After walking the floor at NADA this year, I was impressed with all the data visualization products. They show you owners, prospects, used, new, demographics, trends, and even what to say to whom and when. Many are in color and include geography, multi-dimensional charts, trend lines and other state-of-the-art reporting features. After more than 35 years in the automotive industry (between OEM, retail, vendor, and new and used), I am encouraged but left with a few questions::
1. What do you plan to do with this data today?
2. How will using this data change how you market today?
3. How will you measure the impact of the data on resulting sales or service and gross?
4. How willing is your dealership to act on the recommendations?
Data-driven marketers always answer these types of questions before they go looking for reporting and visualization tools. They select tools because they do a good job of answering these questions. They work for disciplined organizations that value the data and are willing to use it to guide marketing. They are ready to measure before and after performance so they can attribute impact – with some statistical validity – to the changes they make.
Here are my four simple guidelines for selecting a data visualization tool and/or reporting system for marketing:
1. Your dealership needs to value data
Does your organizational leadership value the recommendations based on the data? Will they follow the recommendations (at least to test) even if they contradict years of “experience” and closely-held beliefs? If they don’t or plan to nick you with a thousand cuts about validity, you will be frustrated beyond belief and never be able to implement the changes the data suggests. My advice is to a) give up or b) select a new organization.
2. There are no shortcuts to good data
What is the source of the data underlying the tool? Does it use your DMS or CRM? If it uses third-party market data, does it leverage legitimate data sources such as Experian? (Note: Showroom Logic’s ZipDriven market share platform uses Experian at its core.) Can the team behind the tool show you why the data is valid and explain its source? There are many tools out there that claim to use “proprietary” data sources and have “unlocked the secret to…” In my experience, most of this is BS. Experian and similar have spent years validating their data and complying with detailed rules and regulations. If they can’t get you what you want or what the “proprietary” people can, chances are there is a reason for it — or it is what my old boss used to call “shishcamunga.” There are no shortcuts to good data.
3. Use data to show changes, improvements or differences
Do you have organizational acceptance that the reports will NEVER match your DMS or your financial statement? This means volume and gross. Data visualization tools typically highlight different timeframes and ways of measuring things that do not sync with financial reporting. It doesn’t matter. These tools are directional and measure changes in performance. Whether it is $1251/unit or $1323/unit doesn’t make a bit of difference if they are both up $100 this month. Trying to get this stuff to match your internal reports takes you down a rabbit hole that is like Alice in Wonderland (from which you will never recover). Use the tools to show changes, improvements or differences. If you can’t get your organization there, my advice is the same as in #1.
4. Tools should enable you to take action quickly and easily
Is it easy to take the decision or recommendation out of the tool and immediately impact your marketing tomorrow? If you have to give it to your agency and wait for them to “interpret” it before telling you what to do, you are wasting your time. Too much gets lost in translation and the agency almost always incorrectly interprets or deletes the recommendation. In this age of data, a visualization tool should give you straightforward, intuitive recommendations that allow you to take action quickly and easily.
I hope you noticed that half of the recommendations deal with the tool and the other half – the most important half – deal with your organizational readiness to use the recommendations.
The biggest mistakes I made in my long career were more about organizational readiness than the use of any tool. You need a hunger for data…an intellectual curiosity about customers and marketing…a willingness to try…and a tolerance to fail once or twice. Once you have climbed this hill, pick a tool that is easy to use and is backed with good, solid data.
Once your company gives you permission to make data-driven changes, don’t get trapped with a complicated product that looks cool but is impossible to use. Furthermore, don’t get trapped waiting for someone to interpret the reports and deliver you their thoughts weeks later. Once your door opens, make sure you drive through it, and can show what you did and how it turned out. Doors don’t stay open for long and sometimes when you let them close, you can’t pry them back open again.