I have brought over a dozen new products or services to market in the last 15 years. Below is a partial listing.

The world’s first Ford dealership website – 1994, nine months before Ford launched FMC.com
Microsoft CarPoint, V1, V2 – 1997/1998
Microsoft DealerPoint – V1 , V2 – 1998/1999
Automotive Document Standards (ADF) – 1998 – Industry-wide automotive lead standards
Cobalt eDealer Academy – 2000 – Instructor led training courses licensed to OEMs
eDealer Performance Assessment Tool – 2001 – Web based performance assessment tool
eMystery Shopping (TM) – 2001- Automated email response assessment service for OEMs
Lexus Lead Source Performance Calculator – 2002 – Automated lead source evaluation tool
Kia University – 2002 – 34 web based courses and a custom Learning Content Mgt. System
Cobalt University – 2003 – The auto industry’s first Learning Content Management System
Volkswagen eCommerce Best Practices – 2003- A series of web based training courses
Audi eCommerce Best Practices – 2003 – Macromedia award winning web based training
Prospector CRM Performance Improvement – 2004 – CRM performance consulting
Cobalt Performance Improvement Consulting – 2005 – Dealership Operational Consulting
Cobalt’s eDealer Performance Research – 2003, 2005, 2007 – Industry eBusiness Reports
UsedCars.com V2.0 – 2008 – B-C lead generation portal
DriverSide Reputation Manager 2009
Dealer.com Certified Vendor Program 2012
DrivingSales University Curriculum for Gulf States Toyota, Nissan and Infiniti, 2013-2015

Development of New Product: Microsoft DealerPoint 

Situation: In 1998 online shopping for cars by consumers was fairly new. Most dealers were not online and those that were, were struggling with a lack of process to deal with email inquiries. Many used simple email clients like Microsoft Outlook to attempt to manage their eCommerce efforts.

Problem: Microsoft CarPoint received revenue for the leads we generated for dealers. Many dealers claimed they were not seeing the return on investment, even though their lack of process and lack of eCommerce tools prevented them from doing any systematic follow up. Additionally, they lacked reporting on even the basics, like the number of leads they were receiving.

Solution: Having developed and managed one of the nations first dealer websites and business development centers, I knew this problem first hand. I realized that dealers needed a lead management system that was customized for the auto business. It had to be simple to use, would automatically remind them when follow up was required, would notify sales reps when new leads arrived and would notify sales management when leads were not being answered in a timely manner.

I also knew that a lead management system would give us a view into lead performance as well as lost opportunity at the dealer level, an area that previously was a black hole.

 

A screen shot of the home page of one of the original automotive lead management tools.

A screen shot of the first version of Microsoft’s DealerPoint, one of the first automotive lead management tools.

Result: I led the product planning efforts on DealerPoint V1 & V2. This was the first lead management system of its kind developed for the industry. It was very successful. The manufacturers loved the ability to see what was transpiring at the dealer level. Microsoft licensed it to Honda and Acura, and Ford Motor Company made it mandatory for all their dealers licensed under the SalesPoint brand.

Microsoft eventually sold DealerPoint to Ford generating over $7 million in shareholder value, in addition to the millions collected in annual licensing fees.

Development of Industry-Wide Standards: DealerPoint was designed to accept leads from any source (AutoByTel, AutoWeb, Edmunds, etc.). This is commonplace today thanks to a set of XML standards referred to as the Automotive Document Standards (ADF). In 1999 no such lead parsing standards existed. I led the industry-wide effort to convince all major competing lead services that it was in their best interest to adopt a standard. These same standards are in use by every major lead provider today.

Creates Strategic Value

“I have been fortunate to work closely with Kevin at Microsoft during his role in product management on the CarPoint team and most recently during his VP role at The Cobalt Group. Kevin has a passion for marketing and focuses on creating strategic value in a way that differentiates himself from many other eBusiness executives. Kevin is a strong team builder and brings a can-do attitude and a high energy level that makes things happen. He was fantastic to work with and I would work with him again in a heartbeat. Highly recommended!” March, 2009 

Carll Frye Director, Information Solutions Group (ISG) – Customer & Product Research. 

Creation of New Service Offering: eMystery Shopping

 

eMystery Shopping Example

Situation: In early 2002 many car dealers were online and receiving email “leads” from consumers who were inquiring about vehicle availability and price. Nearly 40% of those consumer inquiries never got a response back from the dealer.

Problem: Proving to auto manufacturers that their dealerships were missing opportunities to sell vehicles from customers who were shopping online. We were selling eCommerce training for dealerships to the OEMs but needed a way to get the manufacturers to see the magnitude of the missed opportunity problem.

Solution: I conceived automotive eMystery Shopping (TM), a way to show the OEMs exactly how typical consumer leads were being responded to by their dealers. This exposed and quantified the problem which then allowed us to sell training as a solution, as well as follow-up eMystery Shopping after the training to gauge the effectiveness of our training.

Results: Lexus was the first customer and has made dealership performance to leads as measured by eMystery Shopping a requirement for a dealer to maintain their “Elite of Lexus” dealership ranking. eMystery Shopping has been conducted for nearly every other manufacturer since then. It is one of the most profitable business lines Cobalt has today.

Goal Oriented: 

“Kevin was a pleasure to work for and with. He was always extremely goal oriented which helped keep everyone’s eye on the target. Knowledge and experience like his (in online automotive marketing) is rare. He is a true industry veteran who has the ability to get the most from his employees and get the job done.” June 2008 

Jordan Lampert , Sr. Product Planner , The Cobalt Group

eMystery Shopping (TM) 

eMystery Shopping provides dealers and manufacturers a detailed view of dealership responses to leads.  Consumer profiles are set up and online leads are submitted to the dealership. Dealer responses both email and phone are measured. The quality of the responses are evaluated against eleven criteria that make up a 100 point index.

Cobalt’s eMystery Shopping – The Benchmark for the Industry

eMystery Shop for GM

eMystery Shop for Ford

Reporting measured:

Overall responsiveness (did they respond at all?), timeliness of response (20 minutes, 4 hours, etc.) quality of response, (did they answer the consumer’s questions about vehicle price and availability, etc.?) and nine other elements (did they suggest next steps, provide a name, number, etc.?).

All reporting is then consolidated to show the OEM the overall dealer-body wide performance, regional or district performance and individual dealership performance including actual email and phone responses. Quarterly comparisons as well as other benchmarks were compiled (performance before training, after training, etc.).

Because we did this for thousands of dealerships every year, we were in a position to provide the benchmark for industry-wide performance as indicated below.

 

eMystery Shopping Industry Benchmark

Development of New Business Unit: Training & Consulting Service

The Situation: In 1999 John Holt, CEO of the Cobalt Group, recruited me to create a new for-profit training and consulting business. John realized that the better Cobalt customers did with online commerce, the better Cobalt would do. At that time, I knew little about adult education or organizational performance improvement, but I did know first hand about the business problems and challenges a dealership and their internet sales representatives were facing with eCommerce. With that knowledge and careful planning, we developed a very successful business unit and became one of the largest training providers to the industry.

The Problem: Creating a profitable business unit quickly. Selling a service that many customers (the dealers) were reluctant to pay for.

The Solution: In 2000 I launched the Dealer Advisory Services business unit. I knew that organic growth would not get us to scale quickly and knew that we needed to learn about the business side of running a training group. I partnered with J.D. Power & Associates who had a small training group and access to the OEMs, but was lacking in retail internet sales experience.

Together we understood the challenges to be overcome at the retail level and we had the professionalism to do business with the manufacturers, which enabled us to win $200,000 – $900,000 training contracts for their entire dealer-body. This way we did not need to sell training dealer by dealer. The relationship with J.D. Power lasted two years peaking when we won a $5 million contract with Ford Motor Company. We ended our joint relationship and the Dealer Advisory Services group continued to have success with the automotive OEMs.

Macromedia Award for Web Based Training

We developed a simple but effective business model:

(1) We did a national eMystery Shop to identify the nation’s best performing dealerships and to identify which OEMs had the worst overall eCommerce performance.

(2) We visited the best performing dealerships to assess and collect best practices. This become the curriculum foundation and our intellectual property.

(3) We transformed the solutions into 3 courses (basic/foundations, advanced, and one designed for dealership senior management).

(4) We used our eMystery shopping data to illustrate to OEM prospects the performance gaps and amount of lost revenue. We then sold them white labeled (web based or classroom) training solutions that we would “tailor” to their needs, while collecting a nice intellectual property use fee in addition to the service fees. The addition of the IP fees created gross margins of over 50%, good for service business of this kind.

The Result: Cobalt’s Dealer Advisory Services became the leading provider of eBusiness retail performance improvement solutions for the automotive industry.

Clients included: Lexus, VW, Audi, Honda, Nissan, Infiniti, Ford, Chrysler, Subaru, Kia, NADA Organization, AutoNation, Hendrick Automotive, United Auto Group and others.

We were recognized in the Journal of International Performance Improvement for our methodology and our online training won Macromedia’s Innovation in Learning Award, the only time this has been awarded in the automotive space.

ISPI Recognition 

Drives for Results

Kevin is an excellent manager with a keen insight in how to help each individual get the best out of any project or role. Supportive, critical and demanding with the right blend of each to exceed expectations and deliver results. Kevin has the ability to take any project or team to the next level of performance with clear direction and leadership rarely found in today’s marketplace.” February, 2009

Ken Pfau, Director, Training & Consulting, Cobalt Group – reported to Kevin at Cobalt

eBusiness Leadership Course

Advanced eBusiness Strategies Course

Foundation for eBusiness Success Course

Channel Marketing: Creating Powerful Tools for the Sales Team

Download Dealix Retail Strategy Brief – Sales Tool

Situation: Dealix is a third-party lead provider with competitive heavyweights like AutoTrader and Cars.com.

Problem: The sales team had outdated sales tools that did nothing to connect with their prospects or even position the product in a unique and compelling manner.

Solution: I realized the one major unique selling point that we had over the competitors was our pay per lead model. Our major competitors had a fixed monthly subscription model and those monthly prices were high and typically a pain point for their dealers. I wrote a campaign centered on the theme “Pay Per Lead, Not Per Month” exploiting their weakness and written in plain dealer language rather than marketing speak.

When R.L. Polk released a new study containing key points that could further our business generation interests, I saw an opportunity and a challenge. The report, as released, was suitable for Polk’s OEM audience but was far too detailed for our sales team to use with their dealer audience. I reached out to Polk and asked permission to essentially rewrite the report to be better suited for the dealer audience. They agreed and once approved, we had a powerful marketing tool from a trusted source that furthered our sales efforts. This report was deemed the “Retail Strategy Brief”.

Results: The sales team appreciated a marketing executive that knew how to connect with their target audience and embraced the new materials. Sales of the UsedCars.com product continue to increase.

Watch the video presentation of “Marketing In a Down Economy” created and delivered by Kevin Root in 2008 at an automotive industry conference. A live rebroadcast generated an online audience of 240 participants providing the sales team with hundreds of new business prospects.

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Develops Compelling Marketing Strategy

“Kevin consistently impressed me as an executive to emulate at Dealix / Cobalt. His ability to develop, articulate, and present compelling marketing strategy was one key to the company’s success… I’m lucky to have reported to Kevin and grateful for his professional advice and coaching.” – Kevin Cochran, Product Consultant, Dealix Corporation reported to Kevin at Dealix, A Division of the Cobalt Group (December 2008)