Sing it with me – “I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now, I see.” This is the truth – except the being blind part. Attending the 2007 Digital Dealer Conference “…saved a wretch like me.”
You will not learn anything in the article – not much at least. There is no structure to this piece like my typical articles – just a stream of consciousness and writing from the heart. This is my personal story about my time at the most recent Digital Dealer Conference in Las Vegas. A thank-you note, if you will, to those that had a profound impact on me. Later in the article, I will tell you some of what I learned, but first, I need to get something off my chest.
I have always been a confident guy. I believe in myself, that I am good at what I do, and am an upcoming expert in an evolving field. My past articles have been calls for action to change the culture of Internet car sales. I say often, “I don’t claim to know everything, but I claim to be right about everything I know.” However, on the way to the conference, I began doubting myself. I felt empty. That my search for increased knowledge and enlightenment would go unfound. I was in a rut; I just didn’t realize it until now.
Maybe I expected more from myself after college than being in car sales. Not trying to demean the industry where I make my living, but admit it. It’s not the sexiest and coolest of responses to the questions asked at every barbecue. “What do you do?” Your answer almost brands you as a “bad person” in some social circles. But I’m not a bad person. Never have been. As a matter of fact, I have been told one of my biggest flaws is that I try to please too many people. I try to motivate others, make people laugh. I consider myself a comedian, a storyteller. I’ve been involved in improv and sketch comedy in Chicago for years to back up these claims. I am extremely passionate and extremely opinionated – a big man with bigger ideas and the biggest of hopes and dreams. Somewhere, though, sometime recently, I must have lost that passion for our industry. After four and a half years, the monotonous multi-tasking of an ISM’s daily work had taken some of my spirit away. The Digital Dealer Conference gave it back.
My dealership is not filled with monsters. We have good people selling and servicing vehicles. Our management team is friendly, though not exactly Internet-oriented. Ownership is supportive. We are an atypical dealership compared to others, I believe. At the conference, though, I met truly fascinating people with a genuine care for others’ ideas. Some became friends. These are people I hope to be associated with for a long time.
I will namedrop some and conceal the identity of others. I had the opportunity to rub elbows with leaders in the field – people I was excited about meeting and speakers that gave me far more to think about and focus on than I had ever imagined. Jim Ziegler, the keynote speaker, was impressive, but I was also pleased to find myself sitting next to our very own Sandi Jerome (whom I had never even met until that point) and was able to attend her informative seminar just afterward. Clayton Stanfield overwhelmed me with his comprehensive understanding of the bigger picture of Internet sales. Jared Hamilton and Trevor Hill spoke about ISMs being groomed for a GM position. If only everyone realized the business sense of this. Stephen M. Stauning gave ideas for negotiating with vendors that opened my eyes. However, it was another speaker, Craig Criswell, that said one of the more memorable quotes regarding the topic of vendors. It wasn’t during his seminar (which I believe to be one of the strongest). It was over dinner one night. I had the opportunity to “talk shop” with Craig and the amazing gentlemen from ILead Control (more on them later). As if talking to a vendor and pointing with the authority of a professor and the knowledge, experience, frustration, and resolve in his voice of someone who has fought in the Internet trenches, he said, “The vendors’ job is to make us money! It is not our job to make them money.” Even though it makes perfect sense, I had never heard it stated so clearly. I was in and among my peers and mentors. Craig had been successful in the Internet field before I even had a driver’s license. (Sorry, Craig, that’s not a shot, it’s a compliment.) It was an amazing opportunity to share my ideas and ideals with those people.
The vendors were impressive. To see products and services ahead of their time instills a passion for the industry I have never had. I see the light farther down the tunnel and know I’m heading in the right direction. I actually know what I want to do with my career. Suzanne from 5Square was a delight, Jason from Dealix, Dan from VinSolutions, the crew with BZ Results – all with great ideas and products. There were too many vendors to mention.
I’m saving the best for last. I want to thank Bill Hilbun and Steve Norby of ILead Control. It is so refreshing to spend time with likeminded individuals of such high moral character as these two men. To know people like this still exist in our industry makes me feel better about my choice in careers. I want them to know how truly grateful and overwhelmed I am by their support and friendship.
You just don’t go for the seminars, but the opportunity to spend time with others like you – others with the same concerns, triumphs, work ethics and goals. This article is for everyone. To the fun and crazy Internet director from So Cal who, while partying, decided to get a tattoo. To the spunky ISMs from Colorado for the long, strange night of karaoke support. To the ISM downstate from my dealership that admitted mystery shopping me after reading a past article and complimenting all of my content and my follow-up effort. I wasn’t mad I was mystery shopped, I was flattered. You know who you are. I definitely hope to see you all again.
I leave feeling fulfilled – for the first time in a long time. I’m passionate again. I see the future of Internet car sales and it excites me. It will always be evolving, always changing and growing – much like life I suppose.
Hopefully, you can read and understand what the Digital Dealer Conference has done for me. It’s given me a new outlook and new ideas. If this article motivates just one of you to attend the next conference and you gain half of the pride and enjoyment in our industry that I have found again, this rambling, inarticulate story has done its job.
You may think I’m crazy. I’m actually rejuvenated. The Fall 2007 Digital Dealer Conference in Las Vegas – I went to the desert, but came home refreshed. What are the odds?
Thank you for allowing me to share my experience with you. I hope to see you at the next conference and, in the meantime, I wish you all success.