Mission Improbable

Mission Improbable

 

There are so many excellent, innovative companies in this industry. I did not include our companies’ names because whether you feel we are leading in any of these areas isn’t relevant to this article. The point is, dealership managers are left to themselves to aggregate processes around at least 6 separate technology platforms. In our opinion, it’s Mission Improbable for most. Running a dealership is hard, it’s competitive, and it isn’t easy. Adding a technology integrator into the mix shouldn’t be part of the job description.

It doesn’t matter how great individual companies are or become in their respective swim lanes. There are just too many different technologies that will never integrate, strongly biased opinions, glowing reports and conflicting priorities for dealerships to make sense of it all. I applaud the effort (we are participating) in trying to develop a new integration standard (ADF-XML 2.0) across multiple platforms. But at best, it will only make a small dent in the real challenges dealerships face in today’s increasingly complex world of retailing.

Not even Fortune 500 companies have as many technology platforms to communicate with their customers and market themselves in an integrated fashion…as dealerships do. Every speech I hear has at least one reference to Amazon or Apple. They deliver world class experiences because they have a single, fully integrated platform that connects their marketing, their customers, their inventory and their logistical operations. They treat their existing customers (like me) very differently than new customers, by heavily factoring my purchase history and my relevant data across every touchpoint I have with them. That’s one of their most powerful advantages. 99% of dealerships can’t do that because their data lives in 6+ places, not including accounting, and each platform performs a set of narrow functions. Go to any dealership’s website and look for the ‘Sign In’ button or ‘Current Customers, click here’. You won’t find it! When someone who you already do business with visits your site to engage with you and the first thing you ask is for their name…well that says it all. Today’s consumers demand to KNOW ME BETTER, SERVE ME FASTER, and WOW ME EVERYWHERE. While that concept is simple to type, it’s hard to execute.

Even if a dealership kept it simple and only picked the largest company in the limited number of technology categories highlighted in the graphic, they would still be left trying to make it all work. These companies are hugely successful and best in class. But guess what? They also have the least desire to work together, are fiercely competitive and nobody can blame them for that.

When I started in the business, it was common for dealerships to use separate finance systems (like Coin) or service retailing systems. We walked many deal jackets upstairs to accounting for them to keypunch into the DMS, which sounds nuts by today’s standards. But, once dealerships got used to the integration…they couldn’t live without it and most of those independent companies were either purchased (like us) or they vanished. This certainly isn’t the case anymore as these companies are entering the space as fast as they can, typically with a singularly focused solution and a pocketful of investment cash.

I was fortunate enough to start my first company at 22. I worked in dealerships at nights and on the weekends while developing and selling some great software during the day. After 3-4 years I was able to just focus on building my first business. I asked lots of questions to anyone who was successful in an effort to learn. I knew nothing except for how to outhustle most people. I truly did not know what I did not know.

I heard a lot of inspiring thoughts, but the one piece of advice that was consistent was, “Do one thing and do it well. Do it better than everybody. Focus”. And ultimately, that’s what we did. It was good, sound advice, and I think most entrepreneurs in the automotive space subscribed to the advice I was given both then and now. That’s why all the leading and largest technology platforms are still singularly-focused and not integrated to this day. They stayed in their swim lanes….and a whole bunch of new platforms are on their way because Silicon Valley is betting and banking that these siloed tech platforms are the answer.

That strategy and advice no longer makes sense in an increasingly complex business environment like automotive retailing. In fact, I think the opposite, So much has changed, and today’s consumers’ expectations are now being established by companies like Apple, Amazon and Google. They are fully integrated across every touchpoint. The bar is high and personalizing the consumer experience is a necessity based on how consumers have been conditioned. I recently read an email from a current customer that asked the dealer a basic question. “I have purchased and serviced multiple cars from you, why don’t you fill all this paperwork out for me? Why do you not save me the 4 hours to buy from you again? Ugh.”

That’s why we have been on a long-term mission (aptly named Apollo) to build one fully integrated omni-channel technology platform that can facilitate every ounce of communicating, marketing, retailing and servicing a vehicle online or offline from one database. We couldn’t license or buy the technology, or piece-meal it together through a series of acquisitions. It had to be designed and constructed from the infrastructure level up. It’s been difficult, it’s been filled with setbacks and 5x as challenging and expensive to create as we thought. We are not done, but we have tackled the most difficult technical aspects of the mission. People always ask me, “why are you doing this?”. We are doing this because we firmly believe this is the only logical way for dealerships and OEM’s to facilitate the changes required to meet the demands of today’s consumers — by implementing one integrated omni-channel platform. The large aggregators have struggled to piece together integrated solutions through acquisitions and most start-ups don’t have enough capital, the know-how or the desire to compete in as many arenas.

Something as basic as making sure that every single medium a dealership is advertising in (from free to paid) consistently displays the exact same offers, payments and disclaimers for every single model, trim and for every piece of inventory in stock. Consistency equals credibility to consumers. When something changes like incentives, selling price, inventory, compliance or a state regulation, we are able to ensure everything is automatically updated in minutes across all the mediums and on all the major ad platforms. In addition, retaining current customers is so vital to a dealership’s business that it should be 75% easier and faster to transact in sales or service than it would be for a brand-new customer. That’s the reward for being a repeat customer. A dealership’s primary website should cater to their existing customers as much as it does to the public. By simply cross referencing a phone number from a customer who is speaking, texting or using Voice, you can find out hundreds of other pieces of critical data to make it easy to facilitate another profitable transaction in minutes with zero friction. But, there are so many competing technology platforms, it doesn’t happen…yet.

My gut is that we are not only going to continue to see further dealership consolidation, but we will see vendors consolidate, merge, get acquired or vanish completely because omni-channel technology integration is going to be the future. OEM’s are going to start looking at the logic and power of entire platforms for their retailers that connect Tier 1, 2 and 3 seamlessly. Today, they overload their dealers with individual technology platforms cherry-picked by an uninvested 3rd party to evaluate them, primarily based on obtaining the lowest price. The CO-OP programs have a purpose for sure, but dealers are left trying to make sense of all the separate technology platforms that will never work together. So, who wins? Not the dealership and certainly not the customer.

Last but certainly not least, the consumer experience itself won’t be frictionless because so many important touchpoints are inconsistent. They are also painfully SLOW on mobile devices because most dealership websites (not all) have become widget farms with too many 3rd party plug-ins.

Do this simple exercise for your dealership.

Take one common vehicle/trim that you have in stock (that you are advertising) and do the following:

  1. Search for that model in Google and jot down the payments and terms you are advertising, if any exist.
  2. Then go to the landing page, and jot those down.
  3. Do the same thing on YouTube and jot down any payment-based offers you see, if any.
  4. Then go to your primary website, jot those down.
  5. Then go into your Equity Mining Tool, jot those down.
  6. Then go into your CRM and see what those outbound emails have for payments.
  7. Then go to Facebook, jot those down.
  8. If you send your customers mail and/or email, jot those payments down.
  9. Then pull up your retailing plug in (if you have one) jot those down.
  10. Then go to the 3rd party sites and jot those down.
  11. Then call the store and ask about the payments for that same car you might purchase or lease.
  12. Then email your dealership and ask the same basic question.
  13. Now be the customer who simply wants to know “do you have a (?) and how much would it to be to Lease or Finance it per month? Many of them are exposed to all the above scenarios.

If you are advertising or communicating payment-based offers (which works 2x better), you have a massive amount of work to do make sure everything is consistent. The fact is, most dealers give up, because it’s Mission Improbable. They go back to the generic ads that don’t include the single most important information that should be available to today’s consumer which is… “Do you have it, and how much is it?” This is especially important for your active customers and repeat buyers.

To my many dealership friends, do your best, don’t get frustrated, don’t switch vendors as frequently as you do. Start asking questions about how things work together. Demand consistency on every touch-point because your credibility depends on it. Shop yourselves everywhere. Most importantly, start looking for omni-channel platforms that do more for you with less log-ins. You can be as integrated as your phones, computers and the favorite companies you transact with. Licensing more single-channel technology platforms just overloads you with more technology and requires more of your time to learn it and implement it.

David Boice
Founder and CEO

 

How one car dealer shows what’s best for the customer is best for business

“The whole notion of having to come to a dealership for service is outdated,” says Brian Benstock, general manager and VP at Paragon Honda, the largest certified pre-owned Honda dealership in the world. “If a customer doesn’t want to set foot in the dealership, they shouldn’t have to.”

That’s a pretty bold statement for an auto dealer, but for any marketer in any industry it reflects a new reality when it comes to meeting customer expectations.

As they have in other sectors, digital and mobile technologies have totally transformed the relationship between drivers and dealerships. People can do practically everything online that they’d do at a dealership—including comparing models and scheduling service—which has led them to expect a fast, friction-free experience both before and after the sale. “Time is the new currency,” says Benstock. “You’ve got to move at the speed of the customer. … If we don’t disrupt ourselves, the customer will do it for us.”

To meet customer expectations, Paragon Honda set out to transform its customer assistance by removing friction from one of the biggest customer pain points: vehicle maintenance and service.

“Our customers want to live their lives. They don’t have the time to drive out to the dealership, drop off their car, and wait for it to be serviced. Technology has changed their expectations, and we knew we needed to change our approach to service and marketing in order to meet those,” says Benstock.

Paragon Honda, in partnership with Team Velocity, took a three-step approach to transform the way it assists customers. The broader concepts behind this approach can be applied to almost any marketer in any industry. It comes down to considering the customers’ needs every step of the way.

1. Remove the friction

Regular or reactive car maintenance is an inconvenience that’s amplified when it requires visiting a dealership during working hours. Knowing that today’s consumers expect to get things done immediately, Paragon Honda developed an app that lets customers request to have their vehicle picked up, serviced, and returned to their home within 24 hours—no dealership visit required. That’s especially convenient in Queens, N.Y., where Paragon is based. Paragon’s seen that customers who use the Paragon Direct app drive twice as many repair orders compared to customers who don’t use it.

2. Test new technology

To make it even simpler for its customers to schedule service and maintenance, Paragon became the first dealer to build an app for the Google Assistant. Drivers will soon be able to schedule service—such as routine maintenance, oil changes, and tire rotations—quickly and easily using just their voices.

3. Optimize marketing and measurement

Research shows that when drivers need information quickly, the first place they turn is search.1 To drive awareness of its 24-hour service online, Paragon ramped up its investment in search to be there in moments when people searched “honda oil change” and “honda maintenance” in the New York market. As a result, this strategy helped Paragon grow its service repair orders by 5X in the last 12 months, according to the dealership.

At the same time, when it comes to buying a car, search is the most commonly used among all sources, including word of mouth, television ads, and even dealer visits.2 For that reason, Paragon also used search ads to drive new and used vehicle sales, but needed a way to prove its impact. Instead of focusing solely on driving conversions through lead forms, Paragon used Google store visits to measure how search ads helped generate visits to its dealership. This helped the dealer better understand which keywords and campaigns were driving people to its dealership, and, according to Paragon, revealed that search was nearly 5X more cost-effective per vehicle sold compared to other media.

By sitting in the driver’s seat, Paragon was able to transform the way it assists its customers. “I think any time you do what’s best for the customer, that ends up being what’s best for the business,” Benstock concluded.

 

Original Article

 

Brian Benstock of Paragon Auto to speak at NADA 2018

Don’t miss this innovative workshop!

Saturday, March 24, 2018 • 10:30 – 11:30 AM

Double Retail Sales With Frictionless Transactions

As soon as your customers can get rid of you, they will, especially in today’s traditional dealership model to retain and gain customers, dealerships must create a frictionless transaction. In this workshop, Brian Benstock will walk you through how the car industry can innovate and disrupt the market before Silicon Valley beats us to it. As the traditional car buying model fades, the key for dealers is creating something new inside of something old. Brian Benstock explains the importance of creating a dealership without walls that cater to the consumer. A new business model that utilizes technology and a fresh customer experience to generate new sales while still sustaining current business operations. These are the same processes and concepts currently being used, refined and constantly improved upon to double sales at the Paragon Group over just 24 months.

Room: N103
Track: NADA Dealer/Executive

About Brian:

Brian Benstock is the general manager and vice president of Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura, the No. 1 certified Honda and Acura dealerships in the world, delivering an average of 950 cars per month and 32 cars per day. Benstock has been studying and working in the car business since 1982. His dealerships have received the American Honda Presidents Award, Council of Excellence Award for Finance, Certified Dealer of the Year Award and more. As a thought leader in the industry, Benstock has been a featured conference speaker and has appeared on Fox News and CNN as well as in Automotive News.

AutoSuccess Top 10 Companies to Watch in 2018

10 Innovative Technology Companies Who Help Dealers Dramatically Evolve and Emerge

The automotive industry continues to evolve around the way consumers research, buy and service vehicles. One thing remains the same in the highly competitive industry — dealers continue to implement marketing strategies and technologies to help drive new sales and service business while at the same time retain their existing customers.

Dealers have hundreds of companies to choose from that offer a range of services, from niche programs to full-service marketing companies. Researching and evaluating that many companies can be very time consuming and often confusing. Therefore, we are releasing the Top 10 Companies to Watch in 2018 to help identify companies that are leading the industry with innovative solutions.

In summary, the companies on this list are leading the industry and are helping achieve measurable results for some of the most demanding and successful dealerships, associations and OEMs
in the industry.

AutoSuccess Story: Rocky Mount Toyota

Out of the Red and into the Black

Rocky Mount Toyota turns its future around after new leadership and fresh ideas return the store to profitability.

At first glance, the odds seemed stacked against Brent Mattingly’s dealership as he took over as general manager last year:

  • The underperforming store had been losing money and severely lacking in vision and leadership
  • The surrounding area is made up of a small, lower-income market
  • A renovation was in the future, but that meant working out of old and temporary buildings for more than a year

Despite these challenges, Mattingly and his team at Rocky Mount Toyota, located in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, have not only stopped the financial bleeding but are on track to be in the black to the tune of seven figures by the end of the year. The store, previously known as Bobby Murray Toyota, was purchased in August 2016 and became the 13th store in the Hudson Auto Group. Mattingly, who had been working as a GM in Southern Indiana, was brought on board. He knew he had some work ahead of him, but he also saw the potential.

Taking Stock of the Situation

“When we purchased the store, it was basically like being a dealership brand in 1983,” Mattingly said.

“The dealership was out of touch with what the market demanded. In a little under a year and a half’s amount of time we’ve been able to move it to the modern way of doing business.”

There were three areas Mattingly and his team knew they had to focus on to successfully modernize the dealership: leadership, processes and training. The new management team believed that the difficulties the dealership faced came from a lack of vision from the top rather than problems with the staff. With a plan set in place, everyone was able to keep their jobs in the transition.

“Everybody had just been so used to not having any leadership — any accountability measures or processes,” Mattingly said. “And the previous owners didn’t invest in the people or the facilities. They didn’t give them the training. They didn’t give them the tools they needed to have for them to be able to succeed individually, along with having the team succeed. So, when we purchased the store, that was our first initiative — to give people the skill sets that they need to be able to do their job to the level that was required by today’s market.”

The first step toward profitability was getting everyone on the same page of running a successful dealership on a day-to-day basis. “The biggest change occurred when we went in and installed processes, and made people accountable for those processes,” Mattingly said. “When we first took over the store, there were 50 employees, and there were 50 different processes. Everybody just kind of did what they saw fit and what they felt best suited them. We came in and streamlined everything and put everybody on the same processes. Everybody knew what they were expected to do each day.”

The results? “From Day One, our staff instantly increased the volume and revenue of the store. Everybody’s made it a complete success.”

Mattingly also knew that investing in training his people would make a huge difference in both the store’s profitability and his team’s personal and professional development and enjoyment of their work. “We did a lot of in-house training,” he said. “Just a lot of daily, every-situation training — every deal, every service customer, everything. We did constant all-day-long training for months and months. And we got buy-in from our people once they saw that this was working and making their job not only easier but also making it more rewarding for them. That led to instant buy-in.”

One Message, One Goal

No matter how well the staff prepared, though, the dealership’s leaders knew that getting the word out to the surrounding market was crucial to building a successful business. Although the dealership was well known by customers in the area — at 30 years, it was one of the longest-running dealerships in the region — its marketing had lagged behind. Rocky Mount Toyota’s message needed to be refreshed and reimagined.

After searching for a marketing partner, Mattingly’s team chose Team Velocity to build their branding and advertising platform for the new era. “With Team Velocity, we’re doing our vehicle exchange program through them, along with direct mail, email blasts, social media marketing, search engine optimization, and other work to build a heavy digital presence,” Mattingly said. “It works well together because it’s such a consistent message over all the platforms. Once a customer’s seen the message digitally, they’re seeing it in their mailbox, they’re seeing it on signs at the dealership. Even the receptionist answers the phone, ‘Are you calling about the vehicle exchange program?’ It’s a consistent message through all points of contact.”

Not only has the marketing become more effective, but it’s allowed the leadership, sales and service staffs to concentrate on what they do best: serving their customers. “It’s really simplified the process, and it’s put everybody on the same page,” Mattingly said. “It’s a streamlined approach; instead of having all these vendors and all these different people doing their own thing, they’re doing everything for us, and we’re able to pull together with that consistent message, rather than changing the formula every month as some places do.”

And that marketing has to be effective if the dealership is going to survive and grow. Rocky Mount, located about 50 miles outside of Raleigh, North Carolina, is a small, lower-income area, where credit scores are often challenging to work with. “It’s a very tough market that a lot of people have given up on,” Mattingly said. “But it’s one that we’re growing in and should flourish in. We’ve had to be very aggressive. Southeast Toyota has some programs for loyalty and conquest customers, and we maximize every opportunity that comes in. We want to find a way to help every customer who comes in to buy a car. We analyze every customer and every situation individually.”

Service During Construction

In any modern dealership, the service department is essential for not only repairing and maintaining customer vehicles but for maintaining a future relationship with that customer as well. Rocky Mount Toyota is in the finishing stages of constructing a state-of-the-art facility, but that has led to its own set of challenges, especially for its service department.

“Service probably has one of the messiest situations in the dealership right now,” Mattingly said. The new facility is being built on the existing property, so things have had to be shifted around as space permits until construction is completed in February 2018. “Our service write-up department is currently in our showroom,” he said. “We have to shuttle the cars to a separate building to do service. We’ve been playing a shell game and moving stuff around consistently while construction goes on.”

What’s surprising? “We’re actually growing during this period of time,” Mattingly said. “We’ve been able to grow customer PROs, warranty ROs and complete all of our ROs, even as our competitors have really come after us through their own forms of marketing, trying to steal our customer base.”

One of the elements that Mattingly credits with keeping Rocky Mount’s service department afloat and thriving is Team Velocity’s marketing efforts. “They’ve helped us keep our customer base by constantly reaching out to a perfect target mix of customers within our community,” he said. “They’re going through conquest customers, they’re going through loyalty customers, they’re going through our marketing tendered customers. We’re able to bring them in, and if a customer hasn’t come in a while, they get a more aggressive offer than a customer who is routinely coming back to us.”

Rocky Mount Toyota uses Team Velocity Apollo Technology Platform® to manage integrated marketing campaigns for sales, service and equity mining. Apollo automatically generates and deploys campaigns across mail, email and digital advertising, offering consistent messaging and branding, and provides a Web-based dashboard to track results in real-time.

 

Once the customers are in, the processes that Mattingly’s team put in place come into effect to give each customer a complete service experience “We have a service manager T.O. every customer in the service department, presenting menus and presenting all their options,” he said. Add to this the vehicle exchange program put into place in the service department, and the dealership has maximized this valuable profit center.

New Facility, Fresh Vision

While servicing customers in a construction zone has its challenges, Mattingly knows it will all be worth it when it’s complete. “Moving into a state-of-the-art facility will simplify a lot of things,” he said. “We’ve been growing during construction, and we’ll have the newest, nicest facility in the community, so that should gain us more business, as well. We’re looking forward to the future, and we’re committed to serving our customers and maintaining and increasing our growth and our profitability.”


Learn more about Rocky Mount Toyota and the strategies outlined in this article:

 

AutoSuccess Cover Story: Brian Benstock (Paragon Direct)

The future can be a frightening place, especially for those not able — or willing — to adapt to changing realities and market conditions. While the auto sales industry has enjoyed several years of growth, change is on the horizon. Those dealerships locked into past models and old methods of thinking might not find that future to be a hospitable — or survivable — space.

Brian Benstock, vice president and general manager of Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura of New York City, has spent time and effort trying to determine what that future has to offer, and one word sums up his findings: disruption.

The ways of the past

“The current dealer model is not a dying breed,” Benstock said. “It’s dead. It’s absolutely dead.”

The reason for his startling prediction is due in part to changing customer expectations of not only automotive shopping but the very act of shopping itself. Benstock believes that the convenience, growing acceptance, and ultimate expectation of online transactions — along with the transparency those transactions demand — run counter to the classic dealership model.

“The most successful businesses are the ones that best meet the needs of the customer,” Benstock said. “For years, the dealers have relied on antiquated business models — the franchised dealer agreements — to protect themselves. The second the customers are given an opportunity to go away from the standard business model of automobile dealers, they will. More and more, we’re seeing that they’re being given many different options by some of the largest retailers in the world.”

Several of the companies responsible for this disruption of the automotive industry are not even in automotive sales. “We’ve got companies like Amazon and Apple that are approaching a trillion dollars in valuation,” Benstock said. “They have incredible resources to take over and change any industry that they so choose.”

Current realities and potential opportunities

The reality of Benstock’s Paragon dealerships is one of the reasons he’s made it a point to anticipate future market conditions. Located in Queens, just outside of Manhattan, the Paragon dealerships are the No. 1 new and used car dealerships in the country. Because of their location, however, the dealerships have always had to think differently about the way they do business. “Real estate is at a premium,” he said. “Compared to some other dealers in other markets that have acres of land, we have a patchwork of properties. Customer parking and customer display can be one of the challenges, but that also leads to some great opportunities.”

One of those opportunities is the ability to continually re-think how they do business. “Does it make sense anymore to bring the customers to the dealership?” Benstock asked. One of the answers to that question was the creation of Paragon Direct, a new online platform where customers can do everything from arrange a test drive to purchase a vehicle. Benstock refers to this method of doing business as a “frictionless consumer experience,” which is something consumers are increasingly demanding. “We’re in the New York market competing against some of the best Honda and Acura dealers in the country, and we’ve proven we can hold our own. We’ve taken a look at some of the disruptors and business models that are coming in, though, and those are causing customers to take a different look at things.”

To meet this challenge head-on and serve consumers how they want to be served, Benstock and his team have taken a step back to see what sales methods would best meet their needs. “The customers basically want three things,” he said. “They want us to know them better, serve them faster, and ‘wow’ them everywhere. This is not special anymore. This is an expectation of today’s consumer.”

Marketing to today’s drivers

Part of meeting those needs is presenting a marketing message that connects the dealership with customers in a meaningful way. To do this, Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura have partnered with Team Velocity to present their marketing and direct mail, including using Apollo, a data-mining solution, to provide the right message to the right contact at the right time.

“[In addition] we’ve been utilizing a vehicle exchange program for several years and targeting customers with the highest likelihood of doing business with us now and in the future,” Benstock said. “That’s worked out for us.”

The availability of consumer data has never been higher, and that ability gives dealerships, like Paragon, tools to connect with consumers directly. “We’re taking a closer look at our CRM and data that’s available from our customers and making sure that, when we speak to our customers, we’re speaking from the knowledge that we should and do have about that customer,” Benstock said.

From an industry-wide perspective, Benstock knows this data has not been utilized to the same full potential other businesses have been successful with. “Why is it that many other retailers in other industries seem to be able to better target their customers than an automobile dealer when we’ve got incredible data on our customers? We know their buying patterns. We know their product selections and desire. We know their budgeting information. I don’t think we do a great job as an industry in effectively communicating with our customer in a personalized manner.”

Benstock believes that the auto industry has lagged behind this curve due to one glaring reason – if a consumer wanted to buy a new car, they had to go to a franchised car dealership. As a result, the auto sales industry has been slow to react to changes. That luxury, Benstock believes, is quickly coming to an end as the consumer’s very relationship to vehicles is evolving. “Take Uber, for example,” he said. “They are offering fractional ownership opportunities or fractional ride-share opportunities. When I say fractional, I don’t mean monthly. I can pay per ride. I can have the car I want, the size I need, delivered when I want, where I want. Many customers are finding this more efficient than owning their own automobile. Then add into that, the autonomous car that is going to be a part of our future. The driver is the biggest expense of Uber. So, Uber will then become even more of value as there will no longer be a need for a driver. That’s just one disruption.”

“Then you’ve got Elon Musk and the Tesla group, going outside of the traditional franchised dealer system saying, ‘We think we can do it better,’” Benstock said. “They’re offering different products in a different manner. It’s interesting to see the initial success they’re having. They’re doing quite well in the high-end luxury market and seem to have taken over a pretty good amount of the market share.”

Consumer behavior has also disrupted the marketing landscape. “We’re certainly looking at how easy is it for our customers to do business with us online,” Benstock said. “The Internet, for most of us, has gone from informational 10 or 15 years ago to transactional today. Fully transactional. I think auto retailers have not been quick to embrace that. More and more, we’re realizing as a group that we need to do a better job there.

New customers, new sales methods

This innovative insight into the sales process was the catalyst for Paragon Direct. “We’ve built it for speed,” Benstock said. “Not that our customers would need to conduct a transaction in under a minute, but pretty much they can get to a negotiated price by themselves in under a minute. If they have a trade involved, or there’s financing involved, it will take slightly longer, but customers can navigate on their cell phone or however they access the Internet [with ease].”

Before this new transaction model can be fully adopted, however, some psychological barriers need to be overcome — both on the customer’s and the dealership’s side. “From the consumer standpoint, there’s a natural distrust of automobile dealers,” Benstock said. “So, when you’re offering to do this transaction completely online, and you’re offering transparency, it’s not something that they’re used to getting from dealers. Also, they’re not 100 percent comfortable doing such a transaction online yet. They will be, but initially, we are finding many of our customers are getting 70 or 80 percent through and then electing to conclude the transaction in the dealership. The good thing is they save a lot of time by doing most of the transaction online.”

From the dealership’s side, while transparency might be a scary prospect, it’s one Benstock believes must be implemented. “Our philosophy is that transparency can and should improve revenue by making it easier for customers to have access to the information they want online,” he said. “Imagine if you wanted to buy an iPhone online and they told you, ‘Come on in, and we’ll give you the price.’ It’s preposterous, and yet in dealerships around the country, that’s exactly what happens.”

Holistic dealerships

In addition to changing the way dealerships interact with their customers, Benstock believes the way internal departments interact with each other needs to change as well. “Each department used to have to stand on its own independently,” he said. “Now, we need an interdependence of the departments. We have to look holistically at the profit centers at the dealership. For instance, you get the new car manager who doesn’t want to take a short deal when there’s a trade in. By not taking that deal, however, they’ve deprived the used car manager of a car and deprived the service department of a service RO. They didn’t look at that deal holistically. What gives any one manager the right to cut out those other departments? The managers of today need to have an excellent understanding of the complete business.”

The future

“I think the current state of customer satisfaction with the buying process makes our market ripe for disruption,” Benstock said. In addition, he believes that even the model of automobile ownership will soon change. “I think dealerships are going to see consumers paying a monthly payment and being able to drive [or] shift out of cars without long-term commitments,” he said, “very much like what we’re doing with cell phones today. Let’s call it ‘flexible drive ownership.’ It will be the ability to pay a fixed monthly payment and drive an SUV when you need an SUV, to drive a coupe when you need a coupe and a sports car when you want to drive a sports car.”

Benstock sees these changes as revolutionary for the auto sales business but believes dealers and GMs who consistently react instead of proactively meet this future will suffer. “I think you’re going to continue to see more decompression,” he said. “I think you’re going to see a reduction in the number of dealerships and a reduction in the number of people employed at dealerships. I think dealerships are going to be distributions points, and dealerships are going to have to be moving at the speed of the customer wherever the customer wants to be.”

Where some see a crisis, Benstock considers an opportunity for those willing to embrace it. “Change is going to come whether we like it or not,” he said. “The saying is ‘change or be changed.’ What our dads did, or our mentors did, our predecessors did, some of those basic business philosophies certainly hold true. Others need to be completely revisited. We have to adapt. We have to adapt and be very, very flexible in our beliefs.”

Serent Capital Invests in CallRevu, Automotive’s Top Performing Call Management Solution

CallRevu, a leading provider of automotive dealer call management software that delivers dealership customers critical call performance data, has entered a partnership with Serent Capital, a San Francisco-based private equity firm focused on investing in high-growth technology and services businesses.

CallRevu’s solution is comprised of data-rich interfaces supported by sophisticated functionality and machine learning that helps dealership drive higher sales. Because today’s car buyer does most of his or her research online, the inbound phone call has become increasingly important for dealerships. Callers are typically high-value sales prospects, far along in their purchasing journey, and so answering these calls properly is paramount to a dealer’s success. Dealers who leverage CallRevu’s unique platform gain substantial insights into phone calls, both those that convert into sales and, as important, those that are mishandled, but can be recovered. CallRevu serves over 3,300 dealer locations and partners with twenty global automotive manufacturers.

“Since inception, CallRevu has focused on one thing – improving car buyers’ experience on the phone and in the dealership. CallRevu was first to market in this arena providing dealers unmatched services to improve the customer’s journey. Our call management solution has been critical to enhancing this experience, which ultimately allows automotive dealerships to maximize their conversion of valuable leads,” said Chip King, CEO of CallRevu.

He continued, “As we continue to scale, we wanted to bring on an investment partner who could offer the set of resources and expertise that will enable the next phase of our growth plan. We feel that the capability Serent Capital brings is perfectly suited to helping us capture the opportunities ahead, while maintaining a steadfast focus on delivering strong value and service to our customers.”

“We have spent several years looking for the right platform for investment in the automotive technology sector. CallRevu is a differentiated solution and leader in the call management space, and we are tremendously impressed by the business that Chip and his team have built. This success is demonstrated by stellar customer satisfaction, strong growth, and high retention rates,” said Kevin Frick, Partner at Serent Capital.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with the CallRevu management team to drive continued product innovation and growth.”

CallRevu’s dedication to ensure that every call to and from a dealership is a notably different and positive experience for the customer during this powerful next phase is stronger than ever. Focusing on clients and providing top notch customer service to every dealer is CallRevu’s passion. With this investment, CallRevu will be able to take their passion to the next level.

CallRevu was founded by Chip King and David Boice, the CEO of Team Velocity Marketing, which incorporated CallRevu’s services into its marketing and Apollo Technology Platform®. This seamless integration and reporting has provided Team Velocity’s dealers the ability to generate leads and track attribution to the marketing. “Serent Capital is the right partner for CallRevu’s next chapter, and we are thrilled to continue working with CallRevu to provide their call technology to our dealer customers”, said David Boice.

Serent’s investment in CallRevu represents its second investment in the automotive market, including Tricolor Automotive Group. Presidio Technology Partners represented CallRevu in the process.

CallRevu Logo

About CallRevu

Founded in 2010, Baltimore, MD-based CallRevu offers dealerships a range of quality call tracking, monitoring, measuring and lead development services. CallRevu’s key focus is to help automobile dealers measure and improve the most common contact point with their customers: the phone. CallRevu’s solutions are developed by an incredible team of individuals, who offer a broad range of experiences and whose leadership comes from the automotive world, and have an unrivaled commitment to customer service and satisfaction. For more information, visit the company’s website at http://www.callrevu.com.

About Serent Capital

Serent Capital invests in growing businesses that have developed compelling solutions that address their customers’ needs. As those businesses grow and evolve, the opportunities and challenges that they face change with them. Principals at Serent Capital have firsthand experience at capturing those opportunities and navigating these difficulties through their experiences as CEOs, strategic advisors, and board members to successful growing businesses. By bringing its expertise and capital to bear, Serent helps growing businesses thrive. For more information on Serent Capital, visit http://www.serentcapital.com.

Team Velocity Acquires Leading Video Pre-Roll Provider Car-Mercial

Team Velocity Marketing has acquired the industry leader in video pre-roll, Car-Mercial. Team Velocity will integrate the award-winning video technology into their marketing automation platform, Apollo, to further enhance customer engagement and optimize client performance.

“Team Velocity Marketing is excited to offer best-in-class videos to enhance our dealers’ digital marketing strategies. As Google has documented, video is the fastest growing consumer medium,” said Joe High, Senior Vice President, Team Velocity Marketing. “Both Car-Mercial and Team Velocity share a vision of simplifying marketing efforts through marketing automation technology. Integrating dynamic videos into our clients’ digital strategies will engage more online shoppers with relevant, offer-driven content, resulting in higher conversion rates and an extraordinary customer experience.”

Utilizing the Apollo Technology Platform®, Team Velocity will provide video pre-roll products with dynamic content to complement their current hyper-personalized approach to marketing. Apollo’s proprietary algorithms provide the ability to automatically produce nearly 30,000 payment and inventory based ads monthly across paid search, online dynamic display, and now dynamic video pre-roll. This industry-leading approach generates significant increases in leads and ROI attribution on digital marketing spend. Team Velocity will continue to support Car-Mercial’s current dealer clients as part of the acquisition.

“The Car-Mercial technology platform is perfectly suited to integrate with our Apollo Technology Platform®. We recognize the industry is heading in the direction of videos as a primary medium to communicate with consumers and we want to be ahead of the curve. Car-Mercial and Team Velocity will lead the industry with dynamic video pre-roll ads, something that has never been done before,” said David Boice, CEO, Team Velocity Marketing.

The transaction was an asset purchase, with Team Velocity acquiring the technology developed over 12 years by Automotive Webmercials, LLC, d/b/a Car-Mercial. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

Success Story: Phillips Toyota

New Marketing Efforts at Phillips Toyota Drive Record-Breaking New Car Sales.

AutoSuccess October 2017 Success Story: Phillips ToyotaWhen Tony Viero took over as the general manager of Phillips Toyota in Leesburg, Florida earlier this year, he knew he had work to do. The dealership was underperforming, and its client base, made up primarily of an older demographic, didn’t respond well to modern marketing and sales practices.

The dealership, owned by Larry Phillips, is part of a group that includes a Buick/GMC store in Leesburg, as well as a Chrysler store in nearby Ocala, Florida. The family-owned and family-oriented stores enjoy wonderful reputations in the community. The Toyota store, however, wasn’t performing as well as Phillips knew it could. To move the needle, Viero had to redefine the very idea of what an auto dealership is for a senior generation and, to do that, he knew he had to make some changes both to the dealership’s staff and its message.

Those changes are now paying off. In July and August 2017, the store has set back-to-back all-time record months in its history in new car sales.

The thing Viero is proudest of, however, is the team he’s put together — a team based on honesty and integrity. “One of our customers, an 80-year-old woman, thought she had lost her $20,000 engagement ring on a trip,” Viero said. “She had no idea she had lost the ring in the car she had just traded in, until one of our detailers found it. We had her salesperson drive out to her and, after she described it to him, gave her back her ring. That’s the level of integrity expected out of every person in our building. That’s the team we’ve built here.”

The Area and It’s People

To understand the challenges Viero faced when he took over at Phillips, it’s necessary to look at its client base and its competition. “The area — The Villages and Leesburg — is a retirement community for the most part,” Viero said. “We cater to a very senior community, and that brings its own challenges and its own opportunities.”

Another challenge that Phillips faces is from other dealerships in the area. “We compete with many stores in the Metro Orlando area,” Viero said. “Some of these dealerships spend millions of dollars in television advertising alone, so it’s a very challenging market.” In addition to competing Toyota dealerships, other franchises are also vying for their share in Phillips’ market.

Starting Over

Seeing a change was needed, Larry Phillips brought Viero in as the general manager in January 2017, and gave him a free hand to make the changes he felt necessary. “Larry is not a micromanager,” Viero said. “He believes in his managers and allows them to lead.”

Viero came into the job with automotive sales and marketing training from Northwood University, along with experience he’d gained from several dealerships and his time spent as a district manager for Southeast Toyota. After examining the challenges facing the store, Viero quickly decided the dealership needed a nearly complete makeover — and that makeover started with the staff.

 

Phillips Toyota

 

“We’ve redeveloped our entire dealership,” Viero said. “We’ve changed almost all of our managers. We kept one manager who’d always gotten the job done but hadn’t been allowed the leeway to make the changes necessary to grow, and we kept our finance department director, who has always been a rock. The rest of the management team, however, is different. There are a lot of really exceptional people now working here who get the job done every day.”

Before he arrived, the store had been on Toyota’s program for underperforming dealerships for more than two years. Viero said his store will be off that list by the end of the year. “Our people are all very focused on setting records and being at the top of the charts,” he said. “We’re working on building that. The mentality here is so much different than before. We’re a hard-charging store moving forward and trying to take everything we can get.”

Phillips Toyota also expanded its sales staff with an eye towards growth. “When I got here, there were only 16 salespeople; now we have 25.” While Viero’s team made a lot of new hires, those new employees were still held to a high accountability. “We went through some bumps in the road. We had hired some managers who are no longer here because they just weren’t the right fit culturally,” Viero said. “Now we have a team. My father and I once had a conversation about what motivates people, and I’ve found hiring people who you like to do business with and be around is so much easier. You want people with the same mentality you have. We now have that.”

Building a team may take more effort in the hiring and training stages, but Phillips Toyota is now seeing the benefits. “What these guys are able to accomplish in such a short window, with all the changes we’ve made, has been remarkable,” Viero said. “And it has to do with the level of integrity expected out of every person in the building — from the salespeople to the detailers. They understand there’s a certain respect level and they all know I won’t accept lying in a store. You’re not going to lie to me, you’re not going to lie to the customer — you’re not going to lie to anybody. I’ve terminated people on the spot. Integrity is a big piece of what I want in a car dealership, and that, unfortunately, is highly uncommon.”

A Different Kind of Marketing

Because the retired and elderly demographic makes up so much of Phillips Toyota’s client base, the store found that what works for other dealerships when it comes to marketing wouldn’t necessarily work for them.

Phillips Toyota montage

Phillips Toyota uses Team Velocity Marketing’s Apollo Technology Platform® to manage integrated marketing campaigns for sales, service and equity mining. Apollo automatically generates and deploys campaigns across mail, email and digital advertising, offering consistent messaging and branding, and provides a web-based dashboard to track results in real-time.

“We use a multi-point strategy,” Viero said, “since we have to hit a lot of different facets with our marketing. Because of the age of our customers, for instance, we still run newspaper ads. So, we don’t just have one approach; we hit it on several different areas.”

One of the first things Viero did after coming to Phillips Toyota was to search for a marketing partner who could help him effectively reach his clientele — a group who wouldn’t necessarily react to ads reaching other, younger demographics. After seeing what various companies had to offer, Viero chose Team Velocity.

“The biggest element in selecting Team Velocity is trusting the people I do business with,” Viero said. “I know they’ve got my best interests at heart because I have ridden them very, very hard on the things I expect. They’ve proven to me they will do what’s right for my business instead of focusing on what they want to do. That willingness to put the needs of the client first can be difficult to find.”

 

Phillips Toyota saw an 11% increase in new vehicle sales

In the months Team Velocity has been on the job, providing a mix of traditional and digital advertising where it makes the greatest impact, Viero has liked what he’s seen. “I was the district manager for Southeast Toyota for two different districts, and because of that background, I might have a higher digital acumen than most GMs,” he said. “I’m pretty demanding because I’m always checking and asking questions. They’ve done a great job of answering my questions and explaining their actions.”

Putting the Phone in the Right Hands

Another element Viero wanted to see implemented at Phillips Toyota was an effective BDC department — something the dealership didn’t have when he came aboard. “There was no BDC department when I took over,” Viero said, “and I knew we needed one. I’m a firm believer that most salespeople are terrible on the phones. They are built for the ‘here and now,’ and the majority lack phone skills. I needed a system put in place where my customers were getting handled effectively and we were getting a constant flow of appointments.”

Viero went one step further, and also put a service BDC in place along with the sales BDC. “We covered both fronts,” he said. “One of the best things we’ve done is take the phone calls off the service managers. Since the service BDC now handles that, they don’t have to take the time to answer phones and field status calls. It makes no sense to tie them up on the phones when they could be dealing with the customers already in their department. The BDC has been a great help our service department.”

Results

Between the enhanced marketing strategies and the efforts of Viero’s team, the results have been encouraging, to say the least.

“The store is on a very high growth rate,” he said. “In July (2017), we sold 217 new cars, up from 150 the same month the year before. In August, we sold 239 new cars. These are huge growth leaps.”

The dealership’s digital results have been impressive, as well. In February 2017, when Team Velocity first came on board, the store had an 8 percent conversion rate, with 175 total conversions. In August, those numbers have jumped to 15.28 percent, with 609 total conversions.

“Larry Phillips has always had a good reputation in market — he’s done business here for more than 30 years,” Viero said. “We’ve tried to take that and just improve upon it. He has given us a lot of trust. We’ve been making investments in the future of our store, and built a foundation to become more profitable, both for now and into the future. He’s trusted us all the way. It’s an awesome experience to see these guys start to reap the rewards of the hard work they’ve put in. Our goal is to make the Toyota store the beacon of his group.”

Success Story: Jones Honda

 Jones Honda blows past new and used averages in their market. Sales up 22% YOY with increased market presence.

Success Story: Jones HondaJones Honda, part of the Jones Family of Dealerships in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, has a great reputation for retaining customers and providing outstanding sales and service experiences. What the dealership lacked, however, were the tools and marketing strategies needed to get those customer onto the lot in the first place.

“Once customers come and see our facility and meet our people, we have a high conversion rate,” said Kris Jones, General Manager of Jones Honda. “Typically, if they’re coming, we’ll close them. Just this past weekend, we had a customer from Maryland who came in because they love our store. They’ve bought three cars from us over the last 10 years. They literally passed two major Honda stores to get here. We have a loyal customer base, even by Honda’s standards, and they measure everything.”

With a loyal active customer base and excellent retention, the question became; “How do we grow and get new customers walking through our doors who have never heard of Jones Honda?” With all economic indicators pointing towards a slowing market, this was a question Jones knew he needed to answer.

HONDA PIONEERS

One of the oldest Honda dealerships in the country, Jones Honda truly knows their customers and what their customers want. “We started off in 1960 as a standalone Pontiac dealer,” Jones said. “We were a Pontiac dealer until 1971. My grandfather, Jim Jones, had an opportunity to expand and add a new franchise, and the two that were available were Subaru and Honda.”

Deciding which franchise to pursue was a major decision, but Jim Jones found his answer from an unlikely source: dirt bikes. “My father, Steve Jones, always had Honda dirt bikes, and they didn’t require any maintenance,” Jones said. “You just rode them into the ground and they always started and ran well. My grandfather said, ‘Geez. If they build a car half as well as they do a motorcycle, we’re going to be in good shape with Honda.’ That’s what pushed my grandfather to select the Honda franchise over Subaru.”

In hindsight, the decision was the right one for the company. At the time, however, the future was cloudy when the products weren’t meeting the dealership’s immediate expectations. “If you remember, in ‘71, Honda’s quality was not anywhere near where it is today, so there was a bit of a struggle for a few years,” Jones said. “My grandfather believed in the product, though, and Honda quickly started producing great, reliable vehicles, and it’s been a wonderful franchise to have.”

From there, the dealership expanded, opening a GMC franchise in 1984, Acura in 1990 and Buick in 1999.

TOOLS AND TRAINING

Lancaster County isn’t a large metropolitan area, but there is still stiff competition when it comes to where customers decide to buy a car. Besides the many other franchises around Jones Honda, there are three other large Honda stores within a 40-minute drive, and still more competition in nearby Maryland and Delaware. To hold their own against their rivals, Jones Honda has recently remodeled its store into a state-of-the-art facility. Jones knows, however, that the true value of a dealership is with its staff. Because of this, the company focuses on training and providing a culture that supports staff longevity to enhance customer service and satisfaction.

Part of a winning customer service strategy is treating customers as people, and not simply as sales opportunities. “We’re not a super pushy store,” Jones said. “We’re not going to send five closers out there to try to close the deal today. A lot of stores have that, ‘You’ve got to buy it now’ kind of mentality. We talk to the consumer, and we get their agenda. We see what they’re looking to accomplish today, and then we tailor our process around that. It works well for us. Do we want to close a car deal? Of course. We’ll push — but only so far. People appreciate that and we have a lot of customers who come from all over to buy a car from us.”

That philosophy is also followed in the dealership’s online and follow-up processes. “Each store in our group has its own Internet team that responds to leads,” Jones said. “Our method isn’t to shoot somebody the best price and hope they come in. It’s a consistent follow-up program that gives the customers what they’re looking for.”

Training is also a key factor in Jones Honda’s processes. The dealership has contracted with David Lewis and Associates to provide new hires in their group with a five-day sales process training. “It takes our new employees from start to finish, so it starts on a Monday and by Friday, they’re done,” Jones said. “Saturday, they can come in and take a prospect through the processes up until the negotiation part. In the first week, they don’t spend lot of time going over our negotiation strategy only because each store does it a little different. Once they get through the initial training, there are various courses covering closing, objection handling and more. It’s nice because the training facility is only an hour away for us.” Advanced classes and refresher courses are also provided for experienced staff members to keep the sales team sharp and motivated.

MAKING MARKETING MATTER

While his store had great people and processes in place, Jones wasn’t liking what he was seeing from a marketing perspective. To get to the next level, he realized he needed to make some changes — a step Jones Honda didn’t take lightly. “We were with our last advertising company for around 15 years, and were with the one before that for about 20 years,” Jones said. “We’re not typically a ‘let’s try the latest, greatest thing and shoot from the hip’ kind of dealership.”

Change, however, was necessary. “We had hit a wall with our last agency,” Jones said. “They were a national firm located states away, and we would see them once a year, or maybe twice, if we were lucky. There was a big disconnect between what we were trying to accomplish and what they were trying to accomplish. We were never on the same page.”

Jones knew he wanted a marketing company much more responsive to his dealership’s needs, a company that his dealership could stick with for the long term who truly understood the car business. After searching for a company that would meet his needs, Jones and his team selected Team Velocity Marketing as the right agency for the job. “We were looking for a long-term solution that could move the needle,” he said. “We got away from our last ad company and went 100 percent with Team Velocity. They handle every aspect of our marketing and advertising. From SEO and SEM, to direct mail and equity mining with email. They even produce all our traditional TV and radio spots — everything. And we’ve seen a tremendous uptick. It’s been worth the investment.

Jones Honda of Lancaster County uses Team Velocity Marketing’s Apollo Technology Planform® to manage integrated marketing campaigns

Jones Honda of Lancaster County uses Team Velocity Marketing’s Apollo Technology Planform® to manage integrated marketing campaigns for sales, service and equity mining. Apollo automatically generates and deploys campaigns across mail, email and digital advertising, offering consistent messaging and branding, and provides a web-based dashboard to track results in real-time.

Because they now have monthly meetings and weekly reports, Jones Honda can adjust much quicker to market forces and consumer behavior. “With Team Velocity Marketing, we know what’s working and what’s not working. If we see that a mail piece or email blast is killing it, we can tweak that for the next month and run it again. If something is underperforming, we can take another look and see if it can be made better or if we need to try something else. It’s a much more rapid process, and they’re much quicker to react and move forward.”

REALIZING RESULTS

A major benefit of having a single marketing agency dedicated to the store is the ability to execute a centralized, all-encompassing marketing plan from start to finish. Why? Because it helps communication within the store, giving customers a better experience. “Before, with our previous advertising company, we would advertise, say, a Civic or Accord lease special,” Jones said. “Customers would come in asking about that special and nobody here — management or sales staff — knew what it was. The agency just made up an offer and never got our team on the same page”

 

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Jones knew that had to change. “The way it works now, with Team Velocity, is that everybody knows what our message is,” Jones said. “Sales, Service, F&I — the whole store knows what we’re trying to accomplish. Now, when an ad brings a customer in, we know what the ad offered, what the payments were, and we can jump right into it with them. It’s that kind of across-the-board communication between all our departments that’s made a huge difference.”

Jones said his service department has seen the greatest results from the new strategies. “Obviously, sales has been doing well, but our service department has grown a ton with Team Velocity’s mail pieces,” he said. “We have a three-tiered approach. We have our active customers, our lost customers and our conquests. Team Velocity has a unique way to go after each of those groups and the results are incredible.”

The new marketing company also helped Jones Honda learn about their market — and turned up some surprising facts. “We have more than 22,000 thousand Honda customers who are in our direct market,” Jones said. “We had no idea that number was so high. I would’ve guessed it to be half that.”

Once the market was better defined, marketing strategies were put into place to take advantage of the information. “Team Velocity’s approach is to send out highly personalized mail pieces to bring those customers in,” Jones said. “We’re seeing great success with these customers who have never been to our store. We’ve also been having a lot of success with customers who live in our market who bought from another dealer — we’ve been able to bring them in and get them to use our service department.”

The increase in visibility and staff coordination has directly increased Jones Honda’s sales figures and the dealership’s bottom line.

“Year over year, from 2016 to 2017, we’re up 22.5 percent in sales, and 115 percent in certified pre-owned,” Jones said. “To give you some perspective, in our district, Honda is up only 12 percent in new car sales and 17 percent in certified pre-owned for that same period. Team Velocity Marketing’s program is a winner and has had a huge impact on our overall growth.”