Is Your Dealership Getting Fooled by Vanity Metrics? – Jonathan “JT” Thompson, Force Marketing

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Despite positive page views and clickthrough rates some dealerships continue to ultimately struggle with sales and outcomes. Jonathan “JT” Thompson, Vice President of Sales at Force Marketing, sits down with CBT News to talk about exactly why and how dealerships are getting fooled by vanity metrics, and what they should do in order to avoid this. Watch the full interview above to see what advice JT has for dealerships on how to think outside of vanity metrics and get back to driving sales in your dealership.

VIDEO TRANSCRIPT: 

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Hello everyone. I’m Jim Fitzpatrick. Thanks so much for joining us on another edition of CBT news. Just because your dealership’s website has a lot of clicks and page views, doesn’t automatically mean it will drive sales. If you’re not seeing a return on your marketing plan in dollars and cents now might be the right time to rethink your strategy. Here to tell us why dealerships shouldn’t be fooled by vanity metrics, is Jonathan Thompson, vice president of sales at Force Marketing. Welcome to CBT news, Jonathan.

Jonathan T:
Thanks Jim. Thanks for having me.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. So let’s kind of dive right in here. Why should marketing partners be focused more on the outcomes of the store versus the vanity metrics that we hear so much about?

Jonathan T:
Probably one of the most favorite times a dealer has is when his vendor partners go, “Hey man, let’s have a reporting call.” They probably get so excited about that. But what’s more important is what are your goals and what are your objectives and what are your outcomes and how are they pacing?

Jonathan T:
That’s really where the conversation should start. Not the reverse of that, going into vanity metrics, because what happens a lot of times in this market, last month was a tough month in the automotive industry and some sources are saying, “Hey, I’m having a tough start to the month of May. What can I do?”

Jonathan T:
Well your click-through rate looks good, your impression sure looks good, so the marketing partners tend to start to veer off instead of going and addressing that problem right in front of it.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right, right. Because the dealer wants to hear more about real world, right? Wants to know where’s the foot traffic, where are the phone calls, were are the clicks? How come we’re not getting either form fills or inquiries or quotes or things like that? Right?

Jonathan T:
Right.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
I mean that’s what it’s all about.

Jonathan T:
That’s what it’s all about Jim. Like I said, oftentimes vendors go on the defense instead of the offense with the dealer. If the dealer’s not doing well, then they should feel they’re not doing well with the dealer. So if the outcomes aren’t on pace, and when I say outcomes, I’m talking about sales service and F and I and benefits, whatever’s generating revenues.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah.

Jonathan T:
That’s the way the conversation-

Jim Fitzpatrick:
The dealer doesn’t want to hear from the vendor that, “Hey, we’re doing our job.” You know?

Jonathan T:
Exactly.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
You called it, “The dealership is going south in terms of numbers,” right. For either ROs or new cars or used car sales or what have you. To your point, it is very frustrating for a dealer. I was there myself as marketing companies would come in and say, “Hey, we’re doing our job. Look at what we’re driving.” And meanwhile, our sales are 15 or 20% off in business.

Jonathan T:
Right.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
It’s crazy. So what’s the best method for finding the best levers to pull as a marketing partner?

Jonathan T:
What we’ve done over the past few years is kind of shifts the conversation, as I said, to starting with the outcomes. So we’ve really got a five-step methodology that has been working really well. Dealers are really receiving it in the best interest, is number one, we focus on the outcomes. We make sure and look at what outcome is off. Could it be new car sales? Is it used car sales? Or is it retention?

Jonathan T:
Once we’ve identified that, then we go into our second step, which is identifying what’s going on in the market. Okay, so we’re looking at the competitors, what’s going on, inventory levels, pricing. Some stores are like, “Man, I’m not selling as many cars.” But their inventory is 20% less than what it was the previous year.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right. Or maybe they’ve got three less salespeople, they get only 7 instead of the 10 that they had last month.

Jonathan T:
That is absolutely correct. That is it. So that’s the start of the conversation. So before we go into the rabbit hole, which can lead to some vanity metrics if need be.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right.

Jonathan T:
First we want to identify what’s going on in the market at your store. Third, we go, “Okay, let’s look at your CRM. Let’s dive in and look at which channels are actually not performing.” A lot of marketing partners, A, they probably don’t even have access to the CRM or know how to log in or where to look. Our teams actually have integrations where they pull that data and go, “Showroom traffic looks good. Internet traffic is off or on. Phone traffic,” etc. But we’re looking at it by lead type and then we go down to lead provider. Once we’ve identified which area that might be effected, then we’re going into the channels. Which medium is being affected?

Jonathan T:
If all those check boxes look good, because if all those things are pointing in the upward direction, the last thing we look at is lead handling. We go into the stage of going into mystery shop for the store or, and you might’ve remembered in the last interview, we might recommend taking five grand out of advertising and putting it into training.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right. It’s something that dealers typically don’t spend a lot of money on. I don’t know why. The bigger companies, the bigger publics out there will typically have a training department with a training director and they make a big commitment to it. But some of the smaller dealers, the vast majority of smaller dealers, and I know know dealers, I’m painting with a broad brush here. But I lived it. I know it. We just don’t spend a lot of money on sales training and management training inside of dealerships. It might be an event they do once or twice a year and think, “Okay-”

Jonathan T:
Not enough.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
“It was a two day deal we brought somebody in. We had that cell training. We’re done.”

Jonathan T:
That’s right. Yeah. One of the things, to step back to step three, which is analyzing that CRM data. One of the things we’ve really been looking at is new versus repeat customers. What we’ve found is that for a dealer that is being pretty successful at having, retaining customers, and generating return leads, is having about 5% of all their leads be repeat customers.

Jonathan T:
Now, if your salespeople aren’t logging in correctly, that’s another problem. That’s a training concern. But if you’re less than 5% on repeat leads, you seeing your CRM, what are you doing for retention marketing? So it might not even be a digital marketing partners area or et cetera. But as a marketing partner in general, if we’re able to identify these areas of opportunity and shine it in the light, it’s a great point to to go, “Hey listen, what are we doing in retention? We can see your new versus repeat is below the industry average.” Right?

Jonathan T:
“Oh, that’s a good point.”

Jonathan T:
We’ve had some calls in the most recent weeks where they didn’t even know what that number was. And so bringing that to light was very helpful.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right, for sure.

Jonathan T:
Who you want to do business with.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, there’s no question about it. Dealers are just, as I said, they’re bombarded with all of these other vendors calling them on a daily basis, minute by minute, suggesting that they do this instead of that. Or, “Take your money out of out of digital and put it into …” or, “Take it out of paper click and put it into social,” or vice versa. It seems like everybody’s got their own little special recipe as to what’s going to make that dealer successful. When in reality, they didn’t even spend more than 10 minutes on the phone with the dealer, but they happen to know what’s going to make that dealer so successful, which I always find interesting.

Jonathan T:
Well, that leads into one of my next big points I wanted to share today, is that using a technology tool, like we use Helix. The system allows us and tells us where the money should be spent. Instead of us always having to dial in, because it can take hours and even days to make the right decisions.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, sure.

Jonathan T:
Is it better in paid search? Is it better in social? Or is it better in this place? You obviously want the right mix, but what’s great about Helix is that actually identifies, “Hey, this area, you should spend more in. This area, you should spend less in,” in a realtime basis, make that recommendation and we can make that change.

Jonathan T:
So automation and technology for us, being able to have that tool as a resource, Jim, has just really expedited what we do on a day-to-day basis. That way, instead of doing an analysis, take a week. We can do it in a couple of hours, get it done and start rolling before the weekend.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. Helix has made quite a splash out there in the market as you know, with dealers. For those dealers that don’t know or haven’t heard yet about your product Helix at Force Marketing, kind of give us the, 101 on what it is and how it helps dealers.

Jonathan T:
First, Helix Technologies, we use them as a partnership because first off, what they do with the data is immaculate. I mean the cleansing process, it’s insane. Being in the business a long time myself, I knew data was pretty dirty, you know, bad addresses, bad emails, bad phone numbers. But when they go in there and they clean it and they find 40% of it’s bad, I was thinking like 10 to 20% or something like that, but that’s one of the biggest things.

Jonathan T:
Then they connect it and overlay it with Oracle data and Facebook data and Google data and they’re really arriving with this phenomenal first-party data so that way, when we’re talking about outcomes and strategies of what we should do and shouldn’t do, Helix already has the data cleaned up and ready to point to the right direction. Then it says, “Based on this market, based on this brand, here’s the channels you should use and here’s what you should execute on.”

Jonathan T:
Then later on, we can go back and look at the ROI all in one place. Even having direct marketing channels wrapped into digital channels, it’s been phenomenal. Because we can literally see when email, mail or calls or whatever it might start, and see if it’s affected the website traffic, because that’s where all the customers are going to go before they come into the store. And tying that all in.

Jonathan T:
So Helix is not only a tool that aggregates data and allows us to make great decisions, but it helps automation. It helps us drive the best ROI. If we’re not doing a great job, it tells us. So we can pivot and change on a dime. So those are some of the biggest things that have expedited our process internally and really, it’s the best [inaudible 00:08:52] as well.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure. In the last 30 seconds here, let me throw this question at you with 95% or 98% of the people are out there looking for a car, hitting the Internet and using their tablets and their phones to shop for a vehicle. Is there a place in a dealer’s budget for traditional advertising such as television or radio?

Jonathan T:
Absolutely. Traditional still has a place. But what I would challenge dealers to do with our marketing partners is talk, if they’re looking at traditional from a television perspective, inquire about box-top marketing where you can target customers from a programmatic standpoint, with programmatic video. Radio still has a place. You can still tell that there’s listeners. One of the challenges there is just check your customer’s cars. See if they’re on XM or if they’re on regular radio. If you find that 95% of your customers are on XM, why waste your time on spending it on radio? Even though you like it and even though you listen to it, if you have 90% of your customers … and seriously, that’s an easy process.

Jonathan T:
Customer drives into service, service advisors doing a little checklist, “Hey, this guy’s on Xm,” or, “This guy’s on regular radio,” right when you crank the car. So radio to me is something that you would need to gauge on a customer basis. Television is something that people still watch as a demographic that still does handle that. But I would challenge the marketing partner, ask them, say, “Hey, what would it look like for me to get on programmatic television?” And actually be able to digital television and target audiences and see many people viewed it. See how many people got interested. See if I got trackable results to my website.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right. Well, Johnathan Thompson, vice president of sales for Force Marketing. Thank you so much for joining us. This has been very enlightening and something that dealers need to pay attention to with regard to all things marketing. Because today’s dealer, they’re just getting hit from every single angle, as to what to do, what not to do. At the end of the day, they got to sell cars and they can’t spend every single day playing marketing manager. And trying to understand the metrics that really make up a today’s car buyer and what’s going to drive them. Right?

Jonathan T:
Absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
I know that’s what you guys do at Force.

Jonathan T:
Yeah. Thank you. Yeah.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Thanks so much for coming in.

Speaker 1:
CBT Automotive Network, the number one most watched network in retail automotive. This has been a JBF business media production.

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