Arnold Tijerina has over 16 years experience in the auto industry, 7 of which were in retail before transitioning to positions which allowed him to share his knowledge and expertise in sales, digital marketing and social media with dealers. His retail experience encompasses most dealership sales and management positions with the majority of it as an Internet Director for two large auto groups in Southern California. He is an active and respected member of the online automotive community and is known for his expertise in digital marketing and social media.  

How did you first make your way to the automotive industry, and eventually become an automotive industry storyteller?

I got my start in the auto industry much like many people in it. I needed a job out of college and saw an ad in the newspaper promising a $2,000/month guarantee. I figured I would do that until I found a “real” job. When I started, I was thrown to the sharks. My training consisted of “Here’s how you do a foursquare, now go get an up!” Of course, my coworkers didn’t want competition so some of them did everything they could to take me off the market. For those that have been in the retail car business for awhile, it’s when you’re calling “ups” and you distract your competition (other salespeople) so that you have an advantage. There was one guy in particular who excelled at that and did everything he could to make me mad. Eventually, mid-month, just to shut him up, I bet him $50 that I would finish the month ahead of him in sales. The month ended, and I won. I made sure that he gave me that $50 in front of everyone. After that, he never bothered me again.

I wasn’t satisfied with the dealer group I was at, however. Have you ever had a sales manager throw a stapler at you? Or pencil you at so outrageous of a number that, when you close it, they can’t even contract it at that payment? Anyhow, there was an Infiniti dealership opening in the same auto mall and I applied and was hired. Best choice I ever made. The GM there… I still consider him my mentor in the business. He was the most compassionate and caring guy I’ve ever met and he truly appreciated his employees. He handed out paychecks personally to everyone, shook their hands and thanked them for their hard work.

My career path evolved from salesperson to Internet Manager to Internet Director in a pretty large and influential group in Southern California. Just one store in the group had 50 salespeople on the floor, 14 Internet Managers and 10 Finance Managers.

Then I was offered the opportunity to go to a Digital Dealer Conference and my life changed.

I have to give credit to three people for kickstarting my career. First, the GM I mentioned before. And second, the owner of a dealership solution that dragged me around like a puppy dog to be an advocate for his service and third, to the first boss I had in the vendor world. All three of these people contributed to who and where I am today in my professional career.

The rest of the story is simple. I stopped working for the vendor, started working for an organization that started a conference, was recruited away from that organization to another, got fired, went back to work for a vendor, moved across the country to do so after being assured I wouldn’t be let go and got fired after a tiny bit over a year.

I had no income but I had a lot of friends in the industry. Apparently, they all sympathized with my situation and many started to reach out with work. In the beginning, I only looked at the work as a crutch to help me pay the bills until I could find a job. It kept coming in, however, to the point that I was making more than I thought I could with any vendor. I decided, at that point, that I would ride that train until it stopped. And it never has.

And that is the story of Arnold. (Unless you’ve seen the musical “Book of Mormon.”)

What are some key ways for brands to tell their stories? And specifically, how can dealers use storytelling to better reach customers?

Brands are too focused on sharing what they sell and not enough on who they are. I don’t care what “brand” we’re talking about or what “product or service” they offer. Almost every message is in some way “We’re great!” or “We’re better than the competition!” Consumers that are actually paying attention to their messages are one of two types: 1) Existing customers and 2) People considering whether they want to do business with them. Neither of them care about those messages. They already know WHAT you do. They are trying to figure out WHO you are and whether they want to do business with you. And that’s where many businesses fail. Why? Because they aren’t telling stories, they’re selling whatever they sell.

How can dealers tell their stories? Many dealers think that the whole “We’ve been in business for 30 years, provide great service, have great cars… etc.” is telling their story. But it’s not. EVERY dealership has a message similar to that. Consumers are numb to it and it just flies past them without them even paying attention.

How do businesses tell stories? They need to think about what a story IS!

Why do consumers normally hate commercials but get excited to watch Super Bowl commercials? Why do we see creative efforts by brands go viral on social media or even on traditional channels? BECAUSE THEY ARE TELLING STORIES! Whether it’s a Super Bowl commercial, a Facebook post or a snarky tweet responding to someone, people LOVE that stuff. Why? Because it displays the personality of a business. And when people like what you are saying, start digging who you are and start sharing those messages, businesses win. Many dealerships, however, don’t even try to do that. They either simply post specials and sales or let a vendor do it for them. There is no personality. Nothing for a consumer to connect with. It’s all “buy what we’re selling.” If you’re a Ford dealership, it would be absurd to believe that anyone paying attention to you is oblivious to the fact that you sell Fords. They’re not checking you out because they want to know that you sell Fords. They’re checking you out to decide whether they want to buy a car from YOU!

And they won’t know that unless they can figure out who you are. One way is through reviews– other consumers’ perception of who your dealership is. The piece that’s missing, however, is the dealership displaying who they are. And that’s a very easy task. It just takes one or a few people to care, understand the importance and take the time.

Storytelling marketing isn’t about writing books about how great you are. It’s about showing consumers who you are. The old saying “People do business with people they like,” translates just as appropriately into “People do business with businesses they like.” But what do you think convinces a consumer that you are a business they like? Your people! They are your most valuable asset. And most dealerships are so stuck on sales that they don’t realize that by showcasing their people, they will gain far more business that they ever will be throwing out the same ads that their competitors are.

Everyone has $12,000 off MSRP… or whatever OEM special is in place. That means nothing. What matters is why a consumer should care about YOU, want to do business with YOU and choose YOUR dealership over the competition.

And that can only be accomplished by letting them know who you are.

You describe yourself as someone who makes connections. What are some ways vendors and dealers can connect and build relationships?

Well, I have a full session before every Digital Dealer sharing tips on how to do this. It’s at the end of the day of exhibitor set-up. And, as a bonus, every company that has an employee attend gets their logo on the main stage screens during meals. That’s one good way of learning.

Other than that, if we’re not talking about conferences, vendors can build relationships with dealers through providing educational content on various automotive-specific sites. Content marketing by providing free education is a great way to build value in your company, capture the attention of dealers and start to build a relationship with them. Start doing the whole “selling” thing, and dealers will quickly stop paying attention. Provide valuable advice, engage them in conversations by answering the questions that they ask and just… be a human being. That’s what’s going build a relationship or make a dealer consider doing business with a vendor. There are way too many vendors harassing (some would call it hustling) dealers that they have become just as oblivious to it as the normal commercials that they run. That is absolutely ironic but it is also absolutely true.

What are your top social media tips for dealers?

Social media is meant to be… wait for it… social. This is similar to my answers to the previous questions. Make people care. If they don’t care then you might as well be the closest WalMart. They’re all the same and nobody cares which one they do business with. Showcase who you are by highlighting the only differentiating factor that you have… your people. Every Ford dealer has the same new Fords. And, if it were up to the manufacturers, every Ford dealer would look exactly the same… just like WalMart. Don’t let that happen to your dealership. If you’re the only one expressing personality, showcasing who you are through your employees and sharing moments with your customers (or potential customers), you will already have a competitive advantage.

There are plenty of dealers who are “required” to use a small selection of social media and/or reputation management companies. Most of those simply post content that the manufacturer gives them. Don’t let that become your personality in the eyes of your customers, potential customers or community. If you do nothing, that, in itself, is a message. Don’t let that be your message.

You’ve done a lot of work with conferences. Name your best hacks for making the most of conferences.

Stay off your phones. Stay off the laptops. Pay attention to the people walking by. Try to engage them when they do. Not with “Hey, you want to win a gizmo?” or “Hi, we have a drawing…. If you will only give us your business card, a blood sample, your social security number…” Dealers don’t care about your widget. They don’t care about your $25 gift card for a demo. They don’t care that “someone” is going to win a drone, iPhone, Apple Watch or whatever is the hot thing at the moment. You win them over in the same way that you win them over on social… by being you. Not the “salesperson” you, because there’s nothing wrong with selling, but by engaging them in a way that starts a conversation that THEY will like, not one that YOU will.

You talk in some of your writing about attribution– whether it’s a buzzword or something more. Following the customer journey is a big challenge. What are some tips you’d give for actually understanding whether a vendor, an ad campaign– any part of a marketing plan– is actually valuable?

I’d say that attribution is important in the sense that a dealership (or a vendor) can make better decisions with which to optimize their marketing budget. I’m not an expert in attribution but I do know that dealers get mixed messages by their various vendors because many are using different KPIs. This is like comparing apples to oranges and most dealers (and vendors) don’t have time to sort through it all. It’s all about “what makes us look good” (thus the KPI they chose to report.) ALL businesses should be able to see which of their marketing is working (i.e. influencing sales) and which aren’t. Saying that X vendor or Y vendor is the reason for any particular sale is comical. We have heard experts talk about 24 touch points… yada, yada… Well, if consumers are visiting even half of that in their car-buying journey, it would be nonsensical to believe that only the last one that converted assisted in that sale.

Again, like I said, I’m not an expert in attribution. My advice to dealers would be to either learn how to do it on their own or find a third-party solution to help them.

What’s the best automotive party you’ve ever been to?

The best automotive party I’ve ever been to is the one that I can’t remember. Hahaha.

There have been so many over the 55+ conferences that I’ve worked. And that is not even including the ones that I’ve attended but wasn’t working at. There have been a lot of amazing parties over the years. Everything from famous bands to really cool locations. I appreciate all of the companies that have invited me and have let me be a part of their celebrations.

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