Chances are that if you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard someone offer up Internet sales expertise that was completely unsolicited. The person offering up that expertise was convinced that you could benefit from it, as well. However, based on all the variables the expertise didn’t matter. You know that if you follow all the same steps, your results would be wildly different. It’s almost as if the person telling the story just fell into success by accident. Sure they may be wealthy, but a lot of people get wealthy right after they’ve been hit by a car.
One of the advantages of living through the Internet revolution in automotive is being able to observe it from the beginning until its current state. Many thought they found the magic formula and were able to take that formula and apply it to different businesses. Others, took their formula to another dealership, in another state, only to find it to fail miserably. A few people were able to take their formula from one dealership to the next, with different states and brands, and, were still able to find success. Many stepped off the curb never to be heard from again.
If this were a face-to-face discussion, I would put forward the notion that those who have been the most successful did not get that way by accident. Moreover, I would say they had a formula that could be adapted to the primary variables they were faced with. Unfortunately, we’re not face-to-face, so it’ll take a lot of words.
Four years ago, in the Recipe to Success Revisited, I wrote that Coca-Cola stopped potentially killing customers by removing cocaine from its recipe for the health of its consumers (and because they were forced to). Instead of just doing away with an ingredient that literally makes up half of its name, food scientists were able to extract the same flavor from coca leaves, but without all of the bang-bang, that propelled the 70s. They were able to deliberately achieve similar results to their original formula, but with different ingredients.
Over the years, this formula has continued to evolve. Changes were made to adapt to high-fructose corn syrup instead of sugar, and even to caramel coloring to maintain food safety standards. And, while new riffs on the old product continue to this day, the red can evolved from a soda fountain, then from a glass bottle, the formula continues on almost 130 years later. It’s that same formula that only two people have access to. That’s because, if you had the formula, you could make it too.
Maybe in ten million different universes (if you subscribe to the multiverse theory), an earthquake struck, and the ingredients to Coke just fell off the shelf together. And, in the proper ratios, it formed that magic elixir, teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony on 9 or 10 different continents. In this universe, however, it’s taken decades of proper planning, documentation, and thousands of man-hours to create an enduring success that can be replicated in various climates, altitudes, supply chains, and geographic locations around the globe. It’s not an accident.
Internet sales in automotive is a wildly complicated formula. After a few seconds of thought, most would agree the primary ingredients are brand, demographic composition, and geography. There’s another layer of important ingredients which includes inventory, opportunity type and mixture, along with competitive forces. Then there is the layer of various technologies that loosely connect everything together. What’s often forgotten is that these elements fluctuate on a frequent basis over time. And, these are just the ingredients dealerships are stuck with.
The most overlooked ingredient is one that can’t be replicated: the people who put everything in motion The same demographics and geography a business serves also dictates the availability of talent. How much vehicle information can be retained, what word tracks can be repeated verbatim, and the ability to make the most of the tools is a finite quantity bound by any given locale. The salespeople, and those bottom of the heap BD Agents that everyone sh*ts on, are responsible for bottling up the awesome and serving consistently. In my experience with designing lead scoring models, analyzing literally millions of Internet leads (more than 9 million to be a little more precise), a combination of 72 isolated variables seemed to consistently lead to the most predictable result, while also overcoming human resource deficiencies. If you can’t isolate those variables, good luck with planning sustained AND adaptable success.
Just like anyone in automotive, I thought I was THE expert at my dealership. I was among the top producers, my sales efficiency metrics gapped everyone, and I felt invincible. Like everyone, I was given a rudimentary formula, but after all sorts of math and science, MY formula was airtight. Then, I went to another company, in a different city, in a different state, and quickly realized my formula was missing a few ingredients that weren’t available. When I felt like I perfected that formula, I tried it in another city and state, and needed to adapt to new ingredients again. With a lot more science, tinkering, technology, the input of other experts from around the world, ultimately trying it in a different hemisphere, that formula yielded the first direct OEM to consumer e-commerce sale. It was most certainly deliberate. Does it sound like all the resources you can bring to bear? Probably not.
Luck is not repeatable. And, I’m sorry…wait, I’m not sorry…to say we’ve all been guilty of following lucky people. A good portion of the people you follow in automotive were successful under very certain circumstances. The genius vendor CEO, the trainer, the new sales manager from the big city dealership, all lucky. During a specific time, with their brand, demographic composition, geography, inventory, opportunity composition, competitive forces, and a team of people, they found success. If even one of those variables were different, could they adapt different ingredients and still be successful? More importantly, if you, me, or anyone else followed that person’s formula would we find success under those same circumstances? Even more importantly, if we had all of those same ingredients could we make it happen in part of the good ‘ole US of A? Even Canada? If you’re singing “Is It Luck?” by Primus, you wouldn’t be wrong.
We all need to be a lot more critical about the success we’re experiencing, and even more so about the advice we’re absorbing. Is it from good management and strategic planning, or is it just the circumstances of the time? During the summer of 2021 dealerships made more profit those months than they had in a generation ago. Were those sales made on purpose or by accident? Let me put it a different way. Did the customers buy from a given dealership on purpose or by accident? As those ingredients to success (perceived or otherwise) change, say if inventory levels continue to plummet, will the formula still hold up? The same holds true for the new manager from a big-city dealership, the freshly minted Google certified vendor, and people whose income depends on dispensing advice.
It’s hard to avoid unsolicited advice. But, at least it’s free. As we head into the inter-pandemic conference scene, when it comes to committing money, we owe it to ourselves to consider if anyone’s success is a happy accident or if it was from rigorous planning. All should be able to gladly accept scrutiny, discuss the variables, and justify why their formulas continue to be successful. If money is changing hands, they should certainly be able to adapt to the available ingredients, and still achieve a mostly predictable outcome. Otherwise, risk being a passenger in someone else’s accident.