Digital Dealer 22: Searching for Digital Dealers in the Tampa Sun

What exactly is a “Digital” Dealer, anyway?

Do they echo the look and persona of Max Headroom, that fictional 80s’ interpretation of artificial intelligence? Or is it more of a Tron vibe? I went to Digital Dealer 22 in Tampa this week to find out, and to discover how differently these digital professionals are from regular plain label automotive dealers. Turns out, digital dealers are the same thing – owners and managers, salespeople, service pros – and all are interested in finding ways to use technology to improve the way they operate. In fact, aside from a few social media presenters, there weren’t even any slightly petulant, vaguely disinterested and bored digital agency types running around the Tampa Convention Center. Just a bunch of down-to-earth car people interested in finding efficient tools to attract and retain customers, and save a buck or two in the operation of their business. To basically run things better.  The point is that today, every dealer is a digital Dealer. Or at least they should be. What’s the saying? If you’re not a digital dealer, you won’t be a dealer – for long. It’s a must, thanks to the emergence of personal technology and the resulting changes in consumer purchase behavior. I learned, in fact, that “digital” dealers have at least five things in common:

They’re Curious

Want to get a digital dealer’s attention? Pose an intriguing question about something they can use to leverage digital technology to improve sales. Just make sure you deliver with a few actionable insights they use, like, right now. The dealers at this year’s show were universal in allowing for the sales pitch, as long as they received good and solid knowledge as a result. 

Innovation is Important...

During lunch on the first day, I sat with a mix of vendors and dealership employees, all of which were engrossed in one question: how to make Spanish websites work seamlessly and in conjunction with a primary English site. At the end of the second day, there was an in-depth conversation about the F&I hand-off, and how some dealers are considering a shift where the sales team handles the menu selling aspect of the process. Most dealers in Tampa were thinking about how to market and sell in the future – not clinging to obsolete practices -- but were looking at new things with a skeptical business person's eye.   

...But Selling Cars is More Important

Future trends in translation services won’t exactly boost showroom traffic next week, however. And, of course, that’s the bottom line: I heard dealer after dealer talk about discovering tips and advice they can immediately apply to showroom processes, or talk to vendors about – direction that might quickly move the needle in terms of leads, traffic and sales. Indeed, there was a mix of “digital” and “sales” sessions; in one case, NADA held a session about increasing lease sales through a strategic approach to employee training. Another class discussed ways to leverage credit apps and bureaus to sell more cars.

Impatience Can Be a Virtue

Tell the dealers in Tampa something they already know, or stick to the high falutin’ talk of theories and “concepts,” and watch them disappear. One such session, about social media, failed to meet the necessary threshold, with skeptical dealers leaving the room in search of something more tactical to the here and now of dealership marketing and sales.

They Like Nice Places

Who doesn’t? The Tampa Convention Center, on the edge of the Hillsborough River and connected to the famed Tampa Riverwalk, was a great setting to talk cars, digital technology, and sales strategies, and to realize that when it comes to automotive retail, the online and in-store parts of the business are (or should be) integrated in practice as well as thought – that a dealer is a digital dealer, just as much as they have a showroom full of cars.  

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