Originally posted 8/4/2010 on DrivingSales.com

Jimi Hendrix is regarded by many as the greatest rock guitarist ever. Innocently enough, he taught himself how to play guitar, practicing many of the same R&B songs his 60s contemporaries grew up playing. He gigged with several local bands around the country, traveled to different venues around Europe, and paid his dues like everyone else. Then one day he turned the volume up to 11. He turned distortion and feedback into harmonies. He experimented with different recording methods. He modified his tools to meet his needs. (If you just teleported in from another dimension, do a YouTube search for Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner.) He fundamentally altered rock guitar forever.

Technology didn’t make Hendrix great. He was still a prolific guitar player long before the advent of electronic effects and amplification enhancements. He took what was available to him, used his imagination, and made it better. The fact of the matter is that any of us could buy the exact same rig that Hendrix used, and his corpse could still outplay us. Technology doesn’t make you better. You make technology better.

Many of us (myself included), go after the latest and greatest technology as soon as it’s available. We fall into that feeling that if I had this new widget, then I could… In most cases we end up mildly disappointed, lying to ourselves, or locked up in a four-year contract. That new golf club may have increased your drive, but did it profoundly change your handicap? Did that new table saw make a better piece of furniture? Did that new photo editing software make you a better photographer? My guess is that you’ll soon be in the market for a new putter, a new jointer, or a new camera.

The very best tools can be rendered useless without the basic knowledge of how to efficiently maximize their output. How many times has a sports car left your dealership and returned shortly thereafter as a pile of metal, plastic, and rubber? How many times has a pickup come back to the store with broken leaf springs or a caved-in tailgate? How many economy cars are back in service with burnt clutches and bent shift forks? Despite the warnings (and common sense), the inexperienced drivers had to learn the hard way about what their new vehicle could, and could not do. The drivers didn’t take the time to explore their capabilities, learn about their vehicles, or practice what they’ve learned.

The same holds true for new dealer technologies. We fall into that same “spend our way out of our novice” approach. We fail to learn about the capability of the tools we already have. We fail to practice the new skills we learn. We fail to become self-sufficient, and rely on our teammates (or rely on a community of experts). We fail to experiment.

What good does it do to create a new website to drive more prospects to an already overwhelmed staff? How much impact can multiple phone numbers have if “when can you come in” is the extent of a staff’s phone skills? What’s the sense of acquiring third party leads just to keep a dealer’s staff busy (true story)? Did the technology sell two more cars upon implementation, or was it the $1000 in conquest cash that the OEM offered at the last second?

It’s important that we remain objective regarding new technology. Certainly new systems, methodologies, and enhancements will continue come out. But, just because the big dealers are doing something, doesn’t mean you have to do it too. Take some time to think about how much effort you and your staff will have to put into using a new system. Then think about what you could do by taking the same effort, and dedicate it to training, role playing, learning about the existing system, or practicing phone scripts. You have good business sense. Listen to what your gut tells you about a new technology. For most technology to achieve its full capabilities in your dealership, recognize that its success will be predicated upon the amount of time your staff gives to it. If you’re not ready to crack a sweat, then maybe it’s not the right time.

Some things will always hold true. Roger Federer will still crush the average tennis pro using a garage-sale wooden racket. LeBron James will still beat most at HORSE while playing barefooted. Jimi Hendrix will forever be a rock legend. Consider new technology when you know your staff has outgrown the tools they already have. They need to be ready to play at volume 11.