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Marc McGurren

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Back to the Basics: How NOT to let shiny objects tarnish your digital marketing plan

I received a call from a fellow car dealer the other day who wanted to bounce ideas off me about his digital marketing plan. He asked what I thought about Yelp, and if he should spend any time on it? Should he create his own Facebook page or use the auto group’s? He also informed me that there are vendors out there who are kind enough to charge him $1100/month to manage his business listings across the web (Google, Yahoo, Insider Pages, etc). Finally, he asked me about online reputation management and what the process at our dealership looks like. All of this set me to thinking about how we, as innovators and leaders of our dealerships, are bombarded with “solutions” for our digital marketing spaghetti bowl.
 
What I’ve found is that “shiny objects” are everywhere, and most have a crazy acronym of some sort: ILM, CRM, ORM, IRM, FB, SEO, SEM, DMS, PPC, VDPs, SERPS, BDC, CRC, CRS, Tweets, Deets, etc., etc., etc. One glance at the 475+ vendors rated on www.drivingsales.com can make a person’s head spin. 
 
So, what’s someone who is in charge of a dealership’s digital marketing plan to do?   Where do we start? How do we lead and continue to innovate?   How can we be the best at what we do?
I’m glad you asked. The answer to each depends on what digital marketing stage your dealership is in. Most dealerships fall somewhere in, or between, one of these five stages:
 
1)      Elementary – You just got a website. You still have a Motorola Razr because you are afraid to embrace these crazy things called smart phones. You answer leads out of Microsoft Outlook or Gmail. (Actually hotmail, because you don’t even know what Gmail is.) You’ve only heard of 3 or less of the aforementioned acronyms. You don’t believe this Internet thing is a big deal, nor do you have any idea if you’re selling any cars with it. Or on it. Or through it.
 
2)      Middle School – You have had a website for quite sometime and you might add specials to your site when it's convenient for you. You actually have an ILM (Internet lead management tool), but it is most likely the one the OEM requires you to have, and you can’t see the benefit in having to pay any more for ILM than you already are. You have the young salesperson you just hired answering the leads since he or she is “computer savvy.” You have upgraded your Razr to a newer, color screen, flip phone that allows you to actually text your kids and friends. Percentage of total dealership vehicle sales tracked through the Internet Department/BDC: 6-10%.
 
3)      High school – You still use the required OEM websites, but have embraced adding video and specials, and you’re even using an outside company to take pictures of your used cars. You’re sending your inventory to the major players like Cars.com and AutoTrader. You have a separate ILM (and possibly CRM) installed throughout the dealership. You own a Blackberry, Android, or iPhone but still don’t know what all the buttons do. Percentage of total sales coming directly through digital marketing strategies: 11-19%.
 
4)      College – You’re maximizing the OEM site as much as possible, or maybe you’ve transitioned to a different website provider all together. You are intimately involved in the digital space of your dealership. You work on your Online Reputation Management, search engine optimization, and possibly search engine marketing. You also have an entire CRM/ILM installed throughout the dealership and are “pretty good” at using it. You love your iPhone4 or EVO. You dominate page one on Google when your dealership’s name is searched. Percentage of total sales coming from your digital marketing plan: 20-34%.
 
 
5)      PhD. – You’re crushing your competition in SEO, SEM, and Online Reputation Management. Your website is one that people envy due to its performance. Your CRM/ILM is ingrained in your selling process and couldn’t thrive without it. You take your own pictures and describe your used cars better than anyone in your market. You’re a true innovator and continue to find ways to push the envelope. Percentage of your total vehicle sales coming from your digital marketing strategy: 35+%.
 
Most of us fall into one of the aforementioned stages, or somewhere in-between, but one thing that I love about the car business is that I am never stuck in the same place. I can change my destiny, and all it takes is the first of the month to get that process started. The same could be said for your digital marketing strategy. If you’re in Elementary or Middle School, don’t fret. You aren’t stuck there. You can move the needle tomorrow. It just takes some time and dedication.
 
All of us are on a continual learning curve, and if you have a PhD. today, you could be irrelevant tomorrow unless you have proper training and keep up with the latest digital trends. But at the end of the day, our job still is to sell and fix cars. I can have all the technology that money can buy, but I still have to come back to the basics, back to “blocking and tackling.” I still have to take the proper steps to make the sale. I still have to follow up. I still have to offer exceptional service so the customers keep coming back. And then I have to do that process over and over again.
So the question becomes: where and how do I find those “shiny objects” that have value, and how do I know which ones are tarnished? What solutions can take me from where I am today, to where I want to be tomorrow? 
 
First, own it. Someone in the dealership has to own the process of e-commerce and everything it entails. This person has to be passionate about digital marketing for the auto industry. Most likely, if you are reading this article, that person is you. 
 
Then, map out where you want to go, since now you have someone who “owns” the idea and understands how important this Internet-thing really is. But how do you figure out where you want to go? (Google Maps sure won’t tell you how to get there.) Start with taking an honest look at your current operations. Take personalities and favoritisms out of it and take a hard look at the entire situation.
I firmly believe that you can’t fix what you don’t know is broken. Your first step to mapping out your trek across the digital education spectrum is to examine how you’re doing now. The pieces of your digital marketing puzzle to evaluate include, but aren’t limited to:
 
1)      How is your website performing? Conversion rates? Time on site? Pages-per-visit? New vs. returning customers? And how are they finding you (e.g., Google search words)?
·         This is how you will be able to get more customers to visit your lot as well as call or email your dealership.
 
2)      How many leads are you getting? From where? What is your closing rate on all of your leads? Website(s)? Cars.com? AutoTrader? Third-Party Lead Providers (Dealix, AutoUsa, Autobytel, etc.)? 
·         This is how you can tell who to hire and who to fire for your lead providers. 
 
3)      What are you spending right now on your websites and your entire digital marketing plan?
·         Make sure you check your parts statement from the manufacturer. That’s where costs on digital marketing from the OEMs usually get dumped. When I stepped into my role as Internet Director, I found out we were spending 40% more than we actually thought we were. (OUCH!)
 
4)      What are you spending per lead, per provider? What is your cost-per-sale? What is your gross profit per sale? What is it broken up for the front and back? 
·         This will show your dealer that you can, in fact, make $2000/copy on new cars!
·         Also, a good base line to start from is having a cost-per-lead of around $20 and a cost-per-sale around $200. This will vary from manufacturer, but it is great base line.
 
5)      How many leads is each of your salespeople getting? What is each person’s closing ratio? Who is burning through their opportunities (i.e., the dealer’s money)? 
·         The old rule of thumb was 100 leads per salesperson, per month, but I believe this should now be 70-85 leads per month, per salesperson.
·         The national average on closing rates on Internet leads is 8%. I don’t like being average and therefore shoot for 12-13%.
 
Finally, once you understand where you’re at, you’re ready to map out the next step, which is to sit down and write it out. Map out what changes you want to make, who will be responsible for implementing those changes, and when they will be made. Without a written plan – I guarantee that your chances for success will be hindered.
 
Once your plan of action for various operations is written out – JUST DO IT! Make your digital marketing plan a priority. Make it your focal point when looking at your day-to-day operations. Are you, as the person leading the charge in digital marketing for your dealership, moving the needle forward consistently every day? Is what you are doing making a difference or just making noise while tarnishing your desired end result? Are the tools that you have chosen to use helping you – or just shiny objects that looks pretty?
 
I hate to say it, but many of our tools are tarnished. More importantly, they can tarnish our entire digital marketing plan by distracting us from what’s really most effective and important, causing us to take our eye off the proverbial ball. My plea to dealers today is to get the basics right before spending time with any shiny tools that are available. I’m not anti-vendor or anti-shiny object; I’m anti-take-your-eye-off-the-ball-because-of-said-shiny-object.
 
Know this: I am in your seat every day. I receive the same calls and see the exact same advertisements for the latest and greatest tools. I feel your pain, frustration, and concern about leading your team from elementary school to a PhD. in the automotive digital space.  

Your dealership is where it’s at because of the choices you—and those who came before you—have made. You can’t change the past, but you can affect the future… starting tomorrow. Don’t get sucked into shiny-object syndrome. Why? Because that is exactly what your competitor wants you to do. Be the best at the basics and the rest will follow.Write your post here

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