Ben Hadley: Can digital and physical meet at the dealership?

By: Michael Cirillo   |   17 Nov 2022

Ben is the CEO and founder of Autogenous, a community of high-growth dealership marketing specialists that identifies challenges and creates innovative technologies to solve them.

Ben has worked at some of the most prominent firms in our industry, including Prodigy (now Upstart), Clarivoy, and Dealer Inspire.

He has over a decade of experience in the automobile industry and has assisted thousands of dealerships in maximizing their sales efforts by streamlining the coordination between their marketing channels and in-store sales process. He is also an expert at making connections that others miss - what a skill!

This episode delves into the history of vehicle dealerships and explores what's on the horizon for the industry overall—and perhaps most importantly—how car dealerships can prepare to meet shifting customer expectations.

Compared to the earliest gas-powered automobiles produced in the 1880s, electric and hybrid vehicles of today (EVs) are almost unrecognizable. The same cannot be said about the actual procedure of purchasing a car, which has remained mostly the same over the years. While technological, cultural, and societal changes have affected the old dealership model, most car-selling procedures have remained the same. Where does that leave us?

As more consumers seek the opportunity to buy cars online, auto dealership owners and general managers (GMs) must assess how the traditional car-buying cycle must change to suit customer expectations.

Ben believes that technology does not replace humans but enhances them by making them smarter, faster, and better at connecting the dots. He continues by explaining his thought process: "The first places we created transparency weren't brand and culture. We began by evaluating pricing and the vehicles, both of which reduce our work to a commodity. It's okay if the customer negotiates if you only discuss the price. Because you basically told them already, is that all you possess? And that was all we did for a considerable amount of time."

Consequently, when you commoditize your product, you also create a second-order impact of commoditizing the client, akin to the perfect storm of reducing customers to mere steel. And automobiles are essentially identical to repurposed steel; they are merely commodities.

Then it will get easier and more accessible for technology to comprehend commodities, and you will have essentially laid the groundwork for technology to replace humans. Consequently, we need to double down on humanity and double focus on technology geared toward the end user rather than the customer.

Another common thread among the various technological advancements and innovations of the past ten years or so is that nearly all of them were made with the car buyer in mind. They weren't made with the BDC worker, marketer, or GM in mind.

"Those guys were kind of the other option, and so I picture a future that we need to pivot towards, which is kind of like Ironman, where, you know, Jarvis actually makes Ironman great, but he is not as good on his own. Even with Tony Stark in there, it just isn't the same. You have to take action by pressing buttons, giving orders, etc."

When people go out to purchase a vehicle, they seek convenience and simplicity. Most consumers still prefer the personalized, human touch that can only be provided by a local dealership, despite the growing popularity of online-only auto sales.

To succeed in the future, car dealerships will need to find new approaches to integrating digital resources while delivering cutting-edge customer service in person.

So, should dealers and original equipment manufacturers continue to pursue their own parallel paths, or should they join forces and share the client connection – and the revenues it creates – in new multichannel ways? And what does the future business model look like? Is it an open, universally accessible platform? Or is it a network model built on unique collaborations with third parties?

Listen to the full episode for insights and context from Ben! 



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Thanks, Ben Hadley!

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