EDMONTON, Alberta -

Who should be my Internet manager?

This is one of the questions I field most often as I fly around the country, working with both rural and large metro dealers, alike.

And my usual response? Someone who wants to be!

But if that’s not the answer you were hoping for, it’s because the question itself is flawed. Think of it like putting together a jigsaw puzzle: if you first put in the work to set up the structure and define the problem correctly from the getgo, once you get to placing that last piece, it will be obvious.

So to get to that point — to select in a way that will best market your dealership and sell more cars — what you should be asking instead is this: What do we want our Internet manager to accomplish?

The Times, They Are a-Installin’ Software Updates

Like a wildfire spreading across the industry, the Internet has swiftly and drastically changed the automotive landscape, devouring the dry deadwood while new growth gets ready to take over the territory.

Back when the job first started out, an Internet manager was perhaps someone who handled the leads. Someone contacts the dealership online, and this person would follow up with them. Simple.

But like a marketing grad’s waistline at their first desk job, the position started to balloon. What about taking pictures and writing descriptions? Start maintaining our website, would you? How about running online advertising accounts?

Reporting, social media, blogging — whatever else involves a computer at the dealership, can you handle that, too? In most dealerships, it is simply not realistic for one person to take care of all of this with any success.

So rather than sharing my opinion on the position, I thought I would share some conversations that I had with two successful and talented automotive professionals. They have each dealt with the ups and downs of this ever-shifting job title firsthand, and thrived.

Melina Beeston and Robert Karbaum were kind enough to share with me how their careers progressed in this rapidly changing landscape — what worked, what might not have, and what advice they would share with dealers looking to create or refine this title.

Melina Beeston, Don Wheaton Auto Group

A veteran who started in the car industry at age 16, Melina began her online career merchandising vehicles on the dealer’s website, taking flattering photos of the inventory and uploading enticing descriptions.

From there her position snowballed. She soon was maintaining the dealership’s website, social media accounts and overseeing the Web presence of two more stores in the group. Now, with three stores to manage, Melina spends her time keeping all the websites and social media accounts up-to-date, overseeing the online advertising efforts, and providing quality control and guidance to the teams doing those same jobs at their other locations.

Over the past few years, Melina realized that you cannot do everything yourself. From one lot to another, we see dealers piling way too many tasks on this position. Aside from that, she has learned that it is beneficial to be impartial: “It is not about me doing well or one particular person doing well; it is about the team and the store doing great.”

A huge believer in properly merchandising vehicles, she would absolutely recommend that any dealership looking to improve in this area hire a photographer or at least bring it inhouse and take photos seriously. “The results speak for themselves,” she said.

And what about her process? There is no silver bullet; what works for one dealership may not work for another. But having a clearly defined process will definitely improve your situation, and having that process owned from the top down will go a very long way.

Robert Karbaum, Weins Canada Inc.

Robert is a maven in the online car industry. He has been a long serving member of the Weins Canada Web team, and he is no stranger in many automotive circles, even though he never saw his talent in e-commerce steering him in that direction.

I think this is an interesting point. For a long time the car industry has carried a certain stigma, combining the testosterone and scruples of stock brokers with the subtlety of a can of Red Bull. But I think that the transition to online will open the minds of many young people entering the work force, that working in a dealership is a progressive long-term option.

Robert, similar to Melina, started back at a time when “an Internet lead was like getting a fax lead; no one took this seriously.”

Moving from merchandising and answering leads to now overseeing a team of 11, Robert sees his role to manage, monitor and mentor. He also believes in keeping his hands dirty and working alongside his staff, whether it be in a campaign or on the website.

Change is so constant, and as he says, “You have to be someone who has done the job to manage the job. You have to track everything, and more importantly, you need to understand what it all means.”

Although I think the message has been reduced greatly, don’t let suppliers give you the runaround.

One thing that Robert expresses better than most is our unfamiliarity with the burgeoning position. “We all know what sales manager means. But Internet manager?” You need to define and understand what you want out of this role; is it a jack of all trades and a master of none?

Where do you start? “Join an Internet 20 sales group, Driving Sales, or NADA, and learn from your peers,” he said.

Tips from the Pros

I think it will be a while before anyone has a firm idea of what is an Internet manager, and how do you go about the job successfully. In fact, once we know both for sure, the industry will probably already be heading in a totally new and different direction.

Yet although every Internet manager I spoke to had a different story, three themes kept emerging:

Great pictures and vehicle descriptions are a must: Leaving this in the hands o f a third party is like hiring a deposed Nigerian prince as your personal finance manager.

Trust this to someone who would benefit first-hand by seeing these vehicles sell, and you might just see that happen.

Involve process and leadership: There is no lone process strategy or leadership style that leads to success online, but having one is essential. The landscape is constantly shifting under our feet; try something out, fail fast, learn the lessons from it, and keep on going.

It’s one person’s position, but it’s a team’s job: Start by finding someone who is motivated and interested in the job, but take this aspect of your dealership seriously, and divide up the internet manager’s tasks among your staff before the job gets out of hand.

So, who should be your Internet manager?

Start with the right questions, and your answer will be obvious. What are your business goals, and what do you need your Internet manager to accomplish?

Those are the questions that come first that will then make that hiring decision less of a hassle. With great pictures and vehicle descriptions, an up-to-date website, and a blitz-fast lead response time, you’ll create the revenue generating foundation of your online presence that will make it possible to start looking towards online advertising, social media and everything else under the umbrella.

For more tips from top dealer groups, see the Auto Remarketing Canada Digital Magazine Leading Dealer Groups issue.

A proud Edmontonian and graduate of the University of Alberta, Duncan Cochrane’s experience in the advertising industry dates back to the days of the Bargain Finder. Duncan immediately found a home in traditional advertising working with car dealers. Seeing the industry shift to digital, he joined Strathcom Media and for the last three years has spread the gospel of data-driven decisions to dealers across Canada.