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Every year around this time, dealerships find themselves making decisions about how to move forward with their marketing. The NADA Convention is often a starting point for the decision-making process; whether you go or not, the post-NADA whirlwind is a great time to grab the latest and greatest from the various vendors around the industry.
It's not just for those who attend. Every dealership in the country has an opportunity in the days and weeks following NADA to take advantage of deals, new developments, and fancy enhancements. It can be a smorgasbord of automotive marketing awesomeness, but in many ways it's also a trap.
Years on both sides of the ball (retail and vendor) have helped me to see some of the best and worst out there. As you start making decisions about the future of your dealership, it's incredibly important to prioritize. This list is incomplete - there's really no such thing as a complete list - but it should give you some insight about the things to look into and the things that can be put on the backburner. Hopefully the fact that the products that my company offers are not at the top of the list is a good indicator that I'm compiling this from an unbiased perspective. There's no way to make any recommendations without at least a hint of bias, but I have tried to make it as pure as possible.
The easiest way for any dealership to move the needle in 2014 is to have the right people doing the right things at the right time. You can increase leads by 20% but if your team can't handle them properly it's a waste. You can have tons of buyers at your dealership at any given time, but if your sales team doesn't have a solid process to get them to sign on the line that is dotted, sales won't increase as much as they should.
If you do nothing else in the next few weeks, commit to improve the skill levels of your team. You may need to hire and fire as a result. An interesting quote I saw on social media the other day in reference to the objection that there's too much churn in our industry and training is a waste of time that can help competitors when your staff leaves, a wise person responded, "Would you rather train people and have them potentially leave or not train people and have them stay?"
I've taken very few pitches on CRMs over the years. It's never been something that I needed to know about. However, I have talked to hundreds of dealers about the good and bad aspects of the CRM world and if there's one thing that is universal, it's that the biggest complaint about CRM tools is that the staff doesn't know how (or is unwilling) to use them.
CRM makes deals. It saves deals. It revives deals. However, it can do nothing if it's not used properly. That's not to say that it's not on the dealership leadership to make the staff use it properly, but having the right ongoing training and product support is extremely helpful. I would rather have a decent CRM that everyone knows how to use and that is properly supported by the company than the best CRM with poor support.
Let's cut to the chase on this one. The vast majority of services I've seen associated with websites have been sub-par. It's a strange paradox - the website providers that have great designs and conversion tools are often the worst at marketing their websites, while the ones that are great at marketing them seem to have the ugliest sites in the world. That's not to generalize as I do know of a couple that do both well, but the most important attribute to me is the ease and ability of a website platform to be marketed by the dealership.
Easy-to-build pages, clean code, responsive customer support, proper integration with outside marketing tools - these are the things that aggressive dealers need. If you're not aggressive (and by aggressive, I mean willing to either perform strong marketing techniques on your website or willing to hire a marketing firm to do it for you), then the set-it-and-forget-it website vendors are all you need. If you want more, get a website provider that plays well with you and your marketing firms.
It's all about VDPs. It's ALL about VDPs! I'm not going to use this as a forum to rip on the inventory aggregation sites out there as they play an important role, but your top priority once you have all of the other three items covered is to get more buyers in front of your inventory on your website.
There are tons of amazing products and services to make this happen (and no, I'm not going to go into specifics here in order to keep this unbiased). Once you can handle the leads (training), organize the leads (CRM), and properly turn visitors into leads (website), it's time to open the floodgates and point them directly at your vehicle details pages.
The fact that nearly every vendor treats SEO, PPC, and social media marketing as three separate marketing techniques is offensive to me. In 2014 and beyond, it's so important to see the writing on the wall that search and social are coming together as complementary components of a holistic content marketing strategy. The right hand must talk to the left hand for modern marketing practices to work their magic. It's that simple.
Many of the bulk vendors are coming out with their own variation of search and social packages. For PPC, this is actually okay since it's really a software play in that arena. For SEO and social media, a "scalable" solution is a worthless one. It can't be done. A vendor that believes it can properly optimize thousands of websites is delusional while a vendor that believes it can run social media for thousands of dealerships does not understand the game.
Notice that I did not say, "reputation management". It's more than that now. It's no longer an email and a prayer. It's no longer a card that your team may or may not hand out to customers in hopes that they'll run home and leave a good review. It's not even simply about getting positive reviews. Reputation is starting to play a major role in search, social, and general online marketing. This must start at the dealership level and permeate into a company culture of perfection in customer service.
We all know that you can get burned by someone who was treated properly. Bad reviews happen. Keeping them to a minimum and building rabid fans of the dealership and the way you do business is the best way to improve your reputation. It's not the easiest way, but it is the best way. Lastly (and this is something that is close to my heart since we've been working on it for some time), reputation isn't just about getting good reviews. It's also about getting those reviews in front of people that may be considering you or your competitors. This is a key that nobody is really doing right... for now.
This has to be included, even if it's at the "bottom" of the list. Keep in mind, there are dozens of other marketing segments that could easily be discussed here. There are hundred of products and services that are not included at all. Being at the bottom of this list doesn't mean that it's not important.
The "cool stuff" out there sounds ambiguous, but this is where a savvy dealer needs to trust good ol' fashioned instinct. If you have an opportunity to offer something or reach people in ways that your competitors do not, that's what I consider to be the "cool stuff". Every competitor has a website. Every competitor is doing something on search and social. Every competitor has a reputation whether they do good things with it or not. Those marketing practices, products, and services that are unique to your dealership - those are cool and should be considered. This isn't a license to go chasing shiny, bouncing balls around, but some of these shiny balls have profits and sales attached to them.
In the weeks after NADA, make an effort to get the information that you need to make strong decisions. Ask yourself the hard questions. You may hope that your team is properly trained, but test them to find out if they are. You may believe that your website is rocking and rolling, but get an independent view to see if there are flaws you're not seeing. The majority of dealers out there are on digital marketing autopilot. Don't be one of them. Take control and make 2014 a year for the record books.