Vendors Don’t Sell Cars: Car Dealership Marketing

Part of our services at DTVMS, is setting monthly meetings with all your digital marketing vendors and reviewing your metrics to ensure everything is running in the right direction. Our goal is to maximize a dealership’s time and help focus on critical data by filtering out any irrelevant information. Additionally, we ensure that everyone, including digital marketing vendors, sales staff, service department staff, and BDC agents, understands the message for the month.

Yet, one of the things we run into consistently when onboarding stores is confusion over performance metrics and digital marketing vendor attribution. Still in 2023, we continue to see attribution of sales and foot traffic to
digital marketing strategies. This is a mistake, continue reading to understand why.

Vendors Don’t Sell Cars: Car Dealership Marketing


In the perfect world, single point attribution would be a dream come true. However, in the real world, your inventory is on multiple channels and the engagement of any given customer at any given time on any given platform has value. Attempting to attribute a single sale to a single digital marketing vendor through a multi-point strategy is too asinine and overlooks one very crucial piece of information. DIGITAL MARKETING VENDORS DO NOT SELL CARS, SALESPEOPLE DO. These vendors, at best, connect potential buyers with a piece of inventory. Period.

The conventional, multi-channel, approach inevitably leads to digital marketing vendors attempting to demonstrate their value by focusing on specific vehicles they claim to have “sold” while decision-makers equally
attempt to justify digital marketing vendor expense. 

 It’s a waste of everyone’s time. 

Vendors Don’t Sell Cars

Yet, for the sake of this conversation, let’s go with this traditional model and agree that there is no possibility for that single-point attribution. You’ll never be able to specify who sold which car because of that specific
effort. And even if you were able to, you would have astronomically high Cost Per Sale (CPS) numbers–in the thousands.

And what about other factors? Such as the majority of customers who go to third party sites, Google, Facebook,
your website, etc and then walk into the dealership without ever submitting a lead. Realistically there are only two types of digital efforts to help with foot traffic–inventory mix in relationship to price and a compelling offer.

You begin to see the conundrum. Attempting to attribute a multi-channel initiative to a single vendor is costly and confusing. In today’s digital world, measuring performance on factors such as how many vehicles did you sell or how much foot traffic did you have doesn’t compute.

So how do you track success?

Simple, we don’t measure sales, we measure percentages based on impressions, clicks, and leads. What is a digital marketing vendor giving in comparison to what amount of the budget we are spending. 

measure percentages

In other words–if Autotrader represents 8% of my total marketing budget then I should be getting at least the same percentage in return for impressions, clicks, and leads.  

I recently saw a post on social media:

 “When you don’t have tracking, you’re not in marketing; you’re in gambling.”

 I disagree. 


If you’re not properly tracking your marketing, you’re not gambling–you’re just ignorant as to what is and is not working. When we talk about digital marketing performance, it is essential to understand what we are measuring instead of trying to break things down into murky attributions that don’t make sense.

In my broadcast selling days, we would talk in relation to market share–if you had 30% of the audience you can expect 30% of your budget share.

This is a far better representation of investment versus performance than the current automotive model of allowing our digital marketing vendors to comically attribute their platform to dealership gross profit. The amount of money you sell a car for has nothing to do with your third-party marketing initiatives. Cost per unit sale is irrelevant to vendor performance. Let me state it again: the only thing you should be measuring for your vendors is impressions, views, and leads. Those are truly the only metrics that your vendors have control over.  

By utilizing the appropriate percentage metrics, you will be able to understand how the money you spend on each platform is converting. You can clearly visualize what your vendor partners are doing for you. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

What am I measuring on each platform? 

Is this platform a lead provider?

Is this platform an impressions/clicks/lead provider?

What percentage am I getting in return?

If you spend 6% of your budget on a lead provider delivering only 3% of your leads, you’re overspending by 50%. If you’re spending 6% of your budget on a lead provider providing you 12% of your leads, you’re getting a great deal. And if you’re just at 6% equally, you’re getting a fair return. 

That should be the only measure that matters.

Effective digital marketing in the automotive space puts market shoppers in front of vehicles they are interested in with little clicks that lead them to the information they need to transact. You cannot measure that effort in any way other than percentages. 

It’s time for us to look at our digital marketing more strategically. Stop trying to measure things that are unmeasurable. Single-point attribution is impossible if your cars are out on multiple platforms. 

To truly “visualize” a vendor’s cost per action and attribution, you need to account for the percentage of budget versus the percentage of return. 

percentage of budget

So, here’s a test.

Look at your third-party classifieds and take the time to break down what percentage of your budget is allocated to each provider. Then determine the percentage of impressions, views, and leads you get in return. If you do not know how to access this information you can start by calling your digital marketing vendor reps, gaining access to (or turning on your Google Analytics) or reaching out to us here for guidance. As you do this, you will better understand where you’re deficient and where you’re not. Oftentimes we are quick to switch strategies and submit unnecessary cancellations. Through the vantage point of percentages, we can truly see the effectiveness of our marketing mix and allocate our budget accordingly. 

Understanding the percentage of return that each digital marketing vendor provides, can help dealers and dealer groups make more informed decisions and invest their marketing budgets more effectively. As we all know, our industry is growing and changing at a rapid pace, we need to make sure we are re-evaluating our digital marketing as well. Let’s move towards a more strategic, percentage-based model.

However! While investing in effective marketing strategies can help dealerships attract more potential customers and generate more business, it is essential to remember that marketing is not a magic potion to fixing all your problems. The key to dealership success ultimately lies in having the right people and processes in place.

Your employees are the face of your dealership, and their level of knowledge, expertise, and professionalism can make all the difference in how customers perceive your business. Investing in training programs and hiring the right people with the right attitude and skills can help you build a team that is dedicated to providing the best possible experience for those potential customers that your digital marketing vendors have worked so tirelessly to attract.

By focusing on your people and your processes first, you can create a strong foundation for success that will make ANY marketing efforts you undertake more effective. If your dealership’s employees and processes are not running in the same direction as your message, no amount of marketing will enable you to win the race. If your budget is such that you must choose between digital marketing and training please, please, please spend your money on professional, ethical training programs first.

Herb Anderson/Charity Ann