Agent Summit 2013 — Well Worth the Trip for Providers, Too
Agent Summit 2013 — Well Worth the Trip for Providers, Too

At the third annual Agent Summit, held in Las Vegas the first week of March, agents from around the country convened to discuss issues that effect them directly – things such as training, sales tools, growth and other issues. It is the one place where agents can come together to talk about the industry and their place in it, and work through problems and solutions.

As a provider, why does this matter to you? The first reason is all in the numbers. As of publication, the official numbers for the show were released, revealing that more than 550 people were in attendance — that’s up from 150 in 2011 and 300 in 2012. And there were 42 exhibitors at the show this year, and 72 sponsors. Those exhibitors and sponsors were providers, who were taking the opportunity to introduce themselves to new agents, solidify relationships with agents they already work with, and in general build awareness of their company and their products.

This was an amazing opportunity to network, and the incredibly year-over-year growth the show has seen the past two years since it’s creation shows that agents are looking for this kind of opportunity to learn from their peers, but also to have dedicated time to devote to building their own business. According to Randy Crisorio, president and CEO of United Development Systems Inc. and the chairman of Agent Summit’s Advisory Board, “I heard from a lot of providers who attended, to meet with current and prospective agent clients, that this event was far more important to them than NADA.”

The second reason providers should care is that at the end of the day, agents are the face and voice of each provider they represent. “Dealers don’t think about the corporate company,” said Bob Volatile, owner, Northeast Dealer Services. “They think about their rep.” That’s something providers are keenly aware of – product sales are in many ways dependent on the agent representing them, so finding and retaining the best to sell your products is imperative.

So agents coming together to learn and grow is a huge benefit to providers. It was a chance for those front-line people to discuss problems with their peers, come up with solutions, and debate issues. It is a place for them to learn and grow, so that they can do a better job of selling the product at the end of the day.

One theme that ran through several sessions was that of agents needing to be more proactive in their approach to dealers. This means that good agents are working with their dealers as partners, and are engaged in helping them find and solve problems, even before they know they are a problem. And that partnership mentality should extend to the providers the agents do business with. “We have to have great products to be good administrators,” said Joel Kansanback, president, Automotive Development Group. “It’s a partnership, and it’s critical to select the right people. They have to be committed to the agent model.”

Scott Karchunas, president, Protective Asset Protection, echoed that sentiment, but urged agents to look beyond the obvious to grow their business – and sell more products. “I have an optimistic outlook of an industry where challenges and opportunities abound,” he noted. “There are good products, good training, and a lot of expertise in the field. Is that good enough though?”

Karchunas went on to note that he’s observed the industry moving from a “push” model, where OEMs and dealers would push vehicles and products on the consumer, to a “pull” model, where the inventory and product mix are based on what the consumer is demanding. This is a fundamental change, and one that providers need to be aware of if they want to stay ahead of the competition.

A Strong Resource

Another take-away for providers from the summit was to use agents as one of the best resources for new product ideas and innovations. They know what their dealers need and are asking for, and smart providers are recognizing that. “Don’t underestimate the role agents play,” said Matt Nowicki, vice president of retail software, Innovative Aftermarket Systems (IAS). He noted that the providers who are growing the most are the ones who tap that resource and learn from it.

One point many agents and speakers made throughout the event was the need for everyone to be more Internet savvy. “Younger buyers don’t need or want personal interaction,” said Tony Wanderon, president and CEO, Family First Dealer Services. That was echoed repeatedly, with speakers noting that the majority of car buyers are still looking for the traditional experience, but that number is shrinking, while the number of buyers looking for online or alternative methods is growing rapidly.

“There is more eCommerce in buying cars,” said Brian Reed, president and CEO, Intersection Technologies. “And the F&I product perspective is changing. We have to figure out how to structure it – it’s very different from the traditional methods. We need to be thinking about that.”

Nowicki agreed, stressing that as a whole, providers, agents and dealers are all doing a poor job of selling to the non-traditional buyers. There are no solutions or methods for reaching customers looking for full remote sales, and that’s something he believes providers need to be part of finding the solutions for.

At the end of the day, providers need to be thinking not just about the products, dealers and customers they have today, but about where they need to be in the future – and the agents are in the perfect position to help them get there. Agent Summit was the perfect opportunity to identify the agents who are serious about growing their own business – and yours. Start making your plans for next year, back at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, March 10-12, 2014.