One of the best lessons I learned with I was selling cars came from a General Manager at a small dealership in Oklahoma. It was a little under a decade ago and I wanted to attend the NADA Convention. The dealer had been to a few but had not attended in a while and I wanted to see what was happening, especially with the rise of the internet as a marketing venue.
"Why do you want to go," the GM asked me.
"I want to see what's available to help us sell more cars through the internet," I told him.
"Fine, but what's your goal?"
I had thought I had just answered the question, but we had an incredible talk over lunch that day about the difference between an intention to make things better and a goal to accomplish. "Helping us sell more cars on the internet" was not a valid goal, he said. That was a great intention, but the goal had to be quantifiable and with a clear action plan. That was what he needed to hear. What did I really want to accomplish by attending?
I read the NADA brochure (the website was useless back then) and identified workshops I wanted to attend and vendors I wanted to see. I was able to lay out a plan that included a schedule of everything I would be doing. Then, I isolated my goal. It wasn't really about trying to take advantage of the internet, though that was part of it. The real goal was to find out where people were going on the internet, how we could be where they were going, and lastly how to get more of them to call the dealership to set an appointment.
This goal shifted my thinking process from hearing what others had to offer to formulating a plan with the tools available to really dive deeper into the potential of the internet. This sold him. He wasn't interested in being on the internet because he had not heard of many successes that came from internet advertising in those early days. Instead, he wanted to hear how I would be able to transform the tools in order to take advantage of the internet in ways that would actually sell more cars.
Some might believe that today, there is nothing truly new. All of the strategies have been tested. All of the products have been built and the only changes that can be made are to processes rather than strategies. This isn't true. Every day, dealers hear about something that a vendor is doing or that one of their competitors is doing and they spin the concept on its head to come up with something that may or may not work better at their dealership. This is the key to conferences. Go in with the intention of learning, but do so with innovation on your mind.
Listen to experts. Listen to vendors. Most importantly, listen to the dealers that are speaking. They're doing so for a reason. They've been there. They've done that. Take advantage of their knowledge.
Building a conference plan around your goals will lead you to getting much more than your competition.