I've been involved in the TrueCar discussions for months now, sometimes prominently. And the idea of protecting the dealers'--nay the industry's--data has become very, very important to me. Thank you, Jim Ziegler, for goading us to pay attention to these issues.
However, lately I've taken to also looking at these points: Is the "Data Horse" already out of the barn? Data genie out of the bottle? Data under the bridge? Maybe, maybe not.
And even if we can still just lock all vendors out of the dealers' data . . . well, what ramifications does that have for our business? Should we just pull that plug with possibly as much ignorance in stopping the practice as we have had during it's birth and growth (when we, admittedly, weren't paying any attention)? Are there strong and business-REQUIRED positives which we don't even know about that will die without that information? And hurt dealers' business? It is very hard to tell just where the data goes in all this, how much is sourced back at the dealer, how much is sourced downstream, and how much is sourced in ways we just don't know about at all. That's our fault, being taken advantage of by vendors because we weren't paying attention.
Thinking it through, then, it seems to me that dealer data used only to provide buyers to dealerships--and still not giving those buyers a better buying experience!--is doomed to fail. Call that model what we've seen from TrueCar. So, forgetting all the emotional errata on that for few moments, I think that "better buying" experience is just what TC left out. They focused on the "negotiation" but not the sale and used stereotypes to position themselves with consumers as their advocate--I have pointed out many times that I believe that Painter's anti-dealer position blinded him to who TC's real customers are (dealers!!), so those stereotypes are Cheap & EZ Marketing 101 for those who make that mistake from their own prejudices.
However, these negative car-buying stereotypes exist today, and people are still experiencing them. Or saying they do. Cases in point are a couple of articles I read this week about the horrible buying experience some women still have with dealerships, and also sometimes men (one is by Becky Quick at Fortune, and see another in Forbes). . Whether this is really still a rampant problem or not, it's a rampant STEREOTYPE. I've compared the need for Painter's ouster from TC as the same issue that Nixon had--no matter what you thought of the president, politically he Had To Go.
Well, WE are our own "Nixon" here on the buying experience issue, and we can't remove ourselves from the seat in the middle. We CAN, however, pursue a modern buying method that serves the dealer's bottom line, modernizes the sales staff and processes, and delivers a great experience for the buyers. Make any bad sales process "resign like Nixon", and right NOW.
On top of that, we have controversies over Google's March 1, 2012 privacy changes, the Whitehouse wanting data privacy standards, and the EPIC/FTC fight about privacy and Google. We need to know how our own data in our own industry can be protected and put to use for the dealers.
We don't need to focus on the past ("When you let your past go, just make sure it doesn't run ahead into your future." - Keith Shetterly) or we just drag along our own stereotypes.
IF the data aggregators information could be turned into a positive for the dealers, providing great buyers, and then the dealers can provide a great buying experience, THAT is modernization. Great Dealer Evolution, not Painter's Dealer Cataclysm.
Is there a vendor out there to do this? I perceive that Criss Castle, Ralph Paglia, and myself have recently made the point in Jim Ziegler's TrueCar Blog that data use on BEHALF of the dealers for dealer success is certainly a possibility. A great pro-dealer cause, if you will, especially if the "data horse is really out of the barn."
Who is that vendor that will rise up and make great and fair money for themselves and dealers while promoting--and helping to provide--that great modern buying experience for both men and women shoppers? Is there one? Can there be one?
I don't know. But I know we need one.