LAS VEGAS — The Digital Dealer Conference & Expo, held here in September, was packed with vendors telling dealers their software can help run dealerships more efficiently.
But one panel turned the tables, with dealers telling vendors how to pitch their products more effectively — and what pitch pitfalls to avoid.
The dealers' gripes made it clear that many are feeling a sense of vendor overload. It's bad enough when dealers have to sort through hordes of vendors in hopes of finding useful technologies to give them an edge over their competition. Missteps by vendors only raise the level of discontent.
Erich Gail, CEO of Cardinale Automotive Group, of Seaside, Calif., said it's annoying when a vendor signs up the dealer across the street and then drops by to recruit him, too.
"I'm not interested in 'The guy next door is killing it,'" Gail said during the panel discussion. "We are tired. We as an industry are exhausted with the sales rep that comes scooting across the street after having just closed the Honda store. And they come flying in unannounced saying you need to sign up."
And don't call at the end of the month, when stores are in the trenches trying to rally to a strong finish.
"The timing is critical," said Gail, who is also CEO of ZMOT Auto, a marketing agency founded by Cardinale Automotive. "Do your homework. Calling on Friday when month-end close is Monday [asking], 'You have a minute?' tells me you don't understand the industry."
Gail was joined by dealers Dave Wilson, CEO of Preston Automotive Group in Preston, Md., and Jesse Peterson, president of Eide Motors in Bismarck, N.D. It was moderated by Frank Lopes, vice president of Forrest & Blake Advertising, of Clark, N.J.
Gail said using vague terms such as "sales lift" during presentations has no value. He thinks that is unacceptable when marketing is getting ever more granular.
If a vendor can't say which units their technology helped him sell down to the vehicle identification numbers, the rest of the pitch is invalid, he said.
When a vendor does get a dealer on the phone, Gail said a concise approach is helpful. He said companies should be clear upfront that they'd like to take five minutes to see whether their product is a fit for the dealership. This works better than calling and immediately blitzing the dealer with a long-winded pitch.
If dealers do accept a call and say they have a minute, Gail said, don't send them a link to a Join.Me presentation right away. "I didn't realize we were going into a presentation right now. I just told you I had a minute," Gail said.
Eide Automotive's Peterson said vendors have a habit of cold-calling him at the worst times. As an alternative, he said a great way to grab his attention is to present during a 20 Group meeting.
"I don't deal with vendors the best if they cold-call," Peterson said. "It's a pretty quick conversation."
Gail said he wants transparency from vendors. If a company is passing down expenses due to dealership management system integration fees, he wants to know what they are upfront. Gail added that if he hears the term "setup fee," the call is over.
Once a vendor has a dealership signed up, Gail said, simply calling and asking how it's doing isn't enough.
"If you call to ask how I'm doing, but you're an integral part of the operation, you should already know," Gail said. "What I'm looking for is consultative advice as to, 'I'm seeing a trend — an upward trajectory that you should be a part of — inside your data.'"