Strategize How To Get The Most Out Of Automotive Conference Attendance

Great ideas don’t get magically implemented. Pick your sessions carefully, and plan how to push through the best suggestions. BY GLENN PASCH

Each month, car dealers are bombarded with promotions for conferences that market their ability to help improve the audience’s business practices. Full disclosure: My company puts on the “Digital Marketing Strategies Conference,” and I have attended, hosted and presented at various conferences in the automotive industry.

My goal is not to write about the merits of various conferences, but rather to address problems I frequently see arising from conference attendance regarding information overload and the failure to implement seemingly great lessons learned.

Most conference attendees arrive ready and eager to learn, and leave with notebooks filled with ideas and tactics offered by presenters. Yet, they struggle to implement these changes upon returning to their dealerships.

Ultimately, dealer principals are unlikely to approve future conference registrations if they’re frustrated with a lack of ROI. Recognizing this danger, I have been changing my own presentations in ways I hope will make it easier for my audience to implement affect real change in their organizations.

Advance Evaluation, Planning Are Critical

It can be really hard to strategize about applying what you have learned at a conference, once you’re back at work. Even if you’ve kept up with e-mails on the road, it seems as soon as you walk back in, everyone is at your desk needing help. Your catch-up list grows, then your daily routine takes over and in a few days or weeks, your conference notebook is buried on your desk. That great idea no longer seems that important; something else is the new shiny object.

Preventing such a wasteful outcome is largely determined by the planning your staff does before ever leaving for the conference. Have you sat down with your internal team at the store to look over the speaker list and pick those workshop sessions that are most pertinent to your current challenges?

I ask this because I see many attendees picking sessions by asking a colleague at the conference who he or she is going to see. They need to already have identified workshops relevant to what their dealerships are striving to improve. Maybe you need a session on unifying your marketing messages, accessible leadership, Google Analytics, social media advertising or hiring the right employees.

Screen Shot 2015-08-18 at 10.59.55 AMStop And Think Again Before You Implement

Okay, now you’re back in the office and ready to ram through the great suggestions you picked up at the conference. Slow down a bit. I propose focusing on these five questions before you try to implement any new policy or procedure.

  1. Why do you want to change?

This may seem like a silly question, given that you’ve just heard a great speaker touting results at other dealerships that you’d love to have. You’re pumped up; isn’t it obvious that others at your dealership will be, too?

I just challenge you to consider if this change will really help the dealership overall, or just make your job easier. Remember, any change you install will likely require adjustments in other areas, with other employees. When you present your idea, you need to recognize and suggest those adjustments.

  1. Is this change worth the time and effort?

Even the best-laid plans will have short-term costs for your business. For example, installing a new tool to manage the sales floor may immediately affect your metrics and frustrate the sales team.

Your case needs to hinge on the long-term benefits. For example, hiring more salespeople over the long haul should help your dealership sell more cars and retain more customers thanks to better service. Both the short-term costs and long-term benefits must be mapped out in your presentation.

  1. Are you personally able to make this change happen?

With all due respect, you may be a great mid-level manager, but upper management may not hear your voice. If you critically self-examine and conclude you are not the most effective person to head up this mission, then recruit someone else to be the advocate. Go discuss your idea and plan for him or her to bring it to the leadership table.

But, if you are the right person to champion this change then be prepared to answer tough questions from upper management, and if they green-light the project remember there will be times you feel you are the only one passionate about it. That is fine; stay committed to the course.

  1. What or who is a roadblock to your success?

Does your dealership embrace change, or are new ideas typically met with resistance? If the latter, anticipate which people stack up as skeptics and try to get them on your side early. Maybe you can even persuade them to be advocates for your plan.

Remember, if you are not passionate about your vision with the execs or managers who appear to be roadblocks, then they will never buy into the plan.

  1. Are you set up to train, measure, require accountability and repeat?

This is where the rubber meets the road. In order to have change, you must train correctly. I recommend you read my article on the eight-step coaching process, at If you follow this coaching process, you will maximize effectiveness of your change-implementation efforts.

You also need to ongoing accountability for the change and be willing to re-train until it becomes second nature. You have to agree on the right metrics to measure success. And, you personally must be ready to re-dedicate every day. Your team will watch your level of commitment to this initiative, and if they see you slip they will also. Soon, your once-great initiative will have failed, and you will be back to square one.