Show Me Your Spreadsheets

Show Me Your Spreadsheets

Tonight, guest writer Mets Kramer resumes his blog posts on digitizing your dealership with “Show Me Your Spreadsheets.”

Show Me Your Spreadsheets

Over the past couple of years, I’ve spoken often about the Digital Dealership, a dealership with equal digital presence to the it’s physical (bricks and mortar) presence.  The idea of the Digital Dealership is not to remove the need or option for a physical interaction with customers, but to support the growing demand for a more digital interaction.  

While the transition to or addition of more digital customer facing channels is growing, many dealers still struggle to digitize their internal operations.   Working more digital or electronic is a natural desire for many dealers and their team members.   Most of us spend our whole day staring at a computer screen, or 2, to transact the business in an efficient way.  

The most common digitization of the dealership starts with their accounting.  This standard activity for all companies seems the easiest and, often, most justified area to bring in software to support the business.  Yet, after this common function most dealers struggle to take the next step.  I believe many dealers struggle with this step because the right approach and the value and importance of the transition to a digital dealership platform is not clear.  

Going forward I’m going to use the word “platform” to refer to all the information systems, software tools, data and IT infrastructure used by a dealer to execute the daily transaction of the dealership.   A platform doesn’t have to be a specific or singular software tool. 

There are a few main aspects to a dealership platform that I’d like to layout in this blog to help dealers determine an approach to improving the digital landscape in their dealership.    These aspects include the obvious, software, but also include Information in general, identity management and finally integration. 

First, let’s take a step back and think about what happens naturally in a dealership.   It’s important to recognize that everyone in your team is trying to get their portion of the work done.  Given just a PC/laptop they tend to find methods to accomplish their tasks.   The most common answer is Excel.  I love and hate excel personally, it’s a great program, intuitive and useful for lots of things.  When I work with new dealers, my first question is often, “Show me your Excel sheets”.  

Excel, despite the fact it shouldn’t be used as a business system, highlights one really important aspect of the business, INFORMATION.  People use Excel to save, store, look up and update information.  We all know how much chaos is caused when an excel sheet gets deleted.  All that information is LOST.    This proves that INFORMATION is the foundation and the most important aspect of your dealership platform.  It supports all your transactions, information typically needs to flow from one area of the dealership to another and, intrinsically, everyone knows it’s the one thing they don’t want to lose.  

With the idea of INFORMATION’s importance in mind, let’s look at the most common focus of the digitization of the dealership, SOFTWARE TOOLS.    I call software products “tools” because I want to distinguish the tool portion of the software from the Data or INFORMATION that’s stored in the Software.  

The most common approach to going digital in a dealership is to go looking for a SOFTWARE TOOLS.  It’s like we’re all technicians when the Snap-On truck shows up.  We admire the software interface (UI), we listen to the promises of problems solved and we see the SOFTWARE TOOL as the solution and often don’t know what questions to ask during a demo. 

SOFTWARE TOOLS are just that, they are a tool for interacting with your INFORMATION.  Throughout the time you use a tool, you are creating that component we agreed is the most important, INFORMATION.  As time goes on what we want to do with the INFORMATION may change and this is where the Software Tool often fails.   For Dealers looking to improve their internal digitization it’s important to approach Software evaluation by separating the software tool from the information.  Just like we don’t hire technicians based on the size of their toolbox, we should keep a similar approach in mind to Software.   A Software Tool is disposable.   Yes, you heard right, the tool should be considered disposable.  It will serve its purpose for a while, but then will need to be replaced.  Many dealers have experienced this, but hit a major problem caused because the tool contains the thing they value, INFORMATION.  If your information can’t be transferred you might find yourself locked in, this can be especially pronounced when that tool is a Dealer Management System. 

So, what should dealers do when faced with a need in the business to improve efficiency of process and visibility to information?   Ask the following types of questions 

  1. Ask Questions during the demo about YOUR process needs and how the SOFTWARE will handle these situations.  Ask the person giving the Demo to illustrate.
  2. Ask how and where the data is stored and how it can be accessed aside from using the tool 
  3. Ask how the INFORMATION can be extracted/exported/dumped from the Software
  4. Ask questions about the Next thing you’ll want the software to do after you solve the first problem.

So, in summary, INFORMATION is the most valuable part of your dealership platform.  SOFTWARE TOOLS help you create, view and interact with the INFORMATION.   This brings up the next aspect that is often not understood by dealers without dedicated Information Systems people; INTEGRATION.  

INTEGRATION allows one tool to talk to another tool and access the data.  It can either query the data and use it, or it can even update and add data.   This can be done in the following ways

  1. Direct Database access – if your software tool stores data in a common, accessible database like SQL, MySQL or similar then other tools can read the data. 
  2. APIs – Application Program Interfaces – These are basically hidden pages or screens in your Software that allow other programs to mimic the actions people make.  

If you’re looking at a platform solution that doesn’t have methods for direct access to your INFORMATION, an API or some way to move data to your own database you’ll likely end up finding this a roadblock or hurdle to INTEGRATION of other platform components.   It will in time cause you to be locked in potentially or lose valuable data when you switch.   The truth is, all of these options are possible in modern digital platforms.   

In my next blog I’ll continue to look at important things to consider when looking at SOFTWARE TOOLS, how good choices enable removing silos and duplication.  I’ll also introduce the final piece IDENTITY Management and how this can simplify and improve the flow of your Digital Dealership Platform.

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The Importance of Service

The Importance of Service

Guest writer Mets Kramer is back with a new blog post for us. Read on to learn about The Importance of Service.

Over the past few months, I’ve been travelling to visit numerous dealers all over the US and Canada. During my visits we tend to have long conversations on the state of the equipment market. Everyone agrees it’s been a challenging time and wild ride. Many have never seen such lofty heights, prices and volumes. Machines were both in demand and hard to get and many have had some of the best years. Rental has been strong and many have preferred to rent than sell or buy. One other thing that everyone has in common is a concern about when the music will slow down or stop.  

It’s this unknown future and concern about slowing machine sales that reminded me of my experiences in 2008. In April 2008 I had just joined Terex to help develop the service operations of the new construction equipment group. I was excited to work with my new colleagues and change the organization into a full operating manufacturer.  

Yet, no sooner had I started, then the recession (read collapse) happened in the market. Over a few short months some of the group companies saw a drop of up to 85% in sales. At the same time, I kept in contact with past colleagues at other dealers. There I heard the same, machine sales, regardless of make were down significantly. “But”, they said “The shop is really busy”. It turned out that even with a clifflike drop in sales, people were still out working their equipment.  Furthermore, as the recession continued, more machines came in for major work in place of replacement.  

So here we are again, this time more able to see the economy changing and many dealers are in the same place. Many have not focused over the past years on developing their service business.  This could mean activities including, understanding their currently market share, developing service products or changing the type of work their shop is engaged in. It’s understandable why many dealers have not done this. It’s been a busy time of turning around rental machines or prepping sales machines. Plus, technicians are hard to find and not cheap.  

Yet there is one statement that we have all heard: “Sales sells the first, Service sells the rest”.

With a slow down likely or imminent, now is a great time to start planning what you can do to develop your service business, support your existing customers and deepen your relationships with customers.  

First, understand where you are now. This can be looked at through several traditional metrics but requires some analysis of your business data. Try and find parts and service sales data both by customer and by machine serial number. Group them into behaviors that define your customers.  Consider parts sold through parts, and parts through service. Measure the balance of your labor sales, internal, customer pay or other. You can look at sales vs inventory and so many more. By analyzing this data, you should be able to group your customers, understand what machines generate the most revenue and what percentage of the product support market you’re capturing.   

Second, consider service and parts volume as a measure of engagement. Just like we talk about digital engagement, after sales volumes are a measure of how involved you are with your customers. If you’re not supporting them who is? If someone else is supporting them, are they in a better position to get equipment rentals or sales when customers have more choice during an economic slowdown?

Third, when you understand the situation, develop parts and service products to match the opportunities you’re seeing. Many of these strategies are tried and true and we all know them, like PM filter kits. Personally, I think one of the best programs is a PM program. Why? Because no one really likes doing them, yet they must be done. PMs also bring value and get you a touch point with customers every 250 or 500 hours. A good PM program also lets you measure how much your customers are using their fleets. Are they continuing to work? Are they busy? Parked?   A PM program will give you insight and opportunity to talk to your customer, even when they don’t have any need to buy equipment. During a downturn your sales reps are equipment and fleet managers!

When you do start a PM program here are some rules  

  1. Don’t leave it to your customer to call you! Find a method to monitor all the equipment.  Many machines have telematics from factory, others can be retrofit with hardware for minimal cost. Include it in the cost. Leaving it to the customer increases the likelihood they never call. You are providing a service, make it full service
  2. If possible, set up hourly based PM programs that charge the customer a per hour rate.  Yes, it’s a little more work to run invoices monthly for customers, BUT it builds up a pool of money that will encourage your customer to make sure you do the work. If they pay per service completed, they also have incentive to stop. It also fits their usage, if it’s parked, the PM program costs them no money. 
  3. Follow up! Make sure you use inspection software on every service, take pictures, make notes and come back to your customer with what you found. This shows you’re a great business partner and gets you extra work.  

Finally, developing your service business has one other really important benefit, it keeps your techs working. One of the worst outcomes of a downturn is losing (through layoffs) the people you need to count on when you get busy again in sales. Developing a service program lets you retain your talent and possibly even pick up some new talent. 

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Going Digital Post-Pandemic

Going Digital Post-Pandemic

Guest writer Mets Kramer brings his digital knowledge to readers in “Going Digital Post-Pandemic.” 

Much has been written about what’s happened over the past 2 years due to the pandemic.  It has affected millions of people in countless ways.  As we near the end of this time, most people will return to working the same way they did before the pandemic and many will wonder why the change, they saw over the last 2 years didn’t last. Why didn’t the transition to working from home, hybrid or flexible work stick around.   A year ago, in the middle, many people talked about how we would never go back, and yet we are.  

A friend of mine owns a staffing company, when the pandemic started, they, like most, sent all their staff to work from home.  After a few months he made a bold move, he closed and sold the office.  He and his leadership team fully embraced the new remote work culture.  They made the decision that working remotely was more than just a pandemic need, but a viable long-term solution.  Then they did something even more rare, they implemented countless changes to their business process and structure to support making remote work successful.   Selling the office was one major incentive but realizing there was a need to adjust how they worked was the most significant change. 

Unfortunately, this disciplined and proactive approach was something many equipment dealers failed to do.  Most companies, in general, cobbled together just enough digitization of their workflow to keep the business running, they didn’t COMMIT to digital processes.   What’s interesting about going digital is the process is the same with or without a pandemic.  To go digital requires a commitment to think digital first, the pandemic just gave us a golden opportunity to justify the change and see it work. 

When the pandemic started, I was largely surprised how many dealers simply “battened down the hatches” of their company ship.  Rather than solving the problems of not seeing their customers in person they simply went back to doing things in the way they “knew” even though everyone was ready to justify a newer approach.   One key area was equipment marketing and sales.  

For most dealers their approach to listing, presenting and promoting their equipment hasn’t changed.  They provide limited amounts of information through traditional platforms.  Yet we have countless examples of how, without the ability to visit the machine in person, video and more complete machine descriptions helped dealers sell machines even at the height of the pandemic.   Customer committed to buying machines from digital information alone, but how many dealers have embraced this and continued it.

In service, I still see a similar lack of digitization where the justification and solutions were abundant.  How many shops still collect paper timecards post pandemic?   There are countless digital service report and payroll timecard systems, paper timecards should have gone the way of the “Dodo,” yet without a conscious commitment to going digital, they have remained the norm. 

Some dealers have embraced this change, they have looked for way to allow they coordinators and admins to work remote and still be efficient by transforming their workflows into digital.   The amazing thing is, this change is exactly the change needed to meet modern customer expectations for a “digital first” experience.   Implementing digital sales delivery platforms like CRM enable digital engagement with customers and simplify sharing digital documents with customers.  Digital service reports and work order scheduling enables integration with customer facing websites to view work order status and communicate the work performed.  In many ways digitizing service departments creates the level of quality service history that justifies a 10% increase in sales prices, at a minimum. 

Going digital, becoming a digital dealership, requires a commitment from management to rethink workflows.  The benefit is a more flexible work environment, a more efficient process and better digital information to support higher prices.   Unfortunately, it doesn’t happen automatically. 

As we near the end, while many dealerships haven’t changed, many things have.  First and foremost, the customer expectations have changed.  Customers have experienced a new world for the past 2 years and many have sought out digital solutions to their one processes, and found it was possible.  This changing expectation adds to generally improved digital options in all areas of life and generational change.  Customers have tasted the digital future and will only want more.   

The second major lingering change is the expectations of employees.  2 years ago, you sent them home to work remote, urgently trying to keep the business going.  They adjusted their lives and saw a future of less commuting and more focused work.  While it doesn’t work for everyone in every role it changed the expectation of what was possible.  Now it’s up to management to change too.

My concern for many companies is management.  For those managers that didn’t rethink their workflows to support a true digital process.  For those that didn’t commit.  For those that didn’t learn to understand what their teams did all day, the urge to bring people back to the office full time will kill their opportunity to digitize their business.  They will have missed the most significant opportunity in their generation.  

One final example of digitization post-pandemic, online parts sales.  How many dealers who had online parts sales before the pandemic, saw an increase in online orders?  How many dealers saw an increase in orders by phone, email and text?   Your customers can buy almost everything they want digitally in their personal life or even for business, yet countless dealers still have not formalized online parts options.  Most dealer sites still have, at best, a form for parts order requests on their website.  Most dealer websites still only have a parts page with a phone number.  It’s time to commit and invest in going digital first, to becoming a Digital Dealership, your customer’s expectations have changed, as have those of your employees. 

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What Is the Role of the Sales Rep in the Digital Dealership?

What is the role of the sales rep in the Digital Dealership?

In tonight’s blog, guest writer Mets Kramer defines and explains what exactly is the role of the sales rep in the Digital Dealership.

At this year’s AED Summit, I ended up in the same conversation several times.  It took one of two forms.  First, the question was raised, what is the role of the sales rep at dealerships in the future? The second, even more blunt, do sales reps still have a use?  If they do have a use, what is it?

Let’s start off by saying, absolutely, sales reps are still important and will likely remain important.

Yet, the fact that these questions are being asked suggests the role of the sales rep must change.  When I spoke to dealers, reps and even some customers, over the course of the event, it became clear that customers are changing.   Modern customers, typically next generation owners or their buyers, have no use for the coffee-bringing and unprepared rep that comes for a chat and to ask “do you need anything”.    Customers now have access to all the information they need about the equipment they are interested in.  From numerous websites, social media and videos a contractor can research to their heart’s content.  They find specifications, performance review, instructional videos and opinions.  They use this information to make their purchase decision, often without the need or involvement of a sales rep.  In a 2014 survey by the Acquity Group, only 12% of all respondents wanted to see a sales rep.  The rest wanted to do their research and get various forms of on demand support.  Imagine how much that has changed in 8 years and with Covid’s acceleration to digital.

When I was responsible for parts and service in Canada years ago, I loved getting invited by sales reps to meet their customers. When we arrived, conversation was always lively, with customers expressing their problems and concerns and we were able to discuss solutions.  Sometimes these meetings took several hours but there was always value.   I started to realize that customers were busy, knew their business and valued their time.  When the conversation was valuable customers were happy to receive us, if not, they had work to get back to.  It’s this question of value, the value we bring when we visit the customer that is changing the role of the sales rep.  Providing value gives us access to the customer’s time and allows us to build a relationship.

Years ago, sales reps were the ones with product training and access to specifications and brochures.  Their value derived from having access to information that customers didn’t have available.  As the internet has taken over a huge part of that role, the value of brochure bearing sales reps has dwindled.  The new opportunity is the role of Trusted Advisor.   This role can focus on different aspects of the customer’s business, but typically it’s based on providing customers with a more in-depth understanding of their equipment and fleet in the context of their business.   For the sales rep it’s a golden opportunity to develop a richer relationship with customers, by bringing more value to their customers, but with a new perspective.

For dealers and manufacturers this transition comes with several challenges.   The first is recognizing the change is happening and unavoidable.  Second it will require restructuring and retraining salespeople and finally dealers will have to become more knowledgeable about their customer’s business and put information in place to allow salespeople to bring new valuable insights to their customers.

This first challenge might be the hardest, it’s one caused by a generational and expectation gap between senior leaders at dealership and the age and expectations of the buyers and decision makers at their customers.   If dealers continue to believe their customers think and act the way they used to, they will make the mistake of continuing old sales models.  They risk continuing to provide sales teams with only modest product training and nothing of further value and they risk having customers who see no value in the sales rep or the dealership.

Once dealers and manufacturers wake up to the new reality of their customer’s expectations, the second challenge begins.  It starts with redefining the role of salespeople, it means recognizing the new and changing channels of communication customers prefer and identifying the areas of knowledge reps need to be trained in.  To some degree this will require sales teams with different backgrounds and skillsets.  They will have to be able to understand construction, contracting and fleet finance.  Dealers will have to invest in more training than in the past.

Finally, after recognizing the change, dealers, with the support of manufacturers, will need to create tools and information that exceeds the capabilities of their customers. These tools will need to be accessible to salespeople in real time, as customers are more informed and want to transact faster.  The information will have to give the sales rep and the customer new insights into fleet management, finance, and project or production costs.   Armed with this information the rep will continue to be a valuable resource for their customers.  They will continue to be welcome.

Once implemented, this new role for dealers and reps will provide even deeper relationships, not only based on friendship and personality, but on knowledge and understanding.  For those dealers that make this change soon it will be a source of competitive advantage and differentiation.  What’s clear is customers are making or have already made the change.  Their expectations are different, how they prefer to engage has changed more than dealers think.

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The Digital Dealership: Metrics Are NOT Integrated Data

The Digital Dealership: Metrics Are NOT Integrated Data

Guest writer Mets Kramer debriefs us on this year’s AED Summit, and continues to explore the Digital Dealership with a look at how metrics are not integrated data.

This year I attended the AED Summit and again spoke on the Topic of the Digital Dealership.  Before going, I wrote in my last blog that I wanted to look at the impact of two influences on the equipment industry in my presentation. These influences are changing the landscape of the industry and all dealers need to plan for these changes. 

  1. The first was the changing customer expectation of being able to work and communicate with their dealer through digital channels.  This expectation has customers wanting to use websites, text messages, chat and others means to communicate, and the use of phone is almost dead. 
  2. The second topic was the use of information in the dealership, specifically integration.  

Information use at dealerships has been a long-standing topic of conversation, from print out reports to the use of metrics. Dealers collect lots of transactional data and turn it into reports and metrics. These metrics are presented to dealership team members who are supposed to use it to improve their performance and that of the dealership.  Frankly, this is not an effective way to drive performance improvement in organizations.  

Even fewer dealership goes beyond metrics and reports by turning information into triggers (You can read more about triggers here). Triggers capture the information gathered in reports and metrics and create action.  They either feed information into the right place for a person to take action, our automatically update systems.  

But there is so much more data available outside our transactional systems…

At the AED Summit this year I had the pleasure of walking around the CONDEX and seeing how many information providers we have in the industry. Many companies collect information from the market and even from dealers to create large and valuable datasets for dealers to use in their business. These datasets include market sales pricing, rental rates, operating costs, auction values, finance costs and much more. This data can predict market trends create heat maps and guide decisions. During one of my many conversations with one of the companies we started reviewing their website. They told me dealers who subscribe come to their website to review data. So, I asked if anyone integrated the data. I was stunned to learn that not a single dealership customer, of theirs, pulled the data back into the dealership DMS or CRM.  

Market data and other sources of data have very limited value if they require you to log into a site and do manual searches or reviews. This way, the data’s value is defined only by the provider’s vision and presentation. Also, you can’t rethink what the data means and apply the analysis of the data to your day-to-day business operations or put it in the hands of people that it matters to.   

In this case, the companies I talked to all have APIs available for integration. This means your existing systems can call a lot of data or a small amount of information and inject it into the right place.   

Here’s an example, in this screenshot from a DMS, we have a function used for setting the advertised price on machines going to the dealer’s websites or to some of the machinery advertising sites: DMS Mets Kramer Screenshot

By injecting live market pricing data into the screens, used by people in their daily activities, your team members can make better decisions. They are rewarded with better performance from their activities. The work required to get this integrated is usually small and is quickly paid back by the time saved looking this same data up on another website. Then the performance increases gained by being more accurate with your pricing is all profit.   

Numerous other opportunities exist in our daily activities at the dealership. For example, market rental rates integration with the functions where users review and set Rental Rates in your platform. Even better, integrated where sales reps log their won and lost rental opportunities.  What about Engagement data from email campaigns? Like data on opened campaigns integrated into your CRM so sales reps can see what their customers are viewing and interested in before they talk to the customer.  

Today’s market leading dealership need to learn how to make use of the vast amount of information available to them. This information is more than nice to have or part of a quarterly review exercise. Leading dealers will optimize all their interactions and engagements by using the information available to them. These dealerships will be Digital Dealers, understanding the value of information, and in so doing get the most out of the huge amount of capital invested in their bricks and mortar operations.  

Are you using the information you have available? Do you have an idea to explore?   Connect with me on your preferred digital channel, even the phone.

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The Digital Dealership – Where Are We Now?

The Digital Dealership – Where we are now?

Guest writer Mets Kramer updates us on where we are now in this continuation of his series on The Digital Dealership.

Next week, at the AED Summit in Orlando, I’ll be presenting the Digital Dealership concept in the education series.  During the hour we’ll have a chance to dive more deeply into some of the topics I’ve presented over the past year. Even more exciting, we’ll get to have open discussion.

The Digital Dealership will focus on the transformative impact of information, expectations and the new channels of engagement with customers and your audience.

Over the past 2 decades we’ve seen a massive shift in the business models of many different industries. We’ve also seen the impact of a changing demographics as new generations come into the working world and as the world of digital communication broadens. The result is a growing gap between the old approach to business, and the younger generations. The old approach to business was built by the older generations who are also, frequently the most senior managers.  The newer generations, who are often the buyers, have their own expectations on how they want to carry out business. This collision of generation, technology and expectation creates both the most significant opportunity to differentiate and grow, and the highest risk to existing dealerships. In the past decade alone, we have seen major retailers and corporations lose decades or even a century’s foothold in their industry. Gone are companies like Borders and Blockbuster, and JCPenney almost joined them. Numerous others have simply failed to keep up and been relegated to the margins. Each of these companies failed to react to clear changes in the industry and buyer expectations, while their competitors did.

There are clear differences between the companies that failed or succeeded. Those that succeeded have several things in common. First, they saw the change in the market and buyer’s expectations and changed their business model to address these changing conditions. Second each of these companies started to understand the importance of information to their business and learned how to apply it. Finally, these companies applied these first 2 points to their entire business, they didn’t make it a bolt on to their existing business, which remained operating in the old way.

The first point is probably the hardest to grasp as it’s a combination of 2 inputs each effecting the other to produce an exponential rate of change in buyer expectations. In today’s business world we have 3-4 generations comprising our teams. With some of the last Baby Boomers still in the work force and often in the most senior positions, Gen X is now well placed throughout organizations, the Millennials are getting a strong foot hold in decision making and now Gen Z is entering the workplace. All this means we have some people who started in the corporate world before any computers existed and, at the same time, we have new entries into the business who have only known a world with smartphones and internet. How these different generations see the realm of possibilities couldn’t be farther apart. I’ll admit, I’m in the generation that thinks if the internet goes down, in a store, they should switch to handwritten bills and take cash, but that makes me old.  Some people have never seen this type of POS terminal, it’s completely foreign, so they would avoid a store that still uses it. Furthermore, our youngest generations have always been able to find the information they needed, when ever they wanted. When they wanted something, they can order it from their phone. This collision of generational experience gap and changing expectations will drive the fastest change in business to business buying and business process we have ever seen. Change we’re already seeing in other industries.

Information has both contributed to the prediction of change and the resetting of expectations in all areas of commerce. Many of the most admired and referenced companies in our world have been the best at applying information and technology to their business, vaulting them over competitors, or blasting from obscurity to relevance. Information, and more importantly the analysis and application of information, has allowed organizations to foresee changes in the business. They have fine tuned their operations to trim waste and better apply capital.   Furthermore, the analysis has driven action and change. Change in how companies engage with their customers and meet their customers’ growing expectations. While personal relationships and partnership remain a cornerstone of any business relationship, the expectation for partnership now includes deeper integration and focus on improving the transactional efficiencies. Information has inspired a massive improvement in understanding the drivers in a buyer’s decision making. It has highlighted the small differences in presentation and product definition that impact sales. The best competitors have combined this insight with a growing database of customer data to capture increases in total sales and market share.

When the acceleration of changing expectations come together with information, we see the genetics of the best of the best organizations. Those “Most Admired”. These organizations have used the information they are collecting daily to see the growing rate of change coming from new generations, and new expectations fueled by technology, social media and digital systems.  They apply this analysis to all aspects of the business, changing the structure of the organization.  In some industries we’ve seen long standing businesses either change or be replaced by new entrants who understand what a modern organization need to be. For dealers in our industry, both mainline OEM and independents, it’s no longer adequate to meet these changes with partial measures. Your website can no longer be a billboard, your social media engagement can’t just be advertising, your parts department can’t remain a “call for availability” or a “call to place an order” department. Your sales department won’t survive on “call for details”.   The growing rate of changing expectations is your opportunity to succeed.

Each one of you have no doubt worked with family-owned contractors that saw a change in generational management. The original owner handing the business to their children came not just with a change of faces but came with changes in the approach to business relationships, focus of the business and new expectations on your role and how to be a partner.

The Digital dealership looks at all these items in more details. We will also look at actions any dealer can take to assess the impact of these changes in their business. We will look at what actions can be taken to implement new approaches to the business and remain a leading competitor in the field.

If you’re going to AED, I look forward to seeing you in the Digital Dealership session, and if you’re not, I’ll continue to develop the details in this blog series.

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The Digital Dealership, Your Audience: Operations, Part 3

The Digital Dealership, Your Audience: Operations, Part 3

Guest writer Mets Kramer continues to explore all aspects of your audience in the digital dealership with Operations. This is Part 3 of his series.

In the last blogs about The Digital Dealership, we looked at the concept of your “audience”, and how an information driven dealership applies information to addressing your intended audience.  The term, Audience, has become more popular in modern digital marketing platforms, but the concept is not new.  Even with old style billboards which line the side of highways, the Audience has always been the people driving down the road.

A focus on your intended Audience makes a lot of sense when thinking about email campaigns, marketing or social media, but it’s equally valid when looking at day to day operations. Audience consists of the customers and the people who work for our customers. The Audience consists of owners, managers, site supers, maintenance people and even, accounting. Each one of these segments are part of an audience that largely consists of people already doing business with your dealership.

This Audience already knows who your dealership is, but also know more about this audience segment than your prospects and the unknown audience. Knowing your audience means you have information about the contacts. It means you can connect with and forward them more detailed information to enhance your connection and grow in engagement.

Let’s look at an example, related to something we’ve looked at before: your website.

The first thing you should consider is, “If I know the customers who visit my website, why are they there?” Each one of your customer contacts have a purpose of why they visit your website.  If they are in service or maintenance, they likely need service help or parts; if they are supervisors or managers, they likely need equipment; if they are in accounting, they need ecommerce.

Just like we often have multiple entrances to our physical dealership, we should also provide our Audience with the same accessibility to the online dealership. Either use specific URLs, for example, “”, or alternatively, and more effectively, recognize returning site visitors and automatically take them to the last place they went, or where they most frequently go. This uses the information you know about the customer and improves the ease of doing business.

Considering your audience and applying information happens in the dealership operations side too. Many dealers already do this when merchandizing. You place products in the parts department targeting a known audience segment, typically technicians. Since this assumption is generally correct, items they need are likely to sell. The Digital Dealership is about collecting and using information, enabling a customized or granular interaction.

For example, imagine a customer or a technician comes in to buy parts. Do you collect their contact information and confirm their role? Do you provide information based on the provided machine serial number on maintenance requirements, parts needed for maintenance on indicators from telematics about potential issues? If not, do you email the customer’s service manager that a technician came in and additional items might be required. If the pickup is by a small contractor and the owner comes in, providing this information creates numerous additional opportunities. Collecting small pieces of information about each transaction creates the opportunity for a customized and more valuable experience. And who doesn’t want that!

In the early 2000s, when most manufacturers were bringing their online parts systems to market, it was immediately recognized that parts sales through online systems were around 10% higher than instore sales. Users went in to find the new pump they needed, but because a diagram was shown of related parts or a list of seals and fasteners was provided, the users also selected and purchased those items. If you have purchased on Amazon, you’ve no doubt seen the “Customers also Bought” section. This is an example of using information learned from past activities to help customers and increase sales.

Collecting information on known contacts, can also provide other opportunities to target messages to your Audience. Most dealers know if their customers are large or small and who are the recipients of invoices. Knowing this should change the additional items on the invoice. If invoices go to your Accounting or, then include messaging on finance related items like ecommerce options, financial payment integration or similar options. For small customers, when invoices go to the owner, include information on equipment replacement, service needs on their fleet and the like.

In each of these cases, the Digital Dealership collects information on the who they are interacting with to grow the knowledge base and develop actionable information. It applies this information to each transaction or interaction with their customer, throughout the operation. The Digital Dealership places information at the right place and at the right time for team members to make decisions and provide value to the customer.

In 2018, I did my first presentation at AED. It was called “A Granular, Data Driven Approach to Strategic Sales”. We looked at how placing customer equipment data, plus live market pricing data or operating cost information, in the hands of the sales rep which changed the relationship of Sales Rep to Trusted Advisor, giving the Dealership a permanent seat at the table. Arriving at a customer site with valuable and actionable information opened access to the customer much faster than hats and lunches. The presentation also provided a model for using customer transaction and fleet data to predict replacement equipment sales. More importantly, this data provided a much more accurate sales opportunity forecast and inventory model.

The common phase, “You do 80% of your sales with 20% of your customers”, means 80% of your customers likely don’t hear from you enough or experience enough value to keep them from going elsewhere with each purchase. Applying valuable information about your Audience throughout your dealership operation can change that.

This year, I’ll be presenting at AED again on the whole Digital Dealership concept. If you are interested in the idea of “A granular data driven approach to strategic sales”, I’m available to present this idea or other Digital Dealership aspects at your next sales meeting to help your team think like a Digital Dealer.

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The Digital Dealership, Your Audience: Strategic Segmentation Part 1

The Digital Dealership, Your Audience: Strategic Segmentation Part 1

In tonight’s blog post, guest writer Mets Kramer continues his exploration of the digital dealership. Part 1 of a series, tonight we look at strategic segmentation of your audience.

You customers are only a small part of your Audience

All of us have heard the term “audience” over the last few years.  Long gone is the past association of audience with something the queen granted or with sitcom television.  An audience is no longer a small group of people because the internet has grown everyone’s audience.

Yet, even with the automatic growth of everyone’s audience, many dealers don’t think about their audience as they build their digital dealership.  Many of us think about our customers as audience.   Customers come through the door, call our phones and send us emails.  Our customers work with us daily, weekly or monthly as they use the equipment they purchased, or are looking for newer equipment.   Still, our customers are only part of our audience, even if they are a small and important subgroup.

The broader concept of audience is important for us to consider in several ways.  It’s important first when planning our marketing, second in designing operations and finally in developing our strategy.   For this article let’s start with Strategy, since it lays the groundwork for the rest.

The first thing to think about is how will you define or identify your audience.  What groups of people and companies will you want to draw in and communicate with?   This will vary depending on the type of dealership you have, and will need to be adjusted, as you reconsider who your audience is.  This is called segmentation.

For example, for a few large, well-established dealers the audience tends to be fairly set.  It typically consists of all the users of their brand of equipment, in their territory.  Potentially it might only include those customers with accounts in the dealer’s business system.  Another example is a smaller farm and yard equipment dealership.  Here the number of interactions with each customer will be lower, and the dealership needs to find new customers constantly.   A strategic approach to audience segmentation will be different for both these example dealers, but for both, clearly defining it lays the ground work for their business.

To define a dealership’s focus audience, we need to determine what audience segments fit into your strategy.  Start with these 3 audience segments or categories.   How important is each to your business?

  1. Repeat or Existing Customers
  2. Prospect Customers
  3. Unknown Audience (This is typically where your new leads come from)

Next, consider where your audience members are.

Are they:   Local, Regional, National or even farther?  How far do you want to reach? How will your strategy differ for those near you and those far away?

With all the audience segments identified, and priority segments selected, we can create a strategy for each of them.

For each segment the dealership wants to reach, 4 main things must be considered.   First the message, next the communication channels and third the response method.  The final item to be considered is an important part of what makes your dealership the Digital Dealership, it is the integration of known audience information with each strategy.

In creating the strategy dealers need to think about the message.   This is often the product they want to communicate to each audience segment.  Is the product the machine, the dealer’s experience or something else?   Many dealers think they are selling equipment when a significant aspect of value is the dealership.  When communicating to unknown audience members, they merely provide the details of a machine in inventory, they forget to include the more important value the dealership brings.

The strategy should consider the channel for communication.   Dealers should understand what digital channels and platforms their target audience segments are on, where the audience will see or receive the message.  Channels include traditional communications, social media, email etc.  Depending on the product and the audience segment, different channels should be used.  Don’t use the same channel for everything and assume your message reaches the audience.

An often-forgotten aspect of communicating with the audience is the response method.   Typically, the faster the response from the dealer is the better.  Also, the response method should more closely matched the original communication method.  For example, if people are reading your email, they likely want to respond the same way.   We often see dealers mismatching the channel and the response method and seeing poor engagement.

Finally, before we can look at marketing and operations in the next article, we always need to consider the most important aspect of the Digital Dealership, the use of information. This starts by having clear strategies for each segment.  By using the information already known about the audience to fine tune the strategy, we get a much more targeted strategy.   For example, sending marketing campaigns to customers and prospect customers about a new backhoe, to customers known to have backhoes of a replacement age.   Image if your next email campaign started with “Hi Mets, because you currently own a 2012 Case 580SN, we’d like to share information on this 2017 CAT 430F.

In my next article I’ll continue and look specifically at Marketing and advertising to segmented audiences.  I’ll also post a work sheet for your dealership to work through to get started.

Mets Kramer

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Five First Tasks to Becoming the Digital Dealer

Five First Tasks to becoming the Digital Dealer

Guest writer Mets Kramer continues his series on the Digital Dealership with today’s post: Five First Tasks to Becoming the Digital Dealer.

When I started as a service supervisor, part of my job was closing invoices.  On average, I probably opened (and therefore should have closed) 2 work orders per day.  Yet my metric target was 9 days average invoicing cycle   That meant 9 days between the last day someone worked on the machine and when the invoice was sent.  At the time I thought that seemed quite reasonable.  There were always some outstanding items on the work order, or more commonly I was too busy to close them faster.  The metric was an average number of days, so some work orders were much slower to invoice.  Unfortunately, as we all know, invoices sent well after the end of work are more likely to be disputed and less likely to be paid.

Years later, now responsible for all service operations, I started to ask myself where the 9 days came from.  Why not 10 or 8 or 7 or any other number? There was always some reason to be found why an invoice couldn’t be sent yet.   Then I started wondering why, when I send my car in to get work done at the dealership, do I get an invoice right when I want my car back.  Why don’t they wait 9 days to send me my bill?   I came to realize the reason was because the car dealership had figured out how to make sure every part and charge was on the work order before the work was done.  They do this because they won’t get paid if they give your car back before they send a bill, and they can’t hold your car until the bill is ready.

The car dealership had done the work and created tasks to remove all the problems that delayed getting everything on the work order on time.  So, I started the same process at the branches.  Finding out what stopped invoicing the same day and found ways to remove the hurdle.  It included using purchase orders with confirmed values, real-time digital service reports and even just better vendors. We even changed the metric on invoicing cycle. 75% of work orders had to be closed within one day, 25% could average up to 5 days.  This new metric created tasks for people to figure out how to prevent delays and we showed it was possible to invoice same day in almost all cases.

It’s what Ron calls the Art of the Possible.

In 1993, I got my first dial up internet access, via my 14.4 modem, on my IBM ThinkPad 700.  That’s almost 30 years ago.  Clearly the internet has been around for a long time.  Now, in 2021, here we are talking about the digital dealership and still have open tasks and reasons why we aren’t as digital as most other industries.  The truth is, it is possible!  Possible to have our dealerships capable and positioned where we want them to be.

The Art of the Possible, is about completing the tasks you know exist, to achieve your goals.   It might be a matter of getting some additional help to complete the task.  Either because of manpower, knowledge, or technical limitations.  Sometimes it’s as simple as implementing what you already have in existing systems.   Many of you will agree, you have software systems in the dealership with capabilities you don’t use.  Even though it would make the dealership better.

We’d like to help. Make some time to send Ron Slee or myself a list of 3 – 5 tasks you want to complete. These tasks should be oriented toward a goal aligned with becoming a Digital Dealership and from any department. Examples can include “I’d like to allow customers more flexible ways to communicate with us” or “I’d like to store and use information properly to drive sales”.  Send us your open tasks and we will help you work through implementing them.

A few years ago, I went to see a dealer after my presentation at AED.  I presented on using customer fleet data to predict sales and drive sales activities.  This dealer had all the capacity to implement this concept, and even agreed they should be doing it, but it was still an open item on their list, for the last 20 years. Don’t let small hurdles get in the way of being a better dealership for your customers, don’t let a list of POSSIBLE tasks stop you from becoming a Digital Dealer.

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The Digital Dealership – Digital Data Triggers

The Digital Dealership – Digital Data Triggers

In tonight’s blog post, guest writer Mets Kramer brings us to the bright side of technology in the Digital Dealership – Digital Data Triggers.

One of the best things about computers is they do the boring tasks of wading through data.  It’s a concept that is generally well understood, yet too many dealers are not applying this capability.

For all the years I spent running departments at dealers, I was never a fan of reports.   Reports, to me, are long lists of printed out or on-screen data that I need to read through to determine if there are any actionable situations.  It’s time consuming, especially if done on a regular basis.  I’ve always preferred getting the reporting system to do the work for me.

I LOVE indicators, indicators are the action items you get from a long boring report.   Indicators are the result of analyzing the report data and determining what we should do.  A great example is a customer account balance statement, where we look for people over their credit limit or with aged invoices.   Rather than read the whole list, we often just print the over limit customers and hand them to a credit manager or sales rep to call the customer.

In the same way, the Digital Dealership uses its data, computers and an analyst to create actions from data.  These action items are pushed out through various methods to improve the business or support the customer.

There are 2 main types of actionable data.  First there are activity or event triggered actions and the second are analysis or derived actions.

Activity or event-based triggers are implemented often to follow up on past events.  Great examples are notification to the sales rep 30 days after a customer purchased a machine to schedule an initial service or follow up on performance. Similar triggers are post rental follow up, to find out how the customer’s rental experience was.    The Service department can do a similar follow up after a customer receives their maintenance inspection check list with quoted items found during the service.   If the customer declines them initially, the Digital Dealer follows up to make sure they got done, frequently gaining that work.

The second type of trigger is derived from data or rather the analysis of historic data.  These are often more complex and look for changes in the historic norm to determine if something has changed, which would require action.   This is something we all do in the parts business, for example.  As sales of a part drop off, we analyze the data and, if the part is used on an old model, we determine the need to stock less of them.

Triggers based on data trend analysis often let us get ahead of a problem.   Think of a customer who normally purchases every 6 weeks but has shown no activity in the past 8.   The Sales Rep should be able to connect with that customer and find out why.   What about a customer who was spending $100K per year on service labor, but in the past 6 months it’s been $25K?  In these cases, it’s likely important to understand what’s happening.

Triggers, from analyzing data history or events and put in front of the right person, lead to action.  These action triggers can be as simple as an email notification, or, preferably these triggers are listed as exceptions on a digital platform such as your CRM.  In a CRM the indicator can easily lead to a page listing the customer’s contact information or even instantly connect the call.  Once the call is done an activity is created capturing the story from the customer, and possibly generating a new sales lead.

One of my favorite indicators in Vizybility is “Customer that need follow up”.  Set a contact frequency for an existing or target customer, and the CRM reminds you to call on that interval.  These are great to avoid missing sales for a low volume customer.

In all of these scenario’s computers do what they do best, track and analyze data.   Analysts learn from the data and, in conjunction with a manager, create triggers when certain scenarios are seen.  These actionable decisions, or triggers, are fed to people in the operations through CRM or other systems to support customers, avoid problem.

Next time you’re reading through a long report list and deciding what to do, think about how you could create automatic triggers in your Digital Dealership.

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