Posts tagged Technology
The Terminator franchise has been one of the most successful entertainment series in history, ranking up with the Toy Story trilogy, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and even the original (and best) Star Wars trilogy. If you’ve been living under a rock, or are Amish, and haven’t seen the Terminator, it starts in the near-future where an artificial defense intelligence system becomes self-aware. After the scared military operators tried to pull the plug, the system (Skynet) decides that humans pose a threat, and summarily launches a nuclear assault on humanity. It’s just the type of stuff you want to talk about with your kids before bed. I’ll be back to the Terminator reference in just a bit.
As with last year, SXSW Interactive had some real face-melting presentations. Whether it was in the title or not, geolocation, virtual display of reality, speech recognition, gesture input, and artificial intelligence pervaded many of the sessions. What this means is that location-based services are about ready to go into overdrive. Although, I know a lot has been written regarding location-based services (LBS), including a recent piece by Joe Webb and DrivingSales’ Eric Miltsch, I got to hear about the future of these services from those who created them. I’m here to tell you, those services are not as simple as they seem.
At face value, these applications look like games, or a means to get hammered with your friends in Vegas. However, most of these tools have already moved beyond the game element, and are starting to drive value for retailers. The key thing you need to understand is that these platforms that we are using today are not permanent. The current technology still cannot support the true potential. Most of the LBS technology we are using today will be obsolete in a matter of months, and will be utterly antique within a decade. The millions of users who use LBS technology everyday will continue to jump from platform to platform because they find it valuable. So while I won’t get hung up on the platforms or the different services, I will tell you this: If you are not using LBS, you will be ignored.
Why would I make such a bold statement? The answer is simple: In just a matter of months, augmented reality hardware will be widely available. For those of you who have seen the Terminator, you will soon have the means to see like the Terminator. You will be able to scan objects by simply looking at them, with relevant data popping up in your vision to help you make decisions. Military jets have utilized this technology for a few decades, projecting critical data onto heads-up displays, and even a few cars have adopted this technology. Soon services such Wikipedia, Google, Facebook, Wolfram Alpha, and Foursquare, can, and likely will, supply their data directly onto your eyeball. People won’t just see a car lot anymore – they will see OEM information, vehicle data, pricing matrices, incentives, customer comments, and ratings – all without lifting a finger
Before you quit your job, realize that this technology can also be used to your advantage. Remember that CRM your manager has been bugging you about? What if that technology was leveraged in an augmented reality environment? Imagine if a customer’s name, current vehicle, time of last interaction, service visit frequency, website activity, family information, etc., appeared right next that customer as soon as you looked at them. How much easier would your job be? Would you start taking better notes if the information would automatically be recalled later? Would you terminate skating coworkers? I bet you would.
The good news for some, and the bad news for others, is that augmented reality will be available to the masses come Christmas time. Google will be offering glasses that will be connected to your Android device, and will project its Places and Latitude data into the users field vision at the end of the year. Other hardware and software is being evaluated, and will available next year. Contact lenses offering the same technology have already been tested, and will soon follow. Even without the glasses, there are already enough smartphones for nearly every man, woman, and child in the world, and the technology exists to automatically display alerts on those phones. The Internet age is just hitting its stride.
How do we prepare for this onslaught the future? By being better today. Claiming your dealership’s Foursquare/Places/Yelp/etc. location is the first step, and frankly it’s not enough. Understanding the users behavior is the next, and most crucial, step. Even without adding users as friends, you can still gather data about their destinations, achievements, tips, and how many friends they have. If you are able to “friend” them, you can uncover more useful information. Understanding how to navigate this information will allow you to see how your customers interact, what they may say about you, and find out how loyal they are to other businesses. All of this information needs to recorded. Right now people have to take the time to gather information about your dealership. YOU must begin capturing just as much data and developing just as much software before you get overrun as it will be the only thing to save you in the future. There is no avoiding it. Take advantage of today’s technology before customers can gather information automatically, tomorrow.
Ignoring technological advances does not make them go away. Consumers take advantage of new technologies every single day. They buy a car every three years. By not embracing these changes, you accelerate the way these changes impact your business. You have created several opportunities for other companies to exploit your desire to keeps things the same. Don’t let the machines beat you. Take every opportunity to learn about new technologies on your own. Use change to your advantage. As it is with the Terminator, technology will just keep on coming. You can’t stop it.
Like most of you, I “work” a lot. I spend countless hours a day, reading, writing, videoconferencing, teleconferencing, and on the phone. I also find myself constantly checking and updating the calendar, checking my phone for text messages, chatting on more than one chat client, and conversing on Twitter. It’s typical that I have a minimum of two browsers open, with at lease four tabs running on both (closer to 10 on Firefox). I also have a PC running a couple different CRMs that only run in a Windows environment (yeah I know, some vendors are too cheap and/or lazy to create products that operate in different environments, but I digress). Still I find some time to run a business. With all of this stuff to handle, the “work” is really managing it all.
Most of my clients have it worse. They also have the various channels of communication to manage. They have reports to run. They have people to manage. They have discussions with their managers. They have storewide meetings. And, best of all, they have customers that show up at random. The lucky ones have the budget to work with external resources to help manage and streamline operations, but the majority still find themselves trading their personal time for work time.
For those who keep trading their time, I got bad news for you: There are only twenty-four hours in a day. End of story. Your kids are going to grow up. Your spouse is going to grow older. While your clients are going to put that gold watch on your wrist, they’re not going to come to your funeral.
Time is the most valuable resource. Once it’s gone, you can never get it back. It’s time to fanatically manage your time. If someone wants to take your time, push back. Learn to prioritize your day. Learn to stick to accomplishing what’s most important, and move on. People understand that you will call them back. They’re busy, too. If emails required an immediate response, they would come in the form of a phone call or a knock at your office door. Manage your time wisely, and have the time to enjoy the results.
High School was a difficult time for most people. What wasn’t important just a few years prior, becomes essential in just days. It’s a time when we become aware of who we are, and who we want to be. It’s when we realize, that despite our misgivings, we want to be popular.
When I was growing up, your shoes could either make you, or break you. There was a general hierarchy of shoes, with the generic pleather shoes on the bottom, and the high-tech, athlete endorsed offerings on top. If you weren’t wearing Nikes, you were just on fringe. If you were at the pinnacle of popularity, you were wearing Air Jordans.
What many kids came to realize, is that simply wearing a pair of Air Jordans did not miraculously transform them into the most popular kid in school (or a star basketball player, for that matter). Yes it may have given them access to the upper ranks, but it didn’t necessarily guarantee them the hottest girl in school. Because of this, some kids only owned one pair of Air Jordans.
In the retail car business this same mentality exists. There is this attitude that because someone in the twenty group is having success with a vendor, that everyone in the group can repeat that success elsewhere. Although a pair of Air Jordans might have taken you from zero to hero as a kid, buying the best technology can’t.
Popularity, like many other attributes, depends on many variables. Your parents’ social status, general attractiveness, athletic ability, and intelligence all played a roll in how your classmates looked at you. The same holds true for your dealership. If your parents owned the dealership, that’s going to play a roll in your success. The image your brand portrays is also going to play a roll. The dynamism of your staff to quickly move to beat opponents is going to play a roll. Your ability to utilize the collective knowledge of your team is going to play a roll. Understanding these variables, and many others, are going to contribute greatly to your accomplishments. As hard as you may try, you can’t buy popularity, just like you can’t buy success.
Before you sign another contract, think about your life as an adult. Did you have to buy a pair of Ferragamo’s to become successful? Are you losing track of how many vendors you are contracting and canceling? Have you realized that there is no such thing as a magic bullet, or is there a pair of $125 tennis shoes sitting in the corner of your room that you outgrew after six months? Mars Blackmon was wrong. It wasn’t the shoes.
As many of you already know, my wife and I welcomed our second son into this world during the third week of January. Although he was considered a full term baby, he wasn’t quite ready to leave the warm confines of mama’s belly. A short time after he was born, I carried him to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit where he stayed for eleven days learning the subtle intricacies of breathing and eating. Although the hospital was quick to assure us that this was “normal,” it didn’t make it any easier (the hospital ranks among the top 100 in the country, so who am I to argue). After a week of slow progress, he suddenly turned the corner for the best, and was able to join us at home shortly thereafter.
If any of you have had to spend an inordinate time at the hospital, it becomes abundantly clear how much today’s medical professionals depend on technology. With just a few sensors, hospital staff can measure almost all of the body’s functions at just a glance. Barcode scanners are used to monitor all patient records, banking who did what, when, into a central database. As an efficiency aficionado, I was awestruck by the precision.
In the time between chatting with the nurses, twiddling my thumbs, and watching newbie sleep, I kept coming back to the use of technology. The doctors and nurses ranged in age from early twenties to early sixties. Like all people, they ranged in disposition and attitude, from bubbly to curmudgeonly. But the one thing that became crystal clear for me is that, unquestioningly, they all used all of the technical tools given to them. Even if it were an option to not use the tools, it was out simply of the question.
Since it’s extremely hard for me to stop thinking about work (remember, I’m one of the weirdos who finds comfort in their job), I kept coming back to the same point in my head: As automotive sales professionals, we have more tools available to us today than at any other point in history. However, unlike the medical professionals I watched everyday, we don’t embrace our new tools with the same fervor. Why is that?!
Now, I’m guessing you’re waiting for me to go off on a “shiny objects” diatribe. I think enough has been written about that already. I’m going to take a different angle.
Think about all of your friends who work outside of the car business (if you don’t have any, think about your parents and their friends). What tools do they use on a day-to-day basis? Now imagine they made a conscientious decision not to use those tools. What would happen? What if the barista decided not to use the espresso machine? What if the soldier refused to carry their rifle? What if the courtroom reporter decided to use a pen and paper, and not a stenotype? What if the desk attendant of the hotel your staying at right now declined to give you a receipt? At least to yourself, you’d probably say that person isn’t doing their job. In fact, you’d probably say something much worse. Why are we any different?
Throughout my career, I’ve had the chance to see multiple dealerships from multiple angles. Whether it’s handling a dealer trade on the retail side, implementing a new technical solution on the software side, or side-by-side with a dealership partner on the consulting side, the expectation is not clear from the top-down on how technology is to be implemented inside the dealership. Despite the commitment of thousands of dollars, month-in, month-out, there is no true mandate to use the technical tools that are made available. The problem is further exacerbated by the lack of monitoring, and the lack of consistent training of these tools. If rules governing facial hair are in the employee handbook, why aren’t there rules governing the use of technology?
Let’s take the customer relationship and lead management tools for instance. We know the burden of proof the vendor get puts under by the dealer. We know the financial burden the vendor puts on the dealership. What burden is being put on the staff to fully utilize this tool? From what I’ve seen over the past decade of participating in the car business, it’s tantamount to throwing the keys to a Ferrari to an eleven year old and telling them to have fun. Without the proper experience and training, it’s a recipe for disaster resulting in wasted money and broken hearts.
Whether it’s contact management, pricing tools, analytics services, or employing a whole cadre of consultants, one thing is clear: the act of possessing these tools does not guarantee success. Between world wars, the French committed tremendous resources to constructing sophisticated and impenetrable border defenses along what is referred to as the Maginot Line. And all the Germans had to do is drive around it. With no standard operating procedure, and no set consequences, nothing stops users from circumventing the tools.
In any business, even most dedicated of front-line staff has to know what is expected of them. Whether the policy is to achieve at all costs or follow a systematic method, the folks implementing the process need something to adhere to. Without that clear expectation, front-line managers have nothing concrete to enforce. Without that clear expectation, upper management has no way to objectively hold their managers accountable. With no finger to point with, vendors and front-line staff get replaced, thus lumping additional negative return on investment in terms of set-up fees, hiring, and firing costs. Want to stop the revolving door? Set expectations.
If they’re not already, get your people excited about the tools they have available to them. Create an environment where your employees, like the medical community, seek out new ways to utilize the systems they have available. Proactively ask vendors for training and workshops. Encourage, and even incent, your front-line staff develop standardized processes for using dealer tools. Like the espresso machine, the rifle, and the stenotype are part of the job at other organizations, let your employees know that the tools that are provided are expected to be used to the fullest extent possible. You have the tools to create and monitor success. It’s up to you to not let your business flat-line.
On our DealerKnows’ Virtual Dealer Training program, we help dealerships maximize the technology, solutions, and opportunities already in place. With this comes a considerable amount of negotiating with vendors to improve their products on behalf of our dealer clients. No system is perfect, despite what vendors say, and often it takes a fresh set of eyes to show a dealership what they are missing with that provider. Product enhancement requests flow when we take on a new client and our Virtual Training platform can help evolve your use of a system/site and can help the vendors get better as well. And there lies the rub.
With advancements changing in the online marketplace daily, vendors must realize their products must change as well…just as quickly. Dealers won’t wait around forever as their vendor clients continue to sit on their hands. So here is my challenge to every vendor:
I want a Vendor Scorecard. I believe vendors should create a scoring system that allows all of their dealers to see, review, and vote on what advancements their teams should put into action. Not support issues (though a Vendor Scorecard could be beneficial for this as well), but an idea exchange where people on the ground can tell the people in the high rises what their system NEEDS to be able to do. It could be a small password-protected community within your software that allows ALL dealers to post their product enhancement requests so that ALL other dealer clients can see. Make it available to your own loyal public. Each product enhancement request should be time-dated and stamped so we know just how long it takes the vendor to react. Not respond… react. Fix. Change. Develop.
Then, take it to the next step, and allow every dealer client to VOTE on which product enhancements they most desire to see active sooner rather than later. You will create your own weighted scale as to which improvements to focus on completing. If you so desire, consider giving those few dealers that utilize your system to its fullest, are your oldest clients, or represent you in the online communities a heavier VOTE than others.
The automotive resource site, DrivingSales, has taken one step by bringing Vendor Ratings into the forefront and asking the automotive retail professionals that peruse this site to vote on who and why they recommend the companies they’ve chosen. This has been a good way to help vendors gain exposure and allow dealer personnel to give feedback to their peers. When a vendor’s reputation is questioned on these sites, it is amazing how quickly they respond. They either scurry to cover up the negativity or do their due diligence to correct it before it damages their business.
The end goal here is to let your own community of clients that USE your product to IMPROVE your product. I think there is a progressive way to do this without risking a vendor’s reputation.
If you are a vendor reading this, please don’t hate me for saying it, but your product/solution/sites CAN improve. Not “will”, but “can”. You can enhance your offerings to dealers if you just listen closely to your current clients. Above and beyond negotiating with vendors on behalf of our clients and suggesting new technological opportunities, we help them get the most out of their current solutions and websites. When we look to improve a vendor’s offerings for our dealership clients, though, we see far too many no-brainer enhancements that still are not being implemented. When I request a change from a vendor or give them (free) advice on how to better their offerings, I hear the same responses constantly. “We are working on it.” “I’ll pass it along.” “That is scheduled to be in our next release of enhancements 6 months from now.” What else do I hear? “I don’t understand.” THAT is the problem. You aren’t using the product the same way an Internet Sales Manager or Sales Manager uses it so you have your blinders up to the real needs of your software.
Dealers are asking themselves daily: “Where the heck do all of my product requests go?” “How many times do I have to suggest an improvement for it to go overlooked?” “When will this feature become available or active?” “Is anyone listening to what I want?”
I see no better way to get a vendor’s attention than making product enhancement requests a centerpiece to their customer service initiatives. Customers will finally be able to track their relationship with the vendors and hold them accountable if need be. Make them time-stamped suggestions with enough of your constituents voting for it and there will be no way a dealer can have a deaf ear. It is time more vendors listen to their clients first instead of listening to their own random ideas.
As I said, this is a CHALLENGE. The first vendor who decides to make the direction of their technology a democracy by creating a similar Vendor Scorecard available for all of their dealers wins my approval and another blog post dedicated to their innovative ways. Fair enough?
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.