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DSES: Can You Feel Me Or Is It The Customer Experience?

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DrivingSales Executive Summit 2014 is officially in the books. It was a sold out event once again that enveloped the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas for the better part of three days. Planned was a (digital) star-studded keynote speaker list plus some of the finest breakout speakers, many dealers, for those in attendance. Here's some highlights form the event from IM@CS' perspective:

Day One

Just as last year, there was a Canadian Breakout Session housing some of the top companies from our neighbors to the north along with some powerful presenters including Grant Gooley and Jeremy Wyant. Jay Radke and Brent Wees definitely brought the "eh" for a second time. Rumor is that next year will be bigger and better (and DSES will NOT be during Canadian Thanksgiving!).

After Emcee Charlie Vogelheim’s grandiose welcome of the attendees, DrivingSales' founder Jared Hamilton managed a uniquely powerful opening recognizing a few members of the car dealer community from stage for thie personal triumphs and celebrations. Most poignant was a heartfelt message and standing ovation for Courtney Cox Cole of Hare Chevrolet. Just completing her last round of chemotherapy a few days prior to the opening of DSES, her presence was missed however her spirit was felt.

The first keynote was Florian Zettelmeyer of The Kellogg School of Management hitting hard on data, telling dealership attendees to get smart on analytics. Well, it was more like "become data scientists", however put the message was clear. This year's Best Idea Contest followed and the audience was treated to some unique ways of approaching the "digital sprawl" that's occurring for dealerships (winner was a repeat of last year, Robert Karbaum). Add to that Mr. Vogelheim’s “costume” unveil, a cowboy shirt that was a present from CADA’s Tim Jackson.

Breakouts began and the session IM@CS attended was with Shaun Raines and Tom White Jr. As expected they hit their stride quickly offering specific actions to dealers that want to build a unique brand, market awareness and make customers the center of their world. Word back from other sessions was positive.

The Fireside Chat that followed had good information however it lacked some of the powerful punch from previous events (DSES and Presidents Club) that had the audience leaning forward or nodding/shaking heads in agreement/dischord. Jared guided Cars.com's Mitch Golub and DealerSocket's Jonathan Ord through a bevy of industry-directional questions and statements.

Day one's evening keynote was Brian Solis, who essentially is Altimeter Group's head analyst focusing on disruptive technology. As expected he brought insight, candor and a new perspectives to the majority-dealer audience, bringing up challenges and opportunities that the industry is facing now and in the near term. He touched on customer experience, the mobile audience, disruption occurring now that is effecting vehicle sales (Tesla and Uber were examples). He signed books immediately after as the reception began.

Day Two

 

Mike Hudson from eMarketer, a nicely-paced review of where the target is moving with consumers in regard to mobile, engagement, disruptive tech and how the sales funnel has move. Like Solis the evening before, he warned dealers and OEMs to stay up with consumer demand for information and provide only value-based experiences.

Breakouts followed and included such speakers as Bobbie Herron and Brian Armstrong in a joint session on utilizing a BDC or not and Jeff Kershner discussing the mobile-based shift for today’s showrooms. Then Jared hosted a fireside chat with two top executives from the newly-formed CDK Global (previously The Cobalt Group). The keynote before lunch featured Adam Justis of Adobe talking about how dealership marketing must be customer-centric and fully integrated, further pushing the “customer experience” drumbeat for the weekend.

After lunch it was Innovation Cup time and this year’s finalists covered a broad range of dealer services. Not all new however all had a updated take on what is essentially consumer engagement via their technology (NewCarIQ ended up with the win).

Then, it was time for speed listening with Jared Hamilton. His keynote this year, “Competing on Customer Experience”, was another blistering wordfest of reality and must-do strategy, followed by a first-of-its-kind video compilation of customer feedback on car buying experiences. The full study isn’t due until next year, however the teaser included a handful of truthful, hard-hitting testimonials that dealers must listen to.

Afternoon breakouts ensued, showcasing among others Eric Miltsch of Command Z Marketing on wearable tech, Megan Barto of Ciocca Honda & Hyundai on dealership culture, Mike Martinez of DMEautomtoive on putting mobile as your top strategy, Mario Clementoni of NADA on best practices and Joe Chura of Dealer Inspire on website/lead optimization. Chura gave out some valuable “freebies”, third party tips, software/programs and offers that included one from Google not previously known.

Closing our day two was a second-time speaker that couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time. Rand Fishkin of MOZ (formerly SEOmoz) dove right into what must-use best practices need to be deployed today for SEO to stick. Raising the bar he set two years ago, his presentation dealt with can-do/don’t-do advice and the Q&A addressed misinformation/misconceptions that many dealers hear regularly through auto industry sources.

Day Three

Charlie and Jared started the morning with the winners of the Innovation Cup then immediately into the 4th Annual Digital Media Debate hosted by Joe Webb of DealerKnows Consulting. A slightly different format than previous years, two retail executives, two consultants and two vendors addressed topics ranging from Adaptive vs Responsive websites to relying on third party leads, conglomerate vendors versus specialized suppliers and one-price stores versus traditional.

The last round of breakouts showcased Christian Salazar of DealerFire on how consumers are finding your website and content, Aaron Wirtz from Subaru of Wichita recapping how the store addressed their potentially damaging PR debacle and turned it into a complete positive (that ended up going viral) and David Kain of Kain Automotive talking about how to make memorable connections with your customers that last.

Closing the 2014 DSES event was Bryan Eisenberg of Eisenberg Holdings. His presentation, bookending Florian’s from Sunday, was an appropriate ending note on the customer experience “Cool-Aid”. Hitting right on topic after topic regarding analytics, measurement, impending trends in consumer shopping and more, Mr. Eisenberg pulled no punches in telling dealers how they need to change their marketing practices to match the consumer path.

Charlie then reintroduced Jared for the shortest closing remarks of the six years DSES has been produced for the industry’s leading dealerships. It was a fitting end to what surely was the most information-filled conference of the year.

Kudos to the DrivingSales team!

 

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