In his seven years in the automotive industry, Matt Raymond has held several roles at Haltermans Automotive Group, including Sales Consultant, Sales Manager, and Internet Sales Manager. In his current role as the Digital Marketing Manager, Matt is tasked with identifying ways and tools to reach the right customers with the right content.

We sat down with Matt to get his best tips for marketing, identifying effective strategies, and maintaining healthy vendor relationships.

How did you get started in the auto industry, after beginning your career in law enforcement?

Life has a way of working out. After working in law enforcement for seven years, I went to work for UPS with the goal of moving into investigations and fraud. The market took a dive, and it didn’t really work out. I was dating my now wife then, so decided to I move to Pennsylvania, where she was living, and establish residency there. It seemed like that would be the place I would end up anyways. I had job-shadowed a car dealership when I was in high school, so I figured I would get a job selling cars, and quit if I didn’t like it or found something better. Needless to say, that was almost eight years ago. I started out selling cars and working in the BDC cradle to grave, and ended up holding a bunch of different positions here until I found the one that I absolutely love, as the Digital Marketing Director.

How do you think your serving in those other positions has impacted the way you work as the Digital Marketing Director?

I think the biggest thing is that I have actually touched phones and heard conversations. I understood what people were asking. I then went out to the showroom and head what customers expected based on their calls. From the sales floor I went on to a Sales Manager type position– there I got to see how it all fits together. Having a full-circle view of the buying process really helps me with marketing. It allows me to be very analytical, to think about how to reach and interact with customers at every stage.

There are so many different paths a dealership can take in setting a marketing strategy– what are you focusing on right now, and how do you make those decisions?

This has evolved over the past year or so, but right now we have a big monthly calendar hung up on the wall that tracks what we’re doing each month and how it’s changed. We constantly tweak what we’re doing to ensure that we’re the best we can. We never change a bunch of things at once– we usually tweak one thing and then look at the numbers to see what happened. That’s how we ensure that we’re always improving.

About three months ago we starting using a program, String DPS from String Automotive, that’s based off of Experian data. It helps us determine what our consumers are looking for, and what they respond to. For example, we noticed that direct mail was extremely popular in our area. But instead of sending out mailers for the sake of sending them, we refined and targeted our message. We looked at demographics and household income and all sorts of pieces of data. Recently, we sent a mailer to 9,000 homes and sold 26 cars from it. It cost us very little. People loved the mailer and came in asking if we could really give them what we had promised. We could. The whole process was seamless, open, and transparent, because we knew who we were targeting. We do the same thing with search engine marketing. As another example– we hadn’t sold a Toyota Highlander in three weeks and I couldn’t figure out why. We found out that one of our competitors had put out an ad that we hadn’t even noticed. After conducting some research through surveys, we found that their ad wasn’t offering exactly what consumers were looking for. We decided to put out a couple of fine-tuned ads about the Highlander. The changes were made on a Tuesday and that weekend we sold two cars and made money on them. Can I say it’s completely because of the ad that we ran? No, but I do know that we hadn’t sold that car in three weeks and now we sold two.

So you really hone in on what your customer base wants. It’s entirely possible that direct mail works well in your area, but would be a waste in a different market.

Data helps dealerships make educated decisions. People might disagree with me, but I think that’s the direction the auto industry is headed in. We have so much more data at our fingertips, from companies like Experian. We need to take a good, hard look at what is going on in the market and do what we can to capture our customers and bring them in to the store. I believe the days of someone travelling one hundred miles by car or plane to buy a new Toyota are over. Maybe for a rare or limited edition vehicle, but not to save a couple hundred bucks on a car. I think dealers need to stop worrying about buying into their neighbor’s backyard to steal customers. If instead we worry about how we can be the best dealer we can be to our own customers, it won’t only change the way we spend money but will make us a lot more effective.

That’s a really positive way to think about marketing. How do you respond when things don’t go your way– when you have a month with setbacks and fewer sales?

Those happen. Even with going to conferences and speaking to people, we miss the mark time and time again on certain things. The key is learning how to adapt and overcome it. We sit down to see what is working, and what is not. We go line by line in the budget to see how to improve. As you can tell, I’m a big example guy, so to give you an example– you could write a direct mail piece in September and then run that exact same mailer in January and see totally different numbers. As marketers, you have to figure out why the rates might’ve changed: what was the weather, did the mail not go out for a few days, were other dealers sending out mailers as well? You need to think critically.

We also encourage our employees to bring in ads from other dealerships to see what they’re doing and how they’re trying to sell. I want to hear opinions. I like to get out of my chair to speak to customers on the floor. I ask them questions like– how did you hear about us? What exactly did you type into Google? Marketing is a living, breathing thing that should change and adapt.

So you gather your information both from hard data and also from speaking to people.

Our dealership has been in business for 50 years– before search engines, Facebook, and Google Analytics. We planned ads based on what people were saying. I still like doing it that way, but use the data to backup the stories we hear.

It sounds like you run a lot of A/B tests– do you have any specific tools you like using when running these tests, or do you do the analysis in-house?

We do our analysis in-house. We have the benefit of being a small enough group that we can test across both of our dealerships. We have Mitsubishi and Toyota and they’re two different animals. Sometimes we’ll run a mailer to Mitsubishi customers one month and run the same mailer geared towards Toyota customers the next month, to see what changes. Otherwise, we try to test variables like subject lines, copy, and images. It’s pretty easy to run A/B tests on Facebook. We can run several different versions of an ad to see what works best.

While we’re on the topic of online marketing, I’m curious to hear what you think. There’s a lot of talk now about disruption in the auto industry– do you foresee a time that cars are purchased completely online and not in a dealership?

I don’t see it as a fit for everyone and I’ll tell you why. I fit into the millennial category. I should be buying everything online. For me, though, I buy shoes by going into a store and trying them on. My wife is a couple years younger than me and every time we buy a car, she needs to go down and sit in it, smell it, feel it. I work at a car dealership! We know what we want, we get the same Toyota Sienna every time, and yet we still go down to the store. There are those people who want to be told, “Here’s your Toyota Camry, I’m driving it to your house. I sent you a video about the vehicle, all of the paperwork is in my hand.” The car will be dropped off, the customer signs for it, and they’re on their way. There has to be different ways for people to buy, but I  don’t think it will take over the auto industry. Another example is Amazon. Amazon is great for shopping online, but there are still products I go to Best Buy for– sometimes you just need to feel or see something before you buy it.

Do you have any advice for other dealerships who are beginning to craft their digital marketing strategy?

I do. I believe that every dealership needs to have someone in a position like mine, and I’d be happy to speak to anybody who’d like to find out more about it. Unfortunately someone in this type of position often ends up handling lots of different tasks that aren’t related to marketing, like IT and the BDC. The dealership needs to recognize the value of a marketing director, even if they may not be self-generating revenue likes salespeople are. At the end of the day, you need someone in the dealership who has a grasp on its digital and traditional marketing efforts, as well as everything going on in the store. That person ensures that nothing falls through the cracks. In our dealership, if someone writes on our Facebook wall, or posts a review on Facebook, Google, or Yelp, it goes straight to my phone. I respond to them immediately. I filter through everything, and respond appropriately. I am able to spend a little extra time speaking to vendors, building those relationships. Every dealership needs this type of person.

Speaking of, what do you look for in a vendor? How do you maintain your relationship with them?

I have a good relationship with our vendors and teams. This includes the group that manages our Facebook, our direct mail, the String dashboard that I use, and more. We speak on the phone once-twice a week. It’s really important to me to be in constant contact with them, because there’s a lot that can change in just a matter of days. They don’t know how slow or busy the store is– there are a lot of different factors that go into play. We make mid-month adjustments based on what’s working, but the communication needs to be there.

For me, the most important thing is that I can see everything my vendors see. They all work out of our own accounts (like Google Analytics or Facebook), so that nothing is hidden from me. Above that, we both have to be able to admit when we make mistakes. There’s nothing wrong with failing, but we have to learn from our mistakes instead of pretending they didn’t happen. Another big thing I look for is respect. The vendor needs to understand and be respectful of our goals. On the other side, we need to be respectful and show up to all of our scheduled meetings. Even when a vendor shows up at our store, I try to give them at least five minutes, even without an appointment. If they did get in touch beforehand, I’ll take a deeper look, to see if it’s something we’d be interested in. I really believe that it comes down to being a good person and having respect. We’re both just trying to earn a living.

Behind every vendor and every dealership there is a human, after all. Because you’ve served in so many roles, many of which were customer-facing, I have to ask– what’s the funniest thing a customer said or did in the dealership?

I was just reminded of this by a Facebook memory. I would call it more interesting than funny. I was showing a woman a car in the service lane a few years ago, and all of a sudden her pants fell down to her ankles. I quickly looked away and she responded by saying, “Oh, I’m sorry, my pants fell down.” The worst part about it is that they fell down again a few minutes later! We laughed about it, but I felt pretty bad for her. That was probably one of the most interesting things that’s happened to me.

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