Digging For Story with Erin Sparks

August 31, 2022
Do you have someone in your organization that touches every department? For DeNooyer Automotive Family, that person is Erin Sparks. As the marketing director, she has a lot on her plate and a lot of tabs open on her computer. But she makes it her responsibility to read reviews, walk the service lane, check in on the BDC team and more. She does all of this to break down barriers and bring the teams together, all as she tells the story of the dealership.
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What we talk about in this episode:
Intro with Michael Cirillo, Paul J Daly and Kyle Mountsier.

5:44 Erin’s early years were spent around cars, because her father was a certified master technician.

12:46 When Erin entered the dealerships she works for, they were heavily focused on an OEM-based message. Erin has worked to change that to a dealership story-based message.

“In the last, you know, three years or so is, every time we go into a change, or we look at doing something different, especially in marketing. My question is like, what's the story? What do you want people to know? And please don't tell me that you want to tell them that wiper blades are 19.99, because that's cool. And like, also a good message. But that can't be the only message. So because a lot of what I have always seen is that everything is price related, everything is offer related. And while there's a time and a place for that, it should be like 80 20 80% story 20% offer.”

15:00 DeNooyer Automotive Family is trying to do mobile service, but it’s not without its hiccups. Erin throws out some examples that their team is trying to work through, like software update recalls in low cell service locations.

21:19 Erin views her job in marketing to keep digging in every department to help better tell the story of the dealership and bring the team together as one.

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Michael Cirillo: 0:00Alright, so today we get to sit down with Erin SparksUnknown: 0:10

This is Auto Collabs,

Michael Cirillo: 0:12

who is a marketing director BDC director kind of almost a, what I can tell from her LinkedIn profile. She covers a lot of territory. Paul, Kyle, how did you get in touch with Erin? How did you get to meet her?

Kyle Mountsier: 0:26

So I met Aaron. And I think this is kind of my relationship with the group. But through the Auto Genius Network, actually, way back when I was still with Nelson, and I can't remember who kind of introduced her to that group, but just quickly realized that she had some chops. And, you know, as marketers go, it was like, an early conversation is like, so what do you exactly do, and it was like, somewhere between everything and all the everything's which is normally the way that kind of marketers go. So I'm excited about this conversation. Because normally what happens when you start talking to a marketer, you realize, oh, they do a little bit of everything somewhere around the dealership, because it's kind of that it's a role that especially a lot of smaller groups, or single rooftops, kind of becomes the catch all for a lot of different things. But oh, yeah, you know, there's just really savvy people to that take that to heart. And I'm excited to hang out with her because I'm guessing some of that would would come out in that conversation from my knowledge of her in the past. I really

Paul Daly: 1:30

like it when we get to talk to someone who literally is doing the work every day. And you know, regardless of how many things in the store that that is, the perspective is like of the marketer is usually in the middle of the scrum, right? They're always looked in all these different areas. So like they kind of see and hear and usually are confided in by a number of different people in the store. So I always like to have conversations with people who are in the middle of the scrum. So we hope you enjoy this interview with Erin Sparks.

Kyle Mountsier: 2:10

All right, we're already laughing again. And we're hanging out with my fairly new friend Erin Sparks, who is a member of Auto Genius, and also a marketing director at DeNooyer Chevrolet and Ford. Erin, thanks for hanging out with us today.

Erin Sparks: 2:27

Yeah, thanks for having me.

Kyle Mountsier: 2:29

Absolutely. You know, one of the one of the fun things that we always get to learn in our industry is just how connected and disconnected our industry is. And Paul was telling us just before this call, that there's like, actually 38 dinners. No, I'm kidding. Just just a couple. But you you have the pleasure of managing a couple of them from a marketing and service BDC perspective. But enough about now, let's talk about before because I'd like to hear a little bit about kind of how you came into the retail side of the, the automotive industry and, and and what your history has looked like from that perspective.

Erin Sparks: 3:05

Yeah, so I am originally from Wisconsin, I have to tell that first because I'm all about Wisconsin, first and foremost. But that's all right. Besides that,

Kyle Mountsier: 3:16

what's your favorite cheese? No.

Michael Cirillo: 3:20

To the real stuff, just getting rich. Tell us about

Erin Sparks: 3:24

is about food with you guys. Right? Come on.

Paul Daly: 3:27

Yes, pretty much.

Michael Cirillo: 3:30

Podcast. But I lived in Wisconsin for most of my life, moved down to Florida. And we lived in Florida for a couple of years started working down there in marketing after graduating. And then I came back and lived here in Michigan. I live in Kalamazoo now. And I started out here in Kalamazoo working for a local media and publishing company that is part of a larger organization that is nationwide. And the first five years I was a sales associate. And then the last five years I was in marketing and management within that organization. And much of those five years I was blessed and able to work with the automotive industry. So I like that side of that because I have a little bit of a different perspective in the automotive industry because a lot of people just they start out in the dealership side of things. And you know, one of the things that like, annoys the crap out of me is that when somebody says like, Oh, you're you're not from automotive, so you wouldn't know. And I was like, Yeah, but people still like to be respected and, like like and want to work with people that do things in a way that they feel are respectable and So, I mean, there's a vast majority of what automotive looks like all across the board. You know, there's the guys that are the epitome of the used car sales guy. And then there's ones that are far off of that as well, too. But I think that backgrounds like mine are great for automotive, because you can fall into that trap of saying that, like, Yeah, well, you wouldn't know because you're not automotive like, right?

Paul Daly: 5:25

Yeah. What was your? What was your experience in automotive prior to starting to work in the industry? Like, growing up or as a young adult? Right, what was your experience with dealers or buying cars? We've never asked that question since the first.

Michael Cirillo: 5:41

Yeah. Well, I would say my formative childhood years was very much framed in from my dad as a master certified technician.

Paul Daly: 5:54

Oh, we're all like, Oh, okay. Just that

Michael Cirillo: 6:02

I learned how to drive a stick on a 67 Camaro RS. Perfect Well, the month before I was born, and when I was about 15, you know, it was it was drivable. It's never it's always a work in progress, right if you have a car but so I learned how to drive a stick on that. And we went to car shows we did you know, all of the things that something my dad would love

Paul Daly: 6:35

to kind of like steeped in in like Motorhead culture more than automotive culture?

Michael Cirillo: 6:41

Yeah. I mean, like, Can I change my own oil? I mean, yeah, that's probably how, but I'm not going to

Kyle Mountsier: 6:51

appreciate that.

Michael Cirillo: 6:54

I mean, there's an appreciation and a love for automotive. That doesn't necessarily mean I'm capable of all of that. Well, it's like, Gene Simmons. You know, just because he's a rock star. We don't expect his children to also be rock stars, like maybe he's got a tone deaf kid.Or whatever. Think your own path. So, I mean, I think, and my dad is a Chevy lover. So he was real happy when I'm working on a Chevy store. So

Paul Daly: 7:26

yeah, he was like, I knew I raised you, right.

Michael Cirillo: 7:31

Gotta love those domestics. What? Something? Sorry, I'm just like, I need to go back to what you you initially said. Because this is a narrative that we need to hear more of this and just like, needs to be more broadly accepted. That here we are in a profession where in one breath, we're all like, you know, I got out of prison, and we can go and just kind of fell into automotive. Like, it's one breath saying it's open to everyone. But then there's this club of people that are like, you don't get to have a say, because you didn't come from automotive. It's like, dude, none of us in this industry. Okay. Henry Ford didn't even come from automotive until he was in automotive. When did you assume the identity of like, when did you accept I am in automotive? Do you know what I mean? Because I feel like it took me a good 10 years of being in it to finally be like, I'm in automotive. Like, I guess this, this runs through my veins. Did that happen in the Motorhead years? Or was it not until you officially moved into dealership? I think probably when I really moved into dealership because then I felt like I had ownership of something like I was telling you earlier this today, I was talking with our fixed ops director about something that in my opinion, needs to be fixed. Right. And it needs to be done because it's the right thing for the customer. And it's the right thing for the that that portion of our business. But I guess maybe half of me says like, I've accepted that I'm an automotive but like there's also like this part of me that says I have a love and appreciation for having an experience outside of automotive to end so bringing that and keeping that part of me alive. helps my automotive Yeah.

Kyle Mountsier: 9:23

have that experience because I think even even keeping that at the Center for for you and for other people in automotive, especially marketers that come from outside of automotive into automotive. What of the, like pre automotive marketing experience are you either seeing is still behind or that you're able to like lead from the front with in automotive knowing what you've known of other, you know, marketing ecosystems.

Michael Cirillo: 9:52

Yeah. Like something that came to mind right away is when like the sales team would be like But yeah, we we make a lot of calls. So like, yeah, we make a lot of calls. And I was like, have you been in any job that is sales outside of automotive because like, everyone has to make a lot of calls. I love that. Like, you know that you have to make calls. But like, you could have ended it there too, and just described generalization of all of a whole generation. Have you had any job? Just hard stop. Have you had any job, you got to talk to people? So like, sometimes, you know, like, you can fall into this thing where they're like, Yeah, but in automotive, you have to talk to a lot of people. And I was like, it was a requirement for us to talk to like, I don't know, 60 people a week or something. So like, yeah,

Paul Daly: 10:48

I get it. I having a job involves work. That really goes along with the job title. Paul, right. That's true. It's true.

Michael Cirillo: 11:02

So I don't know I I just love that they're like automotive and specifically in on and in dealerships, like, like, sometimes the best person for the role might be somebody that's not been in automotive, because it brings it in perspective.

Kyle Mountsier: 11:20

Yeah, for sure. Love it. I love it. So from a marketing perspective, right now, what have what have you been doing recently, that's kind of challenging norms, or things that you're really working on and seeing, you know, you're a member of this Auto Genius community that has a bunch of top marketers in the US kind of all solving problems and figuring out the best way to do things on a daily basis? What are you on hands in the dirt working on right now, to push the boundaries at your stores? That's like making an impact, or you're hoping makes an impact? Because you're trying something new? What are those things that you're kind of digging your teeth into?

Unknown: 11:57

Yeah, um, two things come to mind. From a overall arching dealership space, when I came into my organizations they were very heavily focused on the OEM message and what offers you are going to talk to them now this was, you know, a couple of years ago. But the thing I continue to preach, I think my f&i Manager, Corey can, like Imitate me by word for word and sound exactly like me. But I say often we have to tell our story. Because the only thing that separates us from the Chevy store down the street is what we believe and how we operate and why we do what we do. And so that's one of the bigger changes that we've implemented. In the last, you know, three years or so is, every time we go into a change, or we look at doing something different, especially in marketing. My question is like, what's the story? What do you want people to know? And please don't tell me that you want to tell them that wiper blades are 19.99, because that's cool. And like, also a good message. But that can't be the only message. So because a lot of what I have always seen in that is like everything is price related, everything is offer related. And while there's a time and a place for that, it's should be like 80 20 80% story 20% offer. So that's one of the bigger things that we've changed here. Another thing that we're working on and trying to figure out is that one of our other stores a Ford store, we are doing mobile service, there are some dealerships in the in the nation that are doing an outstanding job at mobile service. We're trying to crack that nut and figure out how to do it the best way possible that is in line with our business and our standards and our in the way we want to people to see us and understand us and not falter in the in the outcome of what that customer gets at the end of the day. So

Kyle Mountsier: 14:14

mobile services super complex, I'm guessing that like, you know, I don't know where you're at in that equation working with that team, but I'm guessing it is taking a significant level of involvement from internal and external partners to collaborate to make that happen. What have some of those conversations been like with, you know, whether it'd be tech partners or, or hardware or software or internal teams and like, how, how has your team kind of like created the communication patterns to bring something like that to market because it's not as simple as like, Oh, we got a technician and a truck, send them right. How have you navigated the

Unknown: 14:55

have the technician we have the truck and then we get complexity there and What if there's no internet? Or like one bar service? Have you tried to do a recall? That is a software update recall with one bar service, because I can tell you it doesn't work. And also, if it's in like a, like a unit that is a non gas powered unit, let's say that, if you don't finish it correctly, you could very well leave the vehicle is inoperable. I mean, these are big things that you gotta think I didn't, like, that's not even on me that's on our, that's on our team, we have a whole team that's trying to figure these things out. But that is, that is part of the communication. So I also work with our BDC team on that. And so we've got to work with the BDC. To know like, they have to be a little bit more knowledgeable. Because when somebody comes in and says, Hey, I want to do a recall, can I do a mobile service? They have to have learn a little bit more about those recalls to know, is this actually something that requires software updates? And then what did they do? What did they tell that person? What do we offer that person because they even, hey, they knew of our mobile service. We got him here. Now we can't do anything with service. So you know, we got to, we got to find that balance between letting people know what we can do, getting them to want to do it, and then servicing them well following

Paul Daly: 16:27

through on it, right in a way that is fulfilling the promise that you made with all the stories and all the awareness. Because there's there's an element, where if you have like a really terrible website, and you have terrible marketing, the bar that you have to like jump over in order to wow, somebody is much lower. Yeah, but the better your marketing is, and the better your storytelling is. And the higher the expectation right now you have to the bar that you have to jump is a lot higher. And it's I've seen this before, where someone have a terrible online like presence, but they have really great reviews. And then they they actually switch to like this really sophisticated marketing a better website, and they feel like the reviews start to go down a little bit. And I think that's because the expectation is higher with the better marketing. And so. So I mean, it's definitely a bar that you're setting for yourself. And like that challenge. I love the way I love how you straddle like operations and marketing, because those two things should always be in lockstep. Because if you have a marketer that's not in touch with operations, or vice versa, right, you're just setting yourself up for a bad customer experience, in my opinion. Yeah. Yeah,

Michael Cirillo: 17:41

well, and marketing, thankfully gets to like, run the gamut of all of the different parts of the organization. And they are one of the firsthand people to see the reviews that are coming back and the surveys that are coming back. And I mean, I can tell you, I lay in bed at night going through our comments on different social media posts, but there's likely nobody else in the organization doing that. And getting to see the feel and the sentiment, I'm the one that monitors the, the our chat tool on our website and sees you know, when our service or our sales teams or b2c are picking those up, what are they saying? What are they wanting to know about? You know, what, what is this makes me think of so a pal of mine, Marcus Sheridan, he, he I love the way he positions, you know, this, the there's a division between marketing and sales and operations. And to your point, Paul, and what you're saying here, and he positions it as there's no such thing there needs to be a revenue team. Businesses need a revenue team. And like that, the revenue team consists of marketing and sales and operations and, and all of the different facets, but it's kind of like what you're saying, trying to solve problems with, you know, your fixed department, they need to understand that that some way somehow, shape or form trickles back to revenue gain or revenue loss. And similar to how you're telling your story making promises that you either can fulfill or can't fulfill, like, everything maps back, but traditionally in dealership, it's like, no, I'm on the sales team. Therefore, I don't need to know what marketing is doing. Or I'm BDC and I don't need and salespeople are separate. And we see that a lot. It's like no, actually all of you are on one single team. It's the revenue team and that reconditions how everybody thinks about working together inter department working together. i This is what you're saying makes me think of how you're bridging that gap. And I think that's fantastic. So, yeah.

Paul Daly: 19:43

So I think it's like you just made me feel good inside. Thank you. So, it seems to me that the well I know, across the board that the marketing position isn't always or respected position inside the store a lot of time, the marketing staff can become order takers, tech support, you know the people who process a co op, in your store up, it's obvious that there's a level of respect for the work that marketing does. And in turn, you seem to really internalize the work you do as the marketer as an important one, right? If you're laying in bed, and you're checking reviews, because you know that you're, you know, that you're your role, and you're watching that angle for the dealership. Why do you think why do you think that respect exists in your store? Like, what's the history of the marketing department? Because I would love it if we can help broaden, broaden the horizons of some of the people listening to this. And maybe those who have a marketing department who would be in charge of a marketing department might begin to think a little differently about how they can integrate their marketers. So again, the question there is, what why is the respect exists? Why does it exist in your stores? Like, where did that start? And who carries the torch?

Unknown: 20:57

Yeah. Before me, they had a marketer that I know she was here for 20 odd years, did a lot of I mean, they didn't actually even call them a marketing director, I don't think it was more, you know, it was a communications director. And in my head, when I walked into this role in this position, my goal was to always be digging. Because there's got to be something or someone that is always looking for more in every department, and then bringing it back to that storytelling. Because not that there isn't ways for the organization to gather as one. But who else is going to do and if I don't, is my mentality is, who else will go ask a question of service. Because it just doesn't feel right. And because I saw a review, and then notice something, as I was walking through the service line, I get, again, I have that perspective that somebody in servicing doesn't have, because I don't live there every day. But I can't, right like, and same thing with sales. Same thing with parts. Same thing with, you know, just the look and the feel of the brand as a whole like, because I live in all of them part time I have a I have a responsibility to speak up and dig, when something either doesn't feel right, or whether it seems like there's opportunity, and that brings everybody together. So that's my opinion on how I should operate. And if there was something I would tell somebody else in marketing is that you can easily fall into the trap of being the person that just does Co Op and gives numbers from Google Analytics at the end of the month. And plans, the events, and I do all of those things do. Check, check check. But also, like, you can expect to hear from me if I don't think it's right. And I'm gonna tell you, because it's a responsibility I have to the organization that I give that because that's what I think they should expect.

Michael Cirillo: 23:22

I love it. We've got one final question for you. Before we wrap, we've had so much fun hanging out with you. I want to circle back to something you said earlier about the importance of coming up with your story because it's the true differentiator between your store and the maybe the competitor down the street. Historically, in our industry, we are shy of the idea of picking a lane and realizing that we can't please everybody, we're you know, because we realize a vehicle is a utility. It's a freedom. It's something that should be accessible to everybody, we sometimes position that and say, well, we should try and please everybody, we need every customer on planet Earth coming to our store in Kalamazoo to buy from us and nobody else. But inherent in telling your story. You realize as a marketer, that that's going to resonate with some people, and that's going to condition them to want to work with us, but it might also repel other people. So my question is, how do you as a marketer, reconcile, for the dealer to help them understand we're not going to get everybody inherent in telling our story, we will attract some and repel others. I think that what my message is always trying to focus on is the good, right? So you work good attracts good. The good doesn't always attract bad, but sometimes it does. Like there's somebody that's always gonna be out there to be like, oh, yeah, you said that you're a salesperson. Like we have a guy Rich he is beloved by every single person that ever touches Is atmosphere. And the other day we had a guy in there that was like, well, Rich didn't do a good job for me. He didn't give me enough on my trade. He's a terrible person. And I was like heavy. Like you would say that, like, terrible person at all. And so, like, as long as there's more good than bad, I'm not focusing on the bad. We're just, we're just gonna continue to grow the good and measure that good as best we can. So that's amazing. Well, you are certainly beacon of light in the industry. It's been so much fun hanging out with you, Erin, thanks so much for joining us on Auto Collabs today. Thank you for having me.

Kyle Mountsier: 25:44

Well, suspicions confirmed because it does look like Erin sparks, literally touches every element. I loved her. She had that little comment at the very end of the interview on that last question that you had her first Cirilo that she was like, Oh, I'm actually part time in every department. And I think it's so good wearing that hat is actually really key because then what it gives her the leverage to have those conversations across fixed ops and sales and an every department and every level of every department, because then places are in there. It's not like this. Oh, she's over there in marketing, right? It's like, oh, no, she kind of has a role here. We see her often she's engaged. She's engaged with things when they're working well, or when there's opportunities. And I think that that probably more people in more departments across automotive, not just marketers can take that to heart and go, Oh, well, I'm the service manager. But I got a part time role over here in service. That's right. As as to your part, Michael, were a part of the revenue team, right. And if that was the role that in the hat that a lot of people took, I feel like those barriers to customer service might actually come down a lot quicker.

Paul Daly: 26:53

I love growing. Love, I love I love the revenue team idea. I know you said it wasn't yours. But you know if you didn't say that, I would like Michael Cirillo said that he's so smart revenue team, I just love it. It as it is now use it three times in a sentence, not in the same sentence, I guess. I love that idea, the revenue team and the evidence of her taking responsibility for the things that are important in the store she talked about like, she's like, I'm the one that's up at night reading the comments and reading reviews because no one else is doing it. Her understanding that like, hey, her role is the marketer is to understand what the consumer is saying and being the bridge to go back and try to fix those things. You know, usually it's reviews typically speaking, right? Like when you have to address one, usually it's because something went wrong. And for her taking the onus to go address that as part of the revenue team, knowing that the customer review leads to operations, which leads better operations, which leads to better customer reviews, which leads to revenue. So I liked watching that whole thing progresses, she started to talk about what she does.

Michael Cirillo: 27:58

She I was kind of I was LinkedIn creeping her profile, she's got a couple of funny memes that to me kind of sum it up. One is if you don't have 2413 files in your downloads, do you even work in marketing. And the one above that was Little Miss marketer with 253 Plus tabs open. And I'm like, you know, that's that's the and you know, the stuff is not normal at night, like that level of ownership, you know, what's open in those 253 tabs and in those downloads, a bunch of screenshots that you find late at night as a marketer were you like, this would be so good for the management to hear knowing full well, they're not going to do anything with it. So you carry that burden as a marketer and say, Wow, you wrote but but I'm just saying between everything and I'll tell you me in defense posts. I mean, such a fun conversation with Erin, of course, I hope. We hope all of you listening and tuning in enjoyed that conversation on behalf of Paul J. Daly, Kyle Mountsier myself, Michael Cirillo. Thanks for joining us on Auto Collabs

Unknown: 29:12

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