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Data analytics helps, but dealers must do the selling: industry panel

September 21, 2018
The auto industry collects and crunches a growing amount of customer data to get prospects into showrooms. It’s up to the dealers to take it from there.
So said participants in a panel discussion on using data to, among other things, personalize marketing and engage with customers online. The panelists spoke at an automotive analytics conference put on last summer by Thought Leadership Summits.
"After the shopper does all that research and lands on a car and a dealership, it’s a matter of whether the dealership is going to sell a car or muck it up," said Robert Powell, chief investment officer for the California-based Cardinale Group of Companies, which includes 23 dealerships.
Mike Cooperman, a partner at creative services firm Ninedezine, and who formerly worked at, agreed. "A lot goes into technology, but then a human has to sell the car," Cooperman said. "A lot can happen there."
Joe Haley, manager of retail marketing for Mazda North American Operations, said: "Much has happened with personalization to get the customer to the dealership. At that point, they are buyers, not shoppers."
But, he said, keeping buyers in that mood depends on a smooth transition from online to off-line and knowing who they are, based on their tracked research. "To start over again is frustrating to the customer. If the salesperson’s attitude is, ‘I know how to sell cars; let me take over now,’ it’s a disconnect."
Customers are more demanding today, said Powell. "When they want something, they want it now. That’s where data and technology can come in."
Powell offered an Amazon analogy: "When Amazon doesn’t have exactly what you want, it will show you something similar. That’s what we want to do with cars." The auto industry has used customer data for years to sell vehicles. The difference now is the extent of the garnered information.
Drawing from an assortment of sources, data analytics creates customer profiles, predicts probable purchase intentions and more. "A lot more data needs to be analyzed," Haley said. "We’re needing more analysts to ask the ‘so-what?’ question."  
Technology also allows automakers and dealers to track consumers’ online behavior and market to them accordingly, with personalized marketing that’s in sync with their interests.
"A lot of the data is so we communicate with customers more effectively," said Michael Spadafore, Ford’s Intelligent Customer Interactions Strategy manager. "If you are doing it right, you’re likely to provide a good customer experience."
But there’s the knowing when enough is enough.
"The stuff to get under control is avoiding sending a person 100 emails a month from different (dealership) departments," Spadafore said.
"When you get it right, dealers get excited," Haley said of the effective use of customer data. "They see a higher level of people going to their websites and the dealerships themselves."
Marketing differs depending on the type of customer, said Powell. "Someone is either a loyalist to our brand or they are cross-shopping dealers. You need two different marketing strategies for those two groups."