You’re in esteemed company. I’m not sure if you know it or not, but if people’s bylines are accurate, you’re connected on Facebook and Twitter to 300 social media experts. You must really be doing something right.
Truth is, everyone oversells their expertise. Our industry is no exception. This is both true for many consultants and is especially true for many of those automotive retail superheroes proclaiming themselves to be more impactful to their dealerships than they truly are. At dealerships, people are (incorrectly) judged by a few, different variables. We deem people successful based on:
- Their dealership’s sales numbers
- The volume & repetition of their voice on blogs/forums/social networking sites
- Their reputation
Now you’re thinking, “Beyond social media prowess, what’s wrong with believing someone is legitimate if their reputation or their dealership’s sales numbers support it? That’s EXACTLY what we should be holding people up to the light for, correct?”
I say, “yes and no.”
It is my (controversial) opinion that far too many Internet Directors, eCommerce executives, and the like are overrated. Have their dealerships been successful? Yes. However, is it always their specific role that has made their dealership so profitable? No way. We are purporting Internet Directors to be experts because their dealerships sell many cars. Couldn’t it be, just maybe, that their dealership has been helping customers the right way for 50 years? Could that have helped their dominance? Or maybe they dedicate so much money to marketing, it is hard not to dominate a small market? Could that be the case? Could they be so incredibly aggressive on price that they’ll always capture a significant market share? Yes, yes and yes.
Many Internet Directors are products of their environment. They were hired by a dealership already doing many of the right things, and the moment they began tracking Internet activity, it appeared “Internet” is responsible for more sales. It wasn’t the Internet Director’s influence, but the dealer’s long-term, sustained success. It has been the marketing spend, not the Internet Director’s hard work, that deserves the credit. I love passionate Internet Directors as much as (if not more than) the next person (after all, I was one), but too many receive accolades for nothing more than good, progressive ownership.
“Then how do they get such great personal reputations?” you ask. Reputation is often confused for “recognition”. And recognition can be bought. Recognition can come from a vendor looking to promote an individual dealer client loyal to them (and loyalty doesn’t always mean greatness). Recognition can also come from something as simple as joining the winning side of an argument on a forum. There are many ways to get “recognition”, yet it doesn’t prove they’re any better than the next. The problem is that recognition often leads to popularity… and popularity breeds a following. Yet far too many people aren’t truthfully successful enough to be rightfully followed.
For a long time, I’ve made it a goal to mystery shopped every single eCommerce/Internet expert that blogs on the forums, makes the cover of a magazine, or speaks at a conference. It’s not just that I want to see if people are as good as they’re exclaiming themselves to be, or to determine if they can put their money where their mouth is. I want to always learn from those in the trenches. While I train automotive dealers, all (reasonable) consultants will freely admit that we are at a disadvantage in the fact that we don’t have the “all-day-in-the-showroom” benefit that we used to have. We don’t have the ability to experiment with new, advanced technology and tactics as in-depth as we used to. We can show and tell, but we can’t enforce. For that reason, we must always continue to learn from those that are actually implementing said tactics. Mentors don’t know it all. We, as consultants, may conceive the idea, and recommend it to be utilized, but we can’t write the checks and crack the whip to ensure it actually takes place. Transformative strategies first must be applied in the showroom.
And I mystery shop them every time. If an eCommerce Director is bragging online about their Internet sales expertise, you can be sure that they get mystery shopped in email and phone…just once… to see what they’re doing that makes them so special. Want in on a secret? Many of them talk a great game, but none of their words online transfer into action on the floor. Many people know the right things to do (or say) about their retail prowess, but few have actually applied these tactics they talk about in their own store. They develop a following through regurgitation, yet have no experience in the execution. Shameful.
If you’re a dealer reading this, and you have an Internet Director making a name for themselves, just make sure they keep as focused on the dealership’s bottom line as they do on improving their own name recognition. Look at their reports and prevent falsehoods. Stop any untruthful boasts they exclaim online and bring them back down to reality. They may actually strive harder to be as good as they say they are.
So before you start idolizing someone you see on the cover of a magazine or on a stage at a conference or featured in an automotive resource site, double-check if they are the real deal. Do they walk the walk? Do they operate their own business as well as they claim they do? Or are they products of their environment? Are they show ponies? Are they boasted by self-serving vendors looking to champion someone for all the wrong reasons? Are they fudging their numbers (which I have first hand knowledge that several do)? Have they employed the tactics they write about in their own stores? Or are they just blowing smoke, successful for no other reason than they are one spoke in the wheel of a well-oiled, professionally-run dealership organization with a great reputation. If you hold a magnifying glass the to truth, you’ll often find it’s the latter.
This is a small, tight-knit community. You don’t have to be an expert; you just need to be a professional. I’m not intending to call anyone out or ruffle anyone’s feathers. I’m simply trying to protect the up-and-comers from idolizing someone they deem “above them” when the only thing holding that person up is a wobbly house of cards. I see many Internet Professionals both pounding their chests and receiving accolades that are woefully undeserved after a modicum of research reveals their expertise or execution is all smoke with extra mirrors. Just be careful who you model yourself after. Instead of trying to mirror another’s success, I urge you to try to make your own. Be your own you and you’ll never have to follow a false prophet.