Anyone that knows me knows that I enjoy writing about our industry and reviewing conferences after I attend them. Well it has been 2.5 years since I attended my last Digital Dealer conference in Orlando, FL. After 2.5 years of not attending I missed the vibe, the networking and the opportunities that this incredible conference provides to both dealers and vendor partners. From the moment I arrived felt at home, full of comfort and excitement to meet up with industry friends that I known over a six-year span.
(Stan with Yago Paramo of PGI and Dave Page of Dealer eProcess)
I arrived on Monday evening in my summer clothes enjoying this nice weather before the weather starts to get cold soon in my neck of the woods. After settling in at the hotel I went on my way to attend the OnlineDrive party that was hosted by Larry Bruce. However, as I was walking I bumped into many old friends and colleagues including folks from eLead, The Next Up, Dominion Dealer Solutions, Dealer eProcess, PGI Automotive as well as VinSolutions and MotoFuze. Let’s not forget the always popular, Arnold Tijernia who is everywhere. I never made it to the party but the party moved over to Beatles Revolution Bar. I also caught up with great friends, Kevin Frye, Alex Jefferson, Bryan Armstrong, Anthony Bartoli, Stan Thomas, Jack Behar (Interactivetel), Sean Stapleton (VinSolutions), Kendall Billman (Motofuze), Jim Jensen (Cobalt) and Andy Warner (Cobalt). I finally met the incredible Bobbie Herron from Garber Automotive group, a top 40 under 40 automotive executive recently mentioned in Automotive News. The night ended and everyone was getting some rest to prepare for the big day, day of Digital Dealer 17.
I woke up early, got my registration pass and planned out my sessions. As I stood in the line I realized that this was going to be an incredible event. I want to also give kudos to the Dealer Communications team for having an organized setup. The check in process was quick. I was fortunate to see Bear Goodman from Holmes Auto Group. Once I checked in I planned out my day as I met up with the incredible Mathew Koenig from KonigCo and bumped into Kevin Frye where we took a picture together.
(Kevin Frye, Mathew Koenig and Stan Sher)
The sessions at Digital Dealer conferences can be incredible if you plan out what you want to learn about and know a little bit about the presenter. For example, I always enjoy seeing my friend Tim James (Flick Fusion) speak especially at this conference. He dropped serious knowledge on video that was useful for beginners, intermediate and advanced level marketers in car dealerships in his session “Video Marketing Tips, Trends, & Practical Uses”. I remained in the room to see Mathew Koenig speak about “Mobile, Millennial & Minorities”. This was a hot topic for me because I am both a millennial and a minority. I also use mobile for every aspect of my life and business. Kevin Frye always delivers a killer session and his session “Do You Need 3rd Party Leads?” were no different. I respect and admire Kevin because he is out there working on the retail side of the business and is always bringing knowledge from the front lines.
(Mathew Koenigs talks 3Ms)
(Tim James talks video)
(Sean Stapleton talks relationship marketing)
(Kevin Frye talks 3rd party leads)
(The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort talks success, selling and ethics)
As always I enjoyed my friend Sean Stapleton speak on “The Evolution of Relationship Marketing”. This session was a kick in the pants to everyone because it was a lesson in going back to basics in building loyalty and relationships. He even used his grandfather as an example. The granddaddy of presentations was the keynote speech by the Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort. I have heard this speech numerous times by watching his videos on YouTube. However, watching it live was a whole other experience. The haters and the jealous were out criticizing and bad mouthing Jordan on social media just a few weeks ago. However, he had a packed standing room only session where he blew everyone away with his energy and content.
On the next day I got to see a great session by Jim Dykstra of Comcast Spotlight where he spoke about “Legacy Customer Investment Strategies Limit Returns”. Jim provided great content with regards to customer service. I had to miss some other sessions because I had business development meetings with other vendors and dealers. However, I did catch Dr. John Mlinarcik (PCS Global) and Tom Taylor (Calldrip) where they talked about “Calling Back Your Internet Prospects in Less Than 30 Seconds”. Dr. John shared some great scientific stats, which is something that I liked because BDC operations are one of my specialties. This was also my first time meeting Dr. John and it was a pleasure. The keynote by John Jantsch (Duct Tape Marketing) “Creating the Perfect Customer Journey” was just what every marketer needed to hear. He used some great examples of what other businesses are doing and how these practices can benefit automotive dealers. I missed out on other sessions especially since I did not make it the conference on day three. But I would image that my friend, Peter Martin of Cactus Sky Communications had an incredible session on “Increase Sales & Fixed Ops Without Getting Blacklisted”. In fact, I have clients following this strategy and we are seeing serious results.
There was some serious action going on with serious energy. I made it a point to visit every single booth in the first two days. I like to meet new people and more importantly learn about new products. The usual vendors that attend and exhibit were there including DealerRater, VinSolutions, DealerOn, Digital Air Strike (where I got to catch up good friends Adam Bucci and Alexi Venneri who by the way are having a lot of success with their new Smart Quote 3.0 program), eLead, Car-Research (where I got to hug my great friend Keith Shetterly as well as meet the famous Tammie LeBleu), DealerTrack, DealerSocket and others.
(Stan Sher with some characters like Allan from The Hangover and Mike Tyson at the DealerRater booth)
I noticed a lot of new companies that are making a big splash in the industry. In fact, just a few short years ago I watched Brian Pasch unveil his company’s product, ROI-BOT and realized that this was future of how progressive dealers manage reporting. While it was incredible too see my peers, Mark and Amber McGurren representing the product I took note that there are numerous other vendors coming out with a similar concept for the data and analytics category. I met with iDashboards, C-4 Analytics just to name a few. I also saw a lot of companies that specialize in fixed operations analytics such as Elite Extra and BG SmartVMA. One of the coolest products that I saw was DealerVault where my friend Russell Grant works. The product is designed to securely manage data.
I am also starting to see huge competition in the video email segment. We have been hearing about video utilization for a few years now. However, now there are plenty of vendors that offer some unique solutions. I met with Flick Fusion, Tailored Mail and CoVideo among others. The tools are all great because they can help automate follow up better and provide better value to customers.
Dealer Inspire is an up and coming company that has been doing tremendous things in digital marketing. I was impressed the direction that they are going in and the future for them. It is great to see my old friend Matthew Cole owning his own company and make moves.
DealerFire has some of the nicest looking websites that I have seen. I met with Eric Hoopman and some of the DealerFire members. They showed me their analytics tool as well as the design of their sites. This company is gaining attention of some OEMs to be approved. Just take a look at what they are doing and it will wow you.
MyCustomerData is making huge wave by offering a solution to help automotive dealers retain customers and generate additional profit while at the same time improving customer service. Our whole philosophy at Dealer eTraining of treating visitors like a guest instead of a customer is outline exactly in what this company does.
Stream Companies came up with an app that literally takes some of the best practices that I usually install in dealerships and makes it seaming less. The mobile app lets dealership employees take pictures and video testimonials while also having the customer sign a waiver and also upload to social media.
MakeMyDeal is a Cox Enterprises company that is going to change the way that cars get sold. In fact I had this discussion with Sean Stapleton and even representatives of the company about how I envision this product being a hit. I made a discussion for how I would buy a dealership change the complete culture around. I would hire millennials and train them to be strong sales professionals. The dealership would be completely an Internet dealership similarly to the philosophy that many have talked about for years now. My sales people would be working through Internet leads and phone ups first and foremost just like I did when I sold cars. Sales managers would be trained not only to desk and TO but also manage internet leads or the CRM. It gets better. I would have a company like The Next Up in my dealership. These same sales consultants would be on that Up system. If an appointment comes in that individual sales person would be taken off the rotation until they are back on the phones. It gets even better. I would have Guest Relations Center (BDC) with only 2-3 assistants that will make calls to previous customers, retention and help follow up on leads. The receptionist would be greeting guests and as a sales person works with a customer that walks in the GSR will help with follow up. The dealership would spend money wisely offering the best marketing tools and boosting a quality morale that would avoid turnover. This is all wishful thinking but again if I get the funds to own a dealership one day I have my vision and will follow it.
If I opened up a dealership and needed to find the right partners to spend my money with every month I would go back to the store with probably 8-10 different vendors from this show. This is because everything that I need to run a successful, profitable business is here. However, one product that I personally feel every dealership must have is Uperator. My friend of many years Adam Ross is the national sales manager of this company. I remember years ago in my market when I was selling Hondas the owner of Uperator, Carlos worked for a competitor and created InstaQuote changing the way internet leads get responded to. He has since perfected the system and it is a must in every dealership.
I went to some of the major parties that included the VinSolutions party at Madame Tussauds museum, DealerOn/Force Marketing party by the pool at the Mirage and the DealerFire party. As always it makes for good times, reconnecting with old friends and creating new relationships. I wish I made it to the other parties but it was difficult to leave great environments. But I need to give shout outs to people like Cliff Banks (The Banks Report), Veronica Dunford (DealerBuilt), fire-cracker Melissa Kagan (Netsertive), Shaun Raines (DealerOn), Dennis Galbraith (Dealer eProcess), Tony Ly (National Positions Inc) and many other incredible people that I know.
(Stan with Sean Stapleton and Snoop Dog at VinSolutions party)
(Stan with old friend Brent Wees from GloveBox at DealerOn/Force Marketing Party)
Digital Dealer proves to be one of the strongest automotive digital marketing conferences in the industry. It is not a secret that there have been people that sometimes attack the event. The reality is that Digital Dealer was the first digital sales and marketing conference that paved the way for many successful people today including the ones that make attacks on it. My whole stance is that no one should ever forget where he or she came from. Good or bad relationship anyone that grew in their careers as a result of this conference should pay respects. I would like to thank Michael Roscoe, Kim DePalma and the rest of the Dealer Communications team for putting on a world-class event. I will be at Digital Dealer 18 in Tampa, FL and hope to see all of you there.
I don’t really think my comments are pessimistic as much as they are realistic. You have to admit that there is a blown up, overly utopian ideal people like to spout when talking about social media. Like it is the savior of both the internet being full of assholes (which it is) and traditional media being full of corporate claptrap (which it is).