NADA Convention helps evolve some thoughts

Tools and technology are advancing at a rapid rate

I didn’t really think about it at the time, but my last article was somewhat like a preview of this year’s National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Convention and Expo in San Francisco. My discussion of what could be on the horizon in 2011 in the March issue of this magazine indicated that there was a likelihood of increased focus on getting data and services into the hands of dealers to help them better manage the flow of vehicles in their used and wholesale businesses.

On the NADA Expo floor, spread across two very large rooms, were literally dozens of companies offering a vast array of services related to the sourcing, pricing, advertising and selling of used-vehicle inventory. NADA identifies these companies in broad categories such as Advertising, CRM (customer relationship management), Internet Services, Publications and Media, with many companies falling into multiple categories.

To be sure, there is significant overlap in many services. Consider that in today’s automotive sales marketplace, effective “advertising” requires the use of “Internet services” pushing data to appropriate “media and publications” in order to attain your “customer relationship management” objectives.

My use of quotation marks in the statement above may hint at some degree of cynicism, but I assure you that there is none. The reality is that so many of a dealership’s activities are related, even integrated, that it is near to impossible to find demarcation points. The technology underlying the various services has evolved in parallel –
something that I did not immediately realize when I wrote the prior article.  However, walking the floor at NADA made it very clear that what may have been technology-enabled but disparate services even a couple years ago are now technology-enabled and integrated services.

Integrated packages

While the deluxe software packages for inventory optimization or dealership management have been multi-functional for some time, these tools may have been priced too expensively for smaller franchised or independent dealers. Such dealers would, in turn, have likely relied on a few different tools to manage their business.  Perhaps there was a stocking tool that did appraisals, plus an advertising tool that pushed photos and descriptions to your own website, plus a proprietary and separate tool to push the same information to one of the large media players and, finally, a tool to consign a vehicle to a wholesale auction when its retail prospects had diminished.

The exhibitors at NADA had good news for dealers who have experience operating in an environment such as I described above. The options are growing daily. As a dealer, you can now find a single-source provider that can develop and host your website, manage your inbound inventory (appraising trades, capturing vehicle content), track lead generation and CRM, as well as push inventory to media partners and wholesale remarketing channels. With such a single-source implementation, you can operate more efficiently and address opportunity more quickly. While I am not in a position to recommend any specific providers, there is a lot of good information still available on the NADA website (hint: search by the categories I outlined above) and, unlike the past, many of these entities service dealers in the Canadian market.

Mobile web

Another hot topic that I found myself discussing a number of times is the move to the mobile web. These initiatives include efforts to optimize existing web platforms for mobile browsers as well as the creation of value-added mobile applications available for download.  Simply stated, dealer interest in consuming content and data while on-the-go has never been higher. The technology is already in place, with consumers and business professionals alike carrying around extremely powerful smart phones and bandwidth capabilities empowering incredible rich content in the mobile environment.

Solutions to assist with many of the key functions performed at dealerships every day are now available on a mobile device and there were some nice examples at NADA. You can appraise a potential trade-in, take photos and capture vehicle information, and review online content with a customer while standing beside the car.

This capability is now extending into wholesale operations as well.  Dealers will increasingly make buying decisions for their used-car inventory with insight from content provided on their mobile devices, regardless of where they are – on the road, at the auction or even on their own lot. This same technology will also allow dealers to select vehicles that should be remarketed via wholesale channels and they will be able to interact with the auction marketplaces to consign and manage their wholesale activities.

It was a busy few days in San Francisco, with lots to see and learn.  This year’s convention and expo introduced us to some great new things and reminded us that the industry we are a part of is changing very quickly.


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