The ninth annual Agent Summit was held in late May, returning to Las Vegas’ Venetian & Palazzo with an agenda built around the most pressing issues facing the agent body. From intellectual property and agency M&A to dealer prospecting and F&I development, there was something for every attendee in search of a competitive edge.
“Our tagline for this year’s show was ‘Agent Domination,’ reflecting our desire to fully equip every attendee to beat back the competition and maximize production,” said David Gesualdo, show chair and group publisher of the Bobit Business Media group of magazines, including Agent Entrepreneur and F&I and Showroom. “By the end of the show, it felt more like ‘Total Domination’ as our speakers made clear the agent’s critical, pivotal role in the sale and administration of F&I products and all that requires.”
Those speakers included top agents, attorneys and compliance experts, and experts and executives from the F&I product, technology, and recruiting segments.
Delivering Agent Summit’s opening and closing remarks was Randy Crisorio, the president and CEO of United Development Systems and the event’s longtime advisory board chair. He said the Agent Summit agenda was built with the F&I industry’s most urgent issues in mind.
“Many of the topics covered during Agent Summit are in fact F&I ‘hot spots’ that agents across the country recognize on a daily basis,” Crisorio said, listing digitization, the search for dealership and agency talent, service-drive sales, and the latest regulatory threats among them. “The increasing pace of change is something that keeps F&I agents on the run every day of the week. … These are but a few ‘now’ issues that got real attention at the Summit.”
To learn more, AE caught up with four speakers who turned heads at this year’s event: attorneys Matthew Bartle and David Marcus, Joe St. John of AutoFi, and Broad & Pattison Automotive Search’s Bruce Martin.
What’s on the Agenda?
Bartle and Marcus are partners in the Kansas City law firm of the same name. Together, they presented “Who Owns What?” as part of the Monday-morning Agent Principals Only block. It was a return visit for the speakers, who have emerged as leaders in the agency agreement space.
“We decided to discuss intellectual property rights because, in our experience, agents tend to overlook that issue in negotiating their agreements with administrators and then, more often than not, it comes back to bite them when the agreements are terminated and a dispute arises over post-termination commissions and who really owns the book of business,” Marcus said. “Inserting a sentence or two — or even a word or two — in the agreement can make all the difference in who wins that fight.”
B&P’s founder and president, Bruce Martin, presented “People Are the Answer” on Tuesday afternoon. He made an urgent appeal to agents to focus on the human element of agency and dealership success, arguing that neither is possible if you are unable to find, hire, and properly onboard the best available candidates.
“It doesn’t matter how great your products, marketing, or branding might be — if you don’t retain and recruit great people to deliver all of it,” Martin said. “So, in my opinion, that’s where it starts. Being aware of what competitors are offering your current employees and the candidates you’re courting is paramount. Treating your candidate recruiting and employee retention with the same care as you treat your sales and marketing is just common sense!”
St. John is a former F&I manager and trainer turned tech exec. He joined AutoFi in 2016 and now serves as the company’s head of digital retail. His presentation, “Digital F&I in the 21st Century,” offered a journey through cyberspace from the agent’s perspective.
“F&I conversations have moved upstream in the purchase process,” said St. John, whose session kicked off the Agent Summit portion of the agenda at midday Monday. “This presents a critical opportunity for agents to leverage their expertise. Digital retailing is currently the single most important technological breakthrough in the automotive industry. Dealers are navigating a complex new world where agents can play a strategic and tactical role.”
Agents Have Questions (and Answers)
Agent Summit offers an intimate setting by automotive standards, drawing about 1,200 agents and agent principals, speakers, and exhibitors each year. With that intimacy comes plenty of facetime. Crisorio said the feedback he heard onsite was, as expected, all positive.
“I didn’t hear anything that surprised me this year other than, over and over again ‘Best Agent Summit ever,’ ‘Great content,’ ‘Loved it,’ ‘Attendance at every segment was awesome,’ and ‘Gotta like it — standing room only,’” Crisorio said. “No surprises here because I felt the same way.”
Martin said he spoke with a number of agents following his presentation, onsite and after the fact.
“The in-person and follow-up emails and calls touched on a number of the topics in my ‘People’ presentation, including asking about my thoughts on digital and social strategies for recruiting and retention techniques in a hotly competitive employment market — and the careful steps around recruiting from competitors and industry partners,” he said.
“Some agents came up to us after the presentation to share their ‘war stories’ from deals that went sour,” said Bartle. “If there was any common thread, it’s just the importance of knowing what the language in an agreement really means and how it is likely to be interpreted by a judge or arbitrator.
“A lot of these agreements spell out who owns what, if you know what language to look for,” he added.
St. John said he was “overwhelmed” by the positive response his presentation drew from Agent Summit attendees. “It has been so exciting creating real partnerships with the influential agents we connected with at the conference. We are already seeing an impact being made for them and their dealer partners.”
The Competition Is Heating Up
Asked for his takeaways at the end of the show, St. John pointed out that competition remains the running theme of Agent Summit, particularly as agents seek new ways to drive revenue and profitability for dealers as new-vehicle sales plateau. Better yet, he added, he was able to use his time onsite to AutoFi’s advantage.
“By having really candid, open, and collaborative conversations with agents, we solidified a great strategy for working with agents to help deliver value to their dealers. This was really informed from the input agents provided us around their specific needs for delivering value to dealers with digital retailing,” St. John said.
Marcus noted that, with a number of agents as clients, he and Bartle are “generally familiar” with the “major issues” Agent Summit attendees face.
Nevertheless, “The Agent Summit gave us insight as to issues agents across the country are facing. By and large, they appear to be the same issues. There clearly are trends in this industry, such as the ongoing trend of agency buyouts and consolidation, that seem to affect everyone regardless of size, location or level of sophistication. That surprised us.”
“I spoke to a couple of new entries to the F&I space who are in the midst of investment and acquisition in the segment. That’s great to hear — for our firm as a recruiting leader in F&I products, and for the industry as a whole,” Martin noted. “Growth is good!”
Looking for more inspiration? Check therecord, Crisorio said.
“My advice for agents looking to increase profits and further develop great dealer client relations would be to review the content of Agent Summit, because it was developed by some top agents and top provider executives as the important pieces of the day. It is those pieces that dealers are looking for in agent deliverables that will set them apart in the market.
“Always being a good student of the industry can only enhance the way dealer clients and dealer prospects view you,” Crisorio added. “Getting your ‘stuff’ to the upper echelon in the marketplace will propel your business to Agent Domination status.”