As Community Manager at DrivingSales, Madeleine Low is in the trenches every day with dealers all around the country. She writes about industry news and trends, manages and contributes to dealer forums, consults with dealers on best practices, and collaborates with vendors to better serve dealerships. Her previous experience in marketing and web content and design for dealerships deepens her expertise.
We were thrilled to sit down with Madeleine to get her take on the latest in automotive digital marketing.
Let’s start with DrivingSales. What unique value does the site provide for users? What features should dealers know about?
There are a lot of great blogs and forums for automotive. Where DrivingSales stands out is that we are motivated completely by dealers. Our priority is making sure dealers get what’s best for them. And that’s a natural priority for us, since everyone at DrivingSales has a background in auto dealerships. In the blogs we write and the software we put out, we all have a dealership mindset and really want to help dealerships improve.
Another huge benefit is our membership size– we are the largest auto network of people coming together to collaborate. Users have access to lots of people discussing, lots of different voices and opinions from different sized dealerships and groups. People can really find what they need.
We also send a daily newsletter to subscribers. Each day the newsletter has a different focus: fixed ops, forum, news, digital marketing, or general community. Readers can can get the top articles on every topic each week without having to constantly check the site.
And finally, our vendor ratings are extremely valuable. We are the only site I know of that has such a comprehensive, user-friendly, and verified vendor rating system. We call every single dealer who submits a vendor rating to make sure that they’re a real dealer, that they really used the vendor and didn’t just get a demo, and that their review reflects what they actually think– and wasn’t written to get a gift card or some other incentive. It’s completely anonymous, and so beneficial for dealers shopping for new vendors to be able to get the true story and decide if a product is right for them.
What are some new plans at DrivingSales for the coming year?
We’re developing some new technologies for dealers starting beta testing right away. We’ll be releasing more details shortly, and discussing them in-depth at our conferences: Presidents Club in April and the DrivingSales Executive Summit in October. Stay tuned!
Speaking of which, any previews of upcoming conferences?
We’re really excited for our Presidents Club conference in April, where we’ll be partnering with industry influencers and talking about the top seven things that anyone focused on the future of the auto industry should be thinking about:
- Hiring and motivation
- Used vehicle strategy
- Millennials and car buying
- Fixed ops and competition
- Marketing in a mobile first world
- Overcoming new dealer model threats
- Innovating on customer experience
At DSES, in addition to an outstanding speaker lineup, we’ll be doing a super session where we check in with industry influencers who predicted just a few weeks ago what they thought 2017 would bring. We’ll have a debate-style discussion about which predictions were right and which weren’t– it will be fun to see if some of the top influencers knew what they were talking about or were wildly incorrect!
What digital trends do you see picking up right now?
A major thing I’m seeing is mobile first. People are using their phones more and more to do everything. Based on our studies on our site and on dealership sites, and on my work at a dealership group, I see an amazing number of people looking at websites on their phones. That’s only going to continue, so I think more web designers and web providers are going to up their digital strategy game putting mobile first and making sure their mobile sites aren’t just extensions of their desktop sites, but are comprehensive and excellent sites of their own. I can see app development growing along with this, so dealer groups or dealerships or vendors can include an app in their package for people to use to shop for cars instead of a mobile site.
An important thing dealers should realize about mobile is that even though people don’t necessarily purchase online, they decide online– and specifically on their phones– what dealership they’re going to go into. Nowadays people often go into only one dealership– they’re doing their dealership shopping on their phone and their car shopping at the dealership they’ve selected online. It’s crucial to recognize that you’re competing with other people’s mobile platforms to get people to come into your dealership.
How would you advise a dealership that’s trying to pick vendors? What questions should they be asking?
My advice would be to find dealerships similar to yours and look at their reviews and recommendations. For example, I worked at a bigger dealership, so our needs were different from someone who has one or two stores. Whatever your needs, check how a vendor works with dealerships of your size and location type.
Another huge thing is to go into vendor meetings with questions. To say, for example, I’m a small group, I’m going to be relying on your customer serivce a lot. It’s important to ask questions and see how the vendor handles it, get information from vendor rating sites, call friends in your 20 Group, read customer testimonials. Have these discussions in multiple areas, not just with the vendor– but include the vendor and let them get the chance to explain to you what their process looks like. I see forum posts all the time from dealers thinking about switching to a particular vendor, asking for feedback and advice. It’s good to gather all that information.
I also think going to conferences like NADA can be beneficial– if you’ve done your homework beforehand. Research vendors, then go meet with them face to face and see what vibe you get. See how easy it is for you to personally interface with the software. They all have demos– they want to show you their product, they want you to interact with it. So take advantage of that, but don’t try to go to everyone all at once. Do your homework and go to the vendors that you’re really interested in.
What’s the biggest digital strategy mistake dealers are making? What advice would you give to dealerships wanting to create a better experience for customers?
Digital marketing is so influential in buyers’ decision making, but dealers sometimes don’t focus enough on creating a cohesive and comprehensive digital marketing strategy where all aspects– such as social media, paid ads, and SEM– work together. I would advise dealers to really take the time to learn about digital marketing, learn how it can benefit you, and figure out a fully integrated strategy– don’t just put up a website and throw a couple hundred bucks to social media and a couple hundred bucks to SEM.
There’s also a lot that can be done to improve the content on websites so you get more organic traffic– and a lot of ways to improve social media engagement. Dealerships should go on social media platforms and talk to customers to get more leads. Go on Twitter when someone tweets at you that they had a bad time, talk to them, show them you’re willing to fix any problems they had.
Another thing dealers can do digitally is really utilize reviews and ratings, both on their own sites and on forums like Yelp and Google reviews. You can converse with Yelp customers who didn’t have a good experience. If you have reviews on your website, great– if not, put them there. Let people know you’re trying to be transparent.
Final question: if you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I would love to visit Japan. My husband is Japanese, so it would be awesome to go there and meet some of his family.
Thanks for your time and insight, Madeleine! We really appreciate it and look forward to the latest from DrivingSales!