Why “Wait & See” Wins with Shiny Objects
Ten years ago, the consummate car-guy Charles Oglesby (then CEO of Asbury Automotive Group) told me, “In automotive retail, you cannot hold a creative competitive advantage for very long.”
His point was clear: In the rare case that someone truly discovered some purchasable competitive advantage that actually helped dealers move metal, it would take about a week before every dealer in their market copied them. (I believe we were discussing AutoNation’s latest waste of millions building some digital “market-beater” that ultimately delivered nothing.)
In other words: when evaluating a shiny object, why not wait and see? What’s the harm?
The only true competitive advantages then (as today) are processes, rules, measurement and accountability. All the boring stuff that leads to higher sales, lower turnover, better grosses and satisfied customers. While these are not secrets, they are competitive advantages nonetheless simply because dealers who live by these cannot be easily copied.
It takes work. It’s not hard, but it does take work.
People Don’t Like Work
I attended and spoke at the first Digital Dealer Conference in 2006 (originally called AAISP). Back then, most dealers just needed help with the basics; so, that’s primarily what was offered from both the presenters and the attending vendors.
The basics, unfortunately, aren’t very exciting; and they’re certainly not a lot of fun. The basics are work and most people just don’t like work when there are fun options available. Options, they believe, will deliver the same or better results.
Enter the shiny objects. Since that first AAISP conference, the presentations and most of the vendor offerings at industry gatherings have gone from the banal to the absurd. From the proven to the, well, pie-in-the-sky-crapola.
To help prove my point, I’m going to list all the shiny objects (from memory) presented to dealers as turnkey solutions (that is, the dealer just needed to throw money at these to be successful) over the last eleven or so years that (in my experience) have yet to pass the DISC test; that is “Does It Sell Cars?”
The List of Shiny Objects
Note: I’m only listing the products/services presented to dealers as “must haves” if they wanted to hold their market share (and, again, I’m doing this from memory); and where those selling these “solutions” could not answer the simple question: How will this help me sell more cars?
- Pinterest (Great for dealers selling lamps and other home goods; not so great for dealers selling cars.)
- Pokémon Go (The few dealers who worked hard to maximize Pokémon Go merely wasted money and filled their parking lots with zombies staring at their phones.)
- Foursquare (Who’s the current Mayor of your dealership? For the uninitiated, those who “checked in” at a business the most on Foursquare over a 60-day period were named “Mayor” and usually offered some reward. Of course, the person checking in at a dealership multiple times over two months is usually having major service issues your team cannot solve. Not so fun to be Mayor, is it?)
- Outsourced Social Media Management (You know, where you wasted $3,500 every month so some company who bamboozled your OEM could post the same kitten pictures on your Facebook and Twitter feeds that were generating no interaction – and no sales – for the other 2,500 dealers they serviced.)
- Twitter (Hey, it’s just like Facebook, only without the interaction or exposure. Nearly every dealer who still maintains a Twitter account today could delete it and no one would notice.)
- Google+ (A failure from the beginning; though it took until this month for Google to admit it. Their plan is to shut down the consumer side of Google+ in 2019.)
- Google Glass (While no vendor had a product offering around this that I’m aware of, I do personally know of at least one digital marketer at a dealer group who chased this dud – looking for a way to utilize Google Glass to help sell cars – to the tune of tens of thousands of wasted dollars.)
- QR Codes (“But Steve, we…” Shhh, you’re embarrassing yourself.)
- Online Shopping Carts (Not today’s true online buying applications; but expensive, ineffective website plugins designed to do nothing more than generate a sales lead.)
- .auto, .autos, .car and .cars Top Level Domains (Billed as the future for everything from better search visibility to the vanity domain you always wanted; these overpriced addresses are still being sold today, despite Google’s instance that they have zero impact on SEO.)
- Pan & Scan Inventory Videos (Leading edge when they were introduced, pan & scan videos likely never made a difference in which car a consumer purchased. If they did, we’d see them on every dealer and classifieds website today, wouldn’t we?)
- Video SEO (This was a fancy way to say, “make sure the titles and descriptions of the videos you post use the same language as what someone might search for on Google.” Depending on the month, Google either loves video or doesn’t. The ultimate test, of course, of your Video SEO is how many legitimate, in-market views your video receives each month. For most dealers, this can be tallied without having to take off their shoes.)
- .mobi (This one goes back about a decade, but .mobi was the mobile website Top Level Domain you just had to buy if you expected your site to be shown on smartphones. We know now this was simply not necessary and a waste of money and effort.)
- Dealer Mobile Applications (Did you rush out and buy a dealership mobile application? One that that your customers would download and use to search for vehicles, schedule service and order accessories? How’s that working out for you? Does it sell cars? Has it increased your customer retention or raised the number of ROs you write? Don’t feel bad, there are more than 3 million apps available for Android, yet only about 3% of those apps downloaded remain on a user’s phone 30 days later. Yikes. If the kids are deleting the fun stuff, imagine what the retention rate is for a dealership application!)
Those dealers who took a wait and see approach to the shiny objects above lost no market share, while likely saving tens of thousands of dollars in the process.
Where We Are Today
The list might raise a couple of questions. For example, what are the shiny objects being pitched as “must haves” today that likely have a dubious future? Moreover, should dealers take a wait and see approach with these, as well?
Well, as was the case when the items above were bandied about at the conferences, today’s list includes “solutions” that appear to have a chance of making a difference; though, still haven’t delivered additional sales, profits and other demonstrable benefits for most dealers employing them. For me, today’s list might include:
- New Car Subscriptions
- Digital Retailing
- Sales Kiosks and Tablets
- A.I. Chatbots
- Amazon Ads
- Voice Search Optimization
To be clear, I’m confident that at least three of the these can pass the DISC test today for those dealerships already doing the boring stuff well (you know, processes, rules, measurement and accountability?); and who choose the right partner. (Digital Retailing, for example, means different things to different vendors.)
You see, when you’re great at the basics, you can and should experiment with shiny objects. Unlike those always panicking to find the next big thing, dealers with sound foundations are equipped to effectively evaluate everything new thrown their way. They don’t waste money and they don’t waste time on the “solutions” that ultimately fail the DISC test.
They know, after all, that “wait and see” always wins when it comes to shiny objects.
Words to Live By
“In automotive retail, you cannot hold a creative competitive advantage for very long.”
Charles’ words were correct then and they’re correct now. Moreover, they’re something dealer principals should remember during their next 20 group meeting, and their teams should remember when attending the latest showcase of shiny objects disguised as an industry best practices conference.
About TheManager: Steve Stauning is the author of Assumptive Selling: The Complete Guide to Selling More Vehicles for More Money to Today’s Connected Customers; as well as a respected automotive industry veteran and founder of pladoogle, LLC – a leading training & consulting firm – and the free sales video training website SteveStauning.com. Prior to his involvement with pladoogle, Steve served in various automotive leadership roles, including as the Asbury Automotive Group’s (NYSE: ABG) director of ecommerce, the director of the Web Solutions division of Reynolds & Reynolds, and as the general manager of Dealer Web Services for Dominion’s Dealer Specialties.