AutoSuccess: The Missing Piece

Paragon Honda Paves the Way with Personalized Customer Experiences

As a dealership partner and industry leader, Brian Benstock knows the importance of staying ahead of the technology curve.

For many years, the general manager and vice president of Paragon Honda and Paragon Acura in Queens, NY has made keynote speeches at industry events across the country encouraging dealers to leap into the new age of the frictionless customer experience, or risk getting left behind.

“There is a great quote by Steve Jobs that says, ‘You have to start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology.’ That is exactly what we’ve done here at Paragon,” Benstock said.


“We have been fighting an ecosystem of siloed applications for five years,” Boice said. “When we first started, Brian was using some of the leading companies in this space, which don’t integrate at all with each other or anything else. As a matter of fact, most of the time, they’re archenemies. So, we had to take a different approach. It’s been a five-year journey of building a new and integrated technology platform.



AutoSuccess: Going Virtual

Bringing the Dealership Experience Online in the Wake of the Coronavirus Outbreak

AutoSuccess: Going Virtual

Most of American life has been affected by the coronavirus outbreak. With many states issuing stay-at-home recommendations or outright lockdown restrictions, it’s clear that daily business will not go on as usual in the near future.

Yet for all the unprecedented issues the coronavirus has brought to the world, engagement in online shopping has never been higher. From groceries to crafts to home office equipment, people are finding ways to purchase the things they need without leaving their homes.

The Shift from Retailing Tools to a Transactional Platform


This Thursday, April 16th, I am hosting a webinar with Automotive News to discuss the future of digital retailing and its necessary evolution in the current customer experience landscape. At NADA, we launched our website platform, Apollo Sites. Since then, I have answered the questions below hundreds of times and thought it might be helpful to publish in advance of the Automotive News webinar.

Q: Why is Team Velocity adding primary websites to its Apollo platform?

A: Here are the top 5 reasons in no specific order:

  1. Most of our leadership team came from the automotive website space and carried lengthy non-competes. All our non-competes in the automotive website sector expired allowing us to re-enter the website space.
  2. Many clients asked us to integrate a primary website with a digital retailing application into Apollo using the same technology that generates and deploys all their other advertising. It’s a logical extension of Apollo and a space we know well having previously owned two of the largest privately held website companies.
  3. Our clients are focused on retention just as much as gaining new customers. They asked for a better-performing website that would provide relevant and personalized experiences for their current customers rather than treating existing customers the same as the public. They said, “integrate my DMS and make my website work like Amazon.” So that’s exactly what we did.
  4. A dealership’s website is the hub of their advertising efforts. Our clients need their ads on all other mediums – like Google, Bing, Facebook, YouTube, Email, Direct Mail, etc. – to identically match the sales and service offers on their website, 100% of the time. Dealers lose credibility and opportunities when their primary website is not a perfectly aligned extension of all their other advertising. So, we built a website platform that matches every offer, to the penny, on every single vehicle in stock, across every customer touchpoint, 24/7/365.
  5. Our clients are increasingly frustrated with the current mentality of most existing website providers. Significant traffic is driven to a dealer’s website, with the hope that the website will generate not just “leads” but an actual service or sales transaction. Unfortunately, many websites are solely focused on generating “forced” sales leads by requiring consumers to fill out a lead form just to get basic information. They also require expensive widgets and plug-ins, have poor performance ratings for speed and mobile friendliness, and can’t distinguish a current customer from a prospect. The “get e-price and unlock savings” is 20-year-old thinking and offers little in terms of useful information. We built a website that fulfills our vision: deliver a friction-less consumer experience, from the initial engagement to a final transaction. Using Apollo’s technology, we dynamically generate a personalized, customer-friendly, widget-free website that is highly rated, independently, for its performance. Our website platform is called, Apollo Sites.

Q: Do Apollo Sites have a digital retailing solution? If so, what’s different?

A: Yes. Apollo Sites has a digital retailing application called Transact. It’s unique from other digital retailing tools because it’s built natively into the entire website platform, making it easy for consumers to navigate. Our vision wasn’t to have just another digital retailing tool, but an entire transactional website platform. Transact is fast on mobile devices and uses the same UX as the website. Consumers never leave the dealership’s site and all the reporting is included in the analytics. Also, when current customers sign in, (using something as simple as their phone number or email), all their information is pre-populated, so they never waste time filling out forms, figuring out their trade value, equity, payoff, etc. Existing customers have a very fast and easy ability to complete another sales transaction with ‘one-touch’. This feature is critical for dealerships who have databases they need to retain. The existing digital retailing solutions are plug-ins to a dealer’s primary website with entirely different UX, reporting, etc. And, they treat every customer like the public. We think this is not only illogical but archaic by today’s standards.

Q: How about Service Scheduling? Does Apollo Site have that capability?

A: Yes. Apollo Sites was built with a complete service scheduling application that allows a customer to schedule service in about 45 seconds. Thus far, it’s generating 2-3x the number of online appointments as the leading providers in every implementation. An added benefit is that it automatically runs all service appointments through Apollo’s equity tools to alert the dealership when service customers are in a good position to upgrade, what specific upgrade options are available, and calculates to-the-penny payments for that particular customer. Everything is integrated, so there isn’t a need for any additional expensive equity mining software.

Q: Given the current challenges related to Covid-19, is there any technology to facilitate service and sales transactions outside the dealership?

A: Yes. Even prior to the Covid-19 outbreak, we were building virtual dealership applications to help our large metro dealers go to the customer versus the customer coming to them. What was once a nice benefit has now become a necessity. Every aspect of Apollo Sites allows customers to select options to have their vehicle picked up for service, sign up for test drives completed remotely, and, for vehicles purchased online, to have their new vehicle delivered offsite (if the dealership is capable). All of this is easily managed in Apollo’s appointment system or can be delivered to a dealership’s CRM.

Q: How are the OEMs reacting to the Apollo Sites?

A: Some of our best meetings have been with OEMs because this new technology solves many of the challenges they face. First, because the OEMs are hyper-focused on loyalty rates, the ability to offer existing owners a personalized, custom experience is ideal. Just a 1% gain or loss in retention is substantial for any OEM. Second, Apollo Sites creates a personal website for every customer, pre-establishing a “one to one” relationship. Dealers can immediately offer existing customers their best pricing without forcing a customer to “get e-price or unlock savings” on their website. OEMs love that feature, and some are starting to think about further personalizing incentives with this platform down to the customer level. Third, current website providers basically outsource Fixed Operations to 3rd parties. Service is an afterthought at best, but the OEMs all recognize the relationship between sales, retention and service. We built all service components into the website platform natively, with zero widgets required. Customers love how easy it is to schedule service, check their service history, get their own custom coupons, have their vehicle appraised while their car is in for service and the ability to check their vehicle’s value anytime. The first major OEM who reviewed the Apollo Sites website platform quickly added us to their list of approved providers, which was a very encouraging sign for our dealerships.

Q: What inspired the innovation behind Apollo Sites?

A: It’s just all new thinking. And RE-THINKING what we thought we knew. We were most inspired by the concept of Amazon Prime. Nothing in our industry, except perhaps Tesla and Carvana, have fully adapted to meet the consumer’s expectations. The current offerings lack the kind of thinking and features our clients expect from a website. And we are just getting started with this new integrated website platform. We are re-investing another $6M in 2020 to further improve the Apollo Sites website platform and plan to introduce many features that will be entirely new to our industry. We aim to set a new and very high standard of excellence for both consumer experience and for what dealerships should expect from their websites. Our focus is squarely on facilitating sales and service transactions for both existing and new customers.

Q: The evolution of Apollo to include websites seems like the final piece of the puzzle. Will there be another generation of Apollo?

A: The addition of Apollo Sites has certainly enhanced the entire Apollo platform but there will certainly be another evolution. Here’s a hint on what we are working on next…

What if a dealer’s website, not their CRM, dynamically generated beautiful, relevant, image-based, follow-up automatically? What if it was based solely on ALL the behavior and data collected on each customer and cross-referenced with the DMS? Just like Amazon, VRBO, etc., when customers complete a sales or service transaction, they automatically get new and relevant messaging. Our goal is to create a smart website that focuses on generating service and sales transactions, not just leads. Dealers have been in a stranglehold with outdated, text-based follow-up emails that don’t work well because ADF-XML technology is literally 20 years old. Yet, everyone still uses it. We consider it digital road-blocking and it kills progress. Think about it and stay tuned.

Want to learn more?

If you want to get a deeper dive on the changes we see coming, please watch the Automotive News Webinar recorded here.

David Boice
Team Velocity Co-Founder & CEO

Mitsubishi Offers Dealers Choice of New Digital Tools

Mitsubishi Motors isn’t like other mainstream automakers in the U.S. — it’s smaller. With sales of just over 121,000 vehicles last year across about 350 stores, resources are tighter at headquarters and on dealership lots compared with bigger rivals such as Toyota.

But Mitsubishi has big plans as it adds franchises every month, revamps its facilities program and works with alliance partner Nissan on new generations of its crossovers.

A critical part of rebuilding the brand is the new “Small Batch” marketing initiative designed to reach customers through digital-first advertising. And now, Mitsubishi is making it easier for dealers to access modern ad tools in their local markets and bring that more-for-less approach to chasing after customers online.

The Mi Digital Solutions program, or MiDS for short, was launched in November and allows dealers to choose from five curated providers offering prenegotiated rates and 100 percent reimbursement through Mitsubishi’s co-op ad program.

The goal is to strip away some of the vendor clutter and allow dealers to join the cutting edge of digital retailing in an affordable and manageable way.

“Prior to this program launching, we were really only focused on what I would call the traditional elements of the Tier 3 program, which are leads and websites. So, it was pretty basic,” Kimberley Gardiner, chief marketing officer for Mitsubishi Motors North America, told Automotive News.

Gardiner took over as Mitsubishi’s CMO in January of last year after high-level marketing jobs at Kia Motors America and Toyota Motor Sales USA. She rolled out the initial Small Batch campaign for the brand nationally in June, starting with digital ads before expanding to video and broadcast. That same challenger spirit led to the development of the MiDS program at the local level.

Retailers now have Mitsubishi-supported providers offering website management, digital chat, text, data mining, lead generation and other services that are tied together rather than spreading them out across multiple vendors, sometimes with little accountability.

“We really wanted to help our dealers take their digital marketing and digital programming to the next level and couple that with Small Batch thinking, which is: You can be a small organization or a small dealer, but the things we can do can have a big impact,” Gardiner said. “They realize they want to make a change but don’t know where to begin.”

Early Returns

Early results are positive. About two-thirds of the brand’s U.S. dealers have signed up, page views at dealer websites are up by 30 percent, and the conversion rate on digital advertising has risen from 0.9 percent to 1.5 percent. That latter number looks small but marks significant progress, Gardiner said.

Providers in the new program offer a variety of options — such as “good, better, best” tiers — which makes it work for smaller retailers. It’s relatively affordable for the industry, and easy to pay for through co-op dollars, Gardiner said.

The solutions are also tailored for Mitsubishi stores rather than just copying other automakers’ programs. The Mitsubishi National Advisory Board helped shape the program.

“Especially with a challenger brand like ours, we need to really work hard on consistency,” Gardiner said. “At any moment in time, a consumer can have a really great experience or have a less than great experience that could really make or break as to whether they would even consider our brand.”

Gardiner’s team vetted multiple providers and negotiated rates directly, so dealers don’t have to. Mitsubishi chose, Dealer eProcess, Dealer Inspire, DealerOn and Team Velocity to start. Gardiner said additional vendors could be added as needed.

One satisfied subscriber to the Mitsubishi program is David Baum Jr., general manager of Lewisville Autoplex near Dallas. Baum added a provider for his Mitsubishi store — Team Velocity — that has brought several new tools for consumer engagement.

Baum and his team can now see users interacting with the website in real time, and tailor engagement to drive a service visit or a vehicle sale. Customers are given individual accounts and can receive digital coupons they can load onto their smartphones.

“In the past, I always had service coupons on my website,” Baum said. “But I can think of only a handful that were ever presented.” With digital coupons pushed to customers through their accounts and through email, “just last month, we had 286 coupons redeemed from service customers, and those were all Mitsubishis.”

Having Team Velocity within the MiDS program made it easier for Baum to pull the trigger on more digital engagement. Part of the reason is the packaging of several services handled by one vendor, and payment through the Mitsubishi co-op program.

‘Point and click’

“I’m always being pitched from different digital marketing companies, but the pricing is always through the roof, so we don’t even consider it,” he said. With his new Team Velocity account through Mitsubishi, “it’s point and click, and they’re paid and we’re done.”

One of Gardiner’s goals as marketing head is to align advertising with media use by consumers, meaning that as people spend more time online, retailers should shift their mix. Digital also allows for visibility on what’s working and what isn’t by tracking engagement.

Toward that end, Mitsubishi added digital consultants for the first time as part of the MiDS program.

They interact directly with dealers, giving them a digital assessment and action plan on how best to use limited advertising dollars and troubleshoot problems.

“I think you’ll see more stories about efficiency, more stories about better meeting customer expectations, and certainly with those things will come more interest in terms of sales,” Gardiner said.

Original Source: Automotive News

Marketing Exec Says Dealers are Missing a Golden Opportunity

David Boice, CEO of marketing firm Team Velocity, says dealers are failing to tap a potentially rich source of business — and it’s right at their fingertips.

“A dealership is sitting on a gold mine of data,” Boice says. Speaking last month at a Shift conference in Las Vegas, he said customers already in the database don’t want to be treated like new leads when they visit dealerships’ websites. Instead, he says, they should be able to log in, just as they do on Amazon.

In an interview with reporter Sarah Kominek, Boice said dealerships’ returning customers should have online experiences that are relevant to their personal details and the cars they’re driving. Here are edited excerpts.


Q: Why do you think dealerships should use customers’ data to serve them online?

A: There are probably at least 50 very relevant pieces of data on you and your car that the dealership you do business with already knows. Every other company you do business with, you have a relationship with them online. They all know a massive amount about you because you are already their customer. Therefore, they treat you differently and personally online.


Q: What data do most dealerships have that they aren’t using?

A: These are very common data points that every franchised dealership has securely stored in their accounting systems: The customer’s name, address, phone number and email. Their vehicle’s year, make, model, trim, VIN and estimated mileage. Its service history, any recalls, services due, last service and recommended services. The customer’s sales info — the payment type, down payment, term, payoff, trade value, equity, likely upgrade options, next service visit, preferences and their shopping history. These data points are easily accessible to create a personal online experience for their customers.


Q: How should dealerships use this data when a customer goes to the website?

A: People want personalized service coupons that need to be specific to the car they’re driving. People really like to know their service history: Does the dealership have all the services that have been performed on record and are they accurate? People also expect you to give them a warning if their vehicle just went under recall. Without filling out any forms, they want to be able to schedule service and incorporate the coupons they’re entitled to. You know my name, you know my car and its VIN. I’m not going to fill out a form with the 14 pieces of information you normally ask me for, because I’ve signed in and I expect you to make scheduling a service appointment easy.


Q: What would the experience be like for a returning customer looking to purchase or lease another vehicle?

A: Now the customer has pretty high expectations because they have an expiration date. They’re going to ask, What upgrade options do I have? What would my payment be? What are the rebates and incentives that are currently available on the vehicle models I’m interested in buying? When you give a customer a personalized experience, people are naturally more comfortable because the service makes it easier for them to do what they need to do. What is best for the dealer’s customer is also best for the dealership. You have a five times’ greater chance of them completing the task if you treat customers with some relevancy, in a private and secure way.




Mission Improbable: A Game of Technology Tag

Before I get to the heart of the article…you might rightfully point out that I missed a few large technology silos. You are correct. I ran out of room, so I included the most common and universal categories that apply to franchised dealerships’ most popular sales and service advertising strategies. And, you would also be correct that some excellent companies are missing all together. Agree, let me know who is missing. The companies included are all great at what they do, and I listed them alphabetically. However, adding more silos and logos only makes the reason I am writing this more relevant to the challenges faced by dealerships in the current 2020 ecosystem.

Now, if you are an entrepreneur, what an impressive list of companies that make up much of the technology ecosystem in the automotive industry for advertising. Some of them cover one silo perfectly while others dabble in 2-3 silos. A few of these companies are worth billions of dollars and many worth hundreds of millions. Not bad, right? But when I reviewed this graphic with my dealer friends, I discovered the average number of companies they work with to help sell and service cars was between 10 and 12 from these main ad categories alone — but way more vendors are required. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

I call this “Mission Improbable”, meaning it’s highly improbable this siloed model is going to succeed. Here are some comments from good, really good, retailers who passionately want to create a frictionless customer journey for their new and existing customers and do it in a way their internal teams can efficiently and profitably execute.

“A world-class customer journey isn’t possible with this many companies and competing technologies involved. It’s too hard, so we settle for mediocrity.”

“It’s like a game of Technology Tag and I am always it. Nothing quite works together like we are all promised.”

“We have 8 offer management platforms just to price out cars and create compliant offers. None of them are consistent. It’s no wonder customers lack trust in our process.”

“I have 4 franchises; my OEMs all use different certified vendors in their Co-Op programs. It compounds our challenge by 4x. It’s getting worse every year.”

“It’s too expensive and the real costs are all the people we need to hire, train and re-train in order to use these technologies that were never designed to work together.”

“All these companies are all chasing the exact same people. I only have two types of people to sell or service…my existing customers and prospective new customers in my market. Is it really that hard?”

“We have all been so focused on the customer journey, we all forgot about the dealer journey through all of these independent platforms.”


Technology Tag

So, the problem for dealers is logical and well-said by the growing frustration of dealerships who are spending more for technology and getting less of a return, if any.

What’s the solution?

With every big challenge comes a great opportunity to solve it. As we enter the new decade in 2020, I would propose some or all the below suggestions to help combat Mission Improbable.

Here are my Big 5.

  1. OEMs. I would encourage you to do this ‘silo’ exercise with your current and future programs. Some technologies are setup to share data and integrate with other companies through secure API’s. Some are not structured to integrate and never will. The current universal method of sharing data is through ADF-XML which is 20 years old. This was originally designed for getting lead forms with very basic data into a CRM. The entire world has changed, and data integration has exploded. You have the power and position to force real integration across silos to dramatically improve the customer journey while reducing the burden on your retailers.
  2. In 2020, you will see companies (like ours) continue to develop and rollout technology that already integrates and connects the silos. We won’t be alone, but the customer journey now touches everything from targeted communications like email and mail, to all the major digital media companies to websites. Integrating all those offers and experiences is the best way to ensure a positive customer journey. Just look at the most successful digital retailers like Tesla, Carvana, Amazon Prime, etc. Less technology silos, less friction, less expense, and more of what you want…transactions.
  3.  We must rethink 20-year-old technology as the primary manner to share basic data amongst companies and platforms. I am hopeful, but doubtful, that the current landscape is ripe for this type of cooperation.
  4.  Consolidation and/or real integration. Some of the companies should get together and start creating “Reese’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups” with their ingredients. Dealers want less solutions that do more and are easier to use. I can see some solid partnerships forming in 2020 that offer dealers and/or OEMs fully integrated solutions that were intentionally designed to work together.
  5.  Go Direct. Digital advertising is perhaps the most siloed, crowded and fragmented of them all. Starting with the public groups and the large privates…dealerships are going to start to bypass traditional digital vendors and OEM programs all together. By either creating a solution themselves, or by endorsing a few existing tech platforms, the big media companies have everything to gain (and so do their advertisers) enabling dealers to advertise their inventory and services directly without the need for an agency. Think about it, what value does a travel agent offer its passengers these days? Very little. Google, Microsoft, YouTube and Facebook will have to look at this in 2020. There is too much at stake not too. And while standalone franchises might be able to muscle through the myriad of companies in these silos, large groups have to scale and be more efficient. Dealers will develop direct relationships with the major digital media companies that the vast majority of their money is already flowing into. It only makes sense for them.

I am going to be at NADA this year with Team Velocity at Booth #4288C in the main hall. If you want to talk more about this, or set up a time to see how we are solving the game of Technology Tag, please send me a private message.

David Boice
Team Velocity Co-Founder & CEO

AutoSuccess: The Top 10 Companies to Watch in 2020

Team Velocity is an automotive agency with artificial intelligence technology that is revolutionizing the industry — and how dealers sell and service cars. Their proprietary technology platform, Apollo, is made by dealers for dealers. It analyzes sales and service data to predict who will buy, what they will buy and when they are ready to service. Apollo  generates dynamic, offer-based campaigns across all channels, including search, display, social, pre-roll, email, text, direct mail, personal websites and landing pages. Eliminate the risk of traditional marketing when you market with Team Velocity and Apollo, which provides the ultimate consumer experience across every touchpoint — both on desktop and mobile. Team Velocity and Apollo’s site of capabilities successfully increases revenue and efficiencies for both dealerships and original equipment manufacturers. Predict, track, sell and service more customers with Team Velocity’s human-fueled creativity combined with the innovative, fully automated AI platform of Apollo.


Learn more about Team Velocity and the other 9 companies to watch in 2020:


Digital Retailing or Digital Roadblocking?

Digital retailing continues to be one of the hottest topics in our industry, but almost everyone I talk to has a different explanation for what they consider digital retailing to be. So, on a recent cross-country flight, I Googled What is digital retailing? I thought the following definition was most logical:

Digital Retailing, at its most basic level, is a series of experiences that allow consumers to easily maneuver and engage with your website at different stages of their purchase journey.

Personally, I believe that every dealership attempts to have a great digital retailing solution. Who doesn’t want to execute the above definition for their current and prospective customers? But, in reality, are we? Consider your most important customer, the one your dealership already has…your existing customers. They make up a vast majority of your sales and service transactions. But how easy is it for them to maneuver and engage with your website at different stages of their purchase or service journey? Most likely it is not easy, regardless of the dealership’s brand, size, or location. Although I love Audi, my personal experience with my dealership is a good example of what consumers experience every day.


Here’s how it started:

I received a nice personal email from my dealership with a lease offer on an A6 Premium for $469/month for 36 months with $2,999 down, driving 7,500 miles annually. (The disclaimer listed some nice rebates, but it is doubtful a typical customer would read the fine print.) So far, so good. Interested, I clicked the link that directed me to their website/VDP.


Once there, I hit my first roadblock:

  • The dealership links me to a full MSRP VDP with a price of $57,895 and zero lease payments – not even close to the offer advertised in the email. Confused, I click again – this time on the CTA labeled Make Your Deal – in the hopes of being redirected to the advertised $469 lease payment.


 And, I am met with a second roadblock:

  • The dealership is asking me to give them my information. Considering they just emailed me a personalized offer that included my name, email, and phone number, don’t they already have my contact? This was supposed to be an easy process as an existing customer, and too much time later, I’m still jumping through hoops.


Invested in time and now just curious, I resubmit my information and click for a third time and – unsurprisingly – am not taken to my personalized offer. I spend more wasted time configuring a lease on their digital retailing widget, careful to make sure I replicate every term listed in their original email to me. And finally, my offer!


Just kidding, I hit roadblock #3:

  • The best offer I am given is $667 per month – which is approximately $200/month above the $469/month lease payment the email promised to me as well as the rest of their customers.


Surely, I’ve just made an error and can still get the offered lease payment? Just in case, I Google Audi A6 Premium lease payment, and…


Roadblock #4 appears:

  • My dealership is advertising payments as low as $399. Now I’ve been given three completely different payment terms for the same model. Consumers are more frustrated than ever. Why is this process so difficult and time-consuming? At this point, most dealerships would have lost any previously interested existing customers.


About an hour later, a nice young lady from Audi calls me, and I ask her about the personalized email offer I received earlier in the day, and politely explained I was unable to find it on their website or in any of their advertisements.


Roadblock #5 is presented in the form of her explanation:

  • “Unfortunately, it’s inconsistent, and it makes it hard for us depending on what you received or looked at online because none of it is usually realistic. But if you can come down, I am sure we can work out a great deal for you.” I thanked her, but thought why do we roadblock customers online?


This made me wonder, as I often do, if the dealership leaders spend any time walking through exactly what their customers experience? It sounds simple, but I am guilty of not doing this at my own company.  It’s like calling our main phone numbers versus dialing our employees’ mobile phones directly. The phone systems and processes are so bad, slow, and cumbersome that we just go around them now. The bottom line is that it’s a painful process even for your best repeat customers to get realistic and accurate information to purchase their next car or schedule their next service online, and it shouldn’t be.


Some people reading this will correctly state that the dealer is not allowed to share their best prices until a one-on-one relationship is established. However, how much more established can it get from a current customer who purchased an Audi and services it at that same dealership? Technology, as advanced as it is, should be able to distinguish between an existing customer and a prospective new customer. In fact, automotive dealers are in the rare group of businesses that don’t separate customers online experience from their prospects. If you think about the businesses you interact with almost daily – Amazon, your bank, insurance, credit cards, online entertainment, every major hotel and airline – they already know who you are and treat you as such. Customers are roadblocked because they are treated like a “lead” instead of as an existing customer.


You would also be correct to point out that the company who emailed the customer also has no control over the website company, which has no control of the retailing widget to configure payments, and the website company has no control of the company that does the Google Ads. This is true, and part of the issue that makes Digital Retailing feel way more like Digital Roadblocking for customers.


The solution is in the palm of your hand! Consider Apple: they created a platform that integrates and interacts seamlessly with consumers and their lives. Conversely, look at dealerships: consumers are forced to jump through hoops when it comes to dealership technology. They are forced to juggle a brick flip-phone, an original iPod, a digital camera, all of their credit cards, cash, and a clunky GPS system just to keep track of their journey and reach their destination  – when all they need to be given is a single smartphone (i.e., Apple). Consequently, the lack of consistency kills a dealership’s credibility.


Realistically, Digital Retailing is only going to happen in our industry with integrated technology platforms that provide a series of experiences that allow consumers to easily maneuver and engage with dealership websites at all stages of their purchase journey, not just the one that particular vendor executes.

Mission Improbable 2.0


As I have both previously said and written, it is improbable that most dealers can truly be successful with so many different companies and technology platforms being utilized to operate their businesses. Most dealerships are up to 10-15 different ad/technology companies even before you start counting all their 3rd-party widgets/plug-ins. How can any business create an excellent customer experience for sales or service with so many independent software applications that were never designed to integrate with each other? It’s the definition of Mission Improbable.

I generally spend more time with friends not in the business on these longer holiday weekends. And since they know what I do, I get to hear about their car-buying experiences, which I love. Below is a quick summary, from a friend’s POV, of a Labor Day Event email designed to upgrade his 2017 Audi Q7 to another Q7 or the new Q8 over the long Labor Day weekend.

I told him what the dealer does behind the scenes to execute even the most basic shotgun email marketing, much less something more complex like digital advertising, which could involve another 4-5 additional companies:

  1. Dealer hires Company A to design the Labor Day email blast, and they have offers for their lowest priced models. None of it really looks “Audi,” but whatever, it’s a one-time blast to everyone.
  2. Company A sends the designed email template to Company B, which selects the audience and provides some small customizations like “Joe, you’re eligible to upgrade your 2017 Q7 during our Labor Day Sales Event.”
  3. Company B deploys the email and sends the customers off to a landing page (no matter what they are driving) somewhere on Company C’s website.
  4. My friend pecks his way around Company C’s website and finds a few logical vehicles he wants to consider leasing. He claims to spend more time closing “popups” asking his name (ironic since the email included his name) than doing anything else.
  5. He hits the “Buy Now” link on Company C’s website, which opens up a different digital retail solution from Company D.
  6. Company D promptly requires Joe to provide his name and phone number in order to send him a special code to continue or get an “e-price,” a term he is unfamiliar with.
  7. Wait… what?
  8. Joe is the current customer driving a Q7 that Company B emailed, and Company C and D force him to submit a lead form to continue? Yes, this is real.

Before I tell you the ending, I asked him for his opinion on what he thought about the process:

“Awful. Absolutely nothing makes sense. How can they know my name and my current vehicle but send me a blast with an Audi A3 and A4 offer? I drive a Q7; do customers downgrade that often? Why didn’t they link me to the vehicles I would logically be most likely to buy? Finally, when I did find the vehicle and wanted to get more information, I clicked the link to ‘Buy Now’ and a new experience opened up, and they asked me for my name and phone number to continue. Why would the dealership send me an email then ask me to provide them with information they already know? How much more difficult can they make it? The button should have said ‘Don’t Buy Now.’ And the capper – even after I did all that, they called me and didn’t even know I was already a customer.”

I was shaking my head and thinking Companies A, C, and D don’t have any idea who you are, what your relationship is to the dealership, or the car you drive… so to them you are Joe Public. Company B knows more, but it doesn’t matter because they are sending you to Company C’s public website with a retailing widget from Company D. It’s just broken. Mission Improbable.

He continued, “They don’t treat their customers like the public – they treat us worse than the public because they make me provide them with data, like my name, car, trade value, that surely they have since I am already their customer. After all, they emailed me, right? And the more places I shopped online, the less consistent my experience became. It ended up being just as hard to buy somewhere else.”

I explained that dealerships get stuck with so many platforms that don’t integrate, that his “awful” online experience would have been pretty similar at 95% of dealerships. His online experience, however, was (to him) a direct negative reflection of how he perceived this dealership’s operation – four independent companies involved in a basic Labor Day email that ended with Company D asking a current customer to fill out a form before he could have the privilege of upgrading his vehicle.

And we are so numb to this poor experience that we celebrate the 1% of consumers who tolerate this “upgrade” experience as a victory. Company D didn’t generate a lead; they simply gave the dealer back very basic information of a current customer the dealership already had.

I firmly believe we can do so much better, but not without new integrated technology platforms or the adoption of new modern standards of integration, which seems quite unlikely given today’s climate.

My wholehearted belief is that one fully integrated platform should be used for the majority of a dealership’s marketing and advertising, as well as technology that clearly distinguishes between existing customers and new customers. I am hoping that OEMs will take a strong look in the future at how they endorse or include stand-alone “silo” solutions that will never integrate with each other versus broader platforms that are already integrated by design.

The goal should be to provide consumers with a consistent and relevant experience with single platforms that can easily be managed by Tier 1, 2, and 3 advertisers.

Just Text Me


Text is now the preferred method of communications for U.S. adults. It has a 99% open rate compared to email’s 20% (at best), making it a far more effective form of communication. However, most dealerships’ websites still have countless clever – and annoying – ways to attempt to get a consumer to fill out a lead form. I get it, but it’s time to think like customers living on mobile devices in 2019. Ask yourself: when was the last time you filled out a form or chatted with a company from your mobile device? Now — when was the last time you sent a text?

Some dealers have a basic widget on their site allowing customers to text their major departments. That’s a start, but it’s an overlay or pop-up that often interferes with the user experience and must be closed in order to navigate. Like most things in our industry, these widgets stand alone and don’t integrate with a dealership’s customer database. For text to really work, it must integrate with your most important database and be prolific in ALL your advertising.

Heeding these new stats, we recently developed a new texting platform for consumers and dealers within the Apollo platform, aptly named Apollo Text. This is a quick overview of how it works and why it is performing better for our dealerships than the 3rd party widgets they used before.

If you want to substantially increase engagement from your marketing as well, I suggest following these five winning principles of text:


  1. Integration. Integrate a “text us” option throughout all your advertising mediums. Give your consumers the option to text your dealership(s) everywhere – search ads, video, email, direct mail, Google Business Listings, and all the major areas of your website. This way, your customers know it’s a legitimate and even preferred option for them to engage with your dealership. You will immediately receive more texts from in-market consumers that have not yet visited your website but have engaged with your marketing. See below for examples.
  2. Customer Identification. This is key. Make sure you have a texting application that cross-references the inbound text number with your customer database. Most consumers only have one mobile device, so chances are, if they have ever done business with you, their mobile number is already in your database.  Today, about 50 percent of all inbound texts are from customers that can be easily identified by cross-referencing their phone number. By instantly identifying the customer your team can review all available and relevant data before formulating a response.  This is what makes text so much more powerful than any other engagement or method of communication.  From a simple inbound text, you can learn everything about the consumer before you respond. For example, vehicle history, trade value, equity position and more.
  3. Customization. Customize your inbound text options with custom and/or pre-populated responses to match what’s most important to your customers – current offers and promotions. For example, if you are offering a $39.95 oil change or Free Pick Up and Delivery, make that an option for your service texts. Or, if you have a promotion for $500 in Bonus Cash, make those readily available options as well. Your platform should be flexible enough to be updated instantly.
  4. Automation. Text is about quickly giving the customer the information they need. Make sure you have pre-populated all the typical and most common responses ahead of time so you can rapidly respond to their inquiry. See below for some examples.
  5. Attribution. Attribution is the very best part of text. Retrieving a mobile number during any engagement (sales or service) makes it easy to attribute your marketing to a transaction and determine an ROI. A reliable mobile number is one datapoint a dealership almost always receives during the sales or R.O. (repair order) process. Your platform should automatically provide you with a match report that enables you to see which marketing initiative your customers are responding to (Google, Microsoft, VDP, Email, Mail, POS, TV, etc.).



So, not only do many customers prefer to begin and end their engagements with text, it’s also the best datapoint your dealership can gather. The ability to cross-reference consumers unique mobile numbers against your sales and service transactions make text the most reliable way to attribute an ROI to all your marketing and advertising efforts.

No matter who you work with, if you follow these five principles for text, I guarantee you will see an increase in qualified leads, response-rate, and ROI attribution.