By Lindsay Kwaselow
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On a very special edition of CBT News on Veteran’s Day, November 11th 2015, CBT anchors Joe Gumm and Corinne Lillis began the episode by thanking all our Veterans who have served and protected our country - with a special shout out to all the dealerships out there that hire veterans to represent their company and their brand.

This episode featured Digital Rain Inc. Founder and CEO, April Rain, who discussed digital marketing strategies for the year ahead. With 2016 right around the corner, dealerships are preparing for the New Year and attempting to avoid the mistakes they’ve made in the past to successfully create a unique marketing presence online.

With more and more new tech opportunities evolving, it can be difficult for dealers to choose the right solutions without becoming overwhelmed. April’s advice? First separate your wants from your needs. Differentiate your most critical needs from your wish list. Then narrow down your list to just five things, or five major problems you NEED to solve now. Find the products and technologies available and evaluate the ones that are most relevant to your needs.

It’s much less common that a product simply doesn’t work, but more so that you didn’t take the time to properly evaluate it! Make sure you fully understand both the capabilities and restrictions of a product from the beginning – before and during the launch process.

The next thing to remember is it’s so important to minimize all the clutter and all the noise all the “you should be doing this, and that” and really condense to what are the technologies that will solve your dealership’s current, specific problems moving forward. There’s so much out there and dealers really do need help narrowing it down! Consider the fact that there is no perfect solution. Everything has its pros and cons.

To get ideas of technologies to adopt you can always start with 20 Groups and conferences to see what others in the industry are doing. April suggests reading online reviews on products. There are a lot of different technology products that aggregate reviews. DrivingSales is a great example of a site that aggregates all the reviews of specific vendors in the automotive space.

With digital technologies advancing so rapidly, the line can become blurry between which products are durable solutions and which will become obsolete in six months. While April is a huge fan of trying new things and attempting to make processes bigger, faster, and better, she suggests first taking a step back and asking yourself:

1.     What is your budget?

2.     What are your capabilities?

3.     What kind of staff do you have in place?

4.     Do you have the resources to pull all this together and accomplish your goals?

Also ask vendors:

1. Does your product have a trial period?

2. What is the number one reason dealers cancel your product?

After you choose a solution, the next step is making sure that it launches and installs correctly. First follow the “assign-track-measure” mentality. April personally tasks and processes everything. She always recommends utilizing product management software to her clients. These systems are inexpensive and make collaboration a lot easier.  April said, “I use Smartsheets because it’s simple for any user to quickly grasp the concepts. If you want something more in depth, my personal favorite is Mavenlink, however Basecamp, Teamwork, and Wrike are very decent and affordable systems.”

Contrary to your marketing strategy, which needs to be unique, your technology platforms can be pretty broad. April advises using a checklist for different vendors to help you identify exactly what you are looking for. Things like: What criteria do I have for this product? How am I going to measure it? And then evaluate each vendor to the same criteria to ensure you’re comparing across the board.

April is also a huge fan of utilizing your team and getting them on board. There will be experts that know the software and it’s always smart to bring in help, whether it’s holding the vendor accountable for training or bringing in an outside expert to train your staff and help launch the product.

Utilizing your team is so important because they understand the operation of your store. They understand what the product will be able to do within your own culture, your own process, and your own habits. With that said, it’s crucial that you always pull your staff into the decision-making process. Staff or angry sales people can kill a product faster than anything especially if they feel like it's being pushed upon them.

Everybody wants to feel like they adopted something or that they were a part of choosing a product that helps sell cars. When you buy a product and just throw it to your staff and say launch it and take care of it – that creates resentment if they weren’t on board with the decision-making process in the first place. Once they are on board or involved, then you switch accountability and ownership to them to make sure that the product is universally trained and utilized and adapted throughout your entire store.

April will be a speaker at the CBT Automotive Conference and Expo in Atlanta February 9th-1tth at the Omni Hotel. Take advantage of early registration through December 18th at cbtconferenceandexpo.com.

Click here to watch April Rain on CBT News.

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