Technology helps dealerships sell products, but computers aren’t known for their winning personalities.  

That’s where humans come into play, says Bryan Armstrong, e-commerce director at VW of Southtowne in Sandy, UT. “People buy from people.”

That said, his organization uses “the best systems out there,” he says during a round-robin of debates at a recent DrivingSales conference. “Tools facilitate sales, but it’s the great people that matter most. Tools are just that: tools.”

Sticking strictly to humans, who’s best suited as a dealership Internet manager, a car guy or a tech whiz? That’s a conference question posed to Armstrong and another e-commerce director, Kevin Frye of Jeff Wyler Auto Group in Cincinnati.

They don’t necessarily duck the question, but their answers go past it.

“Who is best, the old car salesman or the Internet geek? It’s neither,” Frye says. “What you need is a leader able to sell change.”

Change agency has propelled the Wyler group on the WardsAuto Megadealer 100 ranking, he says. “We went from No.58 in 2011 to No.9 in 2013.” 

The perfect Internet director is “a great guy with Internet skills,” Armstrong says, describing what some people consider a rarity.

Boldly touting the importance of technology at dealerships is Larry Bruce, president and founder of OnlineDrive, a digital marketing firm. “Technology is taking over, whether you like it or not.”

Taking exception to that in another spirited conference debate is dealership trainer Jerry Thibeau. “Technology shouldn’t take over from salespeople.”

Bruce rebuts: “No one likes being replaced by technology. But guess who doesn’t care? Customers don’t. They want a clean, fast buying process, and technology provides that. You don’t have to like it, you just have to live with it.”

Conference attendees Subi Gosh and Jon Sherrell square off on stage to argue whether an outside firm or a dealership itself is best suited to run and maintain the store’s website content.

“We go outside, looking for experts,” says Gosh, sales director for Joyce Koons Automotive, a Virginia dealership group. “The responsibility of the website falls on the vendor. Our responsibility is to make sure they are doing what we’re paying them to do.”

But that’s relying too much on a contractor who may fail to fully understand a dealership’s marketing needs and budget, says Sherrell, e-commerce director at the Rairdon Auto Group based in the Seattle area.

“We’re not going to outsource our marketing stuff,” he says, adding, “Have you ever had to call and wait for a ticket to get a website change?”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com