Hail to the Cheif - Please Focus on Me

This morning I awoke to one of my old-school competitors pasting all over social media how my graphics team made a mistake on a hand-drawn spelling of my title and I, after laughing loudly, realized after 10 years in the business I had finally one (or is it won?). Let me explain:

My father was a professional baseball player so I grew up in a competitive environment to say the least. My favorite pitcher, outside of my dad, was this monster for the Houston Astro’s named J.R. Richard. Now this dude was, at the time, huge and on the mound? Well on the mound, the man looked like a figurative giant. He was larger than life, he was intimidating and, well, in his early days he was unstoppable because batters feared him before they ever took the batting rings off. In the on-deck circle they simply melted and that made him even better.

Now I’m nt JR and I’m not an imposing figure at 5’ 11” (I lost a bet to Sarah over that inch) but to get under the skin of the old-guard at DealerSocket just feels good. They’ve invested millions of dollars, countless man hours and hired hundreds of rotating people just to catch little old me. They throw huge parties, they give away trips to dealers, bought loyalty with discounts and all of it avoid having to build good software. I’ve said it before, this is the only industry on the planet where good old boy relationships trump real productivity and making money. Amazing, but it’s changing and they know it. Guess what guys, it’s too late: You lost because I’m in your head.

Why are they so nervous? Two words: We care. All of my competitors make a big deal that we’ve fired some dealers that were apethetic (21 at last count including Longo Toyota), that we are small (efficient and proud) and that they have more customers. I have a news flash for ya’ll over in California at Socket’s green chair factory: I don’t care at all about you, what you do or how you misrepresent your software in the marketplace. We’ve outlasted the attacks from AVV, BZ, then VIN and now we’ll beat you too. Yes, you will make more money because that’s what you care about but while my kids attend great schools, my beautiful wife gets to raise them and we live in amazing home here in Maryland and down in Sarasota while I get to do what I do best: Build industry leading technology that helps my dealers stay miles ahead of yours.

Let’s just be honest boys just between you and I: You guys don’t own your own company anymore and you work for a VC that owns Reynolds. Dealers know, we know and you know that your founders sold out. Car dealers who hand their stores to their sons know there’s building a business and there is building a investment vehicle. Ask our dealers which we are and you’ll know why you will lose like all the rest, you don’t care about anything except selling your crappy code and fleecing dealers. No worries, they enjoy the parties and freebies like the pencil and other engaging gifts you send out (http://www.youtube.com/icarmagic) but you guys need to watch the clock, your future owner has grand plans for your revenue stream and the elimination of your jobs. Wanna know how many VIN folks have applied here since they sold out? 46.

I’m intentionally not spell checking this document because I don’t care about it. I don’t care about an NADA booth because we won’t have one and Digital Dealer? Well I’ll leave that to dealers that want to buy worthless Ninja’s to do nothing for big money.

It’s 5:30AM and I’ve got our new BDC to run so that we can eliminate another way dealers get their money removed by “friends”. Have a great day and talk about me as much as possible, it makes the phone ring.

Peace out.

iMagicLab and Third Party Vendors - It’s About Security Stupid

Every day we at iMagicLab get inundated with small companies that want to make a living selling dealers products or services. Usually these products or services rely on data that we hold in a dealers CRM tool and data that we’ve been paid to keep safe. For a lot of reasons, governmental and common sense, iMagicLab has made the decision to lock out all these companies that access data without a formal integration with us. Here’s our thinking:

1. We don’t want to get sued. It’s that plain and simple. iML consumer data records have credit reports, social security numbers, images of drivers licenses and a lot of other stuff that do not belong being shared with others we no little or nothing about. It just makes sense that we’d formalize the process, charge these companies for the work we do to integrate them and insure that they meet our standards for insurance and security. 

2. It costs us money to provide this data these companies make money from. The DMS companies, and to some extent the OEM’s, all charge us to be certified partners for the exact same reason: They want to make 100% sure we are not “fly by night” and they want to exchange data in a responsible secure manner. So, we pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get the data safely and then we’re just going to email it or let somebody we don’t know in India log in? Isn’t going to happen.

3. Dealers pay us to protect this data. We are going to do whatever we need to do to uphold beyond industry standards and secure every bit of a dealers customer info. Litigation if it ever came would name everyone and there is no reason to take a chance.

I’m positive many of these little vendors are going to blog about how we are trying to shake them down or how we are locking them out for profit and it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Would you let a strange mechanic use your service bay or maybe hand keys to cars to just anyone? Of course not, and we are not going to give access to any people we don’t know and there isn’t a formal agreement with. Yes they will have to “pay to play” much the way we do with the DMS/OEM companies but this isn’t about profit, it’s about common sense. Systems, architecture, lawyers and process planning takes time and money and we feel it’s only fair to share the burden.

Printing, data and security - Part II

Today iMagicLab introduced a new concept; you must enter data into the CRM in order to get it to print on a form. Seems simple right? Data goes into the system so it can be used again, tracked or otherwise used for anything a dealer wants. Then, once it’s in the system we all have a record of it and it helps complete a picture of our customer.

Today we made a change to enable printing without the need for Adobe and without having data entered by salespeople on a form that was never saved. Apparently throughout the country people were typing in data on forms, not saving it anywhere, printing it out and that was it. So the data never went into the crm, records went nearly empty and salespeople cut corners.

The right answer is all the data, all of it, stays in the crm where it is secure. If we are missing fields or if the data isn’t printing out, that’s an easy fix. We’ll handle our part for sure but this idea of just typing into a form and printing is ridiculous and had to end. 

Data, privacy and security is very important. This keeps dealerships safe in a very litigious and regulated world. This will help prevent dupes, will help insure compliance with lender/oem rules and of course, give dealers security in knowing that customer data isn’t sitting in printouts around the store.

Will we have a rough couple of days? Yes. Will it be worth it? Yes. We cannot stress enough, progress sometimes has pain, work with us and we will all be stronger for it.

Change is Never Easy, But This is the Start

Yesterday, as promised by texts, emails and other methods, iMagicLab rolled out its biggest change in 5 years; a new managers dashboard. OK, I understand what you are thinking, a dashboard? Yup a dashboard change and it’s been met with overwhelming, overwhelming, um, overwhelming hatred.

A blog post about a bungled update? Hardly, this is a blog post about an amazing update that will empower dealers to manage and demystify what’s happening in their dealership in ways they don’t yet understand. I’ve repeated the famous Steve Jobs quote many times “How do you know what you want when you haven’t seen it yet?”.

This dashboard moved some statistics from big pie graphs and from huge colorful line charts into words and numbers. It’s harder to read those stats now and, to be honest, that was exactly the idea. When people, or in this case managers, get used to seeing the same thing over and over in the same place they get used to ONLY looking at the same thing over and over. Schools that teach to the test don’t make progress, they get better at the test and when managers only watch a few items they only try to improve their staffs performance on those items. But I digress, let’s review the changes:

Bye, Bye Worthless Pie

So we used to have this pie chart in the center of the dashboard that was pretty but told you only the amount of new opportunities for the day. More importantly it didn’t tell you what happened with them, just that salespeople said they occcurred by entering in some data. It was an easy kink, don’t enter it and it didn’t happen and you were not measured on it and sales folks are not stupid. They began to game the system and managers just didn’t know or didn’t care.

Hello Real Internet Performance

We added an ugly funnel chart to showcase how the Internet leads that came in today were actually handled. Did people call? Did they text? Did they email? And because salespeople have been known to focus on leads they cherrypick, we limited the contacts to one per customer. Get 20 leads, send 20 texts to one guy you have a 20/1 ratio. Reality, for once, introduced into reporting.

See Ya Call Graph

We had previously dedicated an entire space to showing a leaderboard of who faked the most calls. Honestly, that’s what it was (Right Rick P in Virginia?) and it was becoming evident that people who actually made good strong calls against what was needed to be were looking bad against the liars who said they made calls that never happened. It had to go…

Welcome to the Communications Center

  • Average response time is critical to all of us, now it’s front and center for all to see for TODAY’s leads. Manage day by day and the month will take care of itself, worrying about yesterdays leads is a waste of time because that ship has sailed (yes there are reports for that too). BTW this is now a 24 hour clock because your customers are 24 hours and so are the OEM’s. The World of car sales is too competitive to stop at 5:30pm when you go to iHop.
  • Appointments for today is a sum today of how many you have today, it’s a very important stat that we never had, duh, we needed to correct that.
  • The total of calls NOT MADE by your staff on their workplans is another critical number. Do you relaieze how many calls your team is not making that you asked them to? Write a new workplan, hire more staff or add some management and get this as close to 0 as possible. What’s the purpose of assigning calls you never intend to insure get made?
  • Average Alert Open Time is one of the most important ones of all: How long does it take your staff to EVEN LOOK at the fact that a customer has sent them a lead, an email or a text. Not all of us live in front of their computer, this should be very, very low…
  • The next one? How many are EVER looked at haha. Why send alerts to people, why assign leads to people or why even let people work at the store who don’t intend to follow up with customers? Mind boggling because we are only counting actual customer reach outs here and this should be near 100%, where is your stores?
  • Dealervoice Call % is pretty self explanatory but if you arent’t using our phone systems you have no way to text, no way to measure real calls and no way to manage your staff based on reality. I cannot imagine in 2014 any dealership being so naive as to not want the calls measured and actually know that they were made. 
  • The final row is all about what hasn’t been done against customer requests: unresponsed emails, texts and leads. In other words, how much money is being left on the table.

Where is the rest of the Data? It’s all there, just look with your eyes before hitting support with your chats or complaints. Do you need to think in a new way? Yes. Are you probably happy? No. Turn off SportsCenter this morning or stop planning the Starbucks run and start thinking about what you were missing before this change. The market is too competitive to do things the old way, even if it works you can be doing better.

This is the first of many changes to management reporting and views as we refocus you on things that are important in 2014 to both your business and your customers. I only have one more question…

Are you texting every customer yet?

Do the math: Phone calls get 12% respponse, emails 14% and texts get 66%. Today your salesman are doing it from their phones, out of your control and out of your view. They leave and so does your customer list. It’s the biggest mistake any dealership can make and I bet 90% of you just don’t get it. Change this, like today.

More to come as always, I gotta go take my daughter to school and you have some thinking to do


Evolution is not limited to Earth’s creatures

This morning I’m sitting in Naples, Florida at a Starbucks (yes, it’s 6am) and a good portion of my support team is on the way here for a meeting. Why? Because we still suck at helping our customers and I will not rest until we are the best there is, in any business.

This is not about being good enough, this is not about being better than: This is about delivering on a promise that very few companies do well. I’ll give you an example:

Yesterday I was jumping on a plane, yes Southwest Airlines, and I received a text from my hotel here in Naples that they had a new “Mobile Check-In” service. Cool, button clicked, checked in and now I wait for another text that my room is ready. Hour or so later, pocket vibrates, phone says room is ready, I think “now this is cool”. Off plane, Hertz car waiting in spot 154, 45 minute drive to hotel, walk up to the “mobile” check in desk, excited. “Hello Mr. Latman, may I have your ID and credit card, sign here, how many keys, NOTHING DIFFERENT than a normal check-in. One word: Disappointed.

Was that a customer support failure? One word: Yes. 

See I don’t care that they executed their vision or that the texts went out as designed or that the room was ready. That expensive hotel let me down by not being what they could have been, what clearly they want to be and what they told me I could expect. iMagicLab has the same problem still; again, I’ll explain:

We sell software to people who don’t make software, use a lot of software and in a lot of cases, have very limited knowledge of how to run software. To be honest, we sell software to people who don’t want software; they want a solution to their problem without any overhead or work required. To put it in context, imagine if when you went to Starbucks they took your money then flipped the expresso machine around and said “ok, make your drink”. Like an iPhone, support begins with the first line of code in making a product so obvious, so intuitive, that it doesn’t need someone to teach its usage. 

Up to today we’ve tried a few different models; traditional and non-conventional and to be fair, the playing field is tilted toward failure no matter what. DealerCRM, like all good software, is an amazing tool with a huge amount of options. How many of you can really run Microsoft Word or setup advanced filters in GMail? I can read your mind: “I know what I need to know and I’m pretty good”. Ya see, that’s the rub, in a car dealership with turnover at 30% per year nobody is left that knows what they need to know. You’ve heard me wax on before, it’s a huge challenge.

This week we’ve introduced yet another attempt at solving this problem and it’s a mix of technology and human investment. Chat, phones, videos, learning systems and a lot of focus will not fix this I’m afraid, so everyone be patient please. Oh sure, we’re already better than everyone else in the CRM World but that isn’t good enough for me. 

CRMSuite launches July 1 and it couldn’t happen soon enough. Then you will all understand what I mean… stay tuned…

Stop Accepting Life as it Comes - Make it Yours

Oxford Dictionary defines “fait accompli” as follows:

"Definition of fait accompli in English:
fait accompli
Syllabification: fait ac·com·pli
Pronunciation: /ˈfet əkämˈplē, ˈfāt /

A thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them with no option but to accept:
the results were presented to shareholders as a fait accompli”

Stop and think about how many things in your career, your home or your family that you just accept, that you just consider a fait accompli. In truth what defines great people is that they don’t believe that anything is every pre-designed or unchangeable. They look beyond the norm, beyond the obvious and they MAKE their lives amazing by going the extra mile to change what would otherwise be a fait accompli.

Let me offer a personal example, or shall I say a family example:

My son Michael and his girlfriend Iman are seniors at Friends School here in Baltimore. They have been exclusive for a long time, have a loving, wonderful relationship and as with all kids at this stage in their lives, prom is a big deal. There was no doubt, zero, that Michael and Iman would be going to prom together; it was a fait accompli. Any average person would have made the assumption, asked nicely with a little effort and gone on to enjoy what was obviously already going to happen. 

I said before: What makes people great, what makes people amazing, is that they don’t accept the path as it’s laid out. Over the course of a year, 365 days, while enduring the pressures of college acceptance, trying to figure out who he is and dealing with his crazy dad, my son made me so proud I can’t tell you. Watch the proposal he made:


When you start your day today ask yourself what you are doing to influence the road you are on. Bad can be made better no matter the odds, good can be great and great, well, great can be just like Michael and Iman; great can be amazing.

ILM is Dead, ILM is Dead: No It Really Is

Just received this email today which I thought I’d share, my response is at the bottom (names redacted for obvious reasons):


Looking through emails I exchange constantly w/ Chris Vitale about trying to get your product in <insert current dealership I work at this month here> and saw you blog off the blog of IML.
Not my best grammar but hang in there…
Liked the articles, the thoughts, the hidden gems of advice.
One thing… I really just need a price.
I currently work at ********* in ******** and we are struggling daily - make that hourly - w/ VIN and having been a VIN customer in the past at various other lots and having used your old ILM from my Rick Case Atlanta days I really keep trying to get someone, anyone, at ***** to let me prove IML is awesome and totally cool.
Chris does his best to cater to my crazy and odd email requests. He’s really a great asset to you guys if only for being able to have more than one conversation w/ me in a single year.
I asked him recently if I could just get the ILM part - he told me “no” - you didn’t offer it anymore.
So, I ask you as an aside - and please don’t take this as going behind his back - what’s the price for getting ILM in my dealership for as few seats or people or users as I can get? I recently saw you had a price change as well as a change of heart in running IML.
If there is not a scale to pricing - scalable? - then I’m probably sunk in trying to get IML - or at the very least the proverbial foot of IML - in the door.
*** **** is a very shrewd and eccentric owner at the same time. We are resistant - not just reluctant - to change here at ****. I’ve learned that in the past 6 months as their “Internet Director” just trying to get them to answer the dame leads that pour in and get treated like a customer simply asking for a business card, a brochure and directions to the bathroom cause “we’re just looking”.
Anyway, if you can reach out to me when you get a moment I’d love to chat a bit.
That being said, email works fine and dandy (so does text - see, I read your blog post) and a phone call would be like, totally so wicked cool but…
Tomorrow is Day 2 of Chrysler Digital Downtown Atlanta so I am mostly unreachable until after 2 EST (or is that now DST?)
I’m going now… Really..
Thanks for letting me bend your ear or whatever it’s call now (sp@m) and I hope to talk w/ you soon!
-_- D.”

and my response…

”**** thanks for the email and the desire to get iML into the store. Unfortunately for us we have indeed stopped selling the ILM tool in difference to our DealerCRM and CRMSuite products. Truth be told, ILM users, I now believe, do a disservice to their stores but siloing data in a non-integrated system. The Internet is now involved in every deal, every interaction and every communication so it’s very hard for me to sell something that I believe must be part of every CRM tool (damn the morals). Essentially I made the decision to retire the product for that reason and walked away from a lot of revenue in the process.

Maybe the right answer is to get Chris an audience with some folks over there and give his team the opportunity to kick VIN out once and for all. We both know it’s a product that has peaked and under current ownership will do nothing but wither on the vine of tech deals gone bad…

Have fun at the Chrysler Digital thing… reach out anytime
I share this with you lovely people to again showcase our commitment to doing what’s right for the dealer, regardless of the revenue or profit margins. My old friend Ed Braunbeck (former GM of famous ILM AVV who now works in our sales department) smiles when he thinks about how many of his users paid but didn’t use the system. That’s just not my gig and we won’t get paid to do things we think are counter-productive for dealerships. 

Think I’m just talking? This year we have asked 14 rooftops to find another CRM tool when it was obvious our system did not fit their style or management structure (including the largest dealership in North America). We put our money where our mouth is and our products against any other CRM system on planet Earth.

More coming…. stay tuned…

The Email Must Be Delivered or It’s Worthless to Send

First off note I’m writing this to hopefully explain my philosophy on updates and changes. It may be very different than some other technology companies but that’s the reason I’m writing :)

I sell software and technology to people to use it to communicate with other people. I don’t sell pipe dreams, empty promises or spreadsheet checkboxes. So, as you can imagine, as a product lives in the marketplace things around it change and that forces changes in our product. As long as the goal remains the same, I feel free to kill things that don’t work anymore and change things so they work better. I know, to some that seems silly; I mean, why change what people are buying happily? Well, because if it doesn’t work I don’t want to sell it.

In the past two weeks for example I changed the way iML drops inventory for car dealers into emails. The old way was to drop in this nice table, which had a little picture of the car and some details and a link to get to a page where the car would be displayed in full glory. It was cool but in reality, during our weekly QA checks, it added to the percentage of SPAM filters and rejects by 12%. Over 1 out of every 10 emails that used this feature were going to the SPAM bucket and THAT is unacceptable. So we changed it, still allow a link to be dropped in without the picture and the problem dissapeared. Is it as pretty? No. Does it get through? Yes. Are customers less likely to buy a car from you without that little thumbnail? No (and 12% more will actually view the email).

You pay a technology vendor to watch your back and insure that their product does the job and I take that responsibility very seriously. That is in my opinion what makes iMagicLab a better CRM than any other car dealer software platform. We care, we watch, we change and we deliver.

Have a great day!

Vinsolutions Up to their Old Games Again

Actual email from a dealer who had just talked to a Vinsolutions rep:


I do have some concerns that we were told that e-mail brochures are not being supported by imagic. We were also told to communicate with you its text only and you discontinued your phone service and cut the staff from 30 to 6 people.

They also told us not to use your e-mail and to start using outlook. The purpose of a CRM is to track what our people are doing ???

Also they called Tom Harsha and he said he left the company. People turn over in business that doesn’t matter to me as long as you have a long term plan.

and my response:


I understand your concern… :)

I haven’t cut staff at all, in fact I’ve increased. Six people? I couldn’t run a dry cleaner with six people let alone support all our stores. We are over 40 now and two more start Monday including the guy who used to run AVV and parts of Autobase.

Yes, we have implemented a new support model which relies heavily on text. I wrote about it here: http://www.microworkz.com/richard_keith_latman_the_/2014/02/changing-crm-from-the-inside-out-is-not-just-cultural.html

Outlook? Why on earth would you do that? Who told your people to do that?

eBrochures and Inventory links? Yes, new versions are on the way but email providers have caught up to us and are marking the old ones SPAM. Again, I wrote about it here: http://www.microworkz.com/richard_keith_latman_the_/2014/02/the-email-must-be-delivered-or-its-worthless-to-send.html

Re Tom Harsha, yes, he left the company and I believe that was good for everyone. Seven years is a long time and as we grow I think it was mutually felt we were not a fit. No other member of the executive staff has left and as I said, we’ve added tons of folks.

The company is larger, we service more dealers and we are growing faster than we ever have. Sounds like whoever gave you that info was just a little over-zealous on our demise. Maybe with CRMSuite coming out they had a little case of wishful thinking… Ask your desk guy at Honda what he thinks of the new pencil tool!

Hey VIN how about responding to our Bake off challenge that we’ve renewed every year for the past 5 years? Hahaha, I won’t even bring all “6” of our employees, just little old me :)

You Can’t Just Train, You Need to Teach

You all know the drill:

1. Buy Software

2. Get Training

3. Try to Use Software

4. Get Frustrated

5. Go to Step 1 and Repeat

It’s not iMagicLab software that has this problem, it’s any piece of technology that doesa a lot of things and that changes frequently. The old DMS is comfortable as an old shoe because it never changes, you have mastered it over the years and you can use keys to drive it that you have memorized. Enter a new breed of web-based technology and the whole ship goes haywire. I have to use a mouse or, gasp, touch the screen? Nope, I’m going back to the old.

The solution many software companies have depolyed is to send out a few “trainers” (you know the guys that have never used the software in your buisness let alone ever been in your business) and over the course of a few days you are supposed to become masters. Sure they come back with pizzas and answer questions now and then but really? Do you ever really know how to run, maintain, change or manage the damn thing? No. You rely on help desks (more people that haven’t ever used the software and rotate like a bad windmill), one or two contacts you have or accept that it’s never going to be right. Within a few months the grass starts looking greener as other software companies start pitching their stuff and then you switch products and the cycle starts again.

At iML, as part of this new rebuild of our company, we’ve also changed the training model. Yes, we still have people that can go out and visit you, but we have to deliver interactive help that really does teach you to use the thing. We also have to have live help that has actually done the job of the user and is ready to answer questions or fix things on the first InstaHelp. All of that has to happen to in real time and BEFORE you start using the software.

Now, if we have you understanding how everything works before you go live, we’ve reported to you which of your users have taken the online classes and we’ve worked with you to get it all setup perfect THEN we can come out for a launch party. Training people the day we expect them to go live is like training a pilot on the day of his first flight: Sure Failure.

So we’ve changed yet another part of our business. Dealers get immediate access to our tools to play around, attend iMagicLab university or work with us to get the settings right. Then on launch day we flip a switch, import their data, bring some balloons and sit back to watch the progress. It’s amazing, some dealers don’t need us instore at all and our customer satisfaction has gone through the roof. 

It’s all part of a process, all part of reinventing the wheel because if you use any CRM today, you know it’s broken.