From the bustling show floor to the crowded sessions inside the Las Vegas Convention Center, mobile tools and digital marketing solutions were all the rage at this year’s National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Convention & Expo.
The average age of vehicles on the road today is at an all-time high, consumer confidence is on the rise and the auto finance market is loosening. That combination of factors should help dealers release what many believe to be an overflow of pent-up demand.
The tools exhibitors showcased — from enhanced CRMs, consumer- and dealer-facing mobile tools, lead-management systems and social media-management systems — offered better functionality and ease of use.
The ability to customize websites, mobile websites and apps on the fly also was a hot topic this year. “With the smartphone, you’ve got the web in your pocket. The mobile app just makes it a lot easier to communicate,” said Mike Martinez, DME-automotive’s chief marketing officer.
Third-party sites like AutoTrader.com, eBay Motors and marketing firm QAR Codes also were out in force to preach the importance of lead response times. “Dealers should be contacting the customer as soon as they bid,” said Clayton Stanfield, eBay’s manager of dealer training. “You can use that opportunity to tell customers what you have to offer in terms of financing, products and any deals your store might be offering.”
Whether you’re a full-fledged Internet dealer or you’re looking to set up an online strategy, here is a sampling of solutions that ruled the show floor at NADA 2012.
Mobile was a hot-ticket item in the aisle ways, driven by a new crop of mobile tools designed to allow dealers to manage everything from inventory and customer data to the performance of their stores.
“Mobile has to be part of any dealer’s technological platform strategy,” said Glen Garvin, general product manager for Dominion Dealer Solutions. His company’s new Be Back app alerts customers when they’re in a positive equity position with their vehicle. If they’re ready to trade it in, the app will then alert the dealership.
ADP Dealer Services’ DriveMotion dealer portal, available this summer, doubles as a customer-facing tool for
Drive DMS users. The app mirrors the system in that it offers financing, trade-in, service and CRM tools on a single portal.
Consumer-facing apps also are getting smarter, as companies like AutoMotionTV, MobileAppLoader and Mobi-Drives continue to develop new ways to keep their dealer-branded apps on car buyers’ phones. Standard features include service schedulers, click-to-call functionality and the ability to issue service coupons. Newer features aimed at keeping these apps relevant to customers include parking finders, driving directions, flashlights, Facebook accessibility and chat features.
Companies like AutoMotionTV also are helping dealers track how their apps are performing, while other firms like MobileAppLoader are equipping their applications with VIN and QR Code scanning. MobiDrives, which currently offers three versions of its dealer app, allows dealers to keep a three-year record of a vehicle’s service history. It also provides full integration with leading DMS providers, a feature that is becoming key as dealers ramp up their mobile marketing efforts.
DMEautomotive takes its mobile tool’s DMS connection a step further by integrating it with other tools like Journey, the company’s new customer marketing program. “That builds the muscle memory necessary so that the next time you have alerts
or messages, the consumer will remember to go to the app,” said Mike Martinez, the company’s chief marketing officer.
Mobile CRM tools also were popular inside the exhibit hall. Car-Research XRM’s Mobile CRM solution was designed to allow dealers to use their smartphones to update customer accounts, access sales and service stats, check inventory and follow up on leads. Every action taken is recorded into the central CRM system, allowing salespeople to “communicate with their customers and complete CRM tasks while their away from their desks,” said Patrick Kelly, the company’s president and COO.[PAGEBREAK]
The concept of a digital “one-stop shop” was another trend at the show, especially when it came to how dealers manage their reputations online. SOCIALDEALER and Dealer.com showcased dashboard control systems that allow dealers to manage multiple social media venues from one portal and one login. Executives from ResponseLogix and Digital Air Strike announced the merger of their companies, which they said creates the opportunity for dealers to have access to a complete digital marketing solution.
“The merger brings together two very dynamic companies that complement each other in many ways,” said Alexi Venneri, co-founder and COO of Digital Air Strike.
Dealer.com’s SocialRelationship Manager (left) is geared toward single-store dealers, while SOCIALDEALER’s Enterprise platform (below left) can be used to manage brand messaging across an entire dealer group. SOCIALDEALER also offers consulting services for dealer groups and has offered to manage their clients’ social media sites until the dealership staff is comfortable with its system.
Phil Penton, partner and president of SOCIALDEALER, said dealers need to get smarter with their messaging. He said his big push this year is to get dealers to be more informative with their posts rather than centering campaigns on giveaways.
“Dealers need to stop with the iPad giveaways because there are people who just ‘Like’ Facebook pages to get free stuff,” Penton said.
“What’s important is that dealers get into the newsfeed, which means timing posts around major announcements or using social media to promote special offers.”
Dealer.com’s offering provides a host of features to help drive content and consumer engagement. The company’s RepDriver tool, for instance, will solicit reviews from every sales or service customer that provides the dealer with a valid e-mail address. It then posts positive reviews to the dealership’s website, Facebook page and DriverSide.com. The system’s LikeDriver feature also encourages customers who post positive reviews of the dealership to broadcast their rating on their social media pages.
Several key listing sites and a marketing firm announced updates or introduced new features designed to deliver a better connection between dealers and car shoppers.
AutoTrader, for instance, has updated its Connections Expert solution. It now features the company’s new Chat Dashboard, which allows users to provide links to incentives and model information from within the chat window. Dealers can also use it to direct shoppers to other vehicles that fit their shopping criteria.
“Inside the dashboard, users can search for the web page they want to send to the consumer, then simply click the ‘Share’ button to push it to the consumer,” said AutoTrader.com’s Jill Zorn Shipp. “Links shared through the dashboard show as intelligent text, so a consumer will know what they are clicking on.”
Ebay Motors’ Stanfield said his company also is making it easier for consumers to shop for vehicles online.
His site’s newest feature allows a shopper to begin their search by snapping a photo of the vehicle they want with their smartphone. It’s not quite mobile augmented reality, Stanfield said, but it’s pretty close. The app also offers streaming video, alerts on bid status and the option to share parts and car listings via Twitter.
In the QAR Codes booth, James Galindo talked about the new consumer insights his 2-D barcodes can deliver. Not only can they tell dealers who scanned a QR Code, they can show users where the scans are being shared. He added that if his coded stickers are retained by consumers after they’ve made a purchase, they can use them to keep track of their vehicle’s maintenance schedule, among other features.[PAGEBREAK]
Lead-management tools also are getting smarter, providing dealers with better insights on where their leads are coming from. That appears to be the case with Autobytel’s iControl reporting solution, which was created in response to the fact that “dealers had little insight into where leads come from,” said Tara Wagoner, senior director of dealer and consumer operations.
Coupled with DMS reporting, iControl allows dealers to control the model, source and geographic origin of every lead purchased. The tool can be controlled at the store level or by the dealer group, and includes an option to contract or expand marketing territories, as well as increase, restrict or block specific model and purchase requests coming from certain web sources.
Improved functionality and ease of use was the talk among companies offering website creation and management solutions. ADP Dealer Services’ Cobalt business unit, for instance, announced it would be offering “Flex” websites, which cut down on the time it takes for dealers to create or update their websites individually.
Dealers also have access to a library of widgets they can easily drag and drop into their sites, according to ADP, and offers dealers the ability to go beyond manufacturer-provided photos and personalize their sites with their own “local flare,” said Steve Anenen, the company’s president.
Ford Motor Co.’s FordDirect, a joint venture between the carmaker and its franchised dealers, showcased its enhanced version of its DealerConnection Elite, a custom Website creator that now offers more options to upgrade.
In creating the program, FordDirect, which currently accounts for 22 percent of Ford’s sales, focused on creating features that drive customer engagement, said Kate Bullach, FordDirect spokesperson. New features include more branding and custom content, increased leads, enhanced SEO, a mobile website, inventory management, reporting and maintenance tools, and more.