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I was having a discussion with a dealer over a nice vodka tonic and a nice cigar when the discussion turned to conferences. "There are just too many that it's hard to know which ones to go to and which ones to skip," he said.
This concerned me a bit. I've been on that side of the debate before but with the help of friends like Jared Hamilton, Brian Pasch, and Ralph Paglia I have come to the conclusion that the industry doesn't have enough conferenes. Before people start calling me a lunatic, hear me out...
NADA is "the" conference that most attend. It's the only one that can draw a large percentage of representation from the dealer community and often brings everything together in a single venue so that dealers can get the latest and greatest information, see the cool new products and innovations hitting the market, and network with their OEMs, peers, and vendors to help come up with solutions to keep the industry strong.
A decade ago, it was all that we needed. The changes were slow coming and even slower in integration.
Today, dealers should be attending conferences at least once a quarter and arguably once a month. Here's why:
The internet accounts for a portion of the vast majority of car deals. Research, location, comparisons, and buying tools flood the internet nearly as much as the consumers themselves who flood it. Therein lies the challenge because the internet is in a constant state of change. Trying to keep up with it is hard. Trying to do so by attending one or two conferences a year is impossible.
Many of the things that I heard at NADA just 2 months ago are, unfortunately, outdated. The internet is moving that quickly. NADA is and should always be the trade show of the year; we don't need more than one. However, conferences and summits are designed to talk about today and tomorrow and doing so requires constant refreshing, fine-tuning, and knowing what's working and what will be working (and more importantly what won't be working) in the near future.
The internet moves too fast for most dealers. That's not an insult. It's a matter of scale. Some dealers have digital advisors working at the dealership who stay on top of the latest developments, but most rely on an Internet Manager or Sales Manager to try to keep up with the changes. These people have jobs at the dealership that require attention and keeping up with (and implementing) the changes that happen in search, social, internet technologies, mobile technologies, and every other shiny ball bouncing around is a full time job.
That's what we do. It's what Jared does. It's what Gary May and Shaun Raines and Ralph Paglia and Brian Pasch and Steve Stauning and all of the other though-leaders in the industry do for a living. To get the word out, there are networks like Driving Sales to help us along but it's a heck of a lot easier to get this information in person at the conferences and summits.
More doesn't mean that everyone has to attend them all. It simply means that when we hear about a change at Google and it's buzzing around the networks, we shouldn't be waiting for months before we can go hear about them. We should be able to swing over to one of the conferences within a given month. That's how other industries work, and automotive is heading there but it isn't there yet.