Don Erwin is the Director of Digital Marketing and Communication at Mtn View Auto. He started his career in the automotive industry in late 2001. He started in sales, and quickly moved up in the dealership, establishing a centralized BDC at Mtn View with 15 agents working leads and fielding incoming sales calls for four rooftops. In his current position, Don is responsible for all digital marketing and customer communication training for the auto group. Don is a proud grandparent to eight grandchildren and is looking forward to his retirement in just three years.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- How Don entered the automotive industry
- How experience in sales has impacted Don’s marketing strategy
- How automotive tech has changed the way dealerships view data
- The team challenges dealerships are facing in the post-Covid-19 world
- Don’s predictions for the future of automotive and widespread EV adoption
In this episode…
Is your dealership using data and metrics provided by third-party vendors to improve your business?
If not, your dealership is wasting valuable resources and missing out on a massive opportunity for growth. The data brought in by third-party vendors can help dealerships understand where there is room for improvement in dealership operations – from holes in the sales funnel to missed opportunities for followup and beyond. Understanding your data and being willing to make changes based on what that data shows can transform your business by helping you bring in more revenue through smart, data-backed business decisions.
In this episode of the InsideAuto Podcast, Ilana Shabtay interviews Don Erwin, Director of Digital Marketing and Communication at Mtn View Auto about how data – both first and third-party – have impacted his marketing strategy and his decisionmaking processes. They also discuss how Don is utilizing new AI technologies like ChatGPT at his dealership and what the future holds for the automotive industry when it comes to EV adoption across the US.
- Don Erwin on LinkedIn
- Ilana Shabtay on LinkedIn
- Mtn. View Auto
- Kevin Bacon
- OpenAI’s ChatGPT
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 www.fullpath.com
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 here, host of the 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.com. Fullpath is automotive’s leading customer data and experience platform, CDXP. We enable dealers to turn their first-party data into lifelong customers by unifying siloed data sources and leveraging the data to create exceptional, hyper-personalized customer experiences. Today we’re welcoming Don Irwin to the podcast. Don how are you I’m good how are you?
I’m doing well even better now
I have an entertainer for the podcast. Don has been entertaining me for years. He is basically uh in charge of all the digital marketing and client communications at Mountain View Automotive but also sides as a comedian. I mean he’s put his blood and sweat into this Automotive Group and he’s not planning on going to another one, he’s actually planning on retiring in wait three years three months and 13 days. Did I get that accurate or is it 12 days?
12, 12 days because that was written yesterday.
Yeah absolutely okay who’s counting though seriously. He started in the automotive business in late 2001 uh everything from the new car manager’s desk to establishing full BDC and now to running an entire digital marketing strategy so that’s amazing I can’t wait to get into that with you he also has eight grandkids from his two kids four on each I don’t know how your kids did that but kudos to them.
I think we know how they did it.
Are they all are they close to you?
Yeah they are yeah my daughter my daughter and her family live in Atlanta and my wife gets to be down there every week and then my son lives just north of us about 30 minutes so we get to we get to be a part of their lives. Uh kind of like I was with my grandkids I’m with my grandparents yeah yeah it’s a it’s a lot of fun no question about it yeah okay.
Well tell us how how did you get into to automotive?
Well it was uh it was by a a little bit of a fluke I think I mentioned to you that my family business was in the carpet industry which is close here in Chattanooga and so my grandfather was a pioneer in the industry my father joined his business I joined when I was about 30 after getting two degrees in music vocal performance and conducting a leadership neither of which you can really use like I told you unless you’re uh unless you love opera or become a rock star and I didn’t do either one of those but my parents encouraged me to follow my dreams follow my passions and so those are the degrees that I got but both my grandfather and my father were salesmen they just they just were born as salesmen and I kind of felt like I was too so I followed in the path of that business uh was fortunate enough to kind of bring some innovations to the industry we we were designers and and manufacturers and importers of machine parts so I enjoyed doing that the industry was on its down turn for carpet for soft floor goods around 2000, 2001 and and it all culminated in 2002 but fortunately I got out right before that. I consulted for a company uh out of Germany for about a year uh and then a good friend uh owned Mountain View at that time Mountain View Ford and Mountain View Nissan and uh and he and I were talking at lunch one day and he said what are you going to do and I said I don’t know I’m gonna take some time off and he just one thing led to another he said why don’t you come and just uh try your hand at selling cars uh he said I think you’ll like it you know it won’t be a lifelong career for you but you’ll have fun doing it so I did and uh and that was almost 22 almost 23 years ago now uh and it’s been a it’s been a really fun journey for me uh just a different a different kind of selling a different kind of managing employees than what I was used to uh in in more of an account sales type atmosphere um but I fell in love with it uh and and committed myself to it and have had a had a blast for over two decades now enjoying the carpet industry I mean I’m in the car business and that’s…
That’s awesome and when you were so you started actually selling cars,
I started as a what I call a grown ass man at 43 years old I started on the on the sales floor uh just uh trying my hand at sales and just loved it I mean just loved every customer interaction uh love the fast-paced opportunity to build rapport with someone whereas in the carpet business I you know you’d spend months building rapport with someone who was going to buy your parts and support your business. In the car business in in an automotive retail uh you had you know 45 seconds to a couple of minutes to really build rapport with a customer so the challenge was there I loved it it was a lot of fun and uh and and I had a blast with with all my customers uh and then began to kind of work my way into some management learning areas and so I’ve done a lot in the dealership over the 20 plus years uh and um yeah just just have had a blast doing it and learning and growing.
And do you find that um the sales experience you had at the dealership influences the way you actually structure the marketing strategy?
Absolutely uh I think I think a lot of times um and this happens with vendors that I work with uh as well you know you you all at Fullpath and I have had a long two or three year relationship now and one of my challenges to you all is get some people involved in the business who understand Automotive retail who really truly have sold cars who’ve been on the floor who’ve managed sales people who’ve under who understand the sales process and that helps me it would help you uh and and any advice I give to vendors uh I always lean on that experience of how would I design this what is it that I want this product to do how do I want our communication to go out from our VDC or our sales people when it comes to internet leads and and uh and sales calls that are coming into the dealership all of that goes back to uh the experience that I learned as a Salesman uh and then as an internet manager manager in a new car desk manager etc.
I know so much has happened in the industry since you’ve started, I mean it’s probably a completely different industry than when you started but specifically the last four years right? Inventory shortages, Covid, what’s something that you implemented in your digital marketing strategy in the past few years that you feel like was a total Game Changer and or something that you just can’t live without considering you know the world we live in today?
Well, the things that we’re using now from the vendors who we subscribe to are things that we can’t live without. We have a specific digital marketing budget for each of the stores that I work for uh we live within that budget as a matter of fact because of Covid it shrunk uh the the digital portion of it the paid search portion of it shrunk so uh I tell vendors on a regular basis you guys at Fullpath, AutoTrader, CarGurus, we’re using some Edmonds products now anybody uh that we speak with we say say you know if you want us to if you feel like we should change and alter our approach then we’ve got to do it within this budget so what is it that we can live without uh that would pay for this that you tell me that I can’t live without and so we we uh we’ve seen our website traffic of course go through the roof that has allowed us to reduce our our what I call a traditional paid search budget our traditional sem we’ve been able to reduce that but take those funds and put them into some untraditional uh paid search display advertising uh with you guys with Fullpath um uh we took some digital marketing spend and moved it away from Paid search and turned it into nurture which of course is your product that works behind the scenes uh kind of an equity mining type uh product that that stays in touch with our customers presents them offers engages them and again the numbers that I that I see uh that’s another good thing that that Fullpath brings to the table and we challenge all of our vendors to do this if we’re going to use your product give us good tracking we want to we want to be able to know that truly it’s it’s actually working and working well uh and I’m looking right now I’ve gone away from looking at you I’ve gone to look at my Fullpath dashboard uh and just this just this month to date at my Hyundai store where we are using you for our digital advertising 347 leads at our Hyundai store our last call um uh event acceleration VDP views thirty three thousand four hundred and nineteen uh the connect widget has brought us 98 leads just since the beginning just since the beginning of this month and then when you roll it out group Wide Auto Group wide I mean the numbers are just they’re mind-blowing they’re absolutely mind-boggling how many people are coming to our websites uh how many opportunities we have to engage with those people and so it’s our challenge as managers as as owners as general managers it’s our challenge to make sure that our people are trained that they’re saying the things that we want them to say uh that they’re giving the message to our customer and they’re actually ultimately reaching our customer making contact with our customers so that we have the opportunity to sell them that’s a really important point it’s not just about the technology that you’re implementing which of course I think is an extreme extremely big part of it it’s can you actually train your people invest in your people make sure that they can leverage the technologies and the Innovation that you’re working so hard to implement at the dealership and so I’m happy here that that’s part of the process it is a it’s a challenge you know one of the questions you asked me to prepare for was what are the challenges for dealerships today and yeah and it is employees uh you know it’s it’s employee um tenure uh hanging on to the to those that are good that are talented that want to learn that want to grow um I think all of us anybody listening to this podcast podcast will agree with me uh some sales plans uh sales payment plans stayed the same through covid uh that was probably a mistake on our part because we we had sales people who were making more money than they ever dreamed of um and now things are changing a little bit so so attitudes are changing motivation is changing the drive uh to hang in there and and really make it work that’s changing as well um but it is challenging to get salespeople to understand we’ve we’ve just uh uh signed on to a new product called sales alert which is showing us the sales that we’re missing. It literally is showing us who is buying elsewhere those that are coming through our service department leads that we have opportunity even showroom visits to come and visit us uh and certainly sales calls and how we wish it was a Wayback machine how we could how we could go back and change that outcome and ultimately sell those people what it is showing us and what is giving the opportunity for us to do is realize where the opportunities are and when we spot check some of these people who bought elsewhere we’re seeing failures in the process failure is in the protocol that we’ve created and established and said is best practice and so that gives us an opportunity then to one-on-one train with salespeople BDC agents even managers uh to get more involved in those in those deals and try to make things happen before somebody goes elsewhere the other thing it’s telling us is so many people are buying cars uh I think I think sometimes we fool ourselves to say hey we’re getting everything we can get and ultimately now what this is showing us is there are tons of people coming through our service department that are indeed maybe not even in the market to buy something but would given the opportunity would certainly consider it
I mean that’s an interesting product – does it hook into your CRM so that it knows exactly which person it should alert you on?
Yes so um sales alert absolutely uh dials into all of our data through DMs and through our CRM we use Vin Solutions which I believe is the best in the business uh they tell us that we’re uh we’re a power five dealer group that uses this product um just like we’ve done with you all we’ve we’ve asked them and begged them and they’ve they’ve been responsive to make some changes so um yes uh the the data hookup between our vendors uh Fullpath included sales alert included that’s incredibly important for us so that everything can sync together and um we don’t step on ourselves or we don’t miss anything.
Great okay so we we learned a little bit about you we learned about your processes at the dealership I’d love now to learn a little bit about what you think is going to happen in automotive what are your predictions for the next 12 months whether that’s marketing related or EV related I just love to pick your brain a little bit on what you think we’re going to see.
You know, we’re in the Deep Mid-South in Chattanooga Tennessee so EV related is one of those frustrating topics uh because we don’t see that this particular area is going to be saturated with with EVS we’re close enough to Atlanta probably Atlanta will be and probably already is there is a Tesla brick and mortar that’s being built here in Chattanooga as well which I think ultimately that’s that’s a Telltale sign that at least Tesla believes that EV in Chattanooga is going to be important so that’s one of those things that we’re still on the fence of um certainly we are fully invested as a one of our one of my stores is a Ford Store a Ford Lincoln store and so we are we are committed uh to building that EV platform uh at that particular store you know General Motors one of my stores is a Chevy store General Motors is kind of leading the way uh and and giving us some very hard uh dates as to when they expect to have an EV model in or EV option in every single model so we know that’s coming I uh
I can’t imagine a world where we’ll have an EV model for every single model.
I mean I I don’t know how I don’t know how it’s going to happen um and again I’m not I’m not that smart uh or a scientist to understand and know what’s what’s coming down the pike but in Chattanooga a lithium processing uh factory is being built right now it’s going to be one of the largest in the Southeast so again with with the Volkswagen plant here where their EV batteries are going to be made right here in Chattanooga we we feel like this this ultimately might be an important hub for Ev but as far as the general public uh all buying into yeah let’s let’s go away from uh internal combustion engines and let’s go uh full EV in into in this town I I just don’t see it happening so that’s one of the challenges that that certainly is on the forefront of our thinking uh things that we discuss uh on a regular basis uh not only with our Ford reps our General Motors reps our Hyundai store is really doing well with EV right now as a matter of fact I think we’ve got 25 or 30 ionic fives on the ground we’re selling we’re selling two three of those a week so that particular that particular product
That’s my car.
It is? Did you drive an ionic?
Oh really okay okay I mean they have they have done their homework uh there’s no question about it they have built a world-class product at an affordable everyday uh uh worker price basically you know I mean it it really is a good price they’ve got good battery life of course they’ve got Kevin Bacon as the spokesperson and uh you know who can who can argue with uh with him um yeah so I mean it that you mentioned EV in that certainly that certainly um uh something that we that we wrestle with you know the other challenges is we haven’t we haven’t talked about the the pink elephant in the room I’m wearing a pink shirt but I’m not the pink elephant ultimately um ChatGPT uh is um is rapidly approaching and I’ll tell you a kind of a little funny story I was challenged um by a couple of our owners to uh to to investigate and really kind of see what’s going on so last Friday I was driving to lunch and I passed a barbecue store named Mike’s and I thought you know I’m going to ask chat GPT to write the first chapter in my next novel murder at Mike’s Steakhouse and so I literally started that chapter and over the course of the weekend and it’s on Facebook and I’ve had a great time with some of my friends we wrote eight chapters and we wrote eight chapters in Murder at Mike’s Steakhouse and even finished with an epilogue and and it’s it’s unbelievable I mean it’s absolutely the most fastest it’s the most fascinating thing um the murder took place after hours while the cleaning crew was there I swear I’m not even I’m not even joking after hours while the cleaning crew was there um uh chat created the character Maria which was the supervisor of the cleaning crew uh and and like I said I began to involve friends of mine lifelong friends in the story uh each of them kind of have a chapter and um it’s unbelievable it’s absolutely unbelievable so I think uh I think we’re going to use it more in our um descriptions our our marketing and merchandising descriptions among our vehicles and we’ve got two managers right now that are at dealer school um uh ongoing and they’re gonna they’re gonna graduate from NADA school in August that’s one of the big topics there is how chat GPT is going to be involved in in the marketing strategies and the the actual physical writing of of ads and and merchandising um uh parts of our of our VDPs it’s it like I said my first my first dive into it and I had an absolute value.
It sounds really good.
Yeah but I agree with you I think I think generative AI in general ChatGPT and others will totally take over the industry not just in the customer facing way but also within the business applications of the of the actual business behind the scenes possibilities in like a day so it took it took a weekend so it was Friday Friday evening and Saturday and and just like I said you can you can guide it to where you want it to go you don’t just say you have to you don’t have to say just write a book but basically as I told her or it to write each chapter I would give some instructions on on really how what I wanted that chapter to say and who I wanted to be in it and that sort of thing and it and it just took it and ran with it. I think the last thing that we’re really going to challenge be challenged with is data uh and becoming data focused uh that’s again one of the things that that NADA dealer school is talking about uh becoming not Amazon necessarily but becoming uh so much more uh in tune with the data that can be provided to us uh we’re using a product called clairavoy which gives sales attributions uh and follows a customer’s journey over 90 days I mean we’ve made so many changes in our third-party products again challenging those uh performance managers in each of those situations challenging them to come to the table to stay within our budget but make a make a more viable package to reach more customers drive more traffic that sort of thing so we’re able to see through clairvoy sales attributions through AutoTrader through CarGurus. CarGurus is without question I mean they’re just killing it they’re absolutely just nailing it. Edmonds is that was one of the reasons that that Edmonds came to the table for us because we begin seeing sales attributed to customers who spent time on Edmonds that we didn’t we didn’t pay for a subscription to Edmonds and so we began to discuss with them a couple of their new display products that will again track and follow a customer through their through their journey and we’ve seen those numbers just Skyrocket and so the the report comes out about the 12th or the 13th of each following month and quite frankly we all are kind of sitting around like it’s almost Christmas morning waiting on that data to uh to land to us so we can see exactly who performed the best in the in the uh the paid subscriptions that we that we have.
I wish every dealer would actually look at their data and make decisions based off of their data. I’m so happy to hear that that’s something that’s actually driving your strategy and
I think some dealers are maybe afraid to uh frankly uh yeah I think yeah. I know but but I think two challenges having someone who really has grown up in the car business and understands the important of data has actually sold a car who actually has managed to deal those sort of things uh and and then not being afraid of it because just like this sales alert product I mean who wants to see that over the course of 90 days we could have lost 155 sales through our service department, nobody wants to see that but if you want to improve you’ve got to look at at the historical data uh and then make make future judgments and future decisions off of what the past has shown you
100%. Well thank you so much this was an awesome podcast. I’m so excited to have you on here.
It’s my first – my first podcast
Next time we’ll have you crack some jokes you can share some stories about you know how how you’re secretly uh Brad Pitt and how you do that yeah alternate ego which we’ll talk about on the next one but seriously thank you so much Don for joining and for those listening thank you and please tune in if you like this episode insideautopodcast.com. Thank you again Don.
I had a blast all right see y’all, bye.
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