Digital strategies drive your dealership forward

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It’s time to get out of digital denial and move into the digital world


I’ve always said the vast majority of dealer principals are some of the greatest entrepreneurs we have in Canada. They are street savvy and understand all aspects of the traditional buying cycle. They sell, buy and repair vehicles every day.

However, as I travel and meet and work with dealerships of all shapes and sizes, I see a trend that can’t be ignored. Call it denial or simply a generational gap: the fact is our industry is very slow to change its ways.

Dealers who have fully adopted a digital strategy are reaping the rewards, while those who are simply dipping their toe in are struggling to see results. Digital marketing is not something you can dabble in and hope to see results.

To be successful, you need to fully immerse your operation, front and back, into that unfamiliar place known as the Internet.

I get it — you have vendors each and every day telling you to hop on to their magic carpet so they can take you to the digital promise land.

They use words such as “optimization,” “algorithms,” “click-through rates” and “promoted posts.” You don’t know who to trust or where to start so you convince yourself to pass on it for now.

I know most have heard this but it bears repeating: over 90 per cent of your customers are doing online research before they come into your showroom.

If you’re not out there with a solid virtual presence, you’re going to get missed.

We co-hosted an event in April with our partner cDemo at Google Canada in Toronto — the first annual Dealer Huddle. The event introduced dealers and other industry execs to cutting-edge technologies and best practices, many of which progressive dealers are currently using to stay ahead of the pack.

Staying up-to-date and typically hiring smart, knowledgeable, tech-savvy individuals is a good start, but it’s not enough.   

During the millennial panel, we had some insight into the challenges that arise when generations collide at the dealership. Millennials are completely immersed in digital — it’s really what has defined their generation. They’ve grown up with it and know it well.

For those of us who’ve been around for a bit longer, it can be intimidating to embrace digital, especially for the things that you’ve done well for decades without it. For example, one of the more shocking stats cited by Google was that only 30 per cent of Canadian dealers take advantage of Google AdWords.

Now I will go on record as saying I’m not getting paid by Google and I don’t own any of their stock (I missed that boat) but to say you don’t use Google AdWords is akin to not participating in word of mouth marketing.

When people want information about you or your product/services and go looking for it, you’ve made a conscious decision to just stay quiet and have no desire to be found. Isn’t being found what it’s all about?   

Don’t let the fear of the digital unknown stop you from marketing in the digital world.

You, as the leader of your dealership, need to understand the language, the metrics, and most importantly, digital’s impact on your bottom line. That way you can ask the right questions and know what kind of answer you’ll be looking for.


At every conference or seminar we attend, I have conversations with successful automotive dealers who have abandoned traditional advertising and moved their budget entirely to digital channels.

It has been my experience that the digital-savvy dealer principals are the ones who are now presenting at conferences and sharing their secrets with others. And it’s this pay-it-forward mentality that will help drive the automotive industry forward as a whole.

Jason Craine of Mills Motors Buick GMC is a prime example. During Dealer Huddle, Craine shared many aspects of his operation and culture, but it was his digital marketing ingenuity and best practices that captured the audience’s attention. As I looked around, I saw many dealers nodding their heads, taking copious notes and most likely borrowing ideas.

Craine emphasized how critical it is to have your inventory online and merchandised with photos and video. Your online showroom is more important to your close rate than anything else.

Responding to online leads with video is also central to dealers who are leading the industry with digital.    

Now let’s look at some ways that will get you to where your millennial team members — and where most of your customers — want you to be.


One of two scenarios occurs when a millennial Internet manager meets a baby boomer or GenX dealer principal.

The first is when your Internet manager or trusted vendor comes into your office with a great idea and well laid-out pitch for overhauling your underperforming online showroom.

You’ve heard that your website is not great but your budget has no room for anything new and, because the metrics are a little convoluted, you simply thank that person for putting this together, and let them know that you’ll think about it.

The second scenario is when your receptionist advises someone forgot to change the front window decals and that they need to be changed to fit your current promotion. You recognize the urgency and ask to have it fixed immediately.

Why did you say yes to your front window fix and not the one for your website? It could be because the investment was less, but mostly because you understood that it’s what people would see when they walked through your front door.


I know you have someone in your dealership who loves all things digital. Pull that person into your office today — they’re going to be your new greatest ally.

You don’t have to understand the inner workings of all things digital, but you need to have someone on your team who does, and who can help you understand metrics.

One of the millennial dealers at Dealer Huddle said he holds weekly meetings: one with his sales management team and another with fixed- operations managers.

The meetings run for an hour and a half and follow a last week, this week, next week format. They dedicate time and energy to review current campaigns across all digital channels, and plan for future campaigns.

This dealer principal does not understand every single piece of digital — and he doesn’t need to. He has an open and communicative relationship with his Internet manager and knows what the metrics for a good month versus a bad month look like.

You probably learned the business from end-to-end in the 80s and 90s, and as we all know the business has changed. So should you.

As a non-millennial I can tell you the fundamentals are not that different. It’s just the tools we use that have changed.   

But if you put your mind to it and seek advice, you’ll learn quickly. Before long, your fear of the digital world will be gone.

Who knows, you also might discover that it really is an interesting space
to play in.

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Canadian auto dealer