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Strategic Marketing and Effects of Technology on the Automotive Industry With Micah Birkholz

Updated: 6 days ago

Micah Birkholz

Micah Birkholz is the Director of Sales at VistaDash, a marketing intelligence tool that enables dealerships to track the success of their online campaigns. With over 20 years of experience in sales, strategic marketing, and performance management, Micah is an accomplished business growth expert who helps dealers and agency partners optimize their teams and technology. He is also an engaging public speaker and presenter, having delivered presentations at several notable events, including Digital Dealer, UAAMG, AAAS, Modern Retail Conference, DMSC, and IDS.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Micah Birkholz's upcoming conference engagements

  • What are the core elements of strategic marketing?

  • How Micah entered the automotive industry and why he transitioned to the vendor side

  • How the recession drove Micah to social media marketing

  • The effects of technology on the automotive industry

  • What are the current trends in the automotive space?

In this episode…

In the automotive industry, technological advancements play a significant role. They drive innovation, influence consumer preferences, and help improve service delivery. In addition, technology has improved the growth of digital retailing among dealerships.

So how can players within the automotive space leverage technology to provide better services to clients? What strategies can dealerships implement to optimize their costs? In his 20-year stint in sales and marketing, Micah Birkholz learned the importance of analyzing data to provide insights into a business before launching a campaign.

In this episode of the InsideAuto Podcast, Ilana Shabtay sits down with Micah Birkholz, the Director of Sales at VistaDash, to talk about technological advancements in the automotive space. They also discuss Micah's experience working in the vendor side of automotive, the effects of technology and AI on the industry, and how the recession drove Micah to social media marketing. Stay tuned.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode...

This episode is brought to you by Fullpath (formerly AutoLeadStar).

Fullpath is the automotive industry’s leading customer data and experience platform (CDXP).

Fullpath enables dealers to turn their first-party data into lifelong customers by unifying siloed data sources and leveraging that data to create exceptional, hyper-personalized customer experiences.

To learn more, visit

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to InsideAuto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you'd want to talk to you in and out of the automotive industry.

Ilana Shabtay 0:14

Ilana Shabtay here, host of InsideAuto Podcast where we interview top dealers, GMs, marketers, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. And before we introduce today's guest, this episode is sponsored by Fullpath is the automotive industry's leading customer data and experience platform, CDXP. Fullpath enables dealers to turn their first-party data into lifelong customers by unifying siloed data sources and leveraging that data to create exceptional hyper-personalized customers customer experiences. To learn more, visit All right, today we have a guest who I've overlapped so much with, so I'm so excited to finally have a long conversation with Micah Birkholz. I think I am with you by accident. All right.

Micah Birkholz 1:03

We'll throw one in for good measure. Just in case.

Ilana Shabtay 1:07

Well, it's good to have you here. How are you doing?

Micah Birkholz 1:09

Good. Doing real good. This one?

Ilana Shabtay 1:11

Awesome. Well, Michael joins us as the director of sales at VistaDash, bringing over two decades of experience in sales, marketing and performance management to his role. With a strategic marketing focus. Micah helps dealers and agency partners optimize their teams and technology, an engaging speaker with a bit of an edge and sarcasm. I can attest to that. He shares his knowledge and expertise with enthusiasm. And I'm very excited for you to bring that to the podcast today. And you did you just speak at a at a conference where you at? Where you at came conference?

Micah Birkholz 1:44

I was not at keen? I got one coming up, though. And what are we doing? DealerKnows Consulting? Yeah, they're doing the summer camp.

Ilana Shabtay 1:53

That was such a cool concept. Yeah, I really,

Micah Birkholz 1:57

I think maybe I think it might be a trailblazer. I'm not sure exactly what it all means. But I'm going to be speaking a little bit. But I'm I just like that whole. Like I think we mentioned earlier, like that whole switching up of like the regular convention, something that it's it feels more like a executive retreat is kind of kind of like the energy behind it, which I really appreciate, like switching it up forcing you to as a speaker train, as opposed to or educate as opposed to look at all my PowerPoint slides that somebody has put together for every

Ilana Shabtay 2:31

single slide, which is gonna be extremely distracting. Yeah. So can you share where you're going to be speaking about

Micah Birkholz 2:37

strategic marketing? So what are the different aspects? I think so often, we always talked about the different silver bullets that everybody needs, as opposed to let's really analyze what you have before taking the step and how do you market it and which partnerships do you need to market with, so and from everything from inventory to salesperson and personnel? If you're not figuring that into the equation, for your marketing, and then execution of lead handling, then you've got a huge disconnect. So I kind of like to look at people's process and product call is one core element of strategic marketing.

Ilana Shabtay 3:12

That sounds that sounds interesting. And I love it. It's the training and knowledge approach. I think that's that's going to really be engaging for all the dealers. But before I jumped in too quick, I wanted to I wanted to hear your story about how you got into, this is how I start every episode. I love hearing how people get into automotive because everyone has such a special story of how they kind of stumbled in.

Micah Birkholz 3:32

Yeah, so I was I was a young father, a father at a very young age. So I was like about 19 years old, and my dad, I was selling books over the phone. So this was great. It was it was a wonderful job where I get maybe $6 an hour, and the sales tax, like how to how to read out the tax system, that's a type books in I will take incoming calls after a radio spot and try to upsell if I have sold the second, third and fourth book, I get an extra 50 cents. So I've realized that this is not sustainable for for like caring for a family and my dad turned to me and said, you know, what you really should do is probably look at selling cars, you could probably make a good living at least cover your bills rather than what you're doing right now. And I thought it was I thought it was absolutely nuts. My dad, conservative old pastor, you know, and, and I thought what's that? All right. Well, my dad says so I'll take his advice. And it was probably some of the best advice he ever gave me that I actually took. So yeah, he's probably got listeners, I gave you a lot of great advice. So I started selling cars on December 21 1997. The week of Christmas, which in Minnesota is not a popular time to buy a car so I got to learn how to struggle,

Ilana Shabtay 4:54

weights and which and which store did you start at?

Micah Birkholz 4:58

All right, this Alright, so it was Denny Hecker Stillwater, Ford Lincoln, Mercury 12 969, North 60th Street, Minnesota five, five, OHSU, I remember it to this day because I had to tell people over the phone because there wasn't. Wow, exactly. Yeah, yeah. 651430 2400. I mean, this stuff will never leave my brain. It's completely useless. Yeah. No, it's

Ilana Shabtay 5:23

Well, you never know. Yeah. Okay, so then you went through you, you were there, you sold cars. You had a good experience, I'm assuming because you're still stuck in this industry? What happened next? So I think

Micah Birkholz 5:35

that, yes, and no, because it's like, I realized that this might be my only real path. And so there's a lot of trauma like that associated with early on, I was in one of those old school stores. But I knew that this was the route. So I did that I worked in sales, worked my way up into finance and sales management GSM in my early 20s, and realized I'm missing a lot of my kid's life, so maybe I should look into being a vendor. So I had a buddy that worked at a small third party provider called carsoup. And he said, You know what, you should? Probably yeah, that makes sense. Exactly, exactly. So I started selling, I got a job as an account executive, and it just like was the right fit. And I started to really realize how much I really enjoyed being in multiple stores. Sharing from a sales perspective, one thing, but also, it was really still kind of new. SCM wasn't big yet, SEO Services, were just starting to get out there. But third party providers was like, it was the search marketing, in a way. So I really got a great opportunity, great education myself in that space, and was able to realize how much I love working with multiple dealers. So I was able to transition from that into an employment, which was a rear shift. So weird, things were really good. And we're that this is awesome. We're like knocking down the numbers. And then like this recession hit, and we lost about 60% of our sales force. And I was one of the people at that time. And it was a struggle. I, you know, had a family. And I think in a six month time period, I must have sent out over 300 resumes, just trying to find anything in the car business. But everybody was going under. At that time, Guinea hackers started closing down stores, et went to jail, things like that started happening, where you're like, what, so I had to I had to find a way to kind of rebrand and refocus. And I really spent a lot of time learning about social media over over my unemployment, which is, is kind of like one of those bittersweet things, because oh, how, how sad that a top salesperson at one store is now on social media all day long. And that's just what I did. But it turned out into like, right at the advent of social media marketing. And so I've got into a deep like to the point where I was like learning how to code, Facebook markup language. So like, could do like they used to do like landing pages and gating pages. And remember that where you have to like like them, so I started learning how to do that. And that is it was

Ilana Shabtay 8:18

marketing today, and that it's insane how quickly we're going, right?

Micah Birkholz 8:23

It just accelerated to a point like, oh, my gosh, so yeah.

Ilana Shabtay 8:30

Just going before you get too ahead, I want to I want to talk a little bit about the when you moved from dealer to vendor, introducing SEM and other things to dealers, do you have like a parallel of that experience to something that you're doing now at VistaDash and the conversations you're having with dealers? Like do you feel like the automotive industry has evolved? And these conversations about technology have gotten? I don't want to say necessarily easier, but you know, we have early adopters, we have people that understand the effect that technology has an automotive or do you kind of feel like the industry is every kind of every time we're hit with the technology wave, it's it's sort of like a flashback.

Micah Birkholz 9:10

So it's there's flashbacks definitely, because you constantly have to eat, like, figure out how that person needs to be sold and are educated. We go through the same scripting so often, like this is what our product does. This is how it benefits you. And for that individual person, we have to find a unique way to connect with them. And you got to figure out that out early on. And I don't want to say it takes a lot of salesmanship. But their job is to sell car in many cases, right? So if we're focusing on a dealer, they're looking at the process to sell that vehicle to the individual, that that customer when I look at how do I then sell them is I find out what their what their unique style that would make sense for them, and try to focus on that. So in many cases, if I'm talking to a General Sales Manager who doesn't understand the digital side of it, and accountability and data standardization, like this new wave of stuff, right? I always say, Well, you let your salespeople do XYZ and just tell you how much to pay, you know, you have a sheet that you go by that says how much and you can standardize, right? So I find ways to try to like make a connection and bridge that understanding and the technology. So it has a real world application for them. That makes sense. But it's, it's different at each store. But yes, there's the speed at which we're going these buzzwords, it's always fun to like, try to cut through like, Okay, what's your actual understanding of that? I always assume people know more than me in those spaces. And so it makes a little bit easier to kind of like, get that that idea of, alright, what's the next wave tech art? How are we going to still be relevant throughout that after through that new wave? And just kind of execute from there?

Ilana Shabtay 11:00

Interesting. And so what are you seeing? What do you think this wave is all about now? Or this like, past, let's say, six, six months, the next 12 months? Are you seeing some kind of pattern?

Micah Birkholz 11:13

So like when it comes to like the chat bots, and AI? So I think that what we have right now is, and I think this is where it gets one of those more controversial topics. Love, okay. So a friend and contact of mine said recently, OEMs focus on buzzwords, that's what derives what an OEM signs up for. That's what that's what drives innovation in the OEM space, right? So we are now in that right? We're kind of in that right now the past I'd say eight to 12 months, when it comes to like CDP's for example, there should be see the XPS that is a concept that is getting attention from the OEM. So we got to race right now to have the best CDP CDSP platform, so that we can earn that OEM stamp of approval. So then that becomes like, that becomes the, that becomes like the baseline, right? That's like the baseline scary,

Ilana Shabtay 12:14

like, take COVID, it was digital retail, and it was the same thing. And then OEMs got into a digital meter. I totally agree. And I think that there's often a mismatch between, like, you know, certain parts of certain dealerships need certain things. It's not always necessarily the latest buzz, meaning not everyone needs. You know, not everyone needed digital or was ready for digital retail. No, you know, an accelerated copy

Micah Birkholz 12:40

to retail wasn't ready for digital retail. Right? It wasn't it was it. But what it forced the industry to come up with a thing that's going to solve that problem, when now we look at it is that there? That was the problem, right? It was that people couldn't come in store, they needed a digital retail platform. There's some great ones out there. However, the adoption rate from the consumer, it was by necessity, but not necessarily what exactly what they wanted to do, right. So as you start taking a look at the different trends, you've got to see where the consumers mindset is. And I know that there's a lot of people who say, well, report show that people want to digital and online experience like we provide. And whenever there's a report, there's always a sale, like a sales behind it, right, there's always some kind of pitch that's going to follow it. So I think like over the next 12 months, as we start seeing the CVP, it's just going to evolve. Unfortunately, I think we are in a in a space right now until we have like some type of cataclysmic event that we're not going to see a true forced evolution of what we're actually doing. And that's how we evolve right now. We're doing a lot of bold, Tom, you know what I mean? So we've got, we've got the website, and everything else is it's like a car with a lot of aftermarket equipment on it. Right. So I think that's where we are right now, in a lot of cases is that we have, we have our website, and this is the tech that we we consider is interacting with the consumer, but it's all the bolt on pieces that's really trying to make that facilitation to actual to actual execution of purchase that I think there's that big disconnect yet. So not until we have a huge, like another one that actually forces it. Will we see innovation, that's going to be it beyond what we're seeing right now.

Ilana Shabtay 14:32

Yeah, I mean, I do think ChatGPT Like the whole introduction of that type of AI. I mean, I see it, it's completely transformed how we even work and I can see that's going to be the big next thing I think for dealers not just like, okay, obviously we really footpath release ChatGPT For website, that's great, but I think beyond that, like the idea of having really sophisticated AI ingrained in their operations. So like, is there going to be An AI that is listening to other calls and sending reports to the managers, are there going to be? Is there going to be aI that's now writing all the emails for them meaning beyond it, it's going to it's going to be so incorporated into businesses, that dealerships are going to have to figure out, you know, I mean, I think they're gonna want to, it's a great thing, they're gonna have to figure out how to use it and make their people more efficient with it. It's gonna be interesting. I don't know.

Micah Birkholz 15:24

So I think that that speaks to something really unique about. And this is not an anti capitalist statement. It's just an observation. But capitalism, whenever there has been some type of technology breakthrough, or a new tool, capitalists look at how does this tool, eliminate my expensive employees? So I can use this tool to

Ilana Shabtay 15:46

see of what you're what you're spending. And if you're spending on this, then you want to cut it? Exactly. So

Micah Birkholz 15:51

that's the kind of the concept as opposed to taking a look at it, we've got this new technology that is going to 10x what I'm able to do. So instead of cutting 10 people to bring this in, why not take this, and if I did my job of hiring the right people, I can 10x each of those 10 people. And I think that's where there's a disconnect sometimes when it comes to tech innovation, is we're looking so much as how can I replace someone, as opposed to how can I appreciate their value, and help to manifest that by using this tech even more? And I think that's the bridge. Yeah,

Ilana Shabtay 16:29

I think that's actually what things like ChatGPT are, that's what they're going to do, meaning they are just going to elevate employees. I remember in 2018, I spoke at, gosh, I can't remember if this was a cane conference or innovation dealer Summit.

Micah Birkholz 16:47

Over at Colorado. Yeah, I can't remember which

Ilana Shabtay 16:49

Tim Jackson. I did this specific session on but this session was called and this was 2018. It was called is AI coming from you're coming for your job. And then it was like no friends, but like, you better be damn good at your job for it not to come in. You're just something like that. Yeah, it's very obvious that it's going to be in a necessity. But it's, it's to make us way more efficient, meaning let's be strategy driven. Let's do things that AI can't do. An AI can do monotonous, you know, repetitive tasks that can only augment what we're doing and just make us better at what we do.

Micah Birkholz 17:22

Exactly. Like I was listening to a podcast and there's a Mitch, kind of know how to pronounce Machiel. But Gio is a futurist talks about quantum, like quantum computing and all that. But he's been a futurist for years. That really interesting. But he had a really good insight as like, these ChatGPT is, it's garbage in, garbage out. So it just gathering information. It doesn't know if it's true or false information. It's just a data point.

Ilana Shabtay 17:50

Yes. That's what's so scary about it.

Micah Birkholz 17:52

Yeah. So there, so you could use it to create whatever. But it's always you always got to remember, there's no barometer test. There's no litmus test to say this is accurate. Or it's just trying to like a kid make stuff up to pass the test.

Ilana Shabtay 18:09

It's it's like Wikipedia on steroids because it's automated.

Micah Birkholz 18:14

Completely completely, because it's all crowd sourced. It's all user base. So if it sounds like it's something that doesn't make sense, it's because the person that wrote it somewhere on the internet wasn't making any sense.

Ilana Shabtay 18:26

Right? Yeah. You gotta be careful. Credible How? How much knowledge this thing has? It's actually yeah, yeah. David, before we before we sign off, this has been such an awesome conversation. I knew that it was very excited for this podcast. It was gonna be a good one. But you have a daughter, who just graduated, so we need to congratulate what's her name? coset. Who's that just graduated from college? And you could tell us a little bit about how proud you are. But that's awesome. Congratulations. That's a huge milestone.

Micah Birkholz 18:58

Thank you. Yeah, she's she's the first of our of our kids to graduate. So it's and I didn't get a chance because I went car business route is in which is completely cool. I'm happy where I'm at, but I was able to make sure that she went through so she actually graduates this year, just graduated this past Friday. This coming Friday. She's being commissioned as an officer in the US Army. So she Yeah, so she went the ROTC route like trying to find a way that fit what she would want it to be in her career path but also financially make school affordable. Yeah, the American education system.

Ilana Shabtay 19:35

Yeah, it's amazing. What is she does she know what she's gonna specialize in the army? I don't know much about the US Army. I was in the Israeli army. So I Yeah.

Micah Birkholz 19:43

Yeah. So she's good. She her Bullock so she's working through the National Guard so she could be is focused on to be a quartermaster. So that's, yeah. So it's, that's her designation, so operational and equipment. So she's got that so she He is going to go do like her final our ROTC training after being commissioned on Friday, next summer, not this coming summer, but next summer, she got pushed back because she's got to choose to go into the police academy in two weeks after she gets commissioned.

Ilana Shabtay 20:19

That's awesome. So she's gonna do that for a year. And then she's gonna go to the army.

Micah Birkholz 20:23

Yeah, so she's B, so she is going to be she's on the National Guard. So she's got a weekend, every other like, one weekend a month commitment, and then summertime commitment. So she's got that, that she's got going on there. Plus the police academy and then finding a finding a full time job after after that.

Ilana Shabtay 20:44

Lots of opportunity and in automotive and out on Monday, she sounds really impressive. Congratulations. That's awesome.

Micah Birkholz 20:50

Thank you. Thank you very much.

Ilana Shabtay 20:52

And where can we find you? Which next conference? Will you be at? Just let us let our listeners now?

Micah Birkholz 20:56

Yeah, so I'll be at the DealerKnows camp, like summer camp conference. The week I think it's a 20. Like the 24th 20 Somewhere around there. I probably have booked my trip. Maybe I haven't. I'm never good at that. But that's I'm gonna be talking about strategic marketing there. And it's a completely different format, not the standard booze party afterwards and too much food. But it's going to be like literally summer camp at a campground, kickball tournament. You know, team building, but no, no reliance on technology, which I think is a huge even though we're very much a tech. We're very much in the tech space. That's awesome. Yeah. Yeah. So I'm

Ilana Shabtay 21:40

in the fall, which is like conference season. Are you going to any of those?

Micah Birkholz 21:44

Yeah, I'll be at Digital Dealer in Vegas. I'm sure. I think it's Vegas this year. And then I'm going to be a little smaller conferences here and there. Like there's always like the one off that like a vendor will throw. So we've got other ones like that, that I'm going to be participating in.

Ilana Shabtay 22:00

Awesome. Okay. Well, I'm excited. I'll see you in Vegas, though. I mean, maybe I'll see before but that'll be nice. Thank you so much for joining us on InsideAuto Podcast. And for those of you listening, You can find us on all your favorite podcast streaming channels. Thanks again. Thanks, Micah.

Micah Birkholz 22:15

Thank you very much.

Outro 22:20

Thanks for listening to the InsideAuto Podcast. Check out our other episodes with top entrepreneurs and industry leaders.

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