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Elevate 2020: Week 2 Recap

Week two of Elevate 2020 featured an insightful panel moderated by Jason Stein, VP and Publisher at Automotive News, about elevating the conversation around people operations at dealerships. The panelists include Adam Robinson, the CEO and Co-Founder of Hireology, Tyler Anderson, the Director of Business Development for Dealertrack DMS, Peter Fong, the CRO of Orbee Auto, and Elizabeth Schillo, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing at Netchex. This week’s panel laid the groundwork for the roundtable discussion that followed where industry professionals were able to share their experiences and best practices.

Here are the highlights from Elevate’s second week, and if you’d like to take a look at last week’s recap, you can find it here. There’s also still time to register for our final week of Elevate, kicking off on September 29. To register for this free event, click here.

And here’s the recording if you weren’t able to attend.

Focus on Digital Improvements

Jason started the day with the following message: “2020 has been a year of constant change but one change we can all agree on is that digitization of processes at the dealership is here to stay.”

This sentiment was echoed many times by the panelists, and those that weren’t digitally focused before the pandemic hit now understand the importance of investing in technology going forward. 

Tyler Anderson shared how COVID affected dealerships with different levels of technology reliance. “What we really noticed is that the dealerships that were already digitally forward thinking in their mentality were able to quickly respond and quickly adapt,” said Tyler. “Those pivots were made really quickly by some dealers and other dealers really struggled.” Additionally, Tyler shared that between mid-April and mid-July, e-contracting grew by 94%, and the number of contracts signed remotely rose by 97%, so online automobile purchases are occurring more than ever.

“What we really noticed is that the dealerships that were already digitally forward thinking in their mentality were able to quickly respond and quickly adapt.”

Tyler Anderson, Director of Business Development at Dealertrack DMS

Peter Fong shared how Orbee Auto really relied on their team and their technology to see them through the tough months brought on by the pandemic. Though they had to reduce headcount, they were able to focus on software development, and ended up coming out stronger because of it. The use of technology is helping them focus their efforts with fewer people and allowing them to turn record profits.

Elizabeth Schillo noted that with each hardship the industry has faced in recent years — namely the 2008 recession and the COVID-19 pandemic — there’s been a notable lesson learned. “2008-2009 taught us how to be lean. And I think 2020 will teach us how to be technologically efficient,” said Elizabeth. 

The roundtable participants mentioned how their dealerships also have stepped up their technology game. “Around 10% of our business is virtual now as far as sales go,” said Randy Harman, the Talent Acquisition Director at Lou Fusz Automotive Network. Andrea Schulz, the Director of Team & Culture at Del Grande Dealer Group said that they’ve rolled out a process where customers can complete the entire car buying process online to make the experience as easy and safe as possible for customers and employees — something that couldn’t be done without investing in technology. “We’re leaner, more efficient, and doing more with less,” said Andrea. 

“2008-2009 taught us how to be lean. And I think 2020 will teach us how to be technologically efficient.”

Elizabeth Schillo, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing at Netchex

Make Software Purchases that Integrate

Earlier this year, Hireology, Netchex, and Dealertrack announced an integration between hiring payroll and DMS, and Adam reflected on the importance of this relationship. “In the automotive retail sector, what we’re seeing is the natural evolution of the system of record for the people side of this business, from the DMS to some form of HRIS platform,” said Adam. “The way we manage people in this business is starting to change because the systems are giving us new capabilities,” said Adam. Purchasing software that speaks to other systems gives your team the tools they need to effectively keep your business running smoothly.

“The immediate value that you find is ease of use,” Elizabeth said about the importance of integrations. “I think the piece that’s often overlooked and the real power of integration is the data and insights that you can get out of it.” The instant and long-term benefits of integrated technology can set your business up for success by giving you the answers to your data-related questions.

Tyler did have some words of caution for those trying out new technology from lesser-known companies. “I would tell dealers to make sure that those innovative technologies are mature, that the company is on solid footing and is going to be there for the long haul, and that they can integrate, you know, that they have things like API’s built out so that they can integrate with some of the larger players,” said Tyler. 

And looking forward to the future, integrations will only become more important. “Looking at my crystal ball, I think there’s going to be far greater collaboration with the OEM down to the tier three level, which has not been the case for many years,” said Peter.

“Looking at my crystal ball, I think there’s going to be far greater collaboration with the OEM down to the tier three level, which has not been the case for many years.”

Peter Fong, CRO of Orbee Auto

Reimagine Your Job Descriptions

COVID-19 has brought a wave of opportunity, including the ability to reimagine the type of hires your business needs. With the onslaught of technology, it’s no longer essential that all of your employees have extensive automotive experience. What will benefit you is employees that can leverage your online leads and turn them into sales. If your job descriptions reflect the newly necessary skill set, you can attract applicants from any industry. 

“If they’ve got a degree in almost anything — marketing, business management, finances, computer science — you can train these new hires to learn digital marketing, because most dealers still don’t understand exactly how they can harness the data from all these website visitors to leverage a more effective lead that will translate into a sale,” said Peter.

Elizabeth also stated that budgeting, hiring, and training for digital marketing will be a huge consideration for dealerships in the future, and training in these areas will allow for business growth that otherwise wouldn’t exist. “A year ago, digital marketing would have been seen as supplemental or advanced, where now digital marketing is probably the most critical way that you meet your warm leads, because they aren’t necessarily coming face to face yet,” said Elizabeth.

Bringing in talent from different industries or attracting recent graduates allows you to reimagine your culture, too. “Digital retailing requires such a major shift in culture within an organization in order for it to work,” said Peter. 

Gena Jankowski, the Director of Human Resources at Fields Auto Group, shared in the roundtable discussion that the pandemic has presented her team with the opportunity to interview top talent that wasn’t previously on the job hunt. “COVID has opened up a lot of opportunities for candidates that we wanted to interview but they weren’t available,” said Gena. Gena’s team has also focused hiring efforts on diversifying their staff and employing individuals with special needs. “They’re some of the best employees you will ever have,” Gena shared.  

Some dealerships are taking it a step further and creating entirely new roles that didn’t exist pre-COVID. “Some of our clients have new positions called ‘Retail Transformation Manager,’” said Peter. “These are new positions where progressive dealers are looking at somebody that has the expertise that can look across the entire organization and think about what’s next and what can be done differently in the organization.” Thinking differently is helping these dealerships maximize their impact on the industry and keeping their business setup for success.

“A year ago, digital marketing would have been seen as supplemental or advanced, where now digital marketing is probably the most critical way that you meet your warm leads, because they aren’t necessarily coming face to face yet.”

Elizabeth Schillo, Senior VP of Sales and Marketing at Netchex

Adopt a Mobile Strategy

Another side effect of COVID-19 is the increased use of mobile devices. For this reason, optimizing your dealership for mobile is becoming increasingly important. “Whether it’s the employees’ ability to communicate with their customer, or even their ability to communicate with their vendors and the products and tools that they use to do their job; making those things available in a mobile format is really important,” said Tyler.

Technology can make your life much easier, and mobile technology especially can create efficiency and attract employees and customers that you previously wouldn’t have had the opportunity to. “Mobile technology and technology in general has proven to the world that we can be a very efficient organization, and dealers can do the same thing,” said Peter. 

Investing in your tech strategy, in the mobile realm and otherwise, will be essential in the years to come, even when the pandemic is over. “What I hope happens as a result of the challenges that we’ve had to navigate this year is dealers remember what was possible when they were forced to do it differently,” said Adam. 

“What I hope happens as a result of the challenges that we’ve had to navigate this year is dealers remember what was possible when they were forced to do it differently.”

Adam Robinson, Co-Founder and CEO at Hireology

The Final Week of Elevate

Here are the highlights from Elevate’s second week, and if you’d like to take a look at last week’s recap, you can find it here. There’s also still time to register for our final week of Elevate, kicking off on September 29. To register for this free event, click here.

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