I just returned from the 2013 NADA Convention held in Orlando and have to say that it was a great trip. Lots to meet, see, hear and experience. The Exposition floor was packed with vendors offering new and updated products and services, and many of the stalwarts were there to promote their services and some upgrades too.

Vendors again leveraged celebrities to attract attention to their booth. I have to admit I enjoyed having my photo taken with NASCAR legend Richard Petty, and briefly glanced (ha) at one of the Playboy Playmates signing autographed pictures for attendees whose wives were a bit more liberal thinking than mine. The convention was professionally managed and well organized. I especially liked the NADA app for my smartphone which allowed me to locate virtually anything inside the convention. Very cool!

Impact GroupAs I always gather information for my training courses and articles for Dealer Magazine I enjoyed speaking with several dozen dealer owners and vendors during the event and posed two basic questions to them to gauge how the auto industry is addressing new market issues and challenges.

The first question I asked was, “How successful do you feel dealers are managing social media?” The reaction from virtually every dealer and vendor was immediate laughter or they replied, “they’re not”. It was pretty clear from their reaction and/or their comments that they felt dealers for the most part had no real grasp of what they were doing and, more importantly how effective (or destructive) any of their efforts were on social media channels.

I was hit with a feeling of déjà vu. I remember when BDC’s were the hot new item back in the early to mid 90′s. Dealers weren’t quite sure what they were, but they knew they had to have one, so they set up BDC departments. They all felt it was going to be the magic switch to turn on business flow. Then, within a matter of months most of them were shutting down because dealers said “they didn’t work”. The failures in most cases were attributed to the lack of proper processes and training individuals charged with running the department but most importantly they were lacking managerial accountability. Who, managerially was actually assigned the responsibility to lead the department? This meant developing the processes, training the folks, reconciling the data and maintaining it for the long haul. In most cases, no one was put in charge. Sales managers avoided the BDC like it was a toxic waste dump so that sent a signal to the sales team “it must not be that important”. And, it became just that.

BDC’s were followed by websites which were followed by CRM software which was followed by social media initiatives which has now become the new flavor of the month.

In virtually every instance where lack luster performance was present, there was little to no formal process, accountability, reconciliation and no one empowered with the authority or designated responsibility to insure proper utilization; so naturally the initiatives for the most part failed or at least, did not match expectations.

To many, social media today is the Wild Wild West, and many dealerships allow their sales, service and/or other employees to post virtually anything they want on their pages. The problem is many of these folks have difficulty spelling and/or utilizing socially acceptable grammar and then there are those who have trouble reading and/or interpreting messages. And of course, there is always the huge risk of using inappropriate or bad language that’s never appropriate for any workplace communications much less your public exposure.

My next question to the dealers was, “How important do you feel is online reputation management?”  This one got more of a serious response. Everyone agreed it was becoming more and more important, but opinions varied on the best way to manage online reputations. It seems that there is no shortage of vendors offering their version of how to best address this issue. Many do a pretty good job for dealers, but again the end result often depends upon how the dealership approaches the solution. Using a the best hammer with crooked nails will not get you the best results.

Impact GroupMany dealers are still trying to hide or manipulate negative reviews (crooked nails), so their site or the review site only shows a near perfect score for the dealer. Dealers taking this tact are doing themselves a disservice. Key Point; If dealers do not show all the reviews and support a high level of transparency they risk losing the trust of their customers and prospects.

Remember, on the Internet there are no secrets. Anyone can find anything in just a matter of seconds. So reviews on one site that vastly contradict what is on a dealer’s website just paint that dealer as someone who isn’t playing fair or has something to hide. Dealers are almost better off by not putting any reviews on their sites instead of putting up only good reviews because consumers are being instructed if this occurs – stay away from that dealer.

If you offer a great customer experience don’t worry about a few negative reviews. The positive ones will overpower those negative ones, but be sure to reply to the customer and work to resolve the situation.

Abe Lincoln said it best – “Reputation is like fine china: Once broken it’s very hard to repair.”

If you need a few pointers in this area, shoot me an email and I will share with you what I have learned.

Chuck Barker

Chuck Barker has been CEO of his two companies, Impact Marketing & Consulting Group, LLC and Impact Summit, LLC, for the last 24 years, both located in Virginia. His experience ranges from an executive with Harris Corporation (16,000 employees) one of Fortune Magazine’s largest companies to the automobile industry where he has performed all executive positions. His companies specialize in growing businesses, dealerships and people. He delivers unparalleled sales & service development programs, management leadership workshop programs and dealer/principal business & profit improvement ideas for automobile dealerships. He has recently published the first comprehensive ‘in-house’ sales training solution program for dealers entitled The Dealership Success Guide.