Big data has been promised as a transformative solution for decades now. The promise of big data was always that it would allow you to answer all your questions and get to the bottom of things. The data derived from the internet was supposed to answer the age-old adage  of “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don't know which half.”

Yet, here we stand—swimming in data, but as lost in it as we ever have been.  

The Internet Killed “The Pulse”

Retail environments are pulse-driven. An experienced leader used to be in the store, feel that pulse, and know how things are going. You could see that you didn’t have enough traffic to hit your month’s sales target. You could hear the conversations and understand things were pacing in the right direction. Now, that feeling isn’t as strong. Website shopping isn’t as visible as people on lots. Hundreds of text and form leads are handled without anyone saying a word. The process is absolutely more convenient for customers, but we’ve muted the pulse. Add to that the number of stores being overseen by groups who only have an occasional in-person presence, and the gap feels massive. 

Data was the promise. It was supposed to bridge the gap created. It was promised to be more objective and there would be enough of it to answer all the questions. But there are few small- to mid-sized businesses today, whether in or out of automotive, that have mastery over: 

  • Capturing the right information
  • Developing insights from their data 
  • Activating their data in a transformative way

So why hasn’t it happened? What gets in the way of an average-sized business realizing the problems of big data? Big data is a big topic, so let’s focus on automotive and break down the problems to more easily identify a path forward. 

As I see it, there are 5 major issues:

  1. Too much data
  2. Data that is not actionable
  3. Locked, siloed systems
  4. Dirty data
  5. Reliance on vendor reporting

The Five Broken Promises of Data

Problem 1: Too Much Data

Every retail business today is swimming in data. Every system you use and every piece of software you run produces—and likely reports on—a massive amount of data. Simply starting a list of potential data sources makes it feel daunting to get a handle on the problem, not to mention the fields. Your CRM. Your website. Your DMS. Your email automation. Your advertising platforms. Your call tracking. Everything is producing data, and it’s hard to see what’s going on when you are swimming in so many data pools. 

Problem 2: Data That Is Not Actionable

Most of the data being produced is not actionable. You can’t ask additional questions or gain conviction on opportunities to chase. 

The standard of “actionable” can be hard for many people to evaluate. For determining actionable data, we use the framework that actionable data should enable you to ask better questions—not to answer questions. Marketers and business leaders should be able to look at a dataset, ask one question and then another better question to gain conviction on the problem to solve and the opportunity to chase.

For example: 

Where do my leads come from?  → 

OK, then what sources are generating the leads? → 

OK, then what sources are generating the sales? → 

OK, then what is leading to the close rate difference of Source A vs Source B? Is it a lead quality, people, or process problem?

This is how actionable data functions, and by contrast, most companies’ data is filled with data deadends and information that, while interesting, lacks an ability to move to action or follow a discernable thread. 

Problem 3: Siloed, Locked Systems

Each of the systems producing data is siloed (meaning they make it hard to play well with other systems) and locked (meaning it’s hard for you to get the data out of the system to play with directly). 

My personal belief is that systems are siloed because automotive vendors have historically seen data as a revenue source and/or competitive advantage versus truly believing the dealer owns their data. They’ve put up a wall and charged substantial access fees to other software providers that are passed along to dealers. While this has been normalized over the past decades, it’s an incredibly dated approach. Compare it to Salesforce and the partner ecosystem they have built where thousands of apps can leverage their data at reasonable costs. It’s what’s made Salesforce so dominant, yet no one has taken that stance in automotive. 

Some dealers and groups have asserted ownership of their data and worked with providers to get access to the data. But in every instance I’ve seen, the providers give clumpy access that has gaps.  Some CRMs are still doing “data exports” that are unreliable and missing information or providing APIs that are missing information.  Most dealer groups do not have the technical expertise to collect, clean, and troubleshoot the disparate systems. Oftentimes, the marketer or marketing teams become the de facto data people, but most marketers don’t have the time or skills to manage it at scale. Maybe they can do it once or twice and work in an Excel spreadsheet, but ongoing maintenance and easy access to good, actionable data becomes elusive.  

Problem 4: Dirty Data

The moment you start working with data is the moment you understand how dirty it really is. Take something as simple as a lead source like TrueCar. Or True Car? True car? In our work normalizing automotive data, we’ve seen more than 300 variations of this one lead source in a single group’s dataset. So there’s a ton of normalization work required, especially around lead sources and inventory.

But there’s also incorrect data.  Most vendors who submit leads (via ADF) name themselves as the lead source. In doing so, website widgets such as chat and forms get overstated credit and cause confusion as to what the actual media source that delivered the lead is. We have consistently found that for website leads in dealership CRMs lead sources can be over 70% incorrect.  

Problem 5: Reliance on Vendor Reporting

The majority of automotive retail data today is supplied in the form of vendor and platform reporting. You know how many leads were generated by Facebook and Google Ads because your digital advertising vendor tells you that information. You know how many visits your website generated because Google Analytics tells you. 

The issue is that none of the data matches up, vendor-to-vendor or platform-to-platform. Maybe it’s accurate or maybe it’s slanted to put them in the best light. But Google Analytics is different from your marketing automation platform which is different from your CRM. It doesn’t matter if you are counting visits or conversions, and it’s a massive headache to figure out what or who to trust, putting you in a position to question everything. If you’re like most dealerships, in a month that your sales team was working 100 leads and made 30 sales, your vendor reports all added up would show 300 leads and any one vendor would claim credit for as many as all of those sales. It’s reached a point where many automotive stores and groups struggle to hold vendors accountable or believe the information being served to them.

So Where Do We Go From Here?

My belief is that dealerships and automotive groups won’t get out of the current data quagmire until they own their own data. And ownership means that you have possession of it. You can see it. You can touch it. You can do stuff with it.

This belief that progress begins with data ownership is the major driver behind the latest Foureyes innovation, the Unified Data Platform. If you’re curious to understand more of what that is and how it could work for your group or store, check out additional details about the Unified Data Platform here or get in touch. I’d love to show you what Foureyes has done to truly make it simple for you to start reaping the benefits of big data.