There are a lot of moving parts in a modern online operation. There's the technical side of things — making sure the websites, databases and applications work properly — and there are the artistic and design aspects, which can ensure the world perceives your brand as favorably as possible.
Additionally there's the art and science of search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). Also consider things like product merchandising, promotions and overall shopping experience. On top of all of these things, there's the seemingly infinite number of other things that always seem to pop up. Broken things to fix, things to improve, opportunities to pursue, ideas to test and experiment with, etc.
A SPECIALIZED ROLE
If you think all these tasks can be accomplished without at least one full-time employee dedicated to them, you're delusional. You need this person if you want to be successful online, either via e-commerce or just online marketing and advertising.
You need someone who can eat and sleep this kind of stuff. Why fill the position with a nine-to-five clock-puncher when there are so many highly educated people looking for work? You need someone who is passionate about your market (motorcycles, racing, ATVs, watercraft, etc.), the Web, social technologies and design. You need to encourage and support them with the tools, technologies and education necessary to stay on top of it all.
I can say with certainty that when a business has at least one person handling all these aspects, it is virtually unstoppable. When online businesses don't have that person, they go nowhere fast — and the decline is dramatic and almost instantaneous. It's a hard climb to the top of the Internet, and it's too easy to be knocked off your perch. You're at the mercy of ever-changing search engine algorithms that can wipe you off the face of Web with the flip of a bit.
Moving a parts manager or another similar employee into the Internet role might not cut it, either. Just because someone was decent as a parts manager doesn't mean he or she will understand how to manage your websites, e-commerce and online marketing, especially without the proper training. Don't expect to see anything short of poor results if this is the case.
TRAINING THE EMPLOYEE
Assuming you do hire someone with intelligence, drive and potential, how do you get him or her started? Well, at the risk of being immodest, the first thing you should do is have them read all my columns. Over the years I've laid out an almost step-by-step outline of what to do, how to do it, where to get more information, etc. You also can suggest they read books, or attend conferences and seminars about the Web.
E-commerce and the Web are areas of specialized expertise — just like the other aspects of your store. Do you have a service department without a service manager? A sales department without a sales manager? A parts department without a parts manager? Not if you're a high-performing dealership. If you've got e-commerce on your plate, you'll notice a lot of overlap of e-commerce into the parts department — which may make you think that one person can handle it all. But to be truly successful, it's a necessity to think of your online operation as its own line of business.
I don't think there are many dealerships out there that have figured this out. Part of that may be because many of the 20 groups and other general industry consultants that may have years and years of excellent experience in the "traditional" dealership management roles don't have a clue about the Internet. They don't properly recognize the immense potential it represents, nor do they properly understand or respect how difficult it is to do it right.
Because the majority of training and education dealership employees do get (if they get any) is from these traditional sources, these employees are absolutely missing out on getting a good education about the Internet. That's why I write this column.
We've only witnessed the beginning of the amazing potential the Internet has on reshaping the very nature of our industry, which is why it's so important to act as soon as possible to beef up your websites and e-commerce efforts. Hiring an experienced employee to lead the way is the smartest thing to do.