What One Skill Do Dealership GMs Absolutely Need Today? Intimacy With Marketing Fundamentals

GM Interview

Are you comfortable with digital marketing concepts, even if you can’t get too far down in the weeds?

By Glenn Pasch

Recently, I was asked what skills does a dealership general manager need to succeed today that weren’t as necessary 10 years ago. I have my own opinions but for this article, I decided to interview Steve Stigliano, former GM of Gold Coast Cadillac in Eatontown, N.J., for his input.

Following is some of our conversation.

Glenn Pasch: “Steve, so how long were you a GM?”

Steve Stigliano: “I was a GM for the last six or so years. Prior to that, I was a general sales manager and before that a business development manager. I have been in the automotive business for over 13 years.”

GP: “So, you were around right at the beginning of the Internet becoming a growing part of dealerships?”

SS: “Correct. When all the dealers were hoping the Internet was a passing fad. Remember when everyone was fighting it and wanting it to go away? That’s when I began.”

“Some industry friends suggested to me that I had to focus on everything Internet,because that’s the way this industry was going. So, I embraced it. This was at the time where the Internet manager was the person sitting in a corner with a computer answering leads, because they knew how to type. I took over that job and then moved on to BDM in a bigger dealership, and continued to move up.”

GP: “So, fast-forward to today. In your opinion, what’s the one skill that general managers need to know that is different from the past, in order for them to be successful?”

SS: “Truly understanding their marketing budget, in regards to the digital side of it. I’ve spoken to a lot of other general managers at conferences and 20 groups, and many know the right buzzwords but when you really drill down a little bit, they have a glazed look in their eye like, I’m not really sure about that.”

“Second, you must combine the understanding of your digital marketing with really getting your entire staff to understand that people walking in the door are Internet shoppers, for both service andsales. Before these customers walk in, they have done a lot of research, and we can’t treat them like we did in the past. You have to continually train your staff properly to handle these customers in a new way.”

GP: “In my experience, most general managers will focus on training their staff by sending them to a conference or bringing in a consultant to help train them on the new Internet shopper, but they don’t focus on their own education.”

SS: “If the general managers are truly invested in getting their people trained, they have to understand that the first step in the process is getting themselves trained properly.”

“I just think they’ve gotten burned so often and spent so much money on training that yielded no results whatsoever, that they tend not to go down that same road again. But then they feel obligated to send their Internet or digital manager to a conference because, that’s what [they’re] supposed to do. Maybe they will return with a nugget of great information for us.”

GP: “The issue seems to be that when the employee returns, the GMs haven’t taken the time to understand what the employee learned, how to implement the new idea, and most importantly how to measure it.”

SS: “That is exactly what I meant. It has to start from the top down. You can send someone to a conference, but then they come back and you have no idea what he or she is talking about. They begin the conversation saying, ‘Okay, here is what we have to do: We have to adjust some of our traditional marketing, we have to optimize our website, we have to get our SEM in place, and the GM will say, ‘Okay, that sounds good.’ But they really don’t understand what that means.”

“By truly getting trained, a GM can now bounce ideas back and forth and begin to implement a plan of action.”

GP: “Why don’t more general managers go to conferences or learn enough to have these conversations? Are they intimidated? Is it because they feel that they have to know as much as that employee? What is the hesitation?”

SS: “I think there are a couple things that some people may not have thought of. When general managers are in the business for 10 to 20 years, they have worked their way up through the ranks to get to this position. Many of them are not that tech-savvy. They may be great salespeople or can tear apart a financial statement by just looking at it, but they are not really tech people and they can get intimidated by all of the terminology.”

“So, they hire someone to do the job. But because many GMs have a Type A personality – like I do – we feel we should know everything about the job. What we should be doing is getting a solid understanding of the marketing manager’s job and what the terminology really means – not just knowing the words but understanding the terminology, drilling a little deeper. This is the struggle GMs deal with. Do I dive in or ignore this new part of the job?”

GP: “What I am hearing is that a GM needs to get to an understanding of what that digital marketing person or vendor does, in the same manner that they would when they’re talking to their used car manager on correct pricing or talking to a GSM about sales, leads, front-end gross, etc.”

SS: “Exactly.”

GP: “To that point, even without considering it being a ‘techy’ position, leadership now has to manage a job they never did before. The GMs are more comfortable with conversations and inspection of results in other departments, because they did those jobs previously in their climb up to the general manager position. This type of marketing or position is a whole new ballgame that they don’t know.”

“So, how do we as an industry make it understandable or easy to communicate to the general managers that they don’t need to do the digital manager’s job, they don’t need to go into analytics or they don’t have to know how to go to the back end of the website – but, they have to understand enough to monitor results”

“I like to use this analogy. If a dealer sent someone to the auction to buy cars for the dealership, upon their return they would sit down and inspect what was purchased and for what price. Correct?”

SS: “Correct.”

GP: “But many GMs spend thousands of dollars a month for digital marketing and don’t know how to evaluate if their vendors did a good job. How do we help dealers understand what questions to ask or where to turn for the education they need?”

SS: “I think conferences have some good information. I think they’re necessary for the industry, and I think there are other things that [GMs] can do as well. Companies like PCG are now providing online video workshops. You have some that are specifically targeting the general manager telling them, ‘Here are the things that you need to understand as a general manager today.’

“You just said correctly that a GM does not have to be able to open up Google Analytics and understand all the numbers that are associated with it, but he does have to be able to sit down and have a conversation about Google Analytics with the marketing director or the vendor, whoever that may be.”