In November, Procon Analytics began offering territories to agents seeking a connected-car platform to bring to dealers. The company’s Connected Dealer Services (CDS) solution includes a suite of dealer-facing features, such as inventory management and service scheduling, as well as a sell-through product car buyers can use to monitor vehicle health while staying connected with their selling dealership.
Agent Entrepreneur caught up with Procon Analytics COO David M. Meyer to get an update on the launch, ask what’s next, and trace the path that led him from auto retail to the technology sector.
AE: David, when we last spoke, you were just starting your agent campaign. To get everyone on the same page, what is it you do, and why is it of interest to agents?
Meyer: We’re a connected-car technology company that provides a solution not only for dealers to manage their inventory but also for them to improve their customer satisfaction index and increase their revenue. We try to hit on all three pillars dealers want. But we don’t sell directly to dealers. We have an agent-only model.
AE: What was your introduction to the auto industry?
Meyer: I started washing cars when I was 14 years old, at the Chrysler Plymouth Dodge store in my hometown in Iowa. I worked my way up the ranks from sales, F&I management, to multistore general manager. And I was always intrigued by technology and how it can improve the life of the dealer and their customers. Of course, back in the ’90s, we still had the old Unix green screens while the rest of the world was using this new thing called “Windows.”
I was quite amazed that more advanced technology hadn’t been brought into automotive at that point. When I had the opportunity to join a dealer management software company, I took it. I went to work for a company that provided dealer management software for Ford, Chrysler, GM, and Toyota dealerships. The solution offered automated service repair orders, parts, inventory, and the manufacturer’s statement upload.
I also owned an independent software vendor group, where we managed a five-state region and supported roughly 1,200 customers, and later went on to design a standalone F&I program that smaller dealers could use. They didn’t need all the bells and whistles of the bigger systems — too expensive, too complex, and they didn’t have the personnel to manage those expectations. Back in those days, some dealerships didn’t have any computer systems.
AE: And why is that? What took so long?
Meyer: I don’t think there was a lot of availability. Companies were not listening to the voice of the customer, not evolving solutions. And there wasn’t a lot of demand. Many of our customers were first-generation dealers who came from the days of general ledger books. The fact they had a computer they could manually enter data into, and it would automatically upload financial statements to their manufacturer once a month, that was a big leap ahead.
AE: That makes sense, and I appreciate your explanation. But considering the size of the dealer market, I would think more systems providers would be knocking on their doors, just as the digital disruptors are now.
Meyer: Look at the new influx of online companies, these “virtual” companies like Carvana, that are doing that. They’re trying to bring a new experience to customers. Most of the OEMs are still trying to implement connected car solutions that have already hit maturity in other markets. We close the gap by aggregating the data that a dealer wants to see in a format they want to see, to make it actionable for them. They don’t have to have data scientists in the dealership, but they can use the power of data and analytics to meet their needs. A lot of our employees have worked in retail automotive for a number of years. They know how dealerships actually use these applications.
AE: How did you get into connected-vehicle technology?
Meyer: During my dealership management software days, a lot of dealers were asking me about emerging solutions for inventory controls, asset recovery, and so on. I started investigating, and from there, it has really just evolved. I’ve worked with companies where we identified technology that was lacking, brought better technology to the dealerships, and continued to improve it.
We’re now not just creating new tools for our platform but also bridging the gap between tools that are already on the market. We are working on new integrations with embedded technology in the car, sending data to dealers and back to customers. And, of course, we have integrations with DMS software, inventory controls, VIN reporting, and service scheduling. We also do full diagnostic trouble code deciphering, so when the DTC turns on, the dealer is aware of it right away.
AE: Were you destined to move to the tech side of the business, or did you plan to stay in retail?
Meyer: I was always intrigued by technology part-time, even while I had a full-time retail career. I had the opportunity to join that software provider and it fell into place. My retail experience helped me translate the wants and needs of the customer back to the software engineers. I was able to say, “This is what you thought you heard, and this is how it actually works in a dealership situation.” At the time, dealership technology companies were more likely to say, “You need to change your dealership to fit our solution.” And there are still a lot of companies that operate like that.
AE: And those same companies are probably complaining that their dealers are not maximizing their systems’ potential.
Meyer: They are. And we know that, from the agent’s perspective, if it’s new technology, there is going to be a learning curve. Most agents in this group are used to providing paperproducts — GAP, an extended warranty, etcetera. A connected-car product is probably more high-tech than they’re used to. So we have plenty of field team members to not only help agents learn the technology, but translate it to their dealerships. We have a hands-on, formalized training program and we partner with agents’ clients upfront or after the fact, to help with onboarding and implementation.
They’re learning as the dealership is learning, so it’s good to be in lockstep initially, because it is such a new product in this market. We try to make it as easy as possible. We’re the sales engineers and the agent is the customer account manager. We provide a very detailed agent onboarding kit. It answers a lot of questions and draws a straight line right to the customer. We let the agent do what they are good and we support them simple tools and a process to make it easy.
Some of our agents have 20-year relationships with their clients. We have to be sure it works as advertised. Our job is to make them comfortable.
AE: How are the results?
Meyer: Better than I had expected. We’re onboarding new agents every week. They’re taking us right to their clients and we’re signing them up.
AE: Would this have been a tougher climb five or 10 years ago?
Meyer: Yes. Even three years ago, I don’t think the technology was ready, in terms of some of the data we provide. And I don’t think dealers were as open to looking at new technology and implementing it in their store. So I think the time is right, and we’re definitely ready as a company as well.