Because I work at a dealership, I follow a lot of industry consultants. And lately, I’ve noticed that many of these consultants used to be Internet Sales Managers at dealerships. Why is that? Why don’t ISMs just move up to become Desk Managers or even General Sales Managers instead? Is it because many Desk Managers and GSMs have never fully understood the ISM due to never having worked as one themselves? And this poses another question: Does this lack of understanding prevent dealership leaders from understanding today’s internet-savvy customer? And what will happen to these dealers if their internet apathy continues?
When thinking about what the industry might look like in five years, I naturally want to look back on the last five years. If you were to pull out a local monthly sales figure from five years ago, I’d bet the sales leadership rankings look a little different. Perhaps the old “Number 1” dealership isn’t doing so well now. Perhaps number 7 moved up to 3 and Number 5 sunk to the bottom.
So why is that? I’m not suggesting that the rising stars over the past five years have former ISMs as GMs. What I am proposing is that maybe these dealerships have taken different paths. Perhaps the treatment of ISMs by a dealership’s decision-makers might be a good measuring stick – of what kind of dealer they’ve been, currently are, and will likely continue to be. A dealer of resistance. Or one of embracing all things “internet.” Or a dealer in-between the two, either doing the bare minimum or misusing their internet departments.
Let’s take a look at these 3 types:
Dealerships Who Embrace the Internet
It’s not hard to identify these dealerships. Many of them, I’ve noticed, aren’t attempting to implement in-house solutions to every aspect of their business. Many have hired expert consultants and companies – specialists in SEO, Social Media, Marketing, BDC, Internet, etc. to help them achieve their goals. With their peripherals guided by experts, they’re free to focus not only on their customer experience, but also on a process for each business unit inside their dealership. They’re well-oiled machines delivering consistent, predictable, and continuously positive results. I can’t stress enough how important I believe it is that they’ve positioned themselves to focus on a process. These Embracing dealers will continue to be our rising stars.
Dealerships Who Resist the Internet
These are the dealerships that stuff their “giveaway artists” in some corner of the dealership. Their leadership has probably never invited someone from the Internet Department to the weekly managers’ meeting. The Internet Sales teams inside these dealerships have become foreigners. The language spoken by these ISMs – the ideas they have, the proof and solutions they hold in the reports and proposals clenched in their hands – seem to make absolutely no sense to anyone in the dealership. ISMs in these dealerships frequently leave for the other two kinds of dealerships (Embracing or Misusing). Since Resisting dealers do not embrace their ISMs, they probably don’t embrace the “Internet” customer either. Whether they realize it or not, this is unfortunate – because internet customers have become the majority. These dealers’ decline over the past five years is no surprise, and it’ll continue until they’re not Resisting dealers.
Dealerships Who Misuse the Internet
These dealerships are in the middle ground. They may assign their ISMs numerous internet-related tasks they probably shouldn’t (because of lack of time or skill). These tasks could include hands-on search engine marketing, social media, reputation management, launching BDC departments, and so on. This isn’t to say that skills can’t be developed in these areas. However, these dealerships are positioning themselves as training grounds at their own expense, for ISMs that will likely leave someday anyway – only to repeat the cycle again with the next ISM they hire. These dealers probably haven’t positioned themselves any differently than they did five years ago. Their gains may simply come through gifts from Resisting dealers. In fact, they’re probably content with simply not being on a similar downward spiral as their Resisting competitors. They may have acceptable customer experiences, but are far behind their Embracing competitors in process, conversion, search, and the social marketing landscape. They may figure they aren’t number 1 or 2 because of a matter of circumstance. It’s very easy for Misusing dealers to remain Misusing dealers.
The changes in the auto industry are difficult to accurately outline for the next five years. But one thing is certain: The next five years will require a more customer-friendly dealer experience. And no one is better positioned to help deliver it (and ultimately continue to win deals) than the Embracing dealer.