Modern auto dealers need to innovate, but they also need to determine what kind of innovators they want to be.

“Know what strategy is best for you,” says Jared Hamilton, founder and CEO of DrivingSales.com, the industry’s largest car-dealer social network.

Some dealers like being “out there” when it comes to using the latest and greatest technologies. Others are less bold. But sticking with same-old carries unpleasant consequences, he says.

Hamilton describes five different levels of dealer innovators in their use of the Internet and advanced technology to help them achieve peak “operational efficiency.”

One group consists of what he calls “bleeding-edge adopters,” a few brave souls who are willing to use unproven technology.

Then there are the so-called cutting-edge adopters, who are in early but not first and still consist of a minority.

Next is the “early majority,” says Hamilton, the son of a dealer. “They are pragmatic and where most dealers are today.”

Late adoptors are the ones that get on board just before the ship sails.

Last are “those that missed the boat,” he says. An example of them might be dealers who still wonder why they should use the Internet to help sell cars.

It is essential today for a dealer to stand out from the crowd, Hamilton says. “In many respects, a dealer is the same as a competitor when it comes to product. So it often comes down to how we treat customers and develop our brand.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com