The NADA Convention reflects the best of our beloved auto industry. Many dealers are there to share best practices while listening and learning at sessions hosted by the greatest minds in the industry. Others are there to learn about emerging technologies being introduced by start up vendors with 10X10 booths next to million dollar exhibits sponsored by iconic vendors who have already earned their business and they are challenged to stay relevant in a changing auto industry.

As a former auto dealer who has an interest in several complimentary next generation technology based vendor solutions - many who exhibit at NADA  - I have what may be a unique perspective on the value of the NADA Convention.  I will ignore the obvious monetary benefit for vendors to attract new business and retain old customers and for dealers who want to renew or renegotiate exisiting vendor relationships while establishing new ones to solve known problems since dealers and vendors are obviously there to make a living.  I will instead focus on the less obvious - but more valued - observation that the true return on investment from the convention is reflected in the personal relationships that are developed and martured both at the show and in the after-hour parties hosted by the vendors.

Vendors are uniquely positioned to attract more friends than dealers at the convention by the nature of their exhibits which funnel thousands of attendees past their space.  The key is to recognize that since you can't "sell them all" you should prioritise meeting and greeting as many as possible while providing an incentive to keep in touch.  After all, what are friends for!

Scanning guest badges without any relevant exchange of information or personal connection is an awkward impersonal mechanism often abused by vendors who assume that they can sell to these strangers after the show.  This may seem productive but vendors who invest their time collecting names vs. making friends who are willing to do business wth them during or even after the convention will find that they have tied up their resources collecting data vs. customers.  A more constructive use of that valuable floor time might be to make a good first impression with a brief introduction to your product or service followed by an invitation to an after hours party where your relationship can mature during conversations with exisiting customers who are your best sales people.

Similarly, networking with vendors during the show to discuss shared opportunities is difficult since you are all focused on meeting dealers.  The real time to strategise on how you can integrate your solution with other likeminded vendors with complimentary solutions is after the exhibits are closed with a few drinks in your hands!

My point is that in my opinion the best take away from the NADA Convention can't be counted as the number of leads or even contracts that you sign.  The true ROI from NADA should be a reflection of the number of friends that you made or matured before, during and after the exhibits close.  If your only focus is on "closing the deal" vs. how you can help dealers or non-competing vendors solve their problems then the transparency of your self serving agenda will brand you as the "car salesman" that we all want to avoid. 

People like to do business with people that they like and that applies to dealers and vendors.  Frankly, there is more money to be made by establishing networking relationships with the other vendors at the NADA Convention than with the dealer atendees.  Sharing best practices, integrating solutions into more comprehensive platforms and even cross selling to each others customers can generate a better ROI from your time at the show than any single dealer contract.

After all, what are friends and NADA for!

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