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Chris Sondesky Interview
Interviews

Chris Sondesky at BDC Pros

Chris Sondesky of BDC Pros, calls on his years of experience as a Sales Manager, GM, F&I guy and more – to go over some of the areas he feels dealerships are leaking profits, and what you can do about it. Kelly also asks Chris his opinion on some of today’s vendors and a list of who is a reliable vendor as well. See more automotive news you can use at DealershipNews.com

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Kelly Kleinman:
Hello from Southern California. This is the DealershipNews.com podcast where we bring you the new and old school insight into the business of selling cars and service. So you have the foresight to grow your dealership and stay ahead of the competition. I'm Kelly. Kleinman. And here is our show.

Kelly Kleinman:
Kelly Kleinman here today we have with us Chis Sondesky, the managing partner at BDC Pros. He has over a decade of experience in the digital side of car selling and buying and has worked with more vendors than the Cleveland Browns have worked with quarterbacks. He's one of our featured blogger/vloggers for 2020 and he's with me here now. Chris, welcome to DealershipNews.com.

Chris Sondesky:
Thank you so much for having me. Kelly., I really appreciate taking the time out here on this Friday.

Kelly Kleinman:
So some of what you do at BDC Pros is to fix problems and find solutions. I'm just curious is what your checklist looks like when a dealership or dealership group engages you.

Chris Sondesky:
So the checklist starts in a couple of places. Really, it has to be about the consumer experience. So the first place that we always look is what the consumer experience is like on a consumer facing side. So we get people that don't necessarily work directly in the day to day with us. We get them to shop as consumers for the dealer. So we take it from an outside perspective of a bit of a mystery shop to see what the experience is like for the customer. Are the tools and widgets on the Web site giving accurate information? Are they consistent? Is there a pricing disparity in different places? How do the photos look? How do the photos present? Are the window stickers? Are there easy paths of conversion for that dealer? We find so many times that a dealer puts all these resources into the marketing and advertising and Web site conversion, and we don't even know for capitalizing on it from a conversion basis. So first, that's really step number one.

Kelly Kleinman:
Interesting. Where our dealerships dropping the ball most frequently. Is it in trainee equity, mining, hiring the wrong BDC personnel, vendors?

Chris Sondesky:
Yeah. I'm going to elect to take an E on that one for all of the above. It's. There are so many various places that the profit just leaks out of your dealership and all of those from from really a consistent picture. Some places fall short on, you know, we'll have stores that it kind of cascades. It's this effect of well I don't necessarily have the right personnel in the BDC. So if I don't have the right personnel, will nobody's servicing my equity mining. So let's go and turn that switch off and then we might have a different lead provider who was doing good previously for us. But that ROI has dropped.

Chris Sondesky:
And instead of diving into the ROI because we have more important things, potentially that month, we might chop that vendor and that it's six months, nine months later we go to look at it. If if the dealer is not focusing on managing the ecosystem, that's where it gets missed a little bit. And there's been such a change to the ecosystem in these last five years even that it really takes a fresh look. What worked three years ago doesn't work today. What worked 10 years ago might work tomorrow. So those are the things that dealers have to be mindful of. It's don't change too much too quickly, but change has to happen as long as you're measuring it along the way.

Chris Sondesky:
We are not fans of the knee jerk reaction of, well, you know what, let's just kind of wipe the whole, say, slate clean and start over there. There needs to be a more analytical look at it from a business intelligence perspective.

Kelly Kleinman:
Now, we do ongoing research over here from time to time. And a couple of years ago we reached out to 400-plus car dealerships. Only about 18 percent of them had what I would consider acceptable phone and Internet follow up. Why does that seem to be such an ongoing issue in dealerships?

Chris Sondesky:
It's because dealers forgot what we're so good at. We are great at selling cars. For over 100 years, we have been selling and servicing and marketing and advertising these cars and doing so with the general public. Things changed a little bit. The consumer was able to get information without coming into the store and that dynamically changed the game that we were in. Only 18 percent you considered acceptable. We aren't even finding the number that high nowadays.

Chris Sondesky:
So in the last four or five years, I should say four or five, it'll be five in March. Since I walked out of a dealership as a retail employee for the last time and now do it from this side.

Chris Sondesky:
We have shop over five hundred stores across the country and we audit those on a seven day lead response basis. I'm lucky if we find one in 12 or one in 15 that actually are sufficient. So that would be six to eight percent are acceptable in our ecosystem. Why is that such an issue? I think it comes from a little bit of the unknown. There's a lot of snake oil. There's a lot of folks in this space who many are terrific, have really great storied retail backgrounds and have built awesome businesses by helping dealers help their customers buy cars. Unfortunately, there's a lot of insight from folks that don't have that dealership experience, that haven't done the time in rank or time in retail to really have an understanding. So, you know, when you have folks who haven't been in those seats in a dealership, haven't been a used car manager or a general manager or involved in operations or marketing or advertising. They might not know all the pieces of the formula that goes into it. And therefore it doesn't get the attention it needs. And then with all the bi sales that have been happening, we have seen so much turnover from a store ownership basis in these last few years that many times folks will come in and they kind of want to start with a clean slate. They want to put in their processes and sometimes things like the training get left behind. So for a dealer to really focus and measure it, they have to have their own ecosystem. We get asked about benchmarks all the time. And the only benchmark that matters is the one for your dealership is for your financial statement, because what works here in Philadelphia might not work out there on the West Coast, might not work down south, but there's pockets. And all the dealers, all of us in this business face the same challenges. It's just the suite of solutions that goes into making them better,.

Kelly Kleinman:
Well you practice what you preach. Tell us about your experience and the base of knowledge that you bring to a BDC.

Chris Sondesky:
Sure. And I appreciate that. Kelly.. Thank you. So my my career started when I was a teenager. I was just 14 or 15 years old. I had a friend that worked at a buy here, pay your car lot. And I'm like, wow, you know, look around. I'm like, you guys get to play with cars all day, like, that's just your job. You just get in new cars like a couple times a week and drive them around and sell them and clean them. And this is great. So back in 2001, I spent a lot of time with. Wholesalers and used car stores here in the Philadelphia market and kind of learned that part of it. So I learned kind of that gritty street gravel lot kind of piece and then progressed in the new car store and went through the ranks of the salesperson sales manager. I've done F and I, although I'm not remotely good at it. And candidly, I'm not good at it. I've never had great training.

Chris Sondesky:
And then I kind of learned the Internet piece because back then in 99, 2001, we saw a lot of cars on eBay. I was at eBay Motors, dealer assistant backhands and listing 50 cars a week on eBay and we'd sell half of them. I was back when you could actually make gross on eBay with some unique cars. So I always looked for a new challenge. How did g_s_m_ challenge?

Chris Sondesky:
That was terrific. Working at a Suzuki store and then became a GM used car store. And my last gig in retail was as a group BDC and marketing director where we had a $5 million dollar a year ad budget, a BDC that produced 1.3 million dollars a month in gross profit with barely a dozen reps.

Chris Sondesky:
And we learned the efficiency of that machine. So for us, because in my role at that store I had to be accountable for the marketing and advertising. We learned how to really game the ROI out of our leads, who's contactable, who's sending us valid leads? If I have a lead provider sending me 100 leads and I could never talk to more than 40 or 50 of them, what is the quality of those leads about? And that was something that we got really refined on. And out of that, we built a very efficient tracking ecosystem and that that built a really strong department.

Chris Sondesky:
To this day, I've been out of that dealership four and a half years to this day, 70% of their staff or people that I hired and trained to work at that store and they do a tremendous job.

Kelly Kleinman:
That's going to see that's an amazing retention rate considering 70% is the exit.

Chris Sondesky:
Yeah. Yeah. So when I left the store, I went to a training company for a short time, found that that wasn't necessarily a right fit for me. And then what was two really large agencies, both of whom do terrific work, and that got me national exposure to see other stores and how they run and that a lot of the problems we solved were things that happened at stores across the country. So having the ability to impact so many lives and so many different stores was awesome. And it taught me a lot about the similarity of challenges from store to store, market to market.

Chris Sondesky:
Both of those organizations gave me an opportunity to build my own goals business unit, follow my dreams, do what I love. And this it sounds weird, but here I am doing what I love running an offsite BDC that we're based here in Philadelphia and our team does a tremendous job at a very efficient level that it's not about replacing what's in place at a dealership. It's about making it better.

Kelly Kleinman:
Well, let me ask you appreciate those shout outs. I'm sure some of the folks that used to work with do as well. Sure. So for the dealerships that have the majority of their process is fairly well organized, fairly oiled. BDC Pros is also has an a la carte menu and that includes CRM analysis, which can actually be fairly complicated. Draw some examples with those analysis look like.

Chris Sondesky:
Sure. So diving into things like CRM analysis, I mean this is one of those things like iron sharpens iron. You know, you cut diamonds with other diamonds. Right. So jumping into a CRM analysis is really focused around seeing what the dealer measures. So many times I sit down with a dealer and they'll print a report from their CRM and they'll say, help me understand this or they'll say, my 20 group does it this way or another GM and my group does it this way. And we'll dissect some of those numbers. I'll take a CRM like that. In eLeads, for instance, you use the traffic management report for the new traffic management report, which you look at damn near identical. But there's some caveats to how they calculate.

Chris Sondesky:
So staying consistent and we look in those for some of the proportion or proportionate things that happen in a dealership. What's your walk in traffic proportionate to your phone and internet traffic? Are you getting enough traffic from your internet leads to say, hey, we need to do something different here or. And this happens quite frequently. We kind of have to help with a bit of the facts and say, Mr. Dealer, you're doing a great job here.

Chris Sondesky:
It's the outside noise that tells you that you're not because people want to run around and say that they have 20 percent closing ratios at 25 percent closing ratios. Then we find that they're looking at only valid leads or contactable leads.

Chris Sondesky:
So it's about it's about a level set for the dealership when we're looking at a CRM analysis. We want to look at things like the volume of leads that come in. How many of those are we contacting? How many contact attempts are we making if we are speaking to people and not setting appointments?

Chris Sondesky:
What is the process that we're doing there to have a backstop to make sure we measure it? See, we have a whole bunch of screens up here, the two down bottom. We had to take off because some of our internal software that runs on it. I'm sorry I couldn't share those. But up top or ones that we've done, dealer facing where there's a score board. And all of that comes from a CRM and the other one's a tracking board for things like unsold surveys for escalation. So if a rep talks to a customer, can't get them a point for today or tomorrow. Is there a mechanism to make sure there's a manager on the phone with that customer right away? So we deploy custom apps for dealerships and you get push notifications to the Met managers and can handle TO's that way. So it's about an efficient ecosystem.

Kelly Kleinman:
Interesting. Thanks for that answer. We used you to help us start setting up my review section. You've worked with a lot of vendors. A lot of times, guys don't want to tell me who some of the less qualified vendors are, so I'm not going to make you yet. Thanks. Not in this interview, but give me an idea of some of the vendors that you've worked with in the past that haven't locked down pretty good. Your estimation.

Chris Sondesky:
So there's a number of them out there. And I feel terrible because I know I'm going to miss some guys going through this. The agency I first went with when I left retail CF Search Marketing based out of Deerfield Beach. Christina, Lara, Jason there, Pierre. They run a terrific shop. It's it's really, really refreshing to come across an agency that actually cares about the dealership, cares about how well things are performing, and they're just not worried about their cut up spend because that can be a challenge. Sometimes folks like Shawn Kiren with CRM Backstop, which is a terrific product. It is absolutely accelerated some of our efficiency. Probably one of the biggest secrets in the business.

Kelly Kleinman:
Yeah, I think so.

Chris Sondesky:
There are vendors there. There are some digital retailing vendors. We've worked with Roadster, for instance. Here's a tech company and it will all use this platform to say, I wish their API was a little more open and they were a little more free and some of the data passed.

Chris Sondesky:
But I see it work. I see customers engage with it. The thing is, it's never, ever, ever one size fits all. What works for one store does not necessarily work for another store because while we're all ultimately here to sell cars, the manner in which we do so is dependent. As much as you're on your store team and how your store operates as it is on the market and the brand that you sell. So the market and shingle can really make a difference to a store just as much as the team internally can. So those guys do an awesome job.

Chris Sondesky:
CarNow for chat has been terrific on the third party listing side of it as well. Who's the best? Who's this? Who's that? It first comes down to your inventory marketing. So if you're not doing some really great inventory marketing and merchandising, your photos are the best. Your pick, your descriptions are the best. You're actively changing your pricing up and down.

Chris Sondesky:
Everybody forgets that, you know, we lowered your price.

Chris Sondesky:
We lowered our price. We lowered our price. Raise your price once in a while. It triggers same price alert to your consumer that lowering the price does. All right. Yeah. So those that they do a great job. CarGurus have some great, great colleagues there. I've used their their services when they first came out or one of the best providers used and TrueCar. I mean, they get a bad rap sometimes, but I don't understand where. So I might not necessarily agree with some of the marketing tactics. I don't like seeing them on Jeopardy when they're on the lot and say, you know, hey, get on our Web site and make sure you're getting a good deal.

Chris Sondesky:
You know, that to me is showrooming a little bit, but it is a generation tool as a service for the consumer experience. All of those tools serve the consumer more than they serve the dealer. So as dealers, if we can get out of our own way, it took our strong egos and the strength of what we've done over our years of developing our careers and learning our markets and just, you know, being the car guys that we have to really keep in mind that now it's so much more focused to the consumer.

Chris Sondesky:
We have to give that consumer great experience from Jump Street. And that's even before the conversion. And if we're not doing it, if we're doing it with tools that our OEM tells us that we have to have, which we don't, that's just a measure of where we're gonna co-op it. And you can get more value sometimes outside of some of those programs.

Chris Sondesky:
So I caution dealers, be mindful of what's on the co-op list just because the manufacturer says it's go co-op and focus on giving your consumer the best possible experience from the time your first piece of marketing hits them.

Chris Sondesky:
Not from the time they hit your website, not from the time they walk in the store, but from the time your first message hits them. Be honest, be consistent and deliver what the consumer is making you deliver, because that will provide you the the opportunity to earn their business and earn the profit that you believe you should. You should.

Kelly Kleinman:
Chris, I appreciate your insights.

Chris Sondesky:
Thank you. Kelly., I appreciate your time today. This has been absolutely terrific.

Kelly Kleinman:
I'm really looking forward to a 2020 and having you on as one of our featured bloggers. I think you're going to bring a lot of really good into very good, interesting information to the dealership body out there. And I can hardly wait to see.

Chris Sondesky:
Well, thanks so much for the time. Kelly., I really appreciate this. Appreciate the platform. I wish you. DealershipNews. All the best for 2020, you guys have tremendous things ahead of you and I'm very, very excited for what's next.

Kelly Kleinman:
You're hired.

Chris Sondesky:
I'm in.

Kelly Kleinman:
That's Chris Sondesky. BDC Pros

Chris Sondesky:
We look forward to it. Thank you, Kelly.. Thank you.

Be good. All right.

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