Managing Your Digital Assets “Unfair Advantage” Chapter 14
Recently, I was called into a franchise dealership to assist with a digital emergency. No, a hacker did not break into the dealer’s DMS and rob the dealership data. The matter was serious, and one that I see far too often.
The dealership had contracted with a full-service media group, who had handled their website, mailers, and TV spots. After months of poor performance, the dealer decided to terminate their agreement.
Not understanding the full impact of this decision, the dealer created an emergency situation to which I was called in to help. Their website was immediately taken down by the terminated vendor. Existing digital advertising had phone numbers that were now directed back to the ad agency and not the dealership. Ouch!
Their Internet presence was evaporated and the dealership was officially an Internet ghost. They no longer had a website and no backup plan in place. I am not kidding when I stress that no one at the dealership even had a password to take control of the dealership domains
To say it was a mess would be the understatement of the year. Regardless of a dealer’s knowledge or comfort level with digital marketing, all dealers need to have a digital management plan in place.
In this case, it is obvious that there was no understanding about the repercussions of a cancelled digital contract that included web hosting. In this chapter, I will share my recommendations to prevent this story or a variation of it repeating at your dealership.
I will also challenge readers to take more responsibility for their digital assets which includes an investment to inspecting and maintaining their; websites, social media accounts, blogs, and video marketing accounts.
Keep Your Domains Under Your Control
Own and control all your domain names. That is my first and foremost tip for any dealership. Know exactly where they are registered. Have all login information and passwords in a central file. Create an email account that is connected to the domain ownership account so you can get notices when domains are expiring.
How can you own an office building and not have a key to get in? Would you allow someone to change the locks on all the doors and not give you a key?
This is not a Chuck Norris movie and we don’t need any hostage situations. Hostile business relationships only cause delays, which cost dealers time and money. Regardless if a best friend of the dealership is the vendor hired to build or manage the dealership’s website, the business needs to have primary control and access.
Despite the demands of the website vendor, dealers can control their domains in their own account and just point them to their web and email servers. Companies have been known to play games when it comes to money or losing a client. Don’t put the dealership in that situation!
After I took control of the domain for the aforementioned dealer, I created a new domain account for the dealer principal, someone that was going to be there all the time.
Designate the Responsibility
What I discovered was there was not one single person properly trained to handle the digital assets for the dealership. In fact, there are many cases where former employees that were trusted to manage digital accounts leave the dealership without passing on account information.
Does this sound familiar?
Dealer: Who has the login for Google Places? I just got back from a 20 Group and want to change the settings on our listing.
Internet Manager: I don’t have it. Joe created that account last year for us.
Dealer: Joe who?
Internet Manager: The college intern that helped us last year with SEO.
Dealer: Well do you know how to get in touch with him?
Internet Manager: No, I think he moved out of state.
Dealers spend thousands of dollars each month on advertising and rely heavily on their website and technology infrastructure. However, few take the time to assign responsibility to someone inside the dealership to document and manage their assets.
It’s not uncommon that multiple employees and vendors have a portion of the logins, passwords, and/or technical access to dealership systems. In most cases, who has the security access is not documented.
Dealers are pretty much handing the keys to their business to their vendors without any concerns. That’s nuts! How can dealers let an outside party have total control of the company’s digital assets and not have a spare key?
In this case, the dealer lost control they had no process to manage their domains or control their email accounts. All of their emails for service, parts and sales divisions were down when I arrived! Restoring email was crucial, since so much business today comes though email.
Dealers looking for an Unfair Advantage have to make sure that their primary and secondary digital assessment are stable, managed, and bullet proof. Have you checked when your domains are expiring?
Digital Managers Need Training
You have heard the saying “You only know, what you know!” That applies to dealership employees who are responsible for the company’s digital assets, CRM processes, and digital marketing investments. How can dealership employees inspect vendors, reports, and see if the dealership is potentially exposed without proper training?
Dealers need to invest in their staff by sending them to training. Dealers have to build a team that can take over and lend a hand if anything like this ever happens. Dealers need to develop a team that is knowledgeable in the key aspects of digital operations like website operations and maintenance, CRM configuration and workflows, and digital advertising. It should not be only one person in the store!
There are number of annual conferences and Boot Camps that can provide the training dealers need to insure their businesses against digital sabotage. Avoid the pitfall of sending one person, year after year. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Dealers need to have someone in the “family” that they can trust that has knowledge and passion for technical and digital operations. It is common sense, plain and simple. But since even family can disappoint, make sure you have backup!
Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
Have you considered how many products are in a dealer’s digital library that are being invoiced month after month regardless if they are being used? If you work at a dealership, do you know when the last thorough audit was made in conjunction with the staff that actually uses the products under contract?
Assuming that you control your emails, unlike the dealership story I opened with, how many products do you really use each day? I find more and more that dealers think they need multiple digital products yet they are at a loss to share with me how these new investments will be measured for effectiveness.
At times dealership executives and managers let their eyes and imagination get the best of them. We all have experience with impulse buying. We may find ourselves salivating over a broad range of product offerings presented by a vendor. In an ideal world, it would be great to be able to implement everything the salesperson had to offer.
The reality is that most dealership employees never use the full set of tools that is purchased. Training or lack of training is a part of the problem. Accountability plays another part in failed utilization. Employees often stick with what is comfortable for them or even in some cases they bail on the whole solution and go back to a pseudo manual process.
Dealers need to focus on the basics before they take on the technological world with everything that looks shiny and new. Be realistic on how fast your staff can assimilate change. Don’t buy into the package deal if it will take a year to utilize all the features. You should be making the rules, not your vendor.
For example, don’t buy your sales staff all new iPads if they won’t access their email or utilize the CRM system regularly from their desktop devices. If your email and CRM system is not designed for the iPad, what efficiencies will you really get?
What about social media? Dealers want to jump in the pool but once again, they need to have an account management in place and a strategy. You might hear a manager come back from a social media conference all excited and exclaim:
“I am going to start a dealership Twitter account and update our Facebook account with a contest. I just signed us up for YouTube so I can post videos on our website. And by the way, we need to get on Foursquare and we need a Pinterest account ASAP!”
Dealers need to funnel the passion and energy of their team in an orderly way. Digital assets will get totally messed up if there is no plan and process to manage them. Training and accountability must be part of the budget to ensure success.
Dealers who want an Unfair Advantage are aggressive but are also realistic on how much they can change, assimilate, and implement in any given month.
Technology Is Making Asset Management Easier
I hear over and over from dealer principals and their employees, “I’m tired of everyone trying to sell me something, I want them to show me how to do it!”
With the current website technology and widget-based solutions dealers are becoming able to gain full control of their web pages and their URL structures. Website tools allow dealership staff to drag and drop pretty much anything they want on their website pages. This kind of technology makes a junior Webmaster out of the most novice of user.
In fact, at the 2012 NADA Convention, Cobalt announced their Flex Website technology that allows dealers to drag and drop elements to their website pages and transform their websites in minutes. I personally have assisted dealers create platforms that are easy to design, manage, and update. I believe this trend will transform our industries’ ability to design compelling websites.
As a result of better web publishing tools, progressive dealers may reduce their outsourcing of social media and content development. Dealers, when given the choice, may hire people with journalism backgrounds to create the unique content and imagery. If the search engines are leaning toward rewarding original content and frequent publishing activity, dealers may have to turn to internal staff to accomplish higher search authority.
Imagine the possibilities when you establish a staff position that can use this technology to be able to click on any page and make changes you want. Those changes can include color palettes, banners, videos, or any customization that enhances your marketing strategy. The days of having an excuse for outdated specials pages are quickly coming to an end.
If you have a new sales campaign starting, widget based website platforms will allow dealers to create landing pages quickly and effectively. The right combination of technology and staff training can make the potential of driving more to your dealership a reality.
For example, it is St. Patty’s Day and a dealership is painting the town virtually green. The dealer may want to update banners, website colors, and marketing messages. Having to wait on a vendor partner to schedule these updates will often result in being a day late and a dollar short.
Dealers that want an Unfair Advantage need agile website solutions and a properly trained staff. It all works very well together when a dealership has a complete plan to manage their digital assets.
Managing Your Contracts
I have been in dealerships where you mention the word contracts and the Executive team wants to run or hide. For the services I offer to dealers, I never ask them to sign a contract. If the dealership is not pleased with my work, why should I hold them captive?
I understand the nature of contracts and why they are used today. As part of a digital asset management plan, contract start and end dates should be clearly documented. Notes should be made if contract termination needs 30, 60, or 90-day advance notice. Read the fine print to see if contracts auto renew if cancellation notice is not given.
There are flexible and powerful technology solutions that do not require long-term contracts. How do you feel when a product you like demands a long-term contract before you have had any experience working with the company?
It’s just like signing up to buy a cell phone. I ask myself why do I need a contract? Mr. Cell Phone Company, why do you need to lock me in for two years? Are you just going to forget me once you have my money?
Dealers who want an Unfair Advantage carefully read and negotiate their contracts so that they can be nimble to change as the market changes. Vendor partners that fail to deliver on their promises do not hold these dealers back.
If a dealer can walk away from a contract by giving 30 days notice, will that keep a vendor on their toes? If a dealer can’t walk away easily, then what motivates a vendor to deliver high customer service? Dealers must address these questions.
Minimal contracts such as ones with 3-6 months terms are reasonable, but today, one-year contracts just seem excessive. I work with many dealerships that don’t like the performance they are getting from their online vendors.
They lament, “There is nothing I can do, I am in a contract.” What they don’t realize is a website or product that is hindering performance and sales, most likely is costing the dealership more in lost opportunity than what they are paying each month.
There is the old saying, “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.” This is true to a point, but dealers need the right resources to train their staff and the guidance to select products that will serve their dealership well.
Don’t hand over the keys to the castle! Learn how to manage your digital assets and partner with quality vendors when your internal skill sets are not sufficient. Allowing a dealership to be shut down through lack of understanding and/or execution is not an acceptable outcome for entrepreneurial dealer principals.