The annual DrivingSales Executive Summit in Las Vegas is a sort of automotive retail think tank: Part conference, part laboratory, part cocktail hour, “DSES” has emerged as one of the best opportunities for dealers, consultants and digital experts to come together with the shared goal of identifying actionable insights that will lead to increased sales, improved processes and happier customers. This year was no exception, and in fact the keynote speakers and breakout session experts delivered a steady stream of knowledge designed to improve dealerships at a tactical level. Beginning with Jared Hamilton’s keynote on Day 2, in fact, the talk of the conference was about how dealerships can implement the change they now face as a result of consumer demands for a flexible process they control. Based on this ideal, what we listened to in the sessions and the conversations in the hallways of the Bellagio Casino, here’s our top five takeaways:
1. Selling is not about steps to take, but relationships to make.
Forget the traditional idea of putting buyers through a sequence of fixed steps in order to make the most profitable sale. Those days are – or should be – long gone, replaced with a digitally-driven, consultative approach. Today’s savvy dealers see the salesperson as a consultant who uses digital tools and workflows to build an experience that transcends the purchase of the car. In fact, the car is just the beginning of what becomes a long-term association between dealership and customer.
2. True leadership means asking one question: if not us, then who?
What could be more powerful than two Navy Seals at an automotive retail conference? Try two no-nonsense professionals who have experience and insight forged from some of the most intense action in Iraqi. The message that Leif Babin and Jocko Willink delivered on the second day of the show was simple and powerful: true change happens when someone embraces a better way and applies it, even when it doesn’t seem to make sense to others. Their keynote was a direct message to dealers who had not yet adopted the online to in-store process: be the change your dealership needs to improve process and increase profitability.
3. Transparency creates trust. And trust sells cars.
Today’s digital-first sales process requires transparency as part of the process. Shoppers count on it, and will eject from the sales experience if they feel it’s lacking in the steps they take. From accurate pricing to the steps taken to complete the sale, the feeling of transparency was most the most important factor for buyers. In fact, according to a survey done by DrivingSales, 44 percent of consumers surveyed said as much – and that “not getting ripped off” was a greater priority than even the price paid.
4. Digital Marketing is no longer disruptive. It’s incremental.
The question popped up time and again, during keynotes and at breakout sessions: It’s been 20 years since this digital thing began. How’s your website? Is social media working for you? The made point was that, today, dealerships should have in place a strong digital foundation from which they can execute improvements and enhancements, driven by performance indicators and accurate insights. That’s not disruptive. That’s business, and until the next brilliant idea comes along that changes the way to do it, the focus ought to be on relentless optimization.
5. The true cost of labor is in poor training and limited opportunity.
Here’s the number that got everyone’s attention at DSES: Car dealerships have an average turnover of 66 percent. That sobering fact is partially the result of “business as usual” at the dealership level, which is arguably driving up the cost of labor and keeping dealership margins fixed at a time when they should be growing. Hamilton’s solution during his keynote was in part to invest more heavily in creating an environment of opportunity for employees. One way to do that is by combining best-in-class training with interactive technology in the showroom. That creates a more attractive and productive working environment – and may well improve dealership margins. The point is that today’s dealerships should hire for attitude – and then provide the skills needed to be successful.