sell more cars?!
Hamilton: Yeah, I knew you were going to get to that. First, we're continuing to build out the blogging community with some of the best minds in the business one of which is you! But seriously, we wanted the more successful people in the business blogging on DrivingSales and sharing best practices with our members. And we're continuing to attract the best like Rafi Hamid, Dean Evans, Allan Cooper. The blog postings range from the theoretical to the very tactical, all filled with great information to help our members sell more cars for less money.
Second, you create your profile and build a strong network. The associates around you are some of your biggest assets. You never know when you will need to hire someone, get a product recommendation, a reference check, or advise on an issue. We have many tools to help you leverage your network to do these things more efficiently, and to keep you better connected with others in our industry. You can even manage "to-dos" and share them with coworkers in a collaborative setting. All this is geared towards maximizing your success, and that of your dealership or company.
Plus, we're going to have a lot of fun stuff too. For instance, we'vejust launched a "spiff" sharing, or strategies, contest. We want to give our members a live, robust resource full of spiff ideas to use when their creativity is hurting before a sales meeting. We are inviting members to post their favorite spiff programs to be rated. The highest rating by mid-July will win a very sleek MacBook Air.
Chavez: Very cool. I plan on pulling some from up my sleeve. I see how this will grow as the community grows more people involved and contributing, more value for every member.
Hamilton: Yeah, it's all about the community. It's been fun to see this grow from a homework assignment for one class to something hundreds of dealers, and growing into the thousands, are using. We're continuing to enhance our features and we're getting great feedback from our members, which makes it better for everyone. Our objective is to build out a custom community exactly as dealers want it. So if there is something you want, let me know and I'll do what I can to build it.
Chavez: Thanks, Jared. Ok, I gotta go and submit a couple killer spiffs and get my buddies to rate them so I can take home that trinket.
Hamilton: Adios, and see you in the network!