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The Secrets of Digital Retailing in Automotive

Updated: Sep 4, 2020

Michelle Denogean is the Chief Marketing Officer of Roadster, where she oversees all marketing and analytical efforts. She has over 15 years of digital marketing experience as a practitioner and thought leader. Before her current role, Michelle held executive-level roles in marketing and product leadership at Edmunds, eHarmony, and

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

  • Michelle Denogean, the CMO of Roadster, discusses how COVID-19 has changed the automotive industry

  • How Roadster helps dealers simplify their sales process 

  • The most important aspect of working with customers during the car buying process

  • The ways that digital retailing will continue to evolve

  • Michelle discusses Roadster’s newest product

  • What makes a dealership successful when it comes to digital retailing?

In this episode…

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses across all industries to adopt new sales methods, if they want to meet the needs of their customers, of course. According to Michelle Denogean, the Chief Marketing Officer of Roadster, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital retailing in the automotive industry as dealers scramble to rethink their sales process.

Tune in to this episode of Inside Auto Podcast as Ilana Shabtay is joined by Michelle Denogean, the Chief Marketing Officer of Roadster. Michelle discusses the developments that have been made in the automotive industry due to COVID-19, shares her predictions for the future of digital retailing, and reveals her brand and marketing secrets. Stay tuned.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode...

This episode is brought to you by AutoLeadStar, a company that helps car dealerships engage quality customers on the web and convert them into car buyers.

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Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

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

Ilana Shabtay 0:15

Hello, this is Ilana Shabtay, host of Inside Auto Podcast, where we interview top leaders, entrepreneurs and GMs in and out of the automotive industry. I am so excited to introduce today's guest, Michelle Denogean, CMO of Roadster. Michelle has been at the forefront of digital marketing for more than 15 years as a thought leader and practitioner. At Roadster, she oversees all marketing and analytics efforts. Before her time in automotive, which includes her time at Edmunds, Michelle held executive level roles in marketing and product leadership at eharmony and Welcome Michelle. It is so exciting to have you here today.

Michelle Denogean 0:56

Thanks for having me, Ilana.

Ilana Shabtay 0:58

Of course. We are so excited to have you on our lineup of guests. And I'm sure you've been super busy these past few months. All I'm hearing about is digital retailing and Roadster and I'm seeing you in multiple interviews, which is why we're so honored to have you here today. Tell us what has changed in digital retailing? How has COVID played a role?

Michelle Denogean 1:19

Yeah, I mean, I think just i what i would what I would talk about is maybe not have digital retailing has changed, per se, but just how adoption has changed. You know, I think while we would never wish this pandemic on anybody, it really has been an accelerator for adoption, you know, across the industry. We like to say that it really pushed adoption, you know, five years in advance and like five months of time, right. So yeah, there there's been a lot of dealers that were very progressive and they're at the beginning and some that always said, we know we need to at some point but just hadn't pulled the trigger and I think given the restrictions that happened during COVID, that really was a forcing function for people to pull the trigger and onboard, you know, some kind of solution. What I think is interesting is that it also was a trigger for people just to rethink their sales process a little bit, right, like, for a lot of the states in the United States here, that a lot of the showrooms were physically closed, like they just for a short time period, all they could do was either sell, you know, remotely 100%, you know, online sales or by appointment. But in doing that, and not being able to do their traditional process in the showroom, they really had to think outside the box and think about how they're going to do things in this new way. And so it wasn't just, you know, the technology, I think the big disrupter out of everything was really around process. And how, how are they going to work with customers that are not necessarily in their showroom with them and may not be through the entire transaction?

Ilana Shabtay 3:09

So tell us about some of your more successful dealerships that are using Roadster How are they implementing Roadster in the process? What are they seeing working for them? Because it's not just like you said it's not just throwing up a technology on the on the website. It's really about changing process.

Michelle Denogean 3:27

Yeah, yeah, no, it is. And I think, you know, pre COVID-19 everybody's sort of focus was on how do I modernize the customer experience? I think the big takeaway, and we've been sort of marching down this aisle, obviously, the pandemic accelerated even for us and from a product development standpoint, but in order to really modernize the customer experience, you have to make it easier to sell. Right? It's just you can't, like you said throw something on the website. give customers experience And then have, you know a very disjointed disconnect experience when they come and actually interact with your with your staff. And so it's really important, I think, if you look across dealerships that are have been with us for a while. And you'll see that they really have embraced that thought process that they need to look at how they sell, and figure out how to use the technology to get them to meet the objectives that they have. So as an example, what I would say is there's just been a phenomenal trend of people trying to get the customer to do more online before they come into the showroom. I think that was a big takeaway, this whole idea of remote selling from COVID. But I think what people really learned is that they can actually guide customers through the process before they even think about coming to the showroom, they could get all of their ducks in a row. When they do that. They actually work with multiple customers at one time. So I can have a You know, customer A over here doing a credit app customer B over here filling up uploading their trade information customer C over here scheduling delivery. And so the most successful dealers on the platform are using it in a way to really get the customer to do a lot of the work from the comfort of home. So that if they do come into the showroom, they're really able to reduce that time period knew their test drive and kind of doing a a final test drive the car and signing some final paperwork and unable to go. But they've embraced it from the point of a customer first coming to their website, they're being proactive about it. It's not just about a customer coming in doing this all themselves, but they're using the tools to actually interact with the guests that are on their website. And we've been really focused on that from a new product development side too. And then when the customer comes in, they're able to pick up where they left off, check them into the showroom, and you know, so Start to really desk that deal side by side and in a very similar looking user experiences is what the customer was already familiar with. So the successful ones are really thinking about how do you empower the salesperson at the front line to do all of that from A to Z with the customer and really shrink the transaction. Once I get into the showroom,

Ilana Shabtay 6:22

right, and figuring out which customer needs help at what part of the process, it's going to be different. I love that because I actually go against what everyone says about millennials, I would not buy my car online, but I would totally start the process online and reduce my time in the dealership, especially if I had someone on the phone walking me through. So I love that I love that digital retailing gives that full scope to any kind of any kind of customer out there.

Michelle Denogean 6:49

And yeah, it's possible, right if you have to work at the pace that the customer wants to work at, which I think is the most important aspect. And people think that oh well. There's stance, one step two steps, three steps, and they just do it all themselves. But when you really embrace it, it's that back and forth. You're just doing that digitally. We had one of our one of our partners, and one of my favorite quotes I heard during all of this was, you know, people are going to be saying that they're not gonna be accepting the fact that it's gonna take them five hours in the dealership anymore. They're gonna say, it didn't even take me five hours during a pandemic, right? So we really adjusted tations because everybody had to move to this remote selling aspect. And I think that the customers like it, I think that sales people love it. Because what we're seeing from a trend perspective is that a lot of these sales people are actually able to sell more cars per person than they ever thought they could too which is, you know, lining their pocketbooks and empowering them to do more. So I think it's one of those rare moments that will look back in time and say, this really fundamentally changed us for Better, not only did it increase customer satisfaction, but it made us so much more efficient, we were able to cut our costs at the same time that we were able to elevate the customer satisfaction aspect of our business too.

Ilana Shabtay 8:14

Yeah. And that takes me into my next question, which is kind of the future of Roadster and digital retailing and we spoke a little bit about this, but do you think that there's going to be major changes in automotive in the next year or one to five years based on these changes that we're seeing now?

Michelle Denogean 8:35

Yeah, so I think for the for the future of Roadster, you know, we've we've already been even pre COVID we were evolving. And we've always been that consumer journey company as sort of our heritage right, we started as direct to consumer company. You know, a lot of the Express storefront Foundation was built for us to use to ours directly ourselves, and then we pivot pivoted In 2016, and brought this into the dealer world, but what we've like I said, what we've learned is we have to build all of these tools for the dealership. So I think the future for us is that it's so much more I think people think of digital retailing is this consumer there, which is pretty much very similar to e commerce, right? If we can enable the consumer to do all the transaction, then that's digital retailing. And that to us is really just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, there's so much more underneath it. So what we've really been doing is building tools for different departments at the dealership. So if you're, you know, in the internet or BDC team, what types of capabilities Can we give you, in order to empower you to be able to sell, you know, directly, you know, from A to Z? Or if you're in the showroom? What can we give you or as a sales manager, how can we give you visibility into every deal that's happening on your showroom floor so that you can, you know, ensure profitability, so we're really starting to look at this much more like a digital sales platform than we are just the digital retailing component for the consumer. So what that's what that's meant is that's looking at behaviors and kind of like personas, as we would say, in the marketing world, right? of like, what do they actually do? And how do we make that easier? So we just rolled out actually, last week, a new product called Express Response. And this was built on behavior that was already organically happening. One of the favorite capabilities within the Roadster platform for years has been this ability to share a digital deal sheet, right? So customer sends in an inquiry from CarGurus, TrueCar simpler, and they just want to understand that the price and maybe they're looking for finance versus lease. Now what the dealership can do is come into the system and literally share that digital deal sheets so the customer can interact and figure out the term the levers themselves and figure out exactly what works for them. So this is something they've been doing manually in our application. And we just automated that, in essence, where you know, for all of those leads that are coming in now the dealership can automatically send this digital deal sheet that's going to answer all the questions that the customer has, as they filled out that lead form somewhere on the internet. And so we're really excited about it, because a lot of our early pilot dealers are seeing enormous gains, whether that is in just engagement, or even just in efficiencies, we're hearing that a lot of people are saying, This is doing the job of like three to four BDC agents that I would have had to hire to keep up with the volume of leads that we're getting incrementally. So it's been great to see that aspect. But we'll continue that, like I said, pulling into different departments and really seeing how can we add using Express Storefront as a foundation using this commerce platform is that foundation, how do we add value? How do we help make the selling process easier? So I think that's the future for Roadster and I think Just generally, I think for the industry, we're just going to continue to see people lean in to this idea of efficiency and cost savings. And there's still a lot of uncertainty in the market. I think it's going to be here for a while, you know, we're not this, this pandemic isn't done with us, so to speak. And so I think what we're gonna see is people leaning into figuring out how do we how do we evolve? How do we maybe cut some costs out of the equation to be a little bit more cost effective and really look at net profit versus just gross profit. And so I think what we'll see more and more change is sort of driven out of need, and desire to really step up the game as it relates the customer experience to but you gotta leave us with that too. Right? You guys are very different

Ilana Shabtay 12:47

in a different area. Yes. We just want to help dealers scale and personalized marketing at scale. So I think automation will state for good and it seems like Express Response is helping with that, I did want to congratulate you on that, because I saw the recent product release on Forbes, a piece by Jack Nerad. And I wanted to hear more about this I actually, I'm intrigued to know that you integrate with any lead provider that sends in a lead, you can then automate that response. So it doesn't necessarily have to be someone who is converting on Roadster express or

Michelle Denogean 13:26

right like I said before, this is something that our dealers have done for years, because they'll take their car leads or their CarGurus and they're anywhere really, that they're getting leads from and they'll just manually respond. So now what this is doing is we're pretty much ingesting that lead just like you would have it sent to your CRM, you'd have it sent to Roadster and then we are doing the matching. So we have this little thing internally, which is that it responds automatically, but it is not an autoresponder and what we mean by that is we're actually it's very intelligent. Right, we're taking a look at what information was in that lead, what vehicle they were looking at what price they might have seen on that third party site. And then we are actually responding with the information that's going to answer the questions. That was that was in that initial email. And when you think about it today, there's two things either happening, either the dealership is getting those third party leads, and they're either sending an autoresponder which is probably not that detailed, right? It's saying things like, you know, when can you come into the store? Or, you know, let me introduce you to so and so is it okay, if we text and it's just not answering immediately the question the customer has, or

Ilana Shabtay 14:39

device or do you have this in stock?

Michelle Denogean 14:41

Yeah, right. Right. And the other piece of it is they're they're spending, like an enormous amount of time trying to actually answer the exact question, but that's a very manual process, right? And the reality is 30% of the traffic that we see is happening when the stores closed. So even if you haven't Really great processes working for you manually and you don't mind spending the money on those people as you scale, you're you're still missing out on being that first response in when the customer is at home at 11 o'clock at night in their pajamas and they're on, you know, whatever website it is, and they're shopping for a car and they want that information instantly. And so now you have the ability to be first one in and really beat the competitors and giving that quality response and giving them the opportunity to really guide themselves further into the funnel and make it more likely for them to buy from you as a dealer.

Ilana Shabtay 15:35

And can dealers sign up for just Express Response?

Michelle Denogean 15:41

No, so it's actually built on top of Express Storefront that the magic of the product is actually not that we just send this email. I think it's pretty easy to send an email out when somebody sends something in. It's the fact that it's built on top of the platform that we have, right and so, so much of the work, how do you send somebody into this, you know, deal making activity in only? You know, how do you give them a price that's going to match your Express Store. So it is built on top of our Express Storefront product. And so those two things have to be in coexistence.

Ilana Shabtay 16:20

It sounds like an incredible extension to the platform. And I can't wait to see it and learn more about it. I've heard a little bit about it, but I'm happy we got the chance to talk about it more now. Shifting gears a little I'd love for you to share some of your brand and marketing secrets. As you know, I've been huge admirer following you now for a really long time. I'm certain others are too. So tell us how you pull off having the nicest booth at NADA. You won't say anything. And one of the sleekest brands in automotive share, share your secrets with our listeners.

Michelle Denogean 16:56

what you can share, share, spill it out Why? It's a couple of things. First and foremost, you know, part of our founding team at Roadster our UX designer, so applicate from a visual standpoint, a lot of what you might see at NADA is definitely shaped by that team. We're very blessed to have that talent in house. So that's part of it's definitely the aesthetic. I think it also comes down to, you know, from a from a brand voice and brand message perspective, be really lean into our dealers, we just, we don't believe in putting ourselves out there and bragging about ourselves, we believe in elevating the dealership as the hero and all this because the reality is that, you know, any technology not just ours, so anybody, it's really 20% technology's 80% what they do with it. And so the more we can lean into our dealers and their stories, And the way they talk what resonates with them, the better off we're going to be. So really, I tell people, it's like the easiest marketing strategy ever, because we're so blessed to have so many dealer partners that love that just love us. Right? That's that's something you know, from product perspective as a marketer is like a dream is that you have so many dealer partners that use you love you are willing to speak out. And really, I feel like we've created a community that just really wants to help the industry at large. And so when you have that sort of community feel within your client base, it makes it really easy to stand out and to be out there resonating with others, because, you know, let's face, Ilana, I don't know about you the last time I was at a marketing conference, I did not want to hear from the vendor. I wanted to hear from marketers like me. And so that really is sort of the the single thread of our you know, strategy is to make sure that we're constantly helping other people grow by hearing the stories of people that have been successful.

Ilana Shabtay 19:05

Yeah, I think that's a great takeaway. And I was just thinking about this the other day, because the brand is so strong. Of course, the customer stories contribute, but the brand itself is so strong that I even found a Roadster pen in my back and one of my bags that I hadn't used in a really long time. And I was like, yes, my favorite pen. And that's how you know you're winning with your brand and your marketing. I was like, Yes. And I even identified it before it. I couldn't even really see the full pen and I was like, my favorite pen. This is great. So I applaud your director

Michelle Denogean 19:41

or creative director, I also would love to hear that now we we really, it's funny how swag sort of has that appeal, right? But we really do try to find things that people either want to wear or use. You know, again, I think it comes down to sort of the core values that we have which is just to provide value. Right? So we have actually from a culture standpoint we've created our our values which are driven is the name so dedicated to you know, real inclusive, visionary, empowering and never boring and we really do encompass though, as much as possible. It comes out in everything. Right. It's it. Like I said, it's not we're not out there from a brand perspective to be flashy. We really are out there to just be authentic. And that sort of shapes. Everything that we put out there is we really care.

Ilana Shabtay 20:38

Yeah. Yeah. And I've met quite a few Roadster employees and I feel like they all fit under the driven the driven values you just you just mentioned. So I really appreciate that that and all that you've shared. Is there anything else that you want to share with our listeners today either about digital retailing, marketing, brand.

Michelle Denogean 21:03

I would say, you know, one of the questions I get asked a lot about digital retailing as a category. People ask me all the time, like, what makes one dealership successful versus another? And usually where people go with that question is like, Is it a, you know, is it that they have a lot of inventory? Is it that they're in a metro area or server area? Right? They want to sort of segment dealers in that way. But truly the thing that really stands out the one thing that we can, you know, look at across all of our dealerships that have been really successful the platform is that they have some kind of digital retailing champion, they have somebody in the store that is really, really process oriented, that is driving this and it takes that person to be successful because they create buying, they make sure that everybody is you Singing off the same song sheet. Right? And you can hear it I do. Personally, I probably talked to 6, 7, 8 dealers a week depends on the week of our partners and just listen to their stories. That's, that's one of my favorite things to do is just to stay in touch and listen to how things are going. And you can hear it so early in the conversation with these guys that are really killing it with the platform, because they'll start with things like before we even picked a digital retailing solution. We went and mapped out the process that we wanted to have for our store. Or you know, I was just told everybody that this is the way we're going to do it. We mapped everything out and those that couldn't get on the bus. We had to let go like those. I mean, that's harsh to say that but those are the types like you hear it in the conversation, that

Ilana Shabtay 22:48

commitment. Yeah,

Michelle Denogean 22:52

it's drive. It's passion and it's process. And those are the things that you know, and I don't think that that is only digital retailing by juicing has already been such a commitment that it becomes even more important that you have that if that makes sense.

Ilana Shabtay 23:07

Yeah, it does. Thank you so much for for sharing with us. Thank you so much for your time today. It was such a pleasure having you on Inside Auto Podcast. I'm certain our listeners listeners appreciated your marketing secrets as much as I did. And for our listeners out there if you liked this episode of Inside Auto Podcast, please subscribe to our podcast to hear more. Thank you so much, Michelle.

Michelle Denogean 23:30

Thanks for having me.

Outro 23:35

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

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