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.