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Michelle Denogean

Michelle Denogean CMO

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Every Visionary Needs A Champion: The 4x Power Of Champions



A few weeks ago, our COO Rudi Thun wrote a blog post on the most important role in dealerships that often goes unfulfilled. He called it a Digital Retail Manager, but call it whatever makes sense to you—it is about having someone with the political capital to drive process change across all departments within the store. We have gotten a lot of great feedback on this post, many asking where a dealership may find this kind of talent and even questioning whether just one person can manage the role.

Regardless of your perspective, the presence of a strong champion is the #1 predictor of success with digital retailing; the numbers don’t lie. Stores with champions see customers digitally build deals at four times the rate of those who don’t have this role in place.  

Why? Because on the road to modernization, champions build the new process, help train the staff, oversee the technology implementation, and continuously monitor utilization. As you can imagine, usage is the key to driving 4x the performance.

It is equally as critical that you have a Dealer Principal, Dealer Group Executive, or General Manager that understands the importance of this role and gives their champion(s) enough autonomy to get things done. 

Do these people really exist? Yes, without question, they do. Rene Lawson at Penske Motor Group, Dan King at Sun Automotive Group, and Joe Lukich at #1 Cochran to name a few. They are process-driven, respected, and team-oriented. They see a way to get things done regardless of organizational resistance, system complexity, or short-term hiccups. They aren’t afraid to take a step back to take two steps forward. 

Take Rene Lawson, Finance Director at Penske Motor Group. When she was at Longo Toyota, she had the vision to go digital and remove as much paperwork in the store as possible. She was initially met with a lot of resistance from people that have been at the dealership for decades—yes, decades (incidentally, Longo has the highest employee retention rate I have seen in the industry). Rene eased her team into the change, giving them a month to try a digital credit app. At first, she only required that they use it during the week, leaving busy weekends for the paper credit app if desired. Rene worked hard to gain their trust and buy-in of the new process while proving it to be more efficient. She eventually gave a date that paper credit apps would be completely removed from the dealership…and that’s what happened; everyone got on board. 

Another excellent example of a successful champion is Dan King, COO at Sun Automotive Group. The dealer group studied digital retailing platforms for 18 months before deciding to jump in. During that time, they were watching Carvana and studying the positive experience provided to their consumers. Todd Caputo, CEO at Sun Automotive Group, had some particular changes in mind for his stores. He wanted to go to a one-price model and take costs out of the equation by transitioning to a one-person selling model, thus eliminating his BDC and Finance departments. Knowing how big of a change this would be, Todd turned to Dan to carefully plan the transition.  Dan recognized up front that they would lose staff who wouldn’t be able or willing to make the changes, and he set out to hire and train new personnel before making the cutover.

Employees had to show their commitment to the way the store would be run moving forward. They turned over 90% of their staff during the transition, but those who stayed now love it. They are working fewer hours and selling more cars than ever before. Now, Dan hires employees from the likes of Red Lobster, Best Buy and other local retail outlets for their customer service expertise and pays them a salary vs. just commission. This focus on customer experience has drastically improved the tone of their customer reviews and has reduced the store’s expenses by hundreds of thousands of dollars. It wasn’t easy. They did take a step back in backend gross when the sales team first started selling F&I, but they are now five months in and are seeing these numbers rebound. Todd and Dan aren’t looking back.

“You can’t just implement digital retailing and leave it at that. If you don’t evolve your entire business and culture, it won’t work… And it has to–If we can’t compete with Carvana and CarMax, then we lose our business.”  – Todd Caputo, Sun Automotive

Our third champion is, Joe Lukich from #1 Cochran His role was literally born out of the need for a champion. COO Denny Patton wanted to modernize the #1 Cochran experience and reduce the time spent per transaction, so he found a technology solution that could facilitate these changes and put Joe at the helm of making it happen. Denny shows up at each dealership to kick off training sessions and to make sure his teams know that Joe is responsible for ensuring their success.  Joe’s title: Variable Operations Process & Training Manager. He rebuilt the entire sales process and wove digital retailing into the #1 Cochran onboarding guide. He has led the transition to salespeople penciling deals on iPads in-store, works closely with the Internet and BDC teams to roll out consultative talk tracks, and ensures that the CRM integrations are configured to adopt digital retailing to its fullest. 

Champions get things done, period. They audit their processes and reinforce utilization; they develop a go-to-market plan, demanding nothing but marketing and operational excellence; they think through the lens of the customer and employee experience from A to Z; they pull reports, adjust processes, train teams and sweat the details. 

“If you really want to do this right, and create a customer experience that maximizes Digital Retail Tools and Processes, no one has this thing figured out yet. Logistically speaking, there are so many nuances you have to figure out that are so dealer-specific that you need to have someone that helps build this from the ground up within your dealership.”  – Joe Lukich, #1 Cochran 

Each of these individuals is an amazing human being. I feel lucky to know each of them. And while the Champion role is often missing in most dealerships, when it does exist, the people who fill it are the unsung heroes. More than anything, they are givers, open to sharing their experience with anyone curious about what it takes to be successful. They show up every day, and they get things done.

So ask yourself, does this person exist in your dealer group or at your store? Refer back to Rudi’s job description to be sure. If you have someone, give them a shoutout in the comments. Heck, give them a raise; they deserve it.

If you don’t have one, please rip off our job description and get it posted for your store ASAP. You will thank me later.  

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