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Jared Hamilton
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Jim Bell

Jim Bell National Sales Executive

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15 Year Reflections

 

Friday is my 15 anniversary in the automotive business.  As I reflect on the last 15 years, my, how things have changed.  Here I was 3 months before my wedding, and I had no job.  I decided to pull into a well known dealership in our area where I grew up with the owner's kids.  I went in there, and who do I ask for?  The owner of course.  He wasn't there, but his daughter was who graduated a couple years ahead of me.  I ended up speaking with her and the GM and they were looking at adding a position within the dealership; a Lease Retention Manager.  Fifteen years ago, a CRM was just spreadsheets spiral notebooks, and a card file with 3x5 cards.  I digitalized our follow-up with the leases that were up within 3 months of termination, got them in, and got them with the salesperson that sold them the car originally.  If they were an orphan, I would take it cradle to grave.

That position lasted a whole 4 months and ended up doing F&I due to resignations and terminations.  I remember there were 2 of us, and the other was terminated.  I was on my own for the month of May.  That month, I delivered 187 cars by myself.  There was no selling involved.  Do you want credit insurance? Do you want a warranty?  Great....NEXT!  I remember people waiting 4 hours to get into my office to button things up.  When my help arrived, her first day was at the local tent sale.  Not only did I have to get deals bought and deliver them, but had to try to train her in the process.  In that 4 day period, we sold 100+ cars.

Next came the internet.  Who knew what this beast was going to be what it is today.  I remember getting all of the Autobytel leads via fax, calling and trying to close them.  That was my first glimpse of the internet.  No one knew how important it was to have photos on a website, but I was doing it.  It was just a place in space that people may stumble upon.  Google?  Well, it was nonexistent.  If you were lucky, you had dial up with AOL paying the $9.95 a month.  Marketing involved TV, Radio, Newspaper, and if you were lucky, the free car publications that you would pick up at the gas station that we would pay $150 per week for a full page ad.  Yes, we had websites that were provided by the OEM's, but we didn't know what we were doing.

A couple years later, I found myself at a Volkswagen store.  The internet was starting to take off.  CRM's were starting to hit the market.  Some were OEM mandated and wanted you to respond to the customer within 24 hours.  24 hours?  They would do their best in tracking those times through their mandated lead management systems.  We had the beepers to alert us to let us know that there was a lead in the system.  Pictures were still a little nonexistent on most dealer websites.

Then came along the third party sites.  The kbbs, cars.com, autotrader.com, and, edmunds.com.  I still remember to this day a customer coming in and saying that they knew what we paid for a new car.  That was the game changer.  At the time, we would all be selling cars at retail and no one would stop us.  Then they would go to edmunds and get our invoice pricing.  We went from selling cars at sticker to splitting the profit down the middle or selling at a set percentage over invoice.  It was fair in the customer's eyes and in the dealer's eyes.  

Then came the Internet Manager responsible for all of the leads, getting photos up on the website and third party sites, getting vehicles loaded every day, etc., etc.  Also, I remember doing research on all of the different vehicles that we had in stock.  It was a manual version of vAuto of going to all of the different websites to see how to price a vehicle.  About every dealer had one;  and when I say one, I mean one.  One word comes to mind....stressful.  I remember taking the leads from cradle to grave.  The boss would call me when a lead would come in to make sure that I got the alert on my beeper since we had 2 at the dealership.  Then, if you were lucky, they would add another person to help out with the leads.

Here we are today, 15 years later.  Everything for the most part is automated in inventories loading and pushing out to the different website providers.  We are still getting those same leads as we did 10 years ago, but they are all digital.  We have solutions like vAuto, VIN First Look to help us price vehicles;  CRMs like Autobase, VIN, Higher Gear, etc to help us with the whole follow up processes with floor traffic and internet leads.  

But 15 years later, a lot is the same.

  1. We have to sell ourselves, the dealership, and the product
  2. We have to do follow up.  Now, we just have a lot of reminders with the CRMs.
  3. The customer still has to come to the dealership.  The internet doesn't sell cars, we do.
  4. We have to stand out.  Before it was stand out in person, but now we have to stand out on the internet, in our phone skills, and be different than the next guy that emails that same customer.  
  5. We have to be more transparent than ever.  All of the information is out there now.
I must say that my friends, Joe Webb and Bill Playford sums it all up in this video quite well.
 
 
 
Bryan Armstrong
Awesome post! Isn't it funny, but these new fangled tools are JUST THAT, tools. It still comes down to people and training. I must admit, I never used the spiral notebooks, I was a legal pad guy. Those little paper "shreddies" that got all over and got stuck in the rings drove me crazy. Even back then I was looking for the better "C.R.M.". ;)
VJ VJ
Jim, well written and a genuine assessment. And Joe's and Bill's video sum it up - The Human Factor is just irreplaceable. Thank you for your story.

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