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JD Rucker

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Why there Needs to be MORE Conferences

Driving Sales

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Many of the things that I heard at NADA just 2 months ago are, unfortunately, outdated.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.

Jeremy Alicandri
JD, I feel there needs to just be better conferences and not more. For example, IN MY OPINION, Digital Dealer has turned into pushing the vendors that sponsor the show, and not offering real talent. In many of the classes, the consultants push their own services, and mislead dealers into drinking their kool-aid (dealers believe since the vendors are speakers at Digital Dealer, then they should follow the advice offered). In fact, I have one friend that is a International BDC consultant, and was turned down as a speaker because he won't sponsor the show. He happens to be one of the best BDC consultants in the country(and perhaps the world), but couldn't speak because Digital Dealer wants a subsidy. What a waste. However, I must note that NADA does a much better job at keeping the classes vendor neutral.
JD Rucker
It's funny that you mention that, Jeremy, because I brought that up with Mr Noonan two days ago. I personally have not spoken at Digital Dealer before since hitting the "speaking circuit" in 2009. We haven't sponsored the event and have only had one booth there in the last 3 years. Coincidence? Mr. Noonan assured me that it wasn't like that and even pointed out that Driving Sales' Shaun Raines spoke at this years event despite working for a "competitor" so I trust that it's changing. I am putting in to speak at the next event - I'll let you know how it goes. Regarding more versus better, I do agree that they need to improve. I simply want a few more venues to pop up so there is more consistency rather than having to wait so long between events. When Google or Facebook make a change, I want to learn or teach about it as soon as possible. I don't want to wait until the Automotive Boot Camp in May or the DSES in October. That's the only reason I think there needs to be more and the ones that exist need to improve.
Jeremy Alicandri
Hey JD, First, I didn't even know Digital Dealer and DrivingSales were competitors? I find the two to be entirely different. Perhaps if you want to speak at Digital Dealer, then you need to advertise with them, and then they'll also boost you in their "impartial" articles. Sorry for the sarcasm but that's how I feel... :-) With that said, I do not want to put a manager on a plane and pay for 3 days in a hotel, everytime Google/Facebook makes a change. What other alternatives exist? (e.g. Web-based training) For the elite few that can actually grasp the DEEP dynamics of the changing online environment, I think these few would be better served by going to non-automotive conferences but instead interactive conferences. In turn, this elite crowd can apply what they learned on a generic level to the automotive business - and therefore be slightly ahead of others.
Adam Ross
Great points, Jeremy! I've volunteered to speak at several events and they all have wanted me to "pay to play." Hopefully it will change.
JD Rucker
We attend SXSW (sent 4 this year to get as much in as possible), both Blogworlds (even though I liked it much better when there was only one instead of east and west), SES, CES, and others with acronyms I don't recall. You're right - there is plenty of learning that can be done at non-automotive conferences and it's ripe for those who can translate it all into automotive strategies.

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