We’ve added the following new releases and enhancements to our industry-leading dealer solutions. Discover what’s new:

CRM

IDMS – DMS

DealerFire – Websites

Auto/Mate – DMS

 

For more information or questions about how to take advantage of our newest product releases or enhancements, contact us or reach out to your Account Manager today.

A successful marketing plan is critical for the growth of your dealership. Coming up with a successful marketing campaign for the dealership website can be tricky. The automotive industry is highly competitive, and its trends constantly shift.

To that end, here are some of the best actionable tips to make your car dealership marketing campaign more advantageous.

1. Optimize Your Efforts at SEO

In today’s market, many car buyers begin their journey online. Increasing your Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can increase the traffic you get to your dealership website, and this can gain you new customers. You need to ensure that your dealership makes the first page of results on both Google and Bing. Choosing your keywords carefully, ones that have a rather high volume of searches with low competition is one method of doing this.

Another method of increasing your SEO rankings is to list yourself in a variety of qualified directories. This can increase your chances of being located when customers search for local dealerships.

You might also begin a blog for the website or add a few new pages that will provide your customers with useful information. Including content helpful to car shoppers will drive even more traffic to your site while also increasing online leads. Some topics you might cover include:

Focused content that adds value to your customers or intended customers can help drive traffic to your dealership page.

2. Blog for a Successful Marketing Campaign

Publishing content that’s educational on your blog is a great form of digital marketing that can help you ensure that you remain relevant to your customers while also boosting engagement on your website. You might utilize a blog in a variety of ways, but one of the best ways is to build trust with prospective car buyers.

A blog post can assist you with streamlining the process of buying a car as readers seek out the various car dealerships in their area. Knowing this, you can use your blog to build a relationship with them.

When they learn how you care for your community as well as that you’re an industry expert, your audience can gain confidence in knowing that they’ll get excellent customer service from you, both before and after the sale.

3. Emails to Your Target Audience

Email marketing continues to be a great marketing strategy for car dealerships that want to remain in touch with their clients. Consider this — how long have you had the same address for email? Your target audience tends to keep their email addresses for quite a few years too. Customize your strategy for email marketing based on services you offer, the seasons, or other helpful information necessary to car buyers. This can even include service reminders and blog posts, like:

Emails like the ones above will remind customers to have their service work done, or come see the new models — either one of which will bring them into the dealership, giving you an opportunity to make a sale.

4. YouTube

Have you ever found yourself searching for a video about something you were thinking about buying? Your customers do this too. Before they visit your lot, clients might be searching for videos about a vehicle they’re interested in or even your dealership itself. YouTube is quite an influential tool for shoppers. The number of views for those videos that show features, test drives, and walkthroughs is quite high. Because viewers tend to use mobile devices for this as opposed to computers, your videos also need to be mobile-friendly.

5. Social Media

This can be a massive influencer when it comes to millennials and purchase decisions. Having an active feed means that you can notify your followers when you get new stock, which can be an incentive for them to visit, and it can help your business seem active and busy. It’s also a fantastic way to form relationships with both current and potential customers.

Facebook, often the top choice for many companies looking to utilize social media, is a spectacular place to begin. It offers the most adult users, and they tend to be the target audience for car dealers. Be sure you’re posting a variety of content, including testimonials, articles, videos, and more.

Twitter utilizes short posts that consist of only 380 characters or less. This is the ideal platform to advertise any current offers or update customers when you get new inventory. Make sure you include engaging photos to draw a bit more attention to what you’re posting.

6. Referral Program

You may be tempted to focus entirely on the vehicle side of your dealership, but you have to keep in mind that the customer service side of things can also help you when it comes to driving sales.

You might consider a referral program in order to encourage your customers to share their experience with your dealership among their family and friends. This can help you grow your lead database and your business overall.

One great way to do this is by using a loyalty program. This will reward customers for telling their family and friends about your business. It’s also a fantastic opportunity to get even more qualified leads in to talk with your salespeople about purchasing a new vehicle, all while helping those same salespeople earn more money.

Put Your New Successful Marketing Campaign to Work

An effective marketing strategy for car dealerships will increase sales with the generation of leads. It will engage with your existing customers in a way that’s meaningful and solidify the brand in the minds of the target audience.

Coming up with an actionable marketing strategy for your automotive dealership will take quite a bit of research and time.

Optimizing your efforts at SEO, creating a successful email marketing campaign, posting informational videos on YouTube, blogging about your business, being active and engaging on social media, and using a referral program can all help you grow your business.

Use these tips to add more sources for new leads and customers, encourage repeat business, and most of all, grow your dealership.

When you have access to an all-in-one solution, it minimizes the time and resources needed to get the job done. That’s what dealer management software can do for you. It brings together all functions of inventory management into one simple platform. Why wouldn’t you employ it if it makes your job–and that of your teams–easier?

What Is Dealer Management Software?

Back to the basics: dealer management software is one easy-to-use system with a full suite of products and plugins. It helps integrate and manage sales, parts, service, finance, insurance, and warehouse inventory, creating a more efficient use of resources from staffing to features and services.

 

How It Benefits Your Dealership Teams

As a saavy DMS user, you likely think you know all the many ways DMS can help, but some may not be readily apparent. Here are nine points to share with your employees and other stakeholders:

  1. It can identify trends and forecast market needs for parts across organizations or dealer and franchise teams.
  2. Because it’s cloud-based, it can be accessed and utilized anywhere.
  3. It also offers savings opportunities because it can lower costs by creating new efficiencies.
  4. It can identify where available stock or parts are located.
  5. It helps prevent over-purchasing.
  6. It helps with local sourcing and needs.
  7. One of the most efficient uses is offering a full suite of systems that integrates across franchises or dealers.
  8. Team members can share data and insights.
  9. And all of this contributes to higher customer satisfaction rates, creating loyal brand advocates.

 

Why Your Dealership Needs a Powerful DMS

Now that you know the many other ways dealer management software can help, let’s look at why you need it:

  1. OEMs/Dealers can use the system to forecast needs across systems, offering the opportunity to save money. Since accurate inventory helps to identify needs when discounts are available for stock or parts, dealers can also get refunds on those parts that go unused.
  2. DMS also centralizes information. It keeps customer data and interactions in one place and helps with local flexibility, locating parts or services across franchises or dealerships.
  3. It also improves productivity by saving time and sharing accurate data across teams.
  4. Finally, it gives you access to seamless reporting by offering up-to-the-minute data and insights, which helps with sales growth.

 

How to Get Started

Dealer management software is the all-in-one solution for your team’s needs, so now is the time to transform. Solera offers enterprise-level solutions, including our innovative DMS and IDMS.

Learn More About Our Best-In-Class DMS & IDMS Solutions

CRM: Critical Dealer Tool

Why is CRM not included in the digital retailing discussion?

While there is plenty of attention on digital retailing during the pandemic, there has been little attention paid to how CRM help dealers navigate this period of social distancing. But it’s understandable. The CRM isn’t the new shiny object like digital retailing, and COVID-19 certainly reignited the digital-retail discussion. However, there’s no doubt of the importance of appointment-setting during COVID-19, especially for dealerships located in markets where sales were limited to appointment-only. It’s an art that predates the CRM, but, thanks to that important front-end tool, appointment-setting has become a science for some operations.

 

 

What often gets overlooked is just how often CRM providers update this critical tool. In DealerSocket’s case, the cadence is every two weeks. And the focus of late for DealerSocket is appointment-setting, with texting now a key component, thanks to dealer feedback.

 

Auto Buyers Prefer Texting

Recently, a California dealership customer began sending every internet lead received an initial opt-in text. If there was no response within a few minutes, the following text message — one that garners a response 70% of the time — was sent, “We just received your internet request, and we have a few questions. Do you prefer a call or a text?”

That dealership sent and delivered 26,617 texts.

Then there’s Rashad Tillman, who manages a centralized BDC for a two-rooftop independent group in Southern California. With a keep-it-simple approach, he operates under the belief that a successful road to the sale requires five yeses from a customer. The use of DealerSocket’s SocketTalk texting tool usually accounts for two of those yeses, starting with the opt-in text.

“All we’re looking for is a reply. Once we get one, we’re in control,” Tillman says. And once a customer opts in, the following text is sent, “’We received your lead for the [make and model], which we have available. Do you have time today to test-drive the vehicle?’”

“That usually results in a reply,” Tillman says. “I’ve been working with DealerSocket’s CRM for seven years now, and I figured out real early that texting is now the primary form of communication. So, we try to eliminate as much conversation as possible.”

In one month, Tillman’s 20-member team sent and received 59,402 text messages through the CRM’s SocketTalk texting tool, with two members logging 2,900 sent and received texts for the month. Tillman notes that texting accounts for 80% of his department’s activity when working a lead, which is he says knowing how to configure DealerSocket’s CRM dashboard correctly is critical to making sure no opportunity falls through the cracks.

 

Better Manage Leads and Opportunities

With DealerSocket’s CRM, managers don’t have to dig into the solution’s reporting tools to keep tabs on their team’s lead-handling activities. Merely creating a dashboard widget for web leads allows managers like Tillman to keep tabs on every opportunity and every text or email exchange. That’s where he says most managers go wrong. They have the talent and skills, but they resist to allow technology to augment their abilities.

In fact, the use of technology is how managers like Tillman are keeping their dealerships in the game when today’s car buyers are shopping more brands, more vehicles, and more dealerships than those car-buyer studies predicted they would four to five years ago. The latest data on that front comes from a study commissioned by Urban Science, which showed that the average car shopper is considering 2.6 brands, visits 2.5 dealerships, and submits, on average, three lead forms.

Regardless of whether your BDC staffers or sales teams are selling appointments or demonstrating to customers a willingness to be shopped to win their business, converting a lead into an appointment requires a CRM-driven process that doesn’t end once the customer says, “yes.”

The best part of a CRM-driven appointment-setting process is that it can be automated every step of the way. In the case of DealerSocket, our CRM’s Campaign Manager allows you to assign your operation’s best word-tracks to a BDC staffer’s scheduled response to an inquiry. It can also automate appointment reminders, confirmation communications, and follow-ups. Then there’s the CRM’s Business Rules automation tool. This allows managers to initiate activities such as vehicle prep and enrollment of customers into appropriate campaigns.

With this, CRM should be included in the digital retailing discussion. When a customer structures a deal through your website’s digital retail tool and submits their information, the question dealers need to answer is, “what does the experience look like when it does?”

COVID-19 confirmed that you don’t have to be the cheapest to move pre-owned inventory. Inventory management expert says it’s time for a new approach.

By Darren Militscher

For years, auto dealers were told they had to price pre-owned vehicles at 92 percent to market to move them. Of course, dropping prices forces your competitors to lower theirs, and so begins the race to the bottom. The problem with that approach is it has sucked billions of dollars out of the automotive market, with dealers struggling to average $1,500 in front-end profit per vehicle retailed even before COVID-19 hit.

Dealership lot

The pandemic and the inventory shortage it caused confirmed that you don’t have to be the cheapest. In fact, many dealers started pricing vehicles at 115 percent to 135 percent to market and generated more gross profit than they have in years. They’re operating with less staff, less overhead, fewer days’ supply and making two to three times more gross per vehicle than before the pandemic.

Do we have to return to normal? Or is it time to reset the market and create a new normal — one in which dealers can enjoy healthy margins again? I would argue the latter, and the way to do it is with data — not just data from your local market but the transactional data from your store.

3 Inventory Categories

Every store and brand has a different customer profile. What sells well down the street may not sell well at your store. So, instead of pricing used vehicles based on what a model sold for 3 miles away, price it based on transactional data from your store and whether that model falls into one of the following categories:

1. Core inventory: A vehicle is considered core if you have sold three or more in a 90-day period at an above-average profit. More weight is given to the last 14 days, which is approximately half the average turn time of 35 days (or whatever your average turn time is).

If you’re a Nissan store, a pre-owned Altima is probably a core vehicle for you. If inventory data over a 90-day period shows you’ve sold four vehicles with an average turn time of 22 days and an average gross profit of $2,000, you don’t need to be the cheapest in town. Typically, I recommend pricing core vehicles at 110 percent to market. Again, since the pandemic caused inventory shortages, I’ve seen many dealers be successful pricing core vehicles at 115 percent to 135 percent to market.

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Every parking spot in your lot is prime real estate, so fill up as many spots as possible with core vehicles. Knowing your core vehicles also helps with sourcing decisions. Just because Kia Optimas are selling in your market does not mean you should go to auction and overpay for one if it’s not a core vehicle.

2. Noncore Inventory: These are your one-off sales, typically trade-ins and mostly off-brand. Maybe you’ve sold one model in the last 45 days but haven’t been able to reproduce that sale. I recommend pricing noncore vehicles at 100 percent to market, because you don’t have enough transactional data to guide you.

3. Priced-to-Sell Inventory: Models in this category perform terribly. The goal is to move these vehicles as quickly as possible, so you can restock your prime real estate with core vehicles. If you’re part of an auto group, you might want to send this model to a store where it will perform better. I recommend selling vehicles in this category below market value. Cut your losses, move on and don’t restock.

Tactical Pricing Changes

Once you’ve priced your vehicle, the next step is to drive the market up. Do this by raising the price, then dropping it back down temporarily. Repeat. One used-car director I know raised the price of a vehicle $1,000 above asking every Friday for three consecutive weeks. Try raising prices just before the weekend, then dropping them back down during the week.

A benefit of this pricing tactic is you’ll have a few customers camped out on your vehicles, waiting for a price drop. When you raise the price, they’ll get confused. They may even call to ask why you raised the price. Explain to them it’s a market adjustment. The vehicle is in short supply and high demand. Then let the shopper know that if he or she can get to your store today, you’ll honor the old price. You’d be surprised how often and how well this tactic works.

We all have an important question to ask: Was the belief that consumers always buy the cheapest ever really true? Data from sales transactions since March 2020 indicates no.

I see an opportunity here to reset the market, draw a line in the sand and reclaim your gross profit margins. Use your inventory tool to help make intelligent pricing decisions, based on transactional data from your own store and your local market data. If this strategy doesn’t work for you, you can always rejoin the race to the bottom.

Darren Militscher is a nearly 20-year veteran of the automotive industry who serves as a Senior Strategic Growth Manager for DealerSocket. He started his career working on the inventory management solution that would become Inventory+. Email him at [email protected]

DealerSocket’s Over the Curb blog goes one-on-one with Tony Graham, Auto/Mate’s new executive vice president and general manager.

By Gregory Arroyo

“It’s not the employer who pays the wages. Employers only handle the money. It is the customer who pays the wages,” reads the famous quote Tony Graham has displayed on his LinkedIn page. Sourced from a renowned car company founder, it has served as the backbone of his 27-year career in the car business.

Graham officially stepped in as the new executive vice president and general manager of DealerSocket’s Auto/Mate on Aug. 24, bringing a proven track record of success to a business unit the company acquired in February 2020.

The senior business leader is no stranger to the DMS space. Initially recruited by ADP in 1993 as director of product marketing following a seven-year stint with NCR Corp., Graham spent the next 26 years working tirelessly on behalf of retail automotive dealers in a variety of leadership roles for the DMS provider.

Credited with launching CDK’s Minority Dealer Business in 1999, the executive turned his idea to establish the company’s presence in that segment into a highly successful business. Graham also served as executive sponsor of the company’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, which included the creation of the ADP Minority Summer Internship Program and implementation of the company’s first diversity council, employee resource groups, and diversity training. After leaving CDK Global in 2019, the National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers (NAMAD) honored him with its prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award.

“Tony was a trailblazer as an executive with CDK and ADP,” said NAMAD President Damon Lester. “What he’s been able to do — not just for nonminority dealers but advocating and assisting in the plight of minority-owned dealerships — is a testament to his character. If Tony says he’s going to do something, he’s going to get it done.”

Ernest Hodge, president and CEO of Atlanta-based March Hodge Automotive Group, added: “I’ve known Tony for well over 20 years. The guy has a tremendous amount of integrity and empathy for his customers and just has a real passion for whatever he’s doing. He’s just outstanding.”

DealerSocket’s Over the Curb blog caught up with Graham just before his first day in his new role. Discussed were a range of topics, from COVID-19’s impact on dealers to his family, passion for coaching, and what he brings to DealerSocket.

DealerSocket: I know you’re a family man, so let’s start there.

Graham: I’ve been married to my wife Beverly for 32 years, but we’ve been friends for 40. We met as freshmen in college.

DealerSocket: That’s incredible. You also have three adult children, correct?

Graham: Yes, I have two daughters and a son. My oldest daughter, Ms. Toni, is 30 and works in the automotive industry. She’s a very successful sales manager at a Mercedes-Benz dealership and was a world-class sprinter at the University of Alabama. She was a Division I All-American.

My middle daughter, Ms. Taylor, is 27. She ran track and tennis in high school, but she didn’t do sports in college. She’s my scientist and works for the city of St. Petersburg, Fla. My son Palmer graduated from college this past December. He was a three-sport athlete in high school and played Division I college football. He now works for The Pfizer pharmaceutical company.

DealerSocket: Sounds like an incredible family. You describe yourself as a senior business leader and champion of diversity. Can you tell our readers about the latter?

Graham: Unfortunately, there’s no short answer to your question, but let me try. I was recruited into the industry in 1993 by what was then known as ADP Dealer Services. At the time, the Big 3 car companies — Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler — really emphasized diversification of their dealer network and had clear definitions of how they defined diversity. The automotive industry wasn’t very diverse at the time, but the Big 3 wanted to change that.

So, when I came to work at ADP, I recognized the opportunity to do the same. I had a vision, came up with a business plan, and turned that idea into a highly successful business. And it was a well-defined plan that included employee resource groups, diversity training, and a mentorship and internship program.

DealerSocket: ADP initially recruited you as a product marketer, correct?

Graham: Yes, I started out as director of product marketing before being elevated to vice president.

DealerSocket: You also ran ADP’s Canadian business, right? I think I read you led the struggling operation to the No. 1 sales ranking in ADP’s portfolio.

Graham: I did. It was a great experience. I spent a little over 18 months in Canada. We had a lot of success, and we had a lot of fun.

But let me add one thing: When I left Canada to become general manager of ADP’s Midwest region, I retained oversight of the company’s minority business and women business. I did the same when I oversaw the company’s Southwest region. Even when I became Chief Customer Experience Officer, they didn’t take my dealers away. And along the way, I started to put more focus on dealerships owned and operated by women.

I mention that because when you start something and you’re growing and building, you become the face of that part of the business.

DealerSocket: I was going to ask about the women retail business you also helped start. How was that different from the plan you developed for minority dealers?

“The two things I’m most proud of in my career are the number of employees I helped develop and grow as a mentor, and, second, that I had experience working with the smallest to the largest dealer operations.”

Graham: Let me start by saying that big companies always try to blur the waters a bit by including women in how they define minorities. I didn’t think that was right. Women deserve their own plan and focus. And I was lucky to have a woman who I worked with for 26 years lead that business.

DealerSocket: So, why did you depart CDK?

Graham: Have you ever gone to a party and promised yourself you’d only stay an hour? Then you end up staying for three. I feel I stayed too long. Many of the people I worked with and counted on to serve my dealers had left, so, again, I stayed too long.

At the same time, I always had it in my mind that I would retire from CDK Global at 55. I overshot that by 12 months before leaving at the end of June 2019.

I also wanted to be closer to my mother and my mother-in-law in Alabama, so my wife and I sold our house in Chicago. My last day with the company was June 30 (2019), and I was living in Huntsville, Alabama, by August.

DealerSocket: What do you consider to be your most significant accomplishment at CDK Global?

Graham: The two things I’m most proud of in my career are the number of employees I helped develop and grow as a mentor, and, second, that I had experience working with the smallest to the largest dealer operations.

DealerSocket: The National Association of Minority Automobile Dealers sent you off in a very nice way before you did, honoring you with its Lifetime Achievement Award at its annual convention that July.

Graham: When I announced my retirement to my dealers, they said, “Tony, we want to recognize you for all you’ve done for us. And you know what? I’m the only individual that’s not a dealer or an official with a car company to receive that award.

DealerSocket: That’s amazing.

Graham: What I will cherish from that night was the presentation. The dealer was so emotional that he couldn’t get through it. He said, “You’re too young; you can’t retire.”

DealerSocket: Was retirement not for you?

Graham: I like to keep myself busy. I founded my consulting firm, T. Graham Business Consulting and Advisory Services, and worked on some business initiatives. I also served as an adjunct professor at Calhoun College. I guess you can describe my short time away from this great business as a moment of reflection. My financial advisor called it a “halftime.”

You spend the first half of your career trying to make a name for yourself. Then there’s the second half, which is more about purpose. What will they write on your tombstone, right? My hobby is helping people, and so many people need help — young people who, based on their environment and family structure, need a positive role model in their life.

DealerSocket: I think I read you dedicated 20-plus years to coaching and mentoring.

Graham: Outside of raising my kids, that’s what I get the most gratification from — to see kids who never thought about college become the first in their family to not only go but finish. So I’ve helped many kids get in and through college, then I helped them find their first job after college. They always ask, “What can I do for you?” My response is always the same: “There’s nothing you can do for me, but you can do for someone else what I did for you. That’s how you pay me.”  In my fraternity, Omega Psi Phi, Inc., we refer to that as UPLIFT.

DealerSocket: The world needs more Tony Grahams. So when did you get the itch to return?

Graham: I knew I wasn’t done, but I didn’t think I would actually come back to work for a technology company in the automotive industry. I started my consulting company and thought that would be my outlet. I guess I realized how much I missed working daily with my dealers, which I call friends.

At the same time, my phone started ringing with several prestigious offers from prominent automotive software companies. I decided to accept the offer from DealerSocket because I believe in the company’s core tenet of dealer-first and because I believe DealerSocket’s software is truly exceptional at helping dealers.

DealerSocket: Were you surprised by DealerSocket’s Auto/Mate acquisition?

Graham: I did have an idea that DealerSocket was going to be making some moves when I left CDK Global. Both DealerSocket and Auto/Mate were growing and taking market share, and I think a lot of people knew something was cooking. So, when the acquisition happened this past February, I wasn’t too surprised.

And I think it was a great move. Auto/Mate adds the missing piece for DealerSocket, which never had a franchised DMS. So, the acquisition immediately elevated the combined organizations, and I’m excited to be leading this because it represents an opportunity for dealers to work with a company that cares, is focused on customer service first and foremost, and spends a great amount of resources on innovation and investment in its software.

“Whether you’re a small dealer or a large dealer, COVID-19 has impacted you. And you had to change the way you conduct business; you had to change the process. You had to get creative.”

DealerSocket: So, what’s the approach?

Graham: That’s a great question. First, let me say that I have a lot of respect for Mike Esposito. He, Larry Colson, and the rest of the Auto/Mate team built a tremendous organization with an incredible culture, core values, and a dealer-first focus on everything they do.

With that said, I think the model is you first have to come in to listen, take in all that information, assess, and formulate a plan. As I said, Mike, Larry, and the other leaders have built a great company with an incredibly dedicated and talented team. So, I want to get to know the people and what drives that organization.

DealerSocket: So, it’s not a matter of dusting off the old playbook?

Graham: Let me answer your question this way: I love sports, but these days I enjoy watching them more than actually playing. Every year in the NFL or NBA, there are about four coaches that lose their jobs. Candidates come in to interview and present what they will do if they are named coach. I think that’s counter-intuitive. If you’re a defensive coach but don’t have the personnel to carry out that scheme, how will it work?

Yes, I have playbooks. But again, the model is you first have to come in to listen, take in all that information, assess, and formulate a plan.

DealerSocket: How does COVID-19 impact things?

Graham: Whether you’re a small dealer or a large dealer, COVID-19 has impacted you. And you had to change the way you conduct business; you had to change the process. You had to get creative.

Now everyone has to position themselves for the post-pandemic, which means the question becomes: How do you ready yourself? And I believe dealers have a window of 18 to 24 months to turn the answer to that question into a strategy powered by technology.

Dealers need to embrace technology more than they ever have, because it can be a competitive advantage. But here’s what I know about dealers: They do want innovation, good tech. But what they value most is service and support.

That’s why I’m proud to join a company that was proactive in its support of dealers through the pandemic. These are exciting times, and I’m ready to get to work. But at the end of the day, I’m back with my friends — my dealer friends. And they are going to be glad to see me.

A new study reveals a potential starting point for dealers who are just now dipping their toes in the digital waters.

By Gregory Arroyo

I recall a conversation I had with an industry attorney during the early days of digital retailing. Technology vendors believed the Digital Age had arrived, while dealers were saying, “Not so fast.” My question to my attorney friend was, “What’s the holdup?”

He said the problem is dealers aren’t treating digital retailing as an experience — that customers should be rewarded for taking that path to purchase. He suggested that dealerships with separate facilities for fleet sales should consider directing digital buyers there vs. the showroom.

He then relayed his recent experience purchasing his second vehicle from the same dealership. He called the store, explained that he was a willing buyer who simply wanted to update to a newer model, and negotiated the deal over the phone. Expecting the red-carpet treatment for essentially being a rollover, he felt disappointed when he discovered he’d have to wait like the other customers in front of him.

That conversation came to mind when I came across Urban Science’s “Around the Bend: How COVID-19 Impacts the Next Normal for Dealers,” a report based on an online poll of 1,506 adult consumers. It serves as an update to the firm’s August 2019 report, which served as a reality check for digital retailing.

The 2019 study, which included responses from 2,001 consumers, concluded that car buyers weren’t ready to ditch the dealership experience because they still want to kick the tires and take a test-drive. Respondents also said they still needed someone at the dealership to guide them through the process.

I wrote about why I think that represents an opportunity for digital retailing in an April 2020 blog entry, “Digital Retailing’s True Test.” However, I’d like to share an even greater opportunity revealed in this year’s updated study.

See, while the report did show that a majority of consumers still believe buying a car is too big of an investment not to see (81%) or test-drive (79%), it did show that 67% would be more open to buying online if it was a brand or dealership with which they were already familiar.

Again, my convo with my attorney friend came to mind, but so did a discussion I had with a DealerSocket Strategic Growth Manager. He said the main reason some dealers fail to realize the full potential of data mining is because they don’t have a dedicated process. Well, based on that stat from Urban Science, maybe digital retailing represents a missing link.

Take those data-mining campaigns targeting customers approaching the end of their lease or who qualify for smart payment offers. The emails could contain links to a landing page that explains your offer and a link to a streamlined buying process powered by your digital retail tool.

Back in April, another DealerSocket Strategic Growth Manager told me about a Pennsylvania-based dealer group that was rewarded for having a service-drive sales process when the pandemic forced local officials to limit dealers there to appointment-only sales that concluded with service-drive deliveries.

Before the pandemic, the process delivered 100 units a month behind two dedicated salespeople, a sales manager, and an F&I manager, who actually has a dedicated desk (with enough privacy) in the service area. The reason for that is the group wanted that buying experience to feel different and free of pressure.

The group equips the sales team with its inventory management tool’s mobile app (Inventory+) to feed appraisers with scanned VINs and photos of every car that comes into service. The appraisers then prepare a package that includes a vehicle history report, documentation on the vehicle’s going price in the local market, its fair Kelley Blue Book value, a check voucher for an amount over that value, and the salesperson’s business card.

Signage in the service drive lets customers know they can get a free vehicle evaluation by texting a specific number or talking to their service advisor. All customers get an appraisal, but the hand-raisers represent high-value targets the sales team engages.

However, even customers who don’t bite get the appraisal package. They also get enrolled into a CRM-powered campaign that includes email and a phone call — the latter scheduled for the day after the customer’s service visit to ensure satisfaction and to revisit the offer sheet.

I can see three potential opportunities in that process for digital retailing to have an impact. Maybe it’s a kiosk in the service area loaded with a digital retail tool like DealerSocket’s PrecisePrice; perhaps it’s tablets. Whatever the case, digital retail should be a part of those follow-up efforts, whether it’s a link in an email or guiding customers through the process over the phone and emailing a link to their PrecisePrice deal.

And just maybe that buyer’s journey you create in the service drive serves as the entrance for sales opportunities your data-mining efforts generate.

While 93% of respondents to the Urban Science study expressed some concern with an entirely online purchase process, more than two-thirds said they were comfortable shopping online, signing paperwork digitally, and negotiating price and terms via email, chat, or phone.

Recently, the individual leading the digital drive for one of the largest privately-owned dealer groups in the United States addressed DealerSocket employees over a Zoom call. He talked about COVID-19’s impact, inventory shortages, the group’s efforts to build that clicks-to-bricks experience, and how consumers still need to be educated on what digital retailing is. What caught my attention was his response to whether he believed consumers still want the showroom experience.

“Absolutely … Only a small group of individuals want the Carvana model, and we’re going to be there,” he said. “But most customers want to step foot in a brick-and-mortar shop. If they want to get their payment, we’ll do that and meet them in the showroom.

“So, we believe a critical point in that process is that showroom experience,” he added. “You shouldn’t lose a customer who completed things online because you told them it would take 45 minutes, but it takes us three hours.”

Data from DealerSocket’s Inventory+TM team reveals profitable opportunities for dealers who stayed the course.

Field reports in May confirm what DealerSocket’s April snapshot of appraisal trends seemed to indicate — that a high degree of pent-up consumer demand could create a small window of opportunity for dealers to generate higher gross profits on the sale of used inventory.

May Appraisal Trends

Retail Demand Resets Market

Purchase appraisals, or wholesale/auction vehicles evaluated by dealers, fell to their lowest level the week of April 6. Since then, appraisal counts for this category have increased by 114.7%. In May alone, purchase appraisals rose 135%.

The pick-up in activity reveals that retail demand is once again setting the market, with the guidebooks in catch-up mode due to auction closures in March and Apil and dealers on the hunt for pre-owned vehicles core to their dealership and available at the right wholesale price.
of their core inventory,” Black Book stated in a recent report, adding that dealers are hesitant to get stuck with vehicles they don’t traditionally stock in a depreciating market.

Data from DealerSocket’s Inventory+ team shows a 20% week- over-week decline in total appraisals the week of March 16, when most stay-at-home orders took effect. Trade appraisals, or appraisals that occur on a customer’s trade-in, were down 26% during the same period, while “Purchase Appraisals” on wholesale and auction units plunged by 35%, according to the data.

Overall, appraisals were down 34.4% from the first week of March to the first week of April. However, activity has trended up since.

Window of Opportunity

Inventory+ users in the Northeast, where some markets remain limited to appointment-only sales as of early June, are reporting either record-setting months for April and May or year-over-year increases in terms of pre-owned sales counts and gross profits. And that momentum seems to be carrying over into June.

Trade appraisal counts appear to confirm strong consumer demand, with the number of trade appraisals (evaluation of consumer trade-ins at the dealership) increasing 27.8% in May after bottoming out in early April due to the impact of shelter-in-place orders. Since April 6, trade appraisals have risen 97.9%.

Consumer appraisal counts offer an even brighter outlook, as consumers continued to initiate vehicle evaluations through online lead forms during the height of shelter-in-place orders.

The apparent retail demand is now rewarding dealers who resisted the urge to offload aging units, as inventory shortages are allowing them to get higher asking prices with little to no negotiation. Some dealers, according to field reports, are even pricing units they’ve had since March like it was Day 1 on the lot.

The going theory is consumers camped out on vehicles of interest through the COVID-19 period between March and April, hoping for a price cut that never materialized.

Conclusion

As the old saying goes, make hay while the sun shines, and the sun is still shining in terms of a dealer’s opportunity to generate higher front-end gross profit. However, that window of opportunity won’t stay open for long, with wholesale value normalization expected in the next three to four weeks. The guidebooks, by some estimates, are about a month to a month and a half behind.

For now, dealers need to hit the reset button on their aging strategies and pump up retail prices, especially on three-, four-, and five-year-old vehicles. The exception is late-model units, which should be priced and advertised around factory new-vehicle incentives. Lease returns and the expected flood of rental units should refuel inventory levels, but not until the wholesale prices for those market-returning units fall to a more reasonable level.

DealerSocket’s Over the Curb blog visits with a longtime industry veteran who had a lot to say about digital retailing and what’s holding it up.

By Gregory Arroyo

Judy Greeby spent more than two decades working retail before making the jump to the provider side in 2006. Asked for her take on digital retailing, she says, “I would absolutely love to have Judy Greeby, Strategic Growth ManagerDealerSocket’s PrecisePrice in my store. It would be all over my site: ‘Getting your best price and creating your own deal is as easy as 1-2-3.’”

For the last 13 years, Greeby has served as a Strategic Growth Manager for DealerSocket. During a recent chat about how dealerships are navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, she shared a few thoughts on digital retailing and how dealers can shorten the learning curve for consumers, who she believes are still intimidated by the tool.

She likens the problem to a dealership she worked for when she first entered the business. Located in a tough neighborhood, the dealership was secured by a black, wrought-iron fence that wrapped the facility.

“I used to tell that dealer, ‘You shouldn’t paint the wrought iron black if you want people to see through it,’” she says. “And when people pulled in, they felt trapped. Same thing with the website.”

The problem is car buyers are trained not to hit those call-to-action buttons unless committed to a purchase, she says, as they know most CTAs lead to a lead form. “We need to help customers understand how simple and how non-obligating it would be to use these digital retailing tools,” she says, adding that dealers need to be careful about gating their digital retail experience too soon.

“Let the customer get through parts of the process or the entire process,” she says. “At some point, they’ll say, ‘Here’s a payment I can afford. Let’s move forward and click.'”

Thinking out loud, Greeby also wonders if those digital retail CTA buttons need to be replaced by pop-ups that encourage customers to try the tool. “I was just talking to a GM about this the other day,” she says. “He clicked on one of his store’s websites and said, ‘Look at this. It asks the customer to click here for the best price, then below that is their PrecisePrice digital retail button.”

We agreed that if anything is redeeming about COVID-19, it’s that the period has helped move the digital retail conversation beyond whether it’s a good idea to move parts of the finance process upstream. And I have a feeling those learnings will be on display during our industry’s recovery, which, according to several market watchers, is officially underway.

Greeby did share one recommendation outside of the digital retailing discussion, and it’s one I’d like to close this blog entry with because it speaks to the current environment. She suggests that dealers have their detail teams certify when a vehicle is cleaned by placing hangtags inside that read: “Sanitized on May 5, 2020.” That single step, Greeby believes, will go a long way with today’s skittish consumer.

“The physical inventory on your lot needs to be your No. 1 priority right now and making sure your virtual showroom is up to snuff,” she advises. “That means getting cars cleaned up, and doing all I can in terms of merchandising.”

Gregory Arroyo is the former editor of “F&I and Showroom” and “Auto Dealer Today” magazines. He now serves as senior manager of strategic content for DealerSocket. Email him at [email protected].

We continue to think about all of you, our customers and partners, during this difficult time. This pandemic has caused deep challenges across our industry and for all of us, and I hope you know that DealerSocket continues to be here for our dealers. Our goal has been to strike the right balance between being prepared for our dealers and the market when our industry recovers and offering discounts to help our dealers as much as possible during this difficult time. 

We will get through this, and we will get through this together. We are committed to fighting through this with you. We are beginning to see the first signs of positive trends as we climb out of the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this has us all hopeful for the future.

In April, we heavily discounted our software for our dealers. In addition to our discounts in April, we have decided to offer the following DealerSocket billing reductions for May for all of our dealers:

We have already sent out our May invoices, so next week you will receive a credit memo for the above discounts. With that said, similar to our discount package last month, there are some basic qualifying terms listed below.

In addition to these discounts in April and May, DealerSocket continues to offer our customers several promotions and free months of certain software products to help you navigate this crisis. Our offers include promotions for:

Since we are adding promotions and various resources for dealers often, please view DealerSocket’s latest information by clicking here, and, as always, please feel free to reach out to your Customer Success Manager with any questions or if we can help in any way:

If you are not yet an Auto/Mate DMS customer, I hope you know that we can reduce your DMS bill significantly during these challenging times as well as into the future by switching to Auto/Mate DMS. We have several bundled packages that include our Auto/Mate DMS product combined with other DealerSocket products to support you.

Thank you for partnering with DealerSocket. I hope you know how much we value and appreciate your loyalty, partnership, and your business.

I wish you, your families, and your team members health in these unprecedented times.

Sejal Pietrzak
CEO and President
DealerSocket
[email protected]

 

Details regarding our COVID-19 relief package:

We’re excited to announce that Steve Zadoorian and Dave Druzynski have both taken on new, expanded roles at DealerSocket! In their new positions, Steve and Dave will ensure that DealerSocket and Auto/Mate customers and employees continue to benefit from an emphasis on customer support and company culture.

Steve Zadoorian

Steve Zadoorian has been named Senior VP Operations and Customer Care at DealerSocket. In his new role, Steve will lead the Installations and Customer Support teams for both DealerSocket and Auto/Mate. Under Steve’s leadership, Auto/Mate achieved a customer retention rate above 95 percent and has received multiple consecutive DrivingSales Dealer Satisfaction awards. Steve’s commitment to customer satisfaction has also helped to build Auto/Mate’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) to +59, a score that’s nearly double the software industry average of +31.

“My first goal is to integrate the support service teams so we have a common process; and also make sure we have a well-integrated and cohesive implementation process for new clients,” said Steve. “I look forward to bringing our teams and best practices together and ensuring that our customers remain highly satisfied.

Dave Druzynski has been named Vice President, People and Culture at DealerSocket.

Dave Druzynski

In his new role, Dave will oversee the development of company culture and employee satisfaction. Under Dave’s leadership, Auto/Mate has received ten consecutive “Best Place to Work” awards by the Albany Business Review, and nine consecutive “Top Workplaces” awards by The Times Union.

“Employee happiness has always been a high priority at Auto/Mate and I am thrilled to work with the DealerSocket team who shares that same belief. Rather than just have one company’s culture consume the other, we plan to identify the best aspects of both cultures and merge them together as one team,” said Dave.

Dave and Steve will continue to operate from DealerSocket’s Albany, NY office.

The car business isn’t the only industry operating outside its comfort zone. That’s why it’s OK that the industry’s at test-drive deliveries and service pickups and drop-offs.

By Gregory Arroyo

Over a two-and-a-half-day period to open the last week of March, the percentage of consumers who said they shopped and purchased online increased from 30% to 47%. However, “things haven’t been easy breezy” for those digital consumers.

According to the article I came across, more than 30% of those shoppers reported an issue with their purchase. They either couldn’t place an order (16%) or had to wait days for their order to be ready (17%).

The data, sourced from CivicScience and its survey-reporting platform, was published in Food Logistics, a magazine for the global food and beverage industries.

Yeah, we’re not the only retail segment operating outside of our comfort zone due to COVID-19. For supermarkets and their customers, that means a few speedbumps on that road to the sale.

For example, what if the brand of product a customer ordered is out of stock? Do you notify the customer of your dilemma, or do you make an executive decision and grab the more expensive brand and eliminate a few items from the customer’s order to make up the difference?

I’m guessing those were the questions swimming through the mind of my in-store shopper during my wife and I’s first online grocery-ordering experience. And he made an executive decision on at least two occasions.

Instead of the two gallons of milk we ordered (Hey, I have a growing boy), we got a gallon of the more expensive brand.

We also didn’t get the 16-pack of fruit roll-ups I wanted. Instead, we got a box of six.

And instead of the two packets of Tollhouse cookie dough I wanted, we got one pack of Simple Truth’s plant-based product.

Understanding the moment, we didn’t get mad, but we did have questions. Unfortunately, our shopper appeared, loaded our groceries, handed us our receipt, and disappeared without saying a word.

That’s the real reason the Food Logistics article caught my eye. The stats it contained reflected my experience. My order took a few days longer to get than initially promised, and the online experience was problematic.

So, yeah, I think a lot of industries are figuring it out, discovering potential speedbumps, and making adjustments along the way. That’s why it’s OK that, when it comes to digital retailing, we’re still at at-home test-drives, and service pickups and drop-offs.

But let’s not be in this situation again.

That was my takeaway after a recent discussion with Darren Militscher, a Dealersocket Strategic Growth Manager operating in the Northeast. He believes COVID-19 moved up our digital timeline by 18 to 24 months.

I believe there are two things in play right now — learning to operate outside of our comfort zone being one of them. The other is equally important to our digital future. And it has to do with the research I wrote about last November in “Why Digital Retail Is Like the Autonomous Vehicle.”

The inspiration for that blog entry was a poll of 2,001 U.S. consumers The Harris Poll conducted in February 2019 on behalf of Urban Science. Seven out of 10 respondents said they would never buy a vehicle without a dealership, which led Urban Science’s analysts to conclude that younger car buyers still desire the knowledge of a well-trained F&I professional.

The reason is finding the lowest price on some third-party lead site is one thing, but how does that price translate into a monthly finance or lease payment? An F&I manager can definitely help, but so can a digital retailing tool.

Folks, that’s what’s in play right now. There are customers right now wondering how General Motors’ recent financing offer — interest-free financing for 84 months and up to 120 days of deferred payments — means to their payments. I’d bet that’s even true in states where showrooms were forced to close.

Like my wife and I during our first online grocery-shopping experience, car buyers need to learn the process. By the way, that plant-based cookie dough wasn’t half bad.

Gregory Arroyo is the former editor of “F&I and Showroom” and “Auto Dealer Today” magazines. He now serves as senior manager of strategic content for DealerSocket. Email him at [email protected].