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2013 Dealers' Choice Awards

The magazine’s ninth annual Dealers’ Choice Awards featured a tough competition between old favorites and new winners — as well as several brand new categories.

April 2013, Auto Dealer Today - Cover Story

by ADM Staff

This year marks the ninth straight year that Auto Dealer Monthly has recogized the highest rated vendors, suppliers and finance companies in the auto-motive industry. The Dealers’ Choice Awards are based solely on votes cast by ealers and dealership personnel. They are the people who use these products and ervices every day, so there’s no better way to judge the product and service providers in the industry.

The 2013 awards feature 27 different categories, six of which are new this year. Each company was rated on the product or service it provides, customer service, the overall value of the product or service, and if they would be willing to recom- mend the provider to another dealer.

There are three awards that can be won in each category: Diamond, Platinum and Gold. To win one of these esteemed honors, a company must have a score among the Top 3 and score above the group average. The highest scoring company above the group average wins the Diamond Award, while the second- and third- highest scoring companies with above-average scores earn the Platinum and Gold awards, respectively.

Each year, the Dealers’ Choice Awards feature first-time winners that shake up the competition, along with favorites that seem to crack the Top 3 every year in their respective categories.

The awards give credit where credit is due, but they serve as the premier forum for dealers looking for new product and service providers. The staff at Auto Dealer Monthly would like to thank each of the dealers and dealer personnel who took time out of their busy schedules to cast their votes.

Finally, we would like to extend congratulations to the 54 companies that won a total of 66 awards this year. To achieve these accolades, they must be doing an exceptional job serving the auto retail industry.

AT A GLANCE

• 66 Award Winners

• 54 Unique Award Winners

• 27 Categories of Products or Services

• 6 New Categories

• 28 Companies Won Consecutive Awards

• 12 Companies Won More Than One Award

THE RULES

The Dealers’ Choice Awards are based on a survey that allows dealers and dealership personnel to vote for providers in a multitude of categories. Survey respondents are asked to cast votes only for providers with which they have firsthand knowledge and experience.

In addition to identifying their primary providers in each category, respondents must rate their providers in four areas: (1) the product or service provided; (2) customer support and service; (3) the overall value for dollars spent; and (4) whether the dealer would recommend the provider. The 2013 Dealers’ Choice Awards survey was posted online from Jan. 4, 2013, through Feb. 15, 2013. Those who voted in at least five categories qualified to be entered into a drawing for a Kindle Fire.

When it was launched in 2005, the survey was set up as multiple-choice, with a list of companies under a category from which to choose, plus the option of a write-in vote for a company that wasn’t listed. That changed in 2012. Now, respondents are asked to write in their primary provider for each category in order to vote. While this process did create some extra work in matching up companies based on differences in how respondents identify their providers, this eliminated some past concerns regarding write-in votes. In the auditing process, all votes were reviewed, scrutinized and cleansed for companies that received votes in the wrong categories.

As always, the sheer number of votes is not the deciding factor. What matters is quality, not quantity. Scores were totaled, averaged and weighted for each provider. Then the overall average vote across all categories was assigned a value of 100. Then the scores — including group averages and company scores — were adjusted according to their position above or below the overall average.

Final placement is determined by raw scores. Ties can only happen if two nominees have the exact same raw score. The provider with the highest above-average score receives the Diamond Award, followed by the Platinum Award and the Gold Award, respectively, provided their scores are above the group average.

2013 FACTS AND FIGURES

ANNUAL WINNERS

(Award Winner Every Year)

ActivEngage*

AutoTrader.com*

Ally SmartAuction

Client~ConneXion

CNA National

Joe Verde Group Kain Automotive*

Manheim

Portfolio*

Reynolds and Reynolds

United Development Systems (UDS)

*These companies have won awards every year in categories that have been added to the DCA after the award’s inception in 2005.

MULTIPLE CATEGORY WINNERS

(Won More Than One Award This Year)

ADESA (2)

AutoTrader.com (2)

CNA National (2)

Cars.com (2)

Dealer.com (4)

Dealertrack Technologies (3)

eBizAutos (4)

JM&A Group (2)

Manheim (2)

ProMax (2)

Reynolds and Reynolds (2)

Wells Fargo (2)

TRIPLE-DIAMOND WINNERS

(Three or More Consecutive Diamond Awards in the Same Category)

CNA National

Dealertrack Technologies

ELEAD

Manheim

ProMax

vAuto

TRIPLE-PLATINUM WINNERS

(Three or More Consecutive Platinum Awards in the Same Category)

Ally SmartAuction AutoTrader.com

Portfolio

Reynolds and Reynolds

TRIPLE-GOLD WINNER

(Three or More Consecutive Gold Awards in the Same Category)

Dealix

DOUBLE-DIAMOND WINNERS

(Two Consecutive Diamond Awards in the Same Category)

CNA National

DealerLink

eBizAutos

Kain Automotive

Regional Acceptance

DOUBLE-PLATINUM WINNER

(Two Consecutive Platinum Awards in the Same Category)

ProMax

DOUBLE-GOLD WINNER

(Two Consecutive Gold Awards in the Same Category)

HomeNet Automotive

NEW CATEGORY WINNERS

Dealer.com

Digital Air Strike

EAC/Bi-Auto

eBizAutos

Innovative Aftermarket Systems (IAS)

Safe-Guard Products

Smart Payment Plan

2013 DEALERS CHOICE AWARDS

NEW-VEHICLE INTERNET LEAD PROVIDER

1. AutoTrader.com (Platinum in 2012)

2. Cars.com

3. Dealix (Gold in 2012)

USED-VEHICLE INTERNET LEAD PROVIDER

1. AutoTrader.com (Platinum in 2012)

2. Cars.com (Diamond in 2012)

SPECIAL FINANCE LEAD PROVIDER

1. DealerLink (Diamond in 2012)

2. CarsDirect (Gold in 2012)

3. Auto Credit Express (Platinum in 2012)

WEBSITE DESIGN PROVIDER

1. Dealer.com (Platinum in 2012)

2. eBizAutos (Diamond in 2012)

CHAT PROVIDER

1. ActivEngage (Platinum in 2012)

2. Client~ConneXion (Diamond in 2012)

3. Contact At Once!

ONLINE INVENTORY LISTING MANAGEMENT

1. eBizAutos (Diamond in 2012)

2. Dominion Dealer Specialties

3. HomeNet Automotive (Gold in 2012)

CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT

1. ELEAD (Diamond in 2012)

2. ProMax (Platinum in 2012)

3. DealerSocket

DIGITAL MARKETING

1. Dealer.com

2. eBizAutos

REPUTATION MANAGEMENT

1. Digital Air Strike

SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT

No winner

MOBILE MEDIA

1. eBizAutos

2. Dealer.com

DIRECT MAIL

1. Aspen Marketing

SALES TRAINING

1. Joe Verde Group (Platinum in 2012)

2. IPS Agency (Diamond in 2012)

3. The Cardone Group

INTERNET TRAINING

1. Kain Automotive (Diamond in 2012)

2. Dealer.com (Platinum in 2012)

F&I TRAINING

1. United Development Systems (UDS) (Gold in 2012)

2. JM&A Group 3. Reahard & Associates (Platinum in 2012)

F&I PRODUCTS

1. Innovative Aftermarket Systems (IAS)

2. Safe-Guard Products

F&I DESKING SOFTWARE

1. ProMax (Diamond in 2012)

2. Reynolds and Reynolds

3. Dealertrack Technologies (Platinum in 2012)

SERVICE CONTRACT PROVIDER

1. CNA National (Diamond in 2012)

2. JM&A Group

3. Protective Asset Protection (Platinum in 2012)

SERVICE CONTRACT REINSURANCE

1. CNA National (Diamond in 2012)

2. Portfolio (Platinum in 2012)

3. GSFSGroup

BI-WEEKLY PAYMENT PROVIDER

1. Smart Payment Plan

2. EAC/Bi-Auto

PRIME CAPTIVE FINANCE COMPANY

1. Ally Auto

2. Ford Motor Credit Co.

3. Toyota Financial Services

PRIME NON-CAPTIVE AUTO FINANCE COMPANY

1. TD Auto Finance

2. BB&T

3. Wells Fargo

SUBPRIME FINANCE COMPANY

1. Regional Acceptance (Diamond in 2012)

2. Wells Fargo (Gold in 2012)

3. Capital One Auto Finance (Platinum in 2012)

ONLINE AUCTION FOR PURCHASING INVENTORY

1. Manheim (Diamond in 2012)

2. Ally SmartAuction (Platinum in 2012)

3. ADESA

TRADITIONAL AUCTION

1. Manheim (Platinum in 2012)

2. ADESA (Diamond in 2012)

INVENTORY MANAGEMENT

1. vAuto (Diamond in 2012)

2. DealerTrack AAX

3. FirstLook

DEALER MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

1. Reynolds and Reynolds (Platinum in 2012)

2. Dealertrack Technologies (Diamond in 2012)

3. ADP

AND THE WINNERS ARE...

NEW-VEHICLE INTERNET LEAD PROVIDER

AutoTrader.com took Diamond honors in the New-Vehicle Internet Lead Provider category after finishing in second place the last two years. The third-party retailer has consistently earned high marks in the Dealers’ Choice Awards and has taken home a prize every year since the awards were established.

The Platinum award was won by Cars.com, which finished out of the Top 3 last year after winning the Diamond award in 2011 and Platinum in 2010. Dealix rounded out the category for the third straight year, earning distinction as the Dealers’ Choice Awards’ only current Triple-Gold Winner.

USED-VEHICLE INTERNET LEAD PROVIDER

AutoTrader.com completed its climb to the top of the Used-Vehicle Internet Lead Provider category. The online retailer won Gold in 2010 and Platinum in 2011 and 2012, finishing just behind its chief rival, Cars.com, two out of three years.

Second-place finisher Cars.com will have a year to work toward unseating AutoTrader.com in dealer satisfaction in the New- and Used-Vehicle Internet Lead categories. Last year’s Diamond winner was Autobytel, which finished out of the running in 2013. There was no Gold award winner in this category.

SPECIAL FINANCE LEAD PROVIDER

DealerLink ranked highest among special finance lead providers for the second year in a row, earning Double-Diamond Winner status for the first time. Remarkably, the subprime specialists finished outside the Top 3 in 2010 and 2011 before taking the category by storm last year.

CarsDirect and Auto Credit Express finished second and third, respectively. The pair switched places in 2013; CarsDirect was last year’s Gold winner and Auto Credit Express took Platinum honors. CarsDirect took top honors in 2011, the only year in which Auto

WEBSITE DESIGN PROVIDER

Dealer.com and eBizAutos dominated the Web Design category for the fourth straight year, earning Diamond and Platinum honors, respectively. Dealer.com took the top spot in 2010 and 2011, relegating eBizAutos to second place both times; eBizAutos was the Diamond winner last year.

The pair face tough competition in a market crowded by web design providers, but none of their rivals qualified for Gold honors this year. In fact, the only other provider to notch a win in this cat- egory in the past few years is TK Carsites, which finished in third place in 2010.

CHAT PROVIDER

ActivEngage reclaimed Diamond status in the Chat Provider cat- egory this year. The dealer chat specialists won the same prize in 2011, the first year for this emerging category, but fell behind rival Client~ConneXion in 2012.

Client~ConneXion did take Platinum honors this year after winning the category in 2012 and taking Gold the year before. Third-place finisher Contact At Once! also won Gold in 2011 but ranked outside the Top 3 last year. The landscape for this category could change as new competitors join the fray and third-party retailers continue to add chat capabilities to their own sites.

ONLINE INVENTORY LISTING MANAGEMENT

eBizAutos continues to dominate the Online Inventory Listing Management category, notching its third Diamond award in four years. The automotive marketing and reigning Platinum award-winning web design provider also finished first in 2010 and 2012 and was the Platinum winner in 2011.

Dominion Dealer Specialties, the Gold award winner in 2011, finished out of the running last year but re-emerged to take Plati- num honors. HomeNet Automotive achieved Double-Gold winner status by winning its second straight third-place finish in this cat- egory. Auction 123 won Gold in 2010, Diamond in 2011 and Plati- num in 2012, but it was voted out of the Top 3 this year.

CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT

ELEAD Earned Triple-Diamond WInner status by winning the Diamond award in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) category for the third straight year. The multifaceted company offers a CRM solution as well as a number of online services, including web design, reputation management, data mining and more.

ProMax finished in second place for the second year in a row to earn Double-Platinum Winner status. DealerSocket reclaimed the Gold award aftfter a one-year absence from the Top 3. Despite two years of stability at the top of the rankings, a shakeup is always pos- sible in this highly competitive category.

DIGITAL MARKETING

The first of this year's new categories is Digital Marketing. Perhaps not surprisingly, the winners are Dealer.com and eBizAutos, the same companies that finished first and second in the Website Design Provider category.

Dealer.com won the category’s inaugural Diamond Award and eBizAutos took second place. Both companies won a total of four awards in this year’s competition. There was no third-place finisher in 2013, but a plethora of competitors in the digital marketing segment make this category one worth watching in the years ahead.

REPUTATION MANAGEMENT

It has been a big year for Digital Air Strike, the Diamond-award winner for the new Reputation Management category. Last February, the company merged with Response Logix to form a company with offerings that span the online services world, including digital marketing, social media and more.

Reputation Management was one of only two categories to feature a lone winner this year. Look for more winners in the years ahead as the segment continues to gain importance in an increasingly digitized industry.

SOCIAL MEDIA MANAGEMENT

No trophies were awarded for Social Media Management in the cat- egory’s inaugural year. ThThe results were surprising, especially considering the combined experience and expertise offffered by many of the web-savvy companies featured in these pages. Look for a strong showing in this category in 2014 and beyond.

MOBILE MEDIA

Once again, Dealer.com and eBizAutos stand atop the rankings in this key, technology-driven category. eBizAutos is your Diamond winner for the new Mobile Marketing competition, followed by Dealer.com in second place.

There was no third-place finisher this year. But as consumers continue to use their smartphones and tablets to navigate the carbuying experience, this category is likely to attract more competitors, more votes and more winners.

DIRECT MAIL

Aspen Marketing stands alone in the Direct Mail category, earning Diamond honors after failing to finish in the Top 3 for the past three years. The company offers direct-mail programs designed to promote new-and used-vehicle sales and drive revenue in the service lanes.

Notably absent from this year’s list is Strategic Marketing, which won the Diamond award three years in a row starting in 2010, and @uto Revenue, which won Platinum in 2010 and 2011. Direct mail remains a significant piece of most dealers’ marketing plans and, despite a shifting focus toward online and mobile marketing, the category won’t disappear anytime soon.

SALES TRAINING

The Joe Verde Group continued its nine-year run as an award winner in the Sales Training category, claiming the top prize for the first time since 2010. The company has been a Dealers’ Choice Awards stalwart and is one of only a handful of companies to have taken home a trophy every year since the inception of the awards.

IPS Agency took the Platinum award this year after bursting onto the scene with a first-place finish in 2012. The Gold award goes to The Cardone Group, another perennial favorite and the Diamond award winner in 2011. This was the first time three sales trainers have qualified for a trophy since 2009.

INTERNET TRAINING

For the fourth year in a row, the Internet Training category was a close contest between Dealer.com and Kain Automotive. Kain finished first in this year's rankings, taking home the Diamond award for the second year in a row and the third time in four contests. The company offers customized training programs for Internet sales and business development centers, as well as website reviews, performance metrics and more.

Dealer.com has won Platinum honors for two years running and was the Diamond-award winner in 2011. The company also took home trophies in the Digital Marketing, Mobile Media and Website Design categories this year.

F&I TRAINING

United Development Systems (UDS) reclaimed the F&I Training category’s Diamond Award after falling to third place in 2012. UDS fifinished fifirst in 2005, setting off a seven-year winning streak that ended when IPS Agency took Diamond honors last year. IPS Agency also won Platinum awards in 2010 and 2011, but finished outside the Top 3 this year. 

JM&A Group won the Platinum award after failing to rank in three straight contests. JM&A's win relegated Reahard & Associates, last year's Platinum winner, to Gold status. F&I Training will undoubtedly continue to feature a close competition in the years ahead.

F&I PRODUCTS

Innovative Aftermarket Systems (IAS) is the Diamond award winner for the first-ever F&I Products competition. IAS offers a full slate of products, claims administration, warranty processing and software support and development. It even employs a full-service graphics department.

Another established leader in the F&I products segment, Safe- Guard Products International, took home Platinum honors. There was no third-place finisher for the category in its inaugural year.

F&I DESKING SOFTWARE

ProMax achieved Triple-Diamond Winner status with a third- straight win in the F&I Desking Software category. This is the eighth year ProMax has taken home a trophy in this always-competitive category. The company became a Triple-Platinum Winner in 2010 after finishing second for a third straight year.

This year’s first runner-up, Reynolds and Reynolds, earned its first desking software trophy since taking Gold in 2010. Reynolds and Reynolds unseated Dealertrack Technologies, which won the Diamond Award in 2010 and Platinum in 2011 and 2012 before finishing in third place this year.

SERVICE CONTRACT PROVIDER

CNA National took home top honors in the Service Contract Pro- vider category for the second year in a row. The F&I product provider is no stranger to the category, having earned the Diamond trophy in every year but one since the Dealers’ Choice Awards were launched in 2005.

The only year CNA National failed to take first place was 2011, when Protective Asset Protection earned its first Diamond award in the category. Protective finished second last year and third in this year’s competition. JM&A Group won the Platinum trophy after finishing out of the running last year and winning Gold in 2011.

SERVICE CONTRACT REINSURANCE

CNA National became a Triple-Diamond Winner this year by maintaining its hold on first place in the Service Contract Reinsurance category. CNA has won an award for this category in every year since 2009, including Diamond trophies in four out of the last five years.

As usual, CNA faced stiff competition from rival Portfolio, which finished in second place for the third straight year to earn Triple-Platinum Winner status. Portfolio has won a Service Contract Reinsurance trophy in every year since the category was established in 2008. GSFSGroup joined the party with a Gold award this year.

BI-WEEKLY PAYMENT PPROVIDER

The final new category is Bi-Weekly Payment Provider, a growing segment populated by a mix of established and upstart companies. Smart Payment Plan won the category’s inaugural Diamond award, followed by EAC/Bi-Auto in the No. 2 spot. There was no Gold-award winner this year, but there are more than enough dynamic companies in the market to create more competition in this category next year.

PRIME CAPTIVE FINANCE COMPANY

Ally Auto won the Diamond award for Prime Captive Finance Company, a category which stands alone among Dealers’ Choice Awards categories for consistently featuring new entrants. In fact, none of this year's winners appeared in the Top 2 in 2012. Last year was a rare miss for Toyota Financial Services, which won at least one award every other year since 2008, including a Diamond trophy in 2011.

Ford Motor Credit Co. earned Platinum honors after dropping out of the Top 3 last year and winning Gold in 2011. BMW Financial Services, Mercedes-Benz Financial Services and Volkswagen Credit failed to place after winning Diamond, Platinum and Gold, respectively, in last year's contest.

PRIME NON-CAPTIVE AUTO FINANCE COMPANY

TD Auto Finance catapulted into the Dealers’ Choice Awards ranks with a Diamond award in the Prime Non-Captive Auto Finance Company category. The company was formed two years ago, when TD Bank Group purchased Chrysler Financial, and quickly estab- lished itself as a key player in the auto finance segment.

Coming in second was BB&T, which returned to the Top 3 after a one-year absence, having won Platinum honors in 2011 and Dia- mond the year before that. Gold-award winner Wells Fargo also fin- ished out of the running in 2012 but was No.1 in the category in 2011.

Last year’s Diamond, Platinum and Gold winners were SunTrust Bank, Bank of America and Chase Bank, respectively. National banks and finance companies have kept local banks and credit unions out of the Top 3 every year since 2010.

SUBPRIME FINANCE COMPANY

For the third straight year, Capital One Auto Finance, Regional Acceptance and Wells Fargo finished at the top of the Subprime Finance Company category. This year’s contest goes to Regional, whose Platinum win in 2011 was sandwiched by Diamond awards in 2010 and 2012.

Wells Fargo earned Platinum this year after winning Gold in 2012 and the top prize in 2011. Capital One Auto Finance, a stalfwart in the category since 2006, finished in third place this year after winning Platinum in 2010 and 2012, and Gold in 2011.

ONLINE AUCTION FOR PURCHASING INVENTORY

Manheim maintained its lock on the top spot in the Online Auction for Purchasing Inventory category, notching its third straight Diamond award. The company has been No. 1 in six of the last seven years and earned Platinum honors in 2010.

Ally SmartAuction was this year’s Platinum-award winner after taking the same prize in 2011 and 2012. It’s the only company to pick up an award in the category every single year, dating back to 2006 when it was still known as GMAC SmartAuction. ADESA claimed the No. 3 spot to become the first company to win a Gold award since 2010.

TRADITIONAL AUCTION

Manheim won Diamond in the Traditional Auction and Online Auction for Purchasing Inventory categories for the first time since 2011. Manheim has long dominated the brick-and-mortar segment, placing in the Top 3 in all nine Dealers’ Choice Awards. The conpany's last Diamond award in this category was in 2011, a win that capped off a three-year run.

Last year’s Diamond winner, ADESA, relinquished the top spot but earned Platinum honors for the first time since 2010. There was no Gold-award winner in this category for 2013.

INVENTORY MANAGEMENT

For the fourth year running, vAuto was the dealers’ choice in the Inventory Management category. The company entered the ranks of the Top 3 with a Platinum award in 2009 and has taken the Diamond trophy every year since. vAuto stood alone in the category in 2012, a year which featured neither a Platinum nor a Gold winner.

Enter Dealertrack AAX and FirstLook, which won this year’s Platinum and Gold prizes, respectively. FirstLook won Platinum in 2010 and 2011, finishing just ahead of Dealertrack AAX both years, but neither company qualified in 2012.

DEALER MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

It took five long years, but Reynolds and Reynolds finally un- seated Dealertrack Technologies to win the Diamond Award for the Dealer Management System (DMS) category. Reynolds and Reynolds also is the only company to finish in the Top 3 for the category since the Dealers’ Choice Awards were established in 2005, including a three-year run as the Platinum winner from 2010 to 2012.

But rival Dealertrack is no slouch; the dealer software special- ists earned Diamond honors for four straight years beginning in 2009 and took home the Platinum trophy this year. ADP re-entered the fray with a third-place finish. It was the company’s third Gold award in four years and its sixth in the category.

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