Many companies wrestle with what sort of communications channels to provide their employees and may consider anything other than email a waste of their employees’ time. Company executives visiting a social-networking space for their employees have been known to complain about the potential for diminished productivity. “Can we bury that thing?” is a common design suggestion.
In August Automotive News launched its online community, which includes a Dealer Marketing forum.
If you gauge the worth of a message board by topics such as “What are your plans for the weekend?” or “Stupidest thing a salesperson has done,” you might be justified in thinking that the time and money invested in maintaining an online community is a waste. Speaking as part of the team examining one such forum in detail, however, we discovered that’d be a mistake. We looked at the message board for dealership employees hosted by an automobile manufacturer, and in poring over thousands of posts there, we determined that both the manufacturer and individual dealerships would do well to monitor such forums for the wealth of information they contain. For example, that thread on the “stupidest thing a salesperson has done.” If this subject appeared on the bulletin board of a dealership portal (as it did), what might dealerships learn from it?
Well, in this case, the message thread revealed a very real tension between the sales department and the parts department. Across dealerships, many parts employees felt sales personnel often made their job more difficult because of inaccurate information they were sharing with customers. A savvy general manager at any of these dealerships might take a close look at the comments, then meet with both groups, enabling the one department to better educate the other in how to communicate parts issues and pricing to customers. Monitoring these online communities for dealership employees could be a valuable way to take a temperature check on employee issues and morale. Based on our findings, in what other ways could this sort of social networking among dealerships and their employees prove productive? Let’s take a closer look.
2008 Mud Flaps: I remember a post on these not fitting correctly on the new trucks but can not remember what the fix was.
- Employee posting on the Parts & Service message board
The value of providing an online venue for dealership employees to collaborate quickly and efficiently shouldn’t be underestimated. Often employees can find an answer to the issue they’re trying to address far more quickly by posting a question online than by picking up the phone and flipping through their Rolodex. In fact, they’re likely to get several answers to their question, including some creative solutions, they wouldn’t have otherwise received. For example, when we looked at the Parts & Services section of the message board, we discovered one thread about tailgates being stolen from pickup trucks on dealership lots. Employees learned from the thread that this was a common problem and how other dealerships had addressed the issue. More commonly, the bulletin board was used as an effective means to track down scarce or obsolete parts, to identify parts numbers, to share prices or prices increases and to obtain additional parts information. Those uses demonstrate that the forum acts very much as a valuable tool for employees and not just an online lounge for them to hang out in.
Reception of Products & Services
Have you all noticed that we are being priced out of the market lately? I for one, and probably MOST of us, are paid on commission of sales. If [the manufacturer] prices the parts un-realistically high, the customer walks out, and NO SALE = NO pay.
- Employee posting on the Parts & Service message board
On the Parts and Services section of the message board, the number one subject by far was the cost of parts. Employees were frustrated and sometimes deeply, ALL-CAPS angry at having to explain the high cost of parts to customers. The quote above is among the more congenial. This may not be the sort of feedback the manufacturer wants to hear, but it’s important feedback nonetheless. There may be legitimate reasons for certain parts to be costly. If so, the manufacturer clearly needs to know how to explain that to the dealers, so their parts employees can articulate the rationale. Or maybe they should just cut the cost of certain parts. Either way, they should consider the free feedback they’re getting invaluable.
Consider the following posts on the same product debut by two different sales people:
We are wasting way too many man hours on this at our store. Salespeople are not happy about wasting their valuable floor time.
There will be a big learning curve for the older set who choose to learn the new technology, but the younger set, who are the buyers of tomorrow, will demand this as a feature … and will not live without it.
Online communities can provide an excellent way to gauge dealerships’ reaction to new products and services. Are they excited at a new product debut? Or concerned that they’re going to be spending an inordinate amount of time attending to a new product at the expense of making more money elsewhere? What about the quality of training offered on new products? All of these topics were covered in detail in the posts we examined.
COME ON [MANUFACTURER] DO YOUR HOMEWORK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I think [the manufacturer] is doing the right thing in being aggressive in this technology.
That is a mistake by [the manufacturer] IMO
- Comments by dealership employees on both the parts and sales side
On the same message board, we also encountered a lot of, well, plain-speaking about the manufacturer and where various dealership employees thought it was going. Obviously, one of the biggest fears manufacturers would have over the sort of free-for-all atmosphere often typical of these forums is misrepresentation or even plain denigration of their brand. It’s a risk they need to take. Such forums probably aren’t open to the public anyway and the attitudes shared there probably aren’t unusual. Trust the online community to address any distinctly unprofessional behavior and remember that people are likely to be better behaved when interacting within such a forum in a work environment anyway. That’s not to say that such forums may not need to be moderated or even censored occasionally, but the very fact that employees can express themselves in such a venue allows for a tremendous opportunity for the manufacturer to understand how its brand is being perceived. Sure, you’ll see some to and fro, but if the same brand issues and characterizations keep coming up, it’s likely pointing to a very real problem the manufacturer needs to address. Why obscure such helpful feedback? There’s tremendous value to being the fly on the wall.
The dealership environment understandably requires a lot of floor time, but allowing employees to interact socially online not only allows them to communicate more efficiently, it also provides manufacturers and dealerships with access to information they wouldn’t have otherwise.
Social Networking Options for Dealers
Here are some networking options for dealership employees, who may not have access to an internal social network or may just want another outlet.
Automotive Digital Marketing – This site was created on Ning, which allows registered users to set up social networks of their own. The garishly colorful ADM site offers profiles, a forum for posting discussions and groups, as well as blogs, a chatroom and an embedded mp3 player highlighting podcasts and advertisements. The site has more than 1,500 members and was started by Ralph Paglia, who is Director of Digital Marketing at ADP Dealer Services and based in Phoenix.
Automotive News’ Dealer Marketing forums – Currently moderated by Adrian Madland, Google’s head of Automotive Strategic Partnerships and Matt Muilenburg, VP of Product Solutions for Cobalt, these forums focus on Online Marketing and Emerging Media respectively. The forums are part of the Automotive News online community, which launched in August 2008.
Car Dealer Social Network – Another Ning site, the Car Dealer Social Network currently has more than 400 members and gives you the opportunity to set up a profile, create and contribute to discussion threads in a forum, create and join groups within the network. The site was created by James Rucker, vice president of search marketing for TK Carsites in Orange, Calif.
DrivingSales.com – Jared Hamilton started this site in 2003 as a class project when he was a student at NADA’s Dealer Candidate. Since June 2008 the DrivingSales community has been open to all industry professionals, including dealership employees, vendors, OEMs and other professionals who want to connect with them. In addition to discussion areas, the site features vendor reviews and blogs from dozens of contributors including ADM’s Ralph Paglia and CDSN’s James “J.D.” Rucker.