There were several showstoppers on display at the 2012 NADA/ATD Convention & Expo, as well as at the Digital Marketing Strategies Conference (DMSC) that preceded it. Choosing the best of the best is definitely a challenge, but I’ve been able to narrow down my list to five companies you need to keep your eye on.

These tech providers showcased tools that speak to a larger trend taking hold in the industry: the evolution of CRM tools and today’s mobile drive. These companies are also winners of the 2012 PCG Spotlight Award, which my firm hands out every year for innovative technology and services.

The CRM Effect

There are several reasons why it’s a good time to be a new player in the CRM field: First, your interface and core technology will be able to leverage the latest programming techniques, which are being influenced by Apple’s iOS. Second, Internet processes and workflows at dealerships have matured, which means dealers understand the benefits of data integration, modeling and proactive event triggers.

And when you consider that many CRM platforms are running on core technology that’s more than 10 years old, you can see why newcomers may have a distinct advantage for a window of time.

1. VinSolutions: Speaking of core technology, VinSolutions has been preaching the benefits of seamless, end-to-end data integration for quite some time. They earned their position as market leaders with a state-of-the-art CRM platform, but new competitors are entering the segment.

2. This company is one of the new players to emerge in the CRM segment. Its platform, developed under the leadership of Alex Snyder, former director of e-commerce for the Checkered Flag Group, was born out of the need for iPad and smartphone integration. In fact, all of the company’s solutions are housed in one interface. Even better,’s platform allows users to access those tools through a single iPad or iPhone application. The full production version is expected to hit the market this year. The demo version I received was impressive. What caught my attention was the app’s ability to leverage Apple’s iOS gestures, which simply means you can control what appears on your screen with a touch, pinch or swipe.


3. AutoAccelerator: This company was another standout at the NADA conference. AutoAccelerator showcased a CRM platform for the Apple iPad and iPhone, making clear software makers are responding to the need to access data from any device at any time.

Mobile Drive

The fact that OEMs are starting to equip vehicles with iPad-compatible entertainment systems should be proof enough that the shift toward data portability is taking hold. But what does that mean for your sales and F&I process? Well, have you ever watched two people share an iPad and saw how close they sat together? Now compare that to how most F&I managers sit behind a desk and turn their screen around to show a customer a calculation or chart. Which image conveys a more collaborative sharing experience?

Face facts, folks: The desk is becoming an obsolete barrier to collaborative communications. We’re already hearing success stories from dealers about walking out onto the lot with an iPad in hand and being able to access live inventory, pricing and contact history information to answer a customer’s question.

Mobile technology is helping dealers after the sale as well. Progressive dealers are using smartphones and tablets to collect reviews from customers while they are in the showroom or service lounge. And this practice is having a huge impact on dealers’ online reputation scores. Now let’s take a look at a few ­solutions.

4. Dominion Dealer Solutions: Mobile fixed-ops applications are being offered at a staggering pace.  Dominion was one company that unveiled such as a solution at the NADA conference. Called the Be-Back App, the tool is designed to increase brand awareness, owner loyalty and direct communication without being impeded by e-mail delivery rates. Like other solutions, this dealer-branded “garage” app will alert customers when recalls are announced or notify them that their vehicle needs to be serviced. Customers can also access service records and store their insurance information for easy ­access.

The feature that caught my attention was the one that allows car owners to calculate the current equity in their vehicle. And when that happens, the app will alert the dealer to reach out to the customer. Used-car managers are probably salivating over the prospect of being able to locate quality used cars.

5. cDemo: Mobile devices also are having an impact on the quality of dealership websites, as well as the time it takes for them to merchandise their vehicles. And that’s what caught the eye of the standing-room only crowd inside cDemo’s NADA booth.

The company’s Mobile Inspector App allows dealers to create a custom data collection workflow that includes data inputs, photos and videos, each of which must be completed and verified before an inspection is accepted. These workflows, which can be saved to any mobile device, then allow any dealership employee who can take a picture to conduct a thorough inspection.

The app also allows users to merchandise any vehicle (post descriptions, photos and videos) within 20 minutes. When you consider that dealers often delay full online vehicle merchandising for three, four, five and even six days, the cost savings is staggering.

When I was using an IBM PC (yes, the one with floppy disk drives) back in 1982, the human mind was limited by the speed of the computer. I remember creating documents in WordStar, then having to wait for the gears to turn and the floppy disk to spin to save a document. Don’t even get me started on how painful it was to download files through a modem.

Today, computers are faster than we can keep up with, and Apple’s interface has made it easier for humans to leverage that speed. That speed and easy access to data will revolutionize how we operate our businesses in the years to come. In fact, the transformation has already started. Hopefully, you recognize that, and you’re ready to change with the times.

Brian Pasch is the CEO and founder of PCG Digital Marketing. He can be reached at [email protected].