Monthly Archives: May 2016

Do You Know Your Online Reputation?


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carsales‘ core business model is around connecting sellers and buyers; we do an excellent job of doing this.

Once we have connected the seller and buyer, we provide tools and education around the best practices to make a sale. Here is an example of where post connecting the seller and buyer, somethings are out of our control.

We had a dealer who was questioning the quality of leads sent to him and subsequently what they were paying.

It’s always an interesting conversation because it’s not like leads are vetted for quality and the “good ones” sent to certain dealers yet we have dealers who sell a car from every 4 leads and dealers who sell a car every 9-10 leads. This dealer was in the latter bucket.
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I decided to look a little further into the dealership to connect a few dots. Before I looked into the way they handle the leads (response time, etc) and I didn’t know if he had his own website so the first thing I did was a Google search.

On page 1 of the Google results was something that went someway to explaining things for me. The result description high up in the Google result list showed 1 star out of 5 from 12 from a user review site. Hmmm.

I clicked on the link to read the user reviews; they weren’t good reading (or maybe they were, depending on your need).
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So picture this:

  1. You are a car buyer on carsales, you select a car you are interested in and submit an enquiry.
  2. An email is immediately sent to you with the dealer name and details.
  3. You go to Google to find the dealer website.
  4. Put in your face is a user review ranking of 1 star (out of 5) and a click away is 11 extremely negative reviews.

When the dealer contacts you about your enquiry what do you do?
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It doesn’t matter how many leads carsales sends to this dealer or how little or much is charged; the dealer is going to struggle to convert some of the leads based on their online reputation.

In today’s connected world negative reviews are a click away so it is vital for businesses to first know what their online reputation looks like and then ensure they do something about it.

As I said, it’s always an interesting conversation.


Work was great today, I did nothing


I feel I’ve been lucky in my professional career in that I’ve always enjoyed what I’ve done. I say lucky because not everyone enjoys their work.

It was always funny going to football training with guys from all walks of life to hear things like “work was great today, I did nothing” and “who wants to go out tonight, I’m taking a sickie tomorrow”. Gee I’m glad I never measured a successful day like that!
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I was a software developer during my twenties and always differed from the majority of other developers I worked with in that I was usually the only footballer and I wasn’t into technology like the most of the others. I’m not into computers, games, newest technology, etc but I never had a problem getting to work on a Monday (well, there were a few Monday’s after Sunday football games that we a tad difficult).

In spite of not being a “tech head”, I really enjoyed being a software developer and in particular I loved two things:

1. Using software to solve commercial needs. I have always got a kick out of this above all else and still love providing solutions that provide value to business.

2. Creating something from scratch. I think it must be the way I’m wired as I loved developing something that would have my own stamp on it. I’m the same with houses. I’d much prefer to build than renovate.

I loved that as a developer I got a business need to improve, figure out how to improve it, build it, test it, implement it with the client and then support it.
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In the 90’s as a developer you were responsible for practically the entire software development life cycle; I enjoyed it all except probably the documentation part. I liked documenting inside the code but this is where I was like any other developer – Why can’t the user just work it out?

Developing a product solution would become an obsession for me and it wasn’t uncommon for me to work through the night, rarely to meet a deadline but just because of these two loves.

My biggest problem with software development – Why don’t they all think like me?

At the end of the day we are all in control of enjoying our professions and I like seeing people enjoy what they do.


Who Visits Car Classifieds Websites?


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The vast majority of the millions of people who visit carsales.com.au each month are looking to buy a car. As do the millions visiting our websites around the world in Brazil (Webmotors.com.br),Mexico (Soloautos.mx), Chile (Chileautos.cl) and South Korea(Encar.com).

Similarly, when a person makes the effort to fill in an enquiry form to send a dealer, they are in the process of buying a car.

I’m being a little flippant with these statements because we see the evidence every day and somehow it is missed in practice.

Take the following quiz (based on real data from carsales):
Dealer A and Dealer B are both franchised car dealers located in the same city and each stocks between 40-50 used cars. Dealer A consistently sells a car every 4 leads they receive while Dealer B sells a car every 9 leads.

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Now select your answer:
a) Dealer A is receiving better quality leads than Dealer B
b) Dealer A has more desirable stock than Dealer B
c) Dealer A treats every lead as an opportunity to sell a car

If you answered c) you would be correct. Dealer A gets onto every lead quickly, works them hard and gets a great result. More often than not the buyer doesn’t even purchase the car they required on but if the lead is worked like every sales lead should, it will one of the dealer’s cars not a competitors.

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It is not surprising that over 40% of the people sending leads to Dealer B actually purchase a car from another Dealer – most probably Dealer A.

Dealer B thinks that most of the leads from online are “tyre kickers” and as such gets on to some but doesn’t pursue others. We know this from consumer feedback that is provided back after an enquiry is made.

We see the same things in Brazil. Recently our Webmotors Dealer Director visited a dealer in São Paulo who said that they weren’t happy with the quality of leads coming from Webmotors.

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Our Webmotors guy asked him for some examples so the dealer presented him with three leads that were “rubbish”. Our guy asked the dealer if he could follow them up then and there, in front of the dealer and on behalf of the dealer. The result – two appointments for the dealer and the other had just bought from another dealer! So much for “rubbish” leads.

What was found (and acknowledged) was that the dealer didn’t value a lead from any online source like he did a walk-in or phone call. With a little education the dealer now understands the value of Webmotors as a valuable car buying channel.

carsales.com.au, Webmotors.com.br, Soloautos.mx, Chileautos.cl, Encar.com and other leading auto classified sites around the world invest millions of dollars to bring car buyers to dealers and it is in their interest to keep the quality intact – I can’t see how that is a bad thing.


SEO & SEM on Auto Classified Sites


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Most people are familiar with SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) these days and relate to getting your website seen in Google.

It’s not just Google where these two streams relate to though. The same concepts/streams apply to any third party aggregated classifieds sites where tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands or millions of classified ads just like yours are listed.

Just like you can’t build a web site and expect people to find it through Google without a little work on SEO and/or SEM, you can’t just post an item on a classifieds site without considering SEO or SEM as part of the process.

Each independent website has their own default ranking algorithm which is usually based on one element (i.e. price) rather than an algorithm like Google but SEO can still be derived by having a quality ad with lots of quality photos, good description and competitive price. On some just a change up on these items in your ad can aid ranking organically.
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SEM on auto classified sites such as carsales is through depth products such as Top Spot, Showcase and Top Deals (Premium for privates). If you follow the REA results you see them reference “depth products” as a growth driver – this is SEM for real estate agents and vendors on realestate.com.au.

Here’s a few examples from a carsales Performance Manager who was recently working with some dealers on their listings quality, focusing first on the SEO elements (changing the photos up, updating the description, etc) and then walking through the SEM options or Depth products.

In each of the examples below, two actions were taken on three vehicles:
1. Photos were rotated and comments updated/improved (SEO)
2. Vehicles were added to Showcase (SEM)

Dealer A: Toyota FJ Cruiser in stock for 57 days and no enquiries had been received on the vehicle for over 2 weeks; 4 enquiries generated almost immediately and sold 2 days later through a carsales lead.
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Dealer A: Toyota Prado in stock for 22 days no enquiries for 10 days; vehicle appeared in 300+ search results in first 2 days and sold within 5 days.
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Dealer B: Mercedes C250 Estate in stock for 289 days; sold from a carsales lead within 2 days.
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When done properly, this stuff works and is cost effective on any sort of search engine.


Competing Against International Businesses On Our Turf


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Webmotors recent acquisition of BuscaCarros shows an interesting dynamic change to what carsales faces in Australia where in 19 years it has completed just the two acquisitions of automotive classifieds sites.

In 2005 carsales acquired/merged with Carpoint (and Boatpoint, Bikepoint, etc) and in 2007 Discount New Cars was acquired. In 2012 the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) blocked the carsales acquisition of Trading Post.
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Trading Post was an iconic brand from a print perspective but that did not move online so the interesting part of the failed Trading Post transaction is that Trading Post really offered no material gain for carsales.com.au (as opposed to carsales.com Ltd) because from an online automotive classifieds perspective, Trading Post was terminal; yet the basis for the ACCC blocking the transaction was centred around the impact it would have on competition in online automotive classifieds.
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The value for carsales was in a general classifieds platform where it was looking to compete against the emergence of Gumtree, owned by US online giant eBay.

The ironic part of this is that all the ACCC (along with all the submissions) succeeded in doing was stop carsales.com Limited, an Australian founded and run company (who pays its fair share of Australian tax), compete effectively against an international company such as Gumtree (who may or may not pay its fair share of Australian tax).
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I get the competition focus of the ACCC and agree with it in principle. The problem in this case was that the whole picture wasn’t considered and generally in Australia we like to cut down the “tall-poppys”; the issue with online is that Australia is not big enough to be viable market with 2-3 competitive players in each market vertical.

This opens the door for the international giants such as eBay, Amazon, Google, Facebook, etc to use their global reach to compete against Australian businesses with unfair advantages.

And make no mistake, the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon are potential competitors for practically all online Australian businesses.


What Does Brazil Know That We Don’t?


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carsales acquisition of Stratton Finance last year caught a few people by surprise as they thought it was outside of our core offering. What makes it more interesting is that in Brazil, the three leading automotive vertical websites are owned by banks. More on that shortly.

An automotive portal’s core value proposition is as a channel between buyer and seller. For dealers and private sellers it is a buying channel where buyers can come to the one place, find the car of their dreams (or needs) and deliver leads to the seller, thus providing them with the opportunity to sell their car.

As around 50% of used car sales are financed, it makes sense that at the time of enquiring about a car on carsales, the buyer can/will/does also enquire on the best finance to purchase the car.
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Stratton had been a carsales display advertising client for over 10 years as they looked to capture these finance enquiries so it made sense for carsales and Stratton to get closer and maximise the finance lead generation opportunities.

Just to be clear here, the Stratton Finance brand and integration is ONLY placed against private seller cars on carsales, NEVER on dealer’s cars. In fact, carsales has NEVER placed a finance advertisement on a dealer car as dealer’s offer their own finance to their buyers and we do not want to diminish this opportunity for them.
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The finance model and automotive portals is nothing new in Australia. In 2000 ANZ Bank’s Esanda Auto Finance started an automotive portal called eauto.com.au in an attempt to be a finance lead channel. In the same year, St George Bank formed a strategic partnership with Autobytel.com to launch Autobytel.com.au in Australia and try to replicate what was a successful model in the US. By 2002 both were gone with millions of dollars lost.

carsales had also tried its hand of monetising finance leads long before the Stratton investment with the creation of a business unit called Click For Finance 7-8 years ago. This effort didn’t last long either.
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Webmotors.com.br, 2007, shortly before the Santander acquisition

Back to Brazil.
We have looked at automotive portals around the world and I am yet to find any that are owned by banks, except in Brazil, where the three leading players are owned by banks:

1. Webmotors has Banco Santander as the controlling shareholder (with 70% and carsales 30%) after it acquired ABN Amro Bank in 2007 (ABN Amro had acquired Webmotors in 2002);

2. iCarros is owned by Itau Bank; and

3. Meucarronova is owned by BV Financeira

Do they know something others around the world don’t? No, I think that since Webmotors came to Santander through a bank acquisition and they kept hold of it, the other two banks took opportunities to follow suit.

As a side here, the founder of Webmotors also founded iCarros after he sold Webmotors to ABN Amro Bank so he followed a successful path for him in selling iCarros to Itau. “Only in Brazil” as my friend Fernanda says to me, seemingly all the time.

I also think the concept of automotive portals being a legitimate finance lead channel is acknowledged everywhere but as Esanda and St George found out, it takes a little more than simply setting up a website. Even in Brazil where the three banks acquired the automotive portals and have owned them for a number of years, they are still yet to maximise the opportunity for finance origination (as opposed to finance leads).

This is where carsales is adding enormous strategic value to Santander as a strategic investor in Webmotors having the experience of trying a finance model internally years ago and now successfully integrating with Stratton.

It is only the start of the journey and should be a great ride!


Managing Up Is A Skill Worth Mastering


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I read an interesting article on LinkedIn recently by Dr Travis Bradberry titled Curious Things That Will Kill Your Career. One of the things listed was “Sucking up to your boss” and says “Some people suck up to their boss and call it managing up, but that isn’t the case at all“. I couldn’t agree more!

(A disclaimer before continuing – I do not profess to be an expert in this area, these opinions are purely based on my experience.)

While sucking up to the boss could kill your career, managing up is a skill that most professional people will need to master (in my opinion) to get to the top but not everyone realises the need, know how to go about it and/or really want to go there.
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There is a fine line; spend too much time or not enough time and the result can be the same. You need to be able to do it well; some just don’t get it right and that can also be a career killer. So what do you have to do?

Here’s my two pointers to getting it right:

1. Think about what the boss needs/wants (what’s important for him/her); if you can be the person that is helping your boss achieve what they need/want then you are on the way

2. Keep front and centre; that is communicate regularly in a format your boss enjoys (not what you enjoy), building your relationship with him
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And here’s what to avoid:

1. Trying to achieve the two points above to the detriment of your peers or your boss’ peers

2. Trying to “over-impress”; this isn’t about sucking up, this is about it being all about “me”

Getting to an executive level of a reasonable size company means that you are probably good at at least one of the two pointers to getting it right and usually that would be the first one, after all this about providing value. It’s the second one that is the hard one to get right because to do it properly requires a focus and discipline to make it part of what you do.

Managing up can be pretty simple really but also easy to get wrong. It’s also not a negative and guess what, I reckon if you get the balance right, your boss will like and appreciate it (probably stating the obvious there!).


Room For 1 In Online Classified Verticals


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Before the Internet boom, print publications made a tidy profit from classifieds, particularly in jobs, real estate and cars – the “rivers of gold”. Whereas in a print world three players could compete and make money in each vertical in Australia, in an online world in a market the size of Australia, it is very tough gig being number 2 and even tougher being number 3.

Melbourne has seen three of the best online classifieds businesses in the world startup here to own these three online classified verticals in Seek, REA and carsales.com. Each of them is a story in their own right but it is a really interesting case study to look at why these three businesses are at/near the top of the tree from a global perspective.
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Seek.com.au, 2000

Is it just coincidence that the three of them are the “best of the best” and just happen to be Australian? I think this has some merit but I also think that the dynamics of the Australian online market have a bit to do with it as well.

In Australia we have seen News Limited, Fairfax and Trading Post try to make up the lost ground in the online world in each vertical with mixed success. Each of them had geographical markets where they were stronger than others which was enough to ensure each could make good money.

This worked in a print world but not in online where the geographical boundaries can be (are) redundant, especially in a country the size of Australia. Brands like Careerone, Mycareer, Trading Post, Homesonline, News Motoring, Carsguide and Drive have seen new investors, joint ventures, brand changes, business model changes, etc in an effort to stay relevant as a number 2 or 3 in each vertical.
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Tradingpost.com.au, 2000

While the three print publishers were trying to move into online while still protecting their print profits in each of their geographical strong-holds, Seek, REA and carsales.com had nothing to protect; they just had to build great online businesses to win their market and this is exactly what each has done. There has been no legacy to consider or cloud decision making.

The US in comparison to Australia has seen a different story. From an automotive perspective, Autotrader.com has successfully migrated from print to online to be number 1 in auto online classifieds in the US with Classified Ventures, a joint venture between 5 major newspaper publishers, not far behind as the number 2 having also successfully migrated from print to online with cars.com.
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carsales.com.au, 2000

Meanwhile in the UK and Canada, mature markets like the US and Australia, Autotrader.co.uk and Autotrader.ca have also successfully migrated from print to online to be the number 1 players. As a side note, the Autotrader businesses in the US, UK and Canada are separate businesses and not associated.

I know at carsales we know there will always a strong number 2 and welcome competition. We are a naturally paranoid company and not one to sit still. We know we must keep on innovating and improving our value and offering to our clients. We also know that Seek and REA work in the same way.
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Realestate.com.au, 2000

All three online giants are making inroads in taking their IP and technology to international markets and proving successful as strategic investors. This does not take away from what each is doing in Australia and in fact only enhances it as we tap into a even more diverse talent pool to keep us ahead of the pack here in Australia.

It is hard work being a number 2 player from an online perspective. There often just isn’t enough of the dollar to go around. This is a great incentive to stay ahead in Australia and why one of the things carsales looks for in its international strategy is market leaders or businesses that we think can be a market leader with our strategic input.