3 Lessons Learned at Digital Dealer 21: Keep it Simple, Sweat the Details, and Be Open to Change

If there was a theme to Digital Dealer 21, it was of exploration – of defining and discovering how technology makes business better for dealerships, and which techniques managers should use to leverage the advantage of digital solutions. The reality is clear: many of the tasks that go into buying a car can be better handled online, which saves time in the showroom for creating additional profit, making improvements in satisfaction scores, and creating relationship-building opportunities. From the first keynote panel about How to Set the Stage for Change, to sessions about SEO, Digital Retailing, Reconditioning and Display Advertising, the tone and focus was on accepting and adjusting to this evolution of auto retail, getting small but critical details right as result of that change, and of keeping the process simple, consistent and accountable for team members.  

Lesson #1: Computers Don’t Sell Cars. Humans Do. But Both Must be in Sync

The digital side of the business requires the human factor to make it real. The person-to-person experience in the showroom must rely on digitally-driven processes to make the sale efficient, smooth and satisfying for customers and dealers alike. The two must work together to create the type of credible experience that consumers demand and dealerships need in order to thrive.

In other words, the three-hour car sale is (or should be) long gone.

And while the process continues to evolve, the most important juncture is the hand-off between online tasks and in-store dialogue. It can be tricky, with today’s digital marketing and retailing tools increasing in their sophistication, but it’s nonetheless critical: the showroom experience must keep pace in order to make sure the customer starts off in the store where they stopped online. There should simply be no difference between what buyers can do online and what they can do in the store.

Lesson #2: Keep it Simple by Focusing on the Actions that Matter

Many of the sessions took a deeper look into the sales side of the technology/sales tandem, and explored ways that dealership teams could more effectively leverage technology to improve their results. The afternoon keynote, for example, examined how dealer managers could identify areas of weakness between the sales team and the online experience – and how to apply simple and actionable solutions. These incremental but critical improvements make a big difference over time, and are based on the fundamentals of analysis and of paying attention to details such as tracking numbers and tagging. The session, entitled Discipline & Math Success Metrics to Build a Fortress Dealership, placed great emphasis doing things that many dealer managers have never done before, such as studying available predictive data, focusing on “action metrics” such as forms, calls and texts, and having the discipline to “pull up the carpet” and get into the details of what they already know.  

Lesson #3: Be Open to Change that Improves the Experience  

At one point during an afternoon session, a speaker – who at the time was engrossed in a deep discussion about the “difference” between a lead and a buyer – paused, looked out into the crowd and said “Okay, look. The walk-in bus is over. No one is just going to decide to just show up at your dealership and see what’s on the lot anymore.”

That was a common refrain, heard in session after session: The power, convenience and efficiency of online solutions is a change maker to the automotive retail industry. Dealers and managers who embrace the evolution of the process and work with their teams to adapt to new ways of selling not just cars – but dealership services – are headed for success. That’s not change for the sake of it, but change that delivers an experience consumers expect, based on their online buying and communication habits. These real adjustments to the business are helping to recraft the buyer journey and build new areas of opportunity for dealerships.