Elgie Bright educates dealership principals and managers of the future.

He heads the automotive marketing and management department at Northwood University in Midland, MI. Many Northwood graduates work in auto-retailing, including Mark Scarpelli, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Assn.

Earlier in his career, Bright worked for Art Moran Pontiac in Southfield, MI, and was a General Motors district sales manager.

In a WardsAuto Q&A, he discusses the e-commerce revolution that’s affecting the dealership world and how students and current dealers deal with it. The following is an edited transcript.

WardsAuto: Are dealerships and their employees prepared to make the most of the e-commerce revolution?

Bright: I get the sense we are behind but catching up, both from factory influence and the fact that dealers see the way retailing is going. That’s why there are so many consultants, trainers and companies around the e-commerce space.

Whether it’s new or used cars, parts, or service, I sense they’re beginning to see the disruptors are out there, how consumers begin their journey and they’re moving fairly quickly toward more web-based sales and service, but they are behind other retail industries.   

WardsAuto: In what sense are they behind?

Bright: When we peruse a dealer’s website, which is where consumers start their journeys today, six out of 10 are current with incentives and specials and all of the things consumers would find useful. Forty percent are out of date. There’s no greater dissatisfier than for someone online to see a used car that has already been sold or a tire special that expired six months ago.

WardsAuto: Why would a dealer let this happen?

Bright: Dealers who are the real believers know (digital) is where the traffic is. Rural and small-town dealers often say their customers are older and they don’t believe that’s where the journey is.

WardsAuto: What kind of e-commerce training should dealers offer to their employees?

Bright: A lot of the 20 Groups. There are a number of companies in this space that will help, from being an advocate to doing it turn-key for you.

WardsAuto: How should students prepare for this type of work in a dealership?

Bright: Fundamental marketing, computer or e-commerce classes are very important. High school students should begin with marketing and advertising classes so they know what the fundamentals of the traditional media platforms have been and where the eyeballs are today.

I tell students this is a game-changer for our industry and anything you can immerse yourself in to get prepared will be to your advantage.

WardsAuto: What e-commerce channels are the most efficient?

Bright: The dealer still has to focus on awareness. The progressive dealer will readily admit most consumers begin their journey online. Truth be told, more and more are beginning on their phones. Dealers today must have an omni-channel approach where it’s almost seamless between their presence in the showroom and the service lanes and customers’ phones. A dealer’s digital presence should be “mobile-enabled” so that anything that is important to the consumer is accessible through tabs and banners and slides.

WardsAuto: Should dealers execute their e-commerce strategies by themselves or should they rely on vendors?

Bright: I have seen it handled very effectively in-house if you have that person who’s deeply vested and comfortable in the (digital) space from search-engine optimization to  all the back-end tools.

But if there are any gaps in their knowledge or execution, it’s far better to sign up with a vendor. Just like the customers who come on your lot, you only have one shot to make that first impression. If someone comes onto your digital lot and you’re not up to date or they’re having trouble navigating your site, you may never get another shot at them. You wouldn’t let your F&I office go unchecked for even a day, and here’s where people are trying to do transactions with you. (Don’t) leave it unchecked.

WardsAuto: What are business-development center dos and don’ts?

Bright: BDCs mean different things to different people. Business development means how do we create revenue for the dealership and how do we retain satisfied, loyal repeat buyers.

The first thing is to commonize the language. Do not think this is just an Internet new-car sales department. It truly is a business-development center responsible for a great deal of revenue.

The first “do” is to have that playbook and map out all the activity: here are the things that are done consistently; here are the people who take the actions and the people who follow up; scripts or no scripts; inbound and outbound calls. It’s the old adage – you inspect what you expect. If your expectations are increased sales, revenue, and profits, it has to be laid out on paper. 

WardsAuto: Should every employee be considered an Internet sales person?

Bright: If you focus on the consumer, everyone becomes an Internet salesperson. If I’m an old dog that remembers the old tickler files and I get a young couple coming in today and they want to communicate through text or email of chat or Facetime, I need to be prepared to do that.

When I was at the dealership, we focused on total quality management. Even though you typically think of it as a manufacturing system, it really helped to focus on the fact that I own this particular position. The focus needs to be on the customer and how he or she likes to be communicated with, no matter who you are in the dealership.