Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Can Great Data + Great Buying Experience = Great Sales?

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.

by Keith Shetterly, Copyright 2012
All Rights Reserved http://www.keithshetterly.com/
keithshetterly@gmail.com 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Industry Wake-Up Call: A Script Won't Help

Is anyone reading this old enough to remember travel agents and travel companies?  The Internet eventually killed them and rolled them all into Expedia, Priceline, etc.  I met a travel company owner back when Priceline was just taking off, quite a wake-up call to the travel industry, and he was buying up companies and agents as fast as he could:  He was convinced he was going to win because "People still want to buy from an agent."  He went out of business and lost a bundle.
He missed the wake-up call.  Sound familiar?  Read on.
Now the smart phone is killing the PC.  HP and Dell, the last titans of PC land other than Mac, are failing--and they even ousted the guy who smartly wanted to sell the PC division of HP last August, replacing him with a PC-fan CEO . . . who now faces a quarterly debacle that shows the guy she replaced was right (click here for that story).
In our industry, we have billions of dollars in brick-and-mortar facility investments, protected (at least) by franchise laws that were intended to prevent OEMs from getting a dealer invested into a dealership location for millions and then deciding for their own purposes (or ignorance, to give that possibility) to set up a same-make competitor--or a "company" store--right in the same area.  Or even across the street.
And so we have some breathing room that PCs and travel agents didn't have, in large part for us because of these laws.  Which room cannot and will not last.  Maybe 5-7 years more?  Who knows.  It ain't forever, that's for sure.  And the consumers--misled, or right, or some mix of both--will be who rise up against the laws.  This will happen as surely as every other change that folks didn't want to see--the dinosaurs, I'm sure, did not understand their demise, either, no matter how it came.
And we're not alone.  Amazon,etc. online retailers are already using Walmart, etc. as brick "showrooms" for their online products, forcing brick-and-mortar retailers to re-assess their pricing.  
That's an online margin attack that we've already seen the first volleys of in our own industry:  Anybody remember CarsDirect.com?  Welcome to CarsDirect.com Version 2.0, also known as TrueCar, which has stated on numerous occasions that they intend to move from car pricing towards aftermarkets.  Even if that agenda has changed or ever does, that doesn't mean that there isn't some Version 3.0 out there lurking.  Because there is.  The Internet marketplace guarantees it.
So, what do we do?  Those dealers who can will evolve to be customer-centric as in no other time in history.  Real customer service, not just CSI massaging.  Real reputations, not "BuyYourRep.com" crap.  Smarter advertising, online and offline, targeted to CONVERTING the in-market shoppers.  To getting the great sale now in return for a great buying experience.
Be smarter.  Stronger.  Faster.  Better.
And then, no matter the changes, you won't just survive, you will prosper.  And flourish.  And eventually stand, as we do now without even thinking about it, on top of miles of rock containing the bones and fossils of those who did not make the evolutionary step.
You're getting that industry wake up call now.  And you better answer with your best, not with some dusty old pre-Internet script--but with a strong, new voice to your future.
"Ring!"  And how do you answer?
by Keith Shetterly
Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved
www.keithshetterly.com keithshetterly@gmail.com 

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Certified Me: I Am Who I Am

I am who I am.  I am me!  I work as me, I advise as me, and I write and publish as me.  I am this way because, as a person, I fit the “new credibility” very well:  I am all over the Web, and you can reach me by email and phone if you go to my website.  You can find me, easily, and find out about me, because I don’t hide.  I am real.  And I don’t ever use pseudonyms for my work, and I don’t participate in pseudonyms for hire, either--so don’t bother asking me to ghost write for you as some have requested.  The answer is “No”.
I have experience and a mind you can purchase services from, but many times I give away so much for free that my friends want to tie me up and gag me to get me to stop talking myself out of money.  I don’t adjust my ethics versus what I’m paid to do (you can’t hire me if I don’t basically agree with you on some important level), and you can’t get me to say or do just anything you want by waving a fat checkbook at me. 
Whenever and wherever I express myself, smart or stupid, I own it.  And you can find me on the web very easily.  That’s the new credibility, “Certified Me!”, to just be who you are on the Web and be honest there.   Come on along!
Are you with me?
By Keith Shetterly
Copyright 2012 All Rights Reserved
www.keithshetterly.com keithshetterly@gmail.com