We were about to go to print on an article about VinSolutions when we heard the news that AutoTrader.com was buying the company. After acquiring Kelley Blue Book, HomeNet and vAuto, AutoTrader.com announced they were acquiring VinSolutions last week. “We are thrilled to acquire VinSolutions and add it to our best-in-class portfolio of dealer software solutions companies,” stated Chip Perry, president and CEO of AutoTrader.com. “VinSolutions will further ramp up our dealer solutions product suite to provide dealers with a simpler, more functional one-stop-shop solution of Internet marketing software tools accessible by the dealer through a single sign-on tool.”
Consistent with AutoTrader.com’s approach to their previous acquisitions, VinSolutions will be a subsidiary of AutoTrader.com, and the current management team will remain intact, led by Mike Dullea (CEO) and Matt Watson (CTO) from their headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas. Mike Dullea, VinSolutions CEO said, “Our team is very excited to join forces with AutoTrader.com because we are both passionate about helping dealers use the Internet and innovative technology to grow their business. Together we will strive to constantly improve how we serve our dealers and how we help them attract, serve and retain their customers.”
VinSolutions’ software tools will be offered on a flexible a-la-carte basis with no long-term contracts, and dealers will have the flexibility to work with their other software vendors since AutoTrader.com promotes open platforms and integration across its software solutions and other dealer software tools. “VinSolutions is a strong complement to our existing dealer software companies, and a priority for us will be to ensure the scalability of VinSolutions’ software and customer support and to execute on plans for how VinSolutions will integrate with vAuto, HomeNet and CDMdata to create an even more powerful suite of Internet marketing and sales related software solutions for dealers,” Perry added.
There are countless ways that these companies can share their resources and data to better serve their dealers and we will keep dealers up to date on what AutoTrader.com is doing to leverage these synergies to help dealers. While most people in the industry have heard of VinSolutions not everyone knows about everything they do so this article will give you an overview of what the company does and how it got to where it is today.
VinSolutions – The evolution of an automotive digital marketing powerhouse
VinSolutions has evolved from a small inventory management company to the creators of the leading enterprise dealership marketing system in the automotive industry and the 33rd fastest growing software company in the United States according to the Inc 500. It was only three years ago when VinSolutions released its all-in-one dealership marketing system and today it is a market leader working with many of the best dealers in the industry and we wanted to share how they did it.
Like many technology companies, VinSolutions was founded by entrepreneurs who knew there had to be a better way. Led by Mike Dullea, CEO, the company experienced explosive growth over the last three years, growing more than 100% a year and signing up over 75 new full solution dealerships in the month of April alone. But things were not always this easy, according to Dullea. “In the early days we had too many months that we struggled to make payroll, but those are the times that challenged us and defined the character of our team,” said Dullea. “I knew we could make it as long as we stayed focused and payed attention to our dealers by constantly improving our technology to keep up with their needs.”
“Dealers were complaining about working with too many tools that didn’t talk to each other,” said Dullea. The average dealer works with 10-15 different companies who help them with their technology and Internet marketing and it can be challenging to manage so many systems. “I was spending too much money with 15 different companies that did not integrate,” said Todd Crossley from Gary Crossley Ford, the #1 Ford retailer in the Kansas City market. “Now I have one system that does everything from managing my Internet marketing to desking to service in one tool that is easy for my team to use. We are spending less for one system that does more than the 15 it replaced.”
VinSolutions’ “all-in-one” digital marketing system offers: search marketing, online advertising, social media marketing tools, websites, Internet lead management, CRM (Customer Relationship Management), sales force automation, sales management and desking, appraisal, finance, used vehicle market pricing, inventory management and distribution, hand-held inventory marketing tools, window stickers, automated video tours, targeted marketing with email, text, direct mail and telemarketing services. VinSolutions’ Dealership Marketing System has complete mobile integration so dealers can access reports from any mobile phone that has access to the Internet including Blackberrys, Androids and iPhones. Currently VinSolutions is certified by all major OEMs and integrates with most DMS companies including certified integrations with ADP, R&R, AutoSoft and Arkona. VinSolutions also has alliances and integrations with CARFAX, Autodata, RouteOne, DealerTrack, plus vAuto and Kelley Blue Book, both of which are also owned by AutoTrader.com.
Dullea had a lot of help keeping VinSolutions’ technology ahead of the curve because he has one of the most talented development teams in the automotive industry, led by Matt Watson, VinSolutions’ co-founder and chief technology officer. “If you can think it, Matt and his team can build it,” said Dullea. “With Matt and his team, we decided we wanted to build the most complete technology platform for dealers and dealership groups that has ever existed and we worked with our customers to make it happen.”
VinSolutions pioneered an unconventional product development process called UGPD, which stands for “User Generated Product Development.” This process connects users directly with the programmers who review, prioritize and develop new features in response to users’ requests. Every other Tuesday is Christmas morning for VinSolutions’ customers because that is when the new updates and features are released along with acknowledgements that recognize both the user who requested the enhancements and the developer who made them happen.
“This process incentivizes customers to give input and our developers to respond quickly with innovative solutions,” said Watson. “Everyone likes to see their work recognized so our developers love to constantly improve the system because their efforts are publicly acknowledged by thousands of users who often praise programmers on industry blogs when they create something very cool.”
As a result, VinSolutions’ customers and its team of developers have built the most comprehensive dealership marketing platform that integrates all the technology a dealer needs in one platform rather than attempting to tie together a group of different applications acquired from different companies who built on different technology platforms. As VinSolutions built its all-in-one system, dealers have signed up for one or all of its tools on a month-by-month basis with no contracts, so they could leave whenever they wanted. From day one, VinSolutions did not feel they needed long term contracts to keep dealers retained as long as they did what they said they were going to do when they said they would do it. VinSolutions’ dealers get to vote on the performance of both the software and the company every month by simply paying their invoice. Currently, this no-contract solution touts over 90% retention among VinSolutions’ clients.
As the company prepared to release its new all-in-one dealership marketing system, Dullea recruited the help of some automotive veterans who have helped other companies grow. Dullea recruited Sean Stapleton as their chief sales officer and Kendall Billman to lead their web marketing initiatives. Stapleton is an industry veteran and was the EVP of sales at Who’s Calling where he helped create a new category of call monitoring and measurement.
Billman helped develop web platforms for both Third Coast Media (acquired by Reynolds and Reynolds) and AutoONE Media, joined the team in 2009 and had complete control of developing a new web site platform that offered dealers the benefits of a combined solution. Billman’s efforts were recognized industry-wide as the new platform won several awards in 2010 and the company is currently releasing a new version that promises to set a new standard for what dealers must have in the future.
Dullea also recruited Sean Wolfington to join VinSolutions as a mentor and advisor. “We brought Wolfington on board because he helped lead some of the biggest digital marketing companies in the industry, (CyberCar & Automark, which R&R bought in 2001 and BZResults, which ADP bought in 2006) and his experience and advice has been invaluable,” said Dullea. “Mike and Matt built a great team with talented guys like Kendall Billman and Sean Stapleton, the best salesperson in the industry,” said Wolfington. “Dullea is a relentless leader who has built a fantastic team and Watson built an extraordinary technology platform.”
VinSolutions recently won the DrivingSales award for their web site, Internet lead management tool and their new VinLens product, a customer information application that lets dealers see who is on their site and what they are looking at so they can deliver custom messages and promotions based on what’s important to the customer.
VinLens also lets the dealer see where the customer has been before visiting the web site so they can track their advertising better and tailor their approach to each customer based on the information they have seen. VinSolutions also took the top prize at the Automotive Website Awards when they were recognized for building the most complete digital marketing system in the industry. Technology is moving fast, but it looks like VinSolutions has the right strategy to work with their dealers to run the never-ending race to stay ahead of the curve. Now with AutoTrader.com’s resources, the company is poised to make even larger strides in the future.
COMPANY SNAP SHOT
VinSolutions’ all-in-one dealership marketing system helps dealers find, sell and keep more customers profitably by integrating 14 components in one platform:
- Dealer web sites
- CRM and ILM
- Digital marketing
- Direct mail
- Search marketing
- Social media
- Mobile marketing
- Salesforce automation
- Used vehicle marketing and pricing
- Service CRM
- Online service scheduling
VIN’s Dealership Marketing System is integrated with all major DMS providers, major auctions, used vehicles guides and manufacturer incentive programs.
VIN’s easy-to-use web-based system automates customer contact throughout the entire ownership cycle via email, text, voice and mail, and enterprise reports are sent directly to mobile phones so dealers can run their business from the palm of their hand.
One of the reasons many of the largest dealers in the country have replaced multiple disjointed tools with VinSolutions’ Dealership Marketing System is because it offers an all-in-one system that has all the technology dealers need for less money than buying different tools from different companies.