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Adopting Technology and the Need for Customer-Centric Experiences with Jennifer Sanford

  • February 8, 2022
21 min read
Adopting Technology and the Need for Customer-Centric Experiences with Jennifer Sanford

Ilana Shabtay
VP of Marketing, Fullpath

Jennifer Sanford
Vice President of Marketing and Industry Relations, STELLA Automotive AI

Jennifer Sanford is the Vice President of Marketing and Industry Relations at STELLA Automotive AI, a division of Telepathy Lab. She is responsible for marketing, brand management, and industry relationships within automotive. She has a lot of expertise not just in automotive but also in the health insurance and recruitment industries.

Within automotive, Jennifer previously built and led marketing, lead generation, brand management, and OEM business development at Dominion Dealer Solutions as the VP of Marketing. In her free time, she and her husband spend a lot of time sailing in the bay.

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

  • Jennifer Sanford’s experience working at Dominion Dealer Solutions and how she joined the automotive side of the company
  • The difference between working in the automotive and healthcare industries
  • Jennifer talks about the adoption of tech in automotive and the importance of providing customer-centric experiences
  • The need for employee training and orientation in dealerships
  • Jennifer’s thoughts on the use of data in the automotive space
  • Jennifer’s love for sailing

In this episode…

Although the adoption of technology in dealerships has led to the growth of digital retailing, customers who walk into a dealership still expect above and beyond in-person experiences. They want to be received well, treated well, and talk to a salesperson who will listen and provide them with the products they want.

Dealerships, therefore, have to ensure that they keep their customers at the center of their businesses. They have to create customer-centric experiences so that the customers feel valued and return, which will also act as a good referral system for the dealership.

In this episode of the InsideAuto Podcast, Ilana Shabtay is joined by Jennifer Sanford, the Vice President of Marketing and Industry Relations at STELLA Automotive AI, to talk about the adoption of technology in the automotive space and the importance of providing customer-centric experiences in dealerships. They also talk about the benefits of training employees and using data to serve customers better. 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.

Co-founded by Aharon Horwitz, Yishai Goldstein, and Eliav Moshe, AutoLeadStar’s state-of-the-art software automates a dealership’s entire marketing funnel and provides around-the-clock service for dealers.

AutoLeadStar’s innovative technology helps dealerships automate ads, connect with customers, and discover ROI and performance metrics

Visit their website at to learn more about their around-the-clock marketing service.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

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

Ilana Shabtay 0:15

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 guests, this episode is sponsored by The AutoLeadStar platform is built in a technology so powerful it allows you to market, sell, and service cars as you would in the real world at scale and online, making one to one matches between shoppers and inventory. AutoLeadStar is the only platform that is powered by scale, speed, and specificity to change the way dealers do marketing today. Also, before I introduce today’s guest, lately I’ve been doing my podcast from this room, which has an echo because we’re all working from home. So if my audio is a little off this week, I apologize for that. But it will not take away from this amazing episode with our amazing guests. We have with us Jennifer Sanford. Hi, Jennifer, how are you doing?

Jennifer Sanford 1:08

Great. How are you?

Ilana Shabtay 1:10

I am doing well. Thank you. Um, before we start talking about all of your expertise in and out of automotive. I’ll give you a quick bio and intro it’s very impressive. I want our listeners to know who they’re listening to. Jennifer recently joined STELLA Automotive, a division of Telepathy Lab. Thank you as the VP of Marketing and industry relations with responsibility for marketing, brand management and industry relationships within automotive. And obviously, she brings a ton of expertise not just in automotive, but also in health insurance and recruitment industries. But within automotive, Jennifer built and led marketing, lead generation brand management and OEM Business Development at Dominion Dealer Solutions as VP of Marketing there. So we’ll we’ll learn a lot about your background, how you got into auto and how you came back to auto which we’re very excited about. So we’ll learn about that. And then just a little bit of her personal life, which I thought was interesting. In her end Jeffers pretend her and her husband spend a lot of times failing and in the bay, so I can’t wait. And I see your picture in the background for those that are actually watching the video. So we’ll definitely need to know about that. Thank you for joining us today.

Jennifer Sanford 2:20

Thank you. I’m really honored to be here. Thanks so much. It’s quite a quite an opportunity.

Ilana Shabtay 2:25

Yes. And I know I seen your stuff on LinkedIn. So I know that you have the right mind. For the InsideAuto Podcast, we’re going to basically break down all the challenges in automotive. Before we get into the details. So tell us though, how did you get into automotive and how did you start it dominion? What was that definitely like for you? Well, I

Jennifer Sanford 2:44

had worked with dominion. I worked there for 21 years when it was trader publishing company. And I started in their recruitment advertising industry vertical, and worked there for 12 years and became their leader of their key accounts program and marketing program. And then Robert Burns, who was the president of our dominion automotive side, gave me the opportunity to come in to automotive. And it was an opportunity to work with a bunch of businesses that we had acquired and help them establish brand management, basically, make them more consistent across the brands and then ultimately, turn it into a single brand. And then just had a wonderful opportunity to work with them to create an OEM team, lead generation team and work alongside some of the industry greats like George Danny and Glen garden embracing or I mean, some of these amazing people that all were at Dominion at the time.

Ilana Shabtay 3:44

And then that sounds like a huge project that you were you were doing off the course of a couple of years, right, breaking down all the different brands and consolidating it, but what do you did you then take that into the health industry? You I know you left automotive a little bit, and then you came back to us which we’re very happy about where you what what was the difference like in, in the automotive industry versus healthcare industry

Jennifer Sanford 4:11

might be very, stunningly different. I mean, I think in the automotive industry, we we complain about government regulation and a number of different areas. And I gotta tell you, we got nothing on health care. I mean, every move is measured. And I, for the sake of learning the industry, I went ahead and got my health insurance license, and I did all the studying and all the tests like that. 96 I will say on my exam, congratulations. Thank you. But it was an amazing amount of legal code. I had to learn to do that. Wow. Every decision we made in marketing was fact checked by a lawyer. Literally every ad we published was reviewed by a lawyer. Wow. So we feel like we’ve got government regulation. It’s got nothing on health care. But the industry itself was fascinating. I had the opportunity to do the same thing for one of Virginia’s largest insurers build a marketing team. And they’re still there. They’re doing great things and and the opportunity to come back with a fascinating technology arose. And I really missed technology. And I really miss automotive, so couldn’t have been better opportunity for me to come back.

Ilana Shabtay 5:25

Yeah, and a great time to because there is so much dealer tech adoption right now. And because of COVID, but you know, obviously accelerated because of COVID. But but without any connection to COVID as well, I think we were on that track to to real dealer tech adoption, which is exciting. And at still automotive, you are building some really amazing technology that I don’t think is necessarily exists doesn’t really necessarily exist in automotive, yet. It’s really top tier. So I would love for you to share that with us what it is the concept of it. And then also, because we’re going to get into the challenges of the industry, let’s talk about how STELLA is really changing the face of customer centric marketing and sales operations for dealers, which is a huge challenge right now for automotive.

Jennifer Sanford 6:15

Wow, you couldn’t have asked that question better. I mean, I know my goodness. So as you said, we’ve been dealing with a digital landscape. And as you said, COVID accelerated that. And the fact is, we all for every purchase we make, whether it’s our on our walls, or it’s a golf cart or anything, we are doing research and independent sites before we go to a retailer to make a purchase. Yeah, that’s what’s happening been happening for years and automotive COVID accelerated that, but the in person experience is still needed at the dealership, at the end of the day, people are going to take possession of a vehicle, they’re going to need to buy things for it, get it serviced. So we spent a gobsmacking amount of time and attention on our digital footprint. We need to kind of go back to basics and shift that paradigm and look back at our dealership for a minute. Because one of the biggest challenges facing our industry today is staffing shortages. So how are we managing that in person experience? And does it match that online experience that amazing website, all the reputation management, all of the effort we’re putting into that busy in person experience match that when a person actually calls to place that order or to schedule an appointment or to come and see if you actually have the format? Or on your dealership website to come in and purchase for their husband’s car? Are they there? Or is someone going to answer the phone? Is that phone experience conducive to actually having them want to come to your dealership and then when they walk in the door? I think we’re so afraid now of walking up to a customer. I think that that image of that bothersome and annoying sales rep has has pervaded our consciousness that I can walk into dealerships and never speak to anybody. And it’s stunning to me. Where is that friendly dealership guy that that or gal that I used to see every time I walked in, to think we need to take a step back, look at the basics and saying do these things align?

Ilana Shabtay 8:26

And that’s where STELLA has an opportunity to help.

Jennifer Sanford 8:28

That’s wonderful.

Ilana Shabtay 8:29

And I think so many things that that you mentioned, here are things that dealers should be thinking about. And particularly just a theme that I’ve been hearing on the InsideAuto Podcast specifically is just about that approach that human approach what how do how do dealers, you know, adjust to what consumers want and what shoppers want, but also are actually present in there for them and continue that amazing experience, from online to offline. And actually something something recently came up I think this was with April Simmons who oversees 10 stores in Arizona, and she was mentioning that, you know, because of the inventory shortage, her staff doesn’t know what it’s like to actually negotiate or to have a real conversation with, you know, with a buyer because there’s the demand is so high, and the inventory so low that anything goes. And so, you know, she reiterated and really spoke about how this is the time to train your staff, this is the time to make sure that they don’t lose that touch. So so much of what you said reminded me of that just because dealers dealerships should still keep the costs, keep the customer at the center, and but figure out how to evolve with the technology that’s evolving as well. And continue to, again, keep the customer at the center and make sure you’re approaching the customer that expecting it when they come in, in the in the showroom, but also how are you just making it easier for the customer. It’s okay to bring technology into that process. either before or after they come into the showroom to just make that, again, very customer centric and very customer focused. And that’s a great mission.

Jennifer Sanford 10:07

It is. And it really has to deal with branding your team, you know, staff orientation, recruiting and hiring, you know, I come from a background and recruiting 12 years and that, and I can’t under understate how important it is the recruiting and hiring process. As an industry, we don’t have a great reputation. And we don’t have good statistics on on staff retention. Some of that has to do with compensation models, and just basic HR training. There are some really great companies and trainers that are helping businesses today. orient themselves better for that, but the time you spent in recruiting and hiring and training pays enormous dividends down the road. Helping dealers become better managers training the trainers for that. And then there are just times when technology can be your friend, right? Online, it can be a great assistance to you. It can be as in with Dell automotive, it can empower your teams to do more important things. And that’s what we try to do is strengthen the team and power the team so that we can take care of some of the basic stuff. So your teams can focus on the important customer needs.

Ilana Shabtay 11:22

Yes, I think another theme that’s been coming up, but just to reiterate that dealerships that are scared of implementing technology, to empower their teams are going to be the dealerships that are unfortunately not going to make it. So I want to reiterate this, and I want learners to hear this technology is your friend. It’s part of a process. Yes, it’s part of training, of course. But it’s definitely something that dealers cannot be scared of, because it’s going to take off all the manual, you know, lead work that dealers are doing, make their processes more efficient, make their people happier. It’s all a circle. It’s all a cycle here. So I think once once automotive gets there with with the tech adoption, I think we’ll have a better reputation, we’ll have better HR will have better retention. I know employee retention is something that the industry started with struggles with, of course, as well. So I definitely agree with that. On that. No, do you have any other challenges that you see in automotive, especially with your your experience in and out of automotive? I’d love to know, you know, how data for example, our relationship with data in automotive? How does that compare to other industries that you’ve worked with? We’ve talked a little bit about this offline. So I I’m excited to for you to bring this to the podcast. But I’d love to hear your take on on data where it stands in automotive and what your predictions are for 2022?

Jennifer Sanford 12:46

Well, that’s, that’s an awfully big question to ask.

Ilana Shabtay 12:50

That’s true, we can create a whole nother episode just on that. But

Jennifer Sanford 12:55

I think dealers have to wrap their hands and arms around what they’ve got, and own it. And I think there’s an opportunity today for some of the growing strength of the larger groups to assist and facilitate a more even playing field with technology vendors. Not all technology is hard. Sometimes technologies like STELLA, really super easy to implement. Others are very challenging. Because you have to get your arms around your data, and how you’re going to use it and who’s going to have access to it. I think that’s going to continually change. Having a single source of truth. And your dealership is key and important. And knowing how you manage that and how you mind that will determine how successful you’re going to be as a dealership. And as a dealership body. If you don’t know what you’ve got, you’re basically re buying your stuff every day from Google. It’s just the fact of life. You’ve got to really understand what you have and utilize it to your best efforts. And there trainers out there who can tell you help you know how to do then how to help you deploy effective marketing technologies to use that. But until until dealers understand that they’re just going to continue to recycle the same ad dollars over and over and over again. So it’s I think it’s up to our leaders in our dealership groups. I think it’s up to nada, some of the star programs out there to help dealers make sense of this. If you’re not going to nada, go there will be a million people talking about this topic. It’s a great educational opportunity to learn more.

Ilana Shabtay 14:42

Yes, I agree with that. And I think ownership and control of data. It’s going to be I mean even in 2020 21 and we’ll be talking about but I think 22 And you see what’s going to be the year of execution. If we can get overhead and more you know streaming Blind data from nada from the manufacturers, I think that can actually support dealers owning and controlling their data on a whole nother level. Not sure if this year that will be the year but I, I really advocate for that. And I think that if you have the streamline data from the top, it will trickle down. And we’ll make sure that also tier three will will will own and control their own data. And it’s just a simple value for the automotive industry that they have to adopt.

Jennifer Sanford 15:26

Let’s just take a look at what’s in your CRM. Make your CRM, your focus, there’s it’s a goldmine. It’s an amazing amount of information that you have right there. You can use that for remarketing for look alikes, or all kinds of means of retaining your customer base, as well as expanding it. Just invest in your CRM and spend some time there. Yeah, it’s my biggest recommendation for for dealerships not sure where to start on the data question.

Ilana Shabtay 15:59

Yeah, no, I think that’s great. And also, it goes back to just being customer centric, everything is in your CRM, that’s where your customers live, I don’t think it’s just about being able to use, you know, to retarget. Of course, that’s part of it. But there’s so much revenue that you can actually get from your CRM, if you actually go back and look at the leads that never bought from you, or the people that need to service your car, you know, I’m sure they’re there. You know, dealers are doing this to a certain extent, but they’re taking a certain percentage of their serum and appropriately engaging with them. But there’s so much potential that you can be pulling out from your CRM and revenue that you could be pulling out from your CRM. So a great place, a great place to start clean up your CRM data. That’s much easier said than done. But there has to be a focus on that as a first step. So I think they’re pretty practical tip.

Jennifer Sanford 16:49

Yeah, I think as we emerge from COVID, I would encourage dealerships and businesses, not just just dealerships. But to go back to basics, take a look at well, where were we before? COVID? Are some of the important things then when people did come into our dealerships? And where are those customers today? Yes, demand is is is higher than supply. But that’s going to change. So this is a great time to inspect what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and make sure all of those in dealership functions are meet your approval, meet your expectations. And take a look at what’s in that CRM is a goldmine. Yeah,

Ilana Shabtay 17:30

I agree with that. And back to the training piece to it is a good time to actually train and make sure that you don’t lose that touch for when inventory and supply goes back up. Which I’m really hoping to see in 2020, although dealers haven’t had it that bad without inventory.

Jennifer Sanford 17:48

They’ve done okay.

Ilana Shabtay 17:51

Yeah, it’s just about increasing gross on the fewer and fewer units and they’re in the same boat. So I think, I think it’s great. Now before we sign off, I do want to hear a little bit. I like getting to know our podcast guests. Also on a personal level, I’d love to hear about your sailing hobby. What, what that’s like, again, for those who are actually watching this video and not listening on, you know, Spotify or Apple. Jennifer’s here with a beautiful picture of Phil both behind her. So tell us a little bit about your hobby. I’m sure many of our listeners. Oh, well,

Jennifer Sanford 18:23

um, my husband and I both grew up, sailing small boats racing. He raised Sun fishes and lasers and acid I and so when we met, it just became something that we started to do together and we bought a little boat together. And gradually those boats got larger. We had one boat for 20 years and raised our children on it. And we also had friends who had boats and we would do all kinds of fun getaways with them. So we live on the Chesapeake Bay. And our boats at a marina not far from our house is very easy for us to just weekend. It’s awesome. It’s wonderful. I found my husband doesn’t fail at once a week he gets grumpy so it’s it’s it’s a it’s a natural part of

Ilana Shabtay 19:08

marriage is make sure that you have a sailboat or a few still. Wonderful that’s awesome. I didn’t I’m definitely need to find some kind of extreme hobby for us. You’re not that extreme sports, but I didn’t think of something.

Jennifer Sanford 19:24

Well, I encourage people all ages in fact, COVID was great for sailing. Kids couldn’t do other things. And so our little marina here we were able to see massive programs and getting children involved. People all ages learning how to sail for the first time because they could do it outside. There is no threat of exposure and infection so you can learn at any point in your life and it’s a lifelong hobby. Highly recommend.

Ilana Shabtay 19:50

Okay, well, we’ll try it out. I have sailed once. I wasn’t really in control of a sailboat. Definitely something I think you’re right. I think everyone should should try it and to do a lesson or two because there’s also just a lot of coordination involved. It’s probably very healthy for not just your, your physical body but also just mentally it. I think there’s something about it that’s probably very, very good for your mental health. So I love it. Thank you for sharing that with us. And thank you for joining the InsideAuto Podcast. For those of you that enjoyed this episode, you can find us on or We’re on all mainstream outlets. So feel free to find us there. Jennifer, thank you so much.

Jennifer Sanford 20:31

Thank you very much Ilana, I so appreciate it.

Outro 20:37

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

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