The most common question dealership managers ask when assessing the value and ROI of any marketing initiative always revolves around how to connect those elusive dots between the campaign and the sale. The good news is with today’s technology, dealers are finally able to get the answers they have been seeking. Yet many dealers still use erroneous data provided by individual vendors trying to prove that their service is worth the dealer’s investment. Short of hiring a full-time person to analyze all the various reports from their vendors, some dealers choose to continue to use attribution models that, while easy and cost-effective (i.e. “free”) to obtain, don’t necessarily result in accurate data. Decisions are then made which are detrimental to the dealership’s marketing.
To illustrate a typical attribution model, I thought an analogy everyone could understand would be appropriate – splitting deals for salespeople. Most dealerships will only split a deal two ways – whoever was with the customer first, and whoever delivered the vehicle to the customer. That customer may have visited the dealership ten times and dealt with 10 different salespeople, but when the time comes to issue those commission vouchers, ultimately, sales managers split the commission based on the first and last interaction.
Does that mean that the eight salespeople who also assisted the customer had no influence in the customer’s decision to buy? What if the salesperson on the fourth visit did a proper walkaround, took them on a test drive and assisted them to pick out the perfect vehicle? Ultimately, if that customer leaves without a vehicle and returns to buy, if that fourth salesperson isn’t there, they would get cut out of the deal.
I understand that it is cumbersome to split a deal 10 ways. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone didn’t have a part to play in that sale. Think of your whole staff as your team. And, just like a football team, everyone works together towards a common goal – that touchdown, or sale. Without the offensive line, the quarterback would get sacked a lot, or be unable to connect with his receivers. Football teams don’t give all the credit for that touchdown solely to the quarterback, running back, or wide receiver. They understand that it took the effort of everyone to earn that touchdown.
The same decisions are often made when assessing the effectiveness of offline and online marketing. Many dealers rely on information in their CRM – whether that is information that came in automatically, or a source entered by a salesperson — and credit sales to that (and only that) source. Attribution isn’t split but rather credit is given to either the first event on the consumer’s buying journey, or the last event — regardless of how many touch points that consumer visited along the way. This is called first or last touch attribution.
First touch attribution assigns total credit for the sale to the first touchpoint a consumer can be tracked to. Anything else leading up to the sale is disregarded, including website visits, lead form or widget conversions, etc. This method also does not consider any phone calls to the dealership after the consumer visited that first touchpoint. Everything else simply doesn’t exist for the purposes of attributing a sale.
In contrast, the last touch attribution model attributes the sale to the last touchpoint a customer visited. Perhaps a customer initiated a chat session to get store hours before they came into the showroom. That chat session is the only thing that gets credit for the sale. It does not matter if the customer researched the vehicle on a third-party website and saw the dealer’s banner ad. The fact that they clicked on the dealer’s PPC ad, or searched vehicles on a third-party listing site would be moot. Nothing except the last event is considered as influencing a buyer’s decision or their journey.
Dealers using either of these attribution models run the risk of making decisions that can actually cost sales. So, if neither the first or last touch attribution models are the answer, what is?
The difference between the physical example of splitting deals between salespeople and attributing sources in your digital marketing is when the attribution is made. You see, you don’t issue a commission voucher or decide how to split a deal between salespeople until a sale has already been made. However, in digital marketing, you’re paying for and making decisions regarding the on and offline advertising you choose to use BEFORE a sale is made. Unless you have the proper data to make those decisions, you could cut a touchpoint that is influencing buyers.
Up until recent technology became available that tracks a consumer’s buying journey — and can even make that off-to-online connection, first and last touch were the only models a dealer could reasonably use. Now, with technology, a new and much more accurate attribution model is available… the multi-touch attribution model.
The philosophy of this model is that every touchpoint along the car buyer’s journey influenced their decisions along the way. It assigns credit based upon the importance of each touchpoint as data accumulates “from the bottom-up.” Sophisticated algorithms determine which touchpoints are the most influential.
From what to buy, to who to buy it from, consumers visit upwards of 24 touchpoints along the way – right from when they begin researching to when they’re sitting in front of you. If you can view exactly which touchpoints influence the customer and know just how much influence each one has, you can then see where your marketing budget is working, where it is not and exactly where you should and should not be investing more money.
There’s no doubt that any vendor you ask is going to give you reports that show sales attribution in their favor. If they didn’t (or couldn’t) dealers probably wouldn’t keep them around very long. Rather than limit data and make decisions based on multiple reports that may include a little bias, strive to have accurate data that traces a customer’s journey throughout the whole process – offline and online – and fully understand which of your marketing initiatives work and where you should (or shouldn’t) spend your money.
First touch and last touch attribution models will never be accurate. Continuing to use these outdated attribution models to make decisions could easily result in reduced sales while your ad budget continues to increase.
In today’s world consumers are influenced by many factors – both on and offline – and knowing which of these stops on their journey are most influential will help you make decisions that produce true results, not easy answers.
Author: Steve White
Steve White is CEO of Clarivoy, the auto industry’s leading provider of multi-touch sales attribution and advanced digital targeting tools. In 2014 White was named Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in Central Ohio and he has over 20 years of experience working with clients to ensure they get the best results from their traditional and digital marketing campaigns. He knows that the key to success lies in understanding the performance of past campaigns and has used and developed a variety of tools to ensure marketers aren’t guessing when it comes to their campaign results.