Focused for the Long Term with Ilana Shabtay

August 30, 2022
Building a product strategy based on target audience. AutoLeadStar is playing the long game. They are developing products to address the entire industry, not just the needs of one or two dealers. And that means they are focused and innovative. Ilana Shabtay is the Director of Marketing for this Israel-based tech company and she joins the Auto Collabs crew for a thoughtful conversation.
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What we talk about in this episode:
0:00 Intro with Michael Cirillo, Paul J Daly and Kyle Mountsier.

2:52 AutoLeadStar is based in Israel, but most of the dealers they serve are in the United States. Ilana talks about how they send team members to the States to learn what the retail auto industry is like in America.

7:20 As far as new features go in a tech product, it can be easy to focus on what the customer wants. But Ilana sees her team working to advance things that help the whole industry solve issues.

12:15 AutoLeadStar is doing quarterly product launches for new innovative features. Ilana realizes this has positioned them well to continue innovating.

19:56 Tech companies in automotive can have a tendency to try to be all things at the same time. Like Michael Cirillo says, “They’re a shoe, trying to be a hat and a raincoat.” Ilana says it’s OK if they go that direction, as long as the data is communicating and integrated with other systems.

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Michael Cirillo: 0:00You know, one of the things I love about doing this podcast with the two of youKyle Mountsier: 0:10

This is Auto Collabs

Paul Daly: 0:12

just one thing, just

Michael Cirillo: 0:13

just this one thing in this moment. It's that you, you are introducing me. I thought I knew people. And now I am having so much fun realizing how many people I don't know and how big this this industry is, of course, you know, I'm super excited to sit down and chat with Ilana Shabtay from AutoLeadStar. She's our guest today. Hey, did I get him? Yeah, can I get the name right?

Kyle Mountsier: 0:38

You dad is

Michael Cirillo: 0:41

getting people's name? Yeah, I

Kyle Mountsier: 0:42

think we just just dispelled a myth for like half of the auto industry that she has an I and an L to start her name. So it looks like two eyes. I get Alana. Jana. It's Ilana. So that's, that's the start. I've known a lot of for a couple years now have really enjoyed getting to know her, you know, she hosts her own podcast and just has a perspective on the industry. That is that is well, well received, and is an expert marketer and understands the auto ecosystem. Very, very well. So yeah, I'm excited to kind of hang out with her and chat and see what's what's going on in her world right now, because she's always got a unique perspective.

Paul Daly: 1:24

And I don't think I have anything to add to this intro. So we hope you enjoy this interview with Ilana Shabtay.

Kyle Mountsier: 1:38

All right, we are hanging out with Ilana Shabtay. And I think I got the accent on the A correctly. But yeah, of AutoLeadStar. Thanks so much for joining us, Ilana.

Ilana Shabtay: 1:49

Thanks. It's good to be here. Thanks for having me.

Kyle Mountsier: 1:51

Yeah, definitely. Well, I want to get into a little bit because a lot of people if you follow Ilana on on social media at all, my one of the most interesting things that you get is a perspective into a world not so much American. Because you are actually primarily in Israel, right?

Ilana Shabtay: 2:13

Yeah.

Kyle Mountsier: 2:16

So So tell us a little bit about and what I want to start with is how, like being in Israel, and and having to relate to American and US dealers, primarily, like how that dynamic works, and how learning about like, what happens in the rest of the world and tech teams there can, like, still allows you to stay connected to the American dealer network and everything that comes with that?

Ilana Shabtay: 2:42

Oh, that's a great question. It's a little different. For me, I grew up in the States, and I know what it's like to go to a dealership on a Sunday with your family if they're open on Sundays. But what's really interesting is we have this power r&d team in Israel. And they're sitting in their building this like top tier tech for automotive, and they've never stepped into a dealer, right, because it's like such a different type of industry in Israel. So when we first pivoted to automotive, which was around 2016, we actually sent our developers we have, we would send them to the states, we sent them to NADA we send them to Digital Dealer, we'd send them to whatever we can send them when it comes to industry conferences, but we would also actually send them to dealerships and be like, walk in and see what happens. Once we started getting clients, we would bring them more to, you know, our top tier clients, have them sit down, sit in on meetings to understand. But without that perspective, I think, you know, it's really hard to bring a product to market when you don't fully understand the market, even if you're behind the scenes in tech. So it's really interesting that you asked that question because I don't know if necessarily other dev teams that are building things in Israel for you know, different industries are necessarily doing that we put a huge emphasis on that at AutoLeadStar, and it really helped, especially with our director of products, they all circle through the states at least twice a year to make sure that they're on top of the market. For me, again, it's a bit different because I grew up there. So I understand kind of both sides. But it's really nice to be part of a team that's global. And that's working through that and understands you know, what it's like to have an r&d team that's seven hours ahead of the US. What's it what it's like when a support ticket comes in, and you need that support at midnight here and we work it out. It's really interesting.

Kyle Mountsier: 4:28

That's really interesting, actually. Well, one is this idea of, for me, the the majority of automotive there are two people in tech that are closest to the dealer, and that's the sales staff and the account specialists right that those people are always the closest to the dealer. And one of the things that coming from the dealership side that I always struggled with was relating my like product or development or ID Add needs through an account specialist or through even a salesperson actually was really difficult. Like, it was hard to connect the dots to what I was using on a daily basis to like a development timeline that I might be encouraging within a technology product that I'm that I'm using. Not that everything from a dealer gets done, but that that encourages that product timeline. So I appreciate the fact that the product team is also close. And the development team is also close to the dealer, because I think that's a really important thing. Is like when it comes to I'm gonna get real, I'm probably gonna get geeky in this one, because

Paul Daly: 5:45

I shouldn't sit back and just hope.

Unknown: 5:52

Yeah, I'm with you.

Kyle Mountsier: 5:55

Well, okay, I won't get too geeky.

Michael Cirillo: 5:56

But do it? Well, here's, here's,

Kyle Mountsier: 5:59

here's what's hard is because, like you do you have, you have different levels of accessibility to technology, or understanding of technology and automotive, right, anywhere from like, your super high tech, it or marketing director, right? To, you know, maybe a General Sales Manager that didn't go to college, which is, which is the way a career path and automotive happens, and really doesn't have any, any attachment to tech note, no necessity for it outside of like their daily use of it. And actually is kind of like tech averse. And so how does, how do you bridge that gap when trying to learn like what a marketing or sales director or GM actually needs, and bridging the gap between like product timelines and a product team understanding what, especially a non tech understanding, you know, dealer core needs in order to execute on their, on their on their daily, you know, workflow. Is there? Is there a translator in the middle that you typically see? Or has the product team from, from AutoLeadStar kind of learn the language enough to, like internally translate?

Unknown: 7:14

That's a great question. We, I think the latter, I think product has really learned the language enough to do it. But I will say there's always friction between what sales, marketing and customer success will want as a feature or as an The next product and what product thinks is like, the next best thing for automotive. And generally, at the end of the day product's, right. In the long run, it's very, like long run short run, right? At the end of the day, they see the big holes in technology with that they can kind of, you know, bridge the all those gaps for automotive, and for sales and customer success. It's like, oh, this is a churn risk, or, Oh, I can close this deal if we have this one feature, but then that kind of, you know, slows down the long run product timeline a bit. So it's always a balance between what what what can we do to obviously retain as many customers and get as many customers as we can, while also building something bigger for the industry to actually solve tech problems that does, you know, doesn't happen overnight. That's more of like a long, long term timeline. So yeah,

Michael Cirillo: 8:19

this brings up something that I've been thinking a lot about lately, because we have a tech portion of our business. And you're you're battling so many different forces. In fact, Kyle Paul and I were just in Philly together recording some content. And Kyle and I had had kind of a side conversation going about this topic. My mind keeps coming back to the I think about the moments where we dropped everything to your point to like develop a thing to close, maybe a deal or a handful of deals. And then ultimately, what you were saying about the long the big picture is, we look back over four or five years, and realize nobody's used in the thing. You spent so much time developing, still only using on master only using a very few select features. Do you find that that's the same thing? And do you find it's important to kind of maybe double, triple, quadruple down on the thing, you know, for a fact is working in that they'll use? Or what's the balance there?

Unknown: 9:19

I think it's also depends on? I can no one knows, right? We all we are that's what we're trying to figure out. But I think if you decide who your target market is, because at the end of the day, it always comes down to this. The long term those that big tech that we're trying to solve is like enterprise tech. And when it comes down to it the top 50 dealers we know they'll use them these little feature, you know, tweaks here and there. Of course the enterprise dealers are going to use it but that that caters more to like the mom and pop maybe maybe groups of two to three dealers. And so at the end of the day, it's all about the business strategy like Who are we trying to cater to and who do we want to retain and who do we want to acquire when it moves you know, when it five years So now we want to be working with the top 150s Do want to work with a percentage of the top 150s And then go toward the, you know, mid tier. So it's really about the strategy. Once that strategy is aligned with sales and product, which we've done a really good job in the past, I'd say like, six to eight months, at AutoLeadStar at least, then we we really understand, okay, which features should we prioritize? And then how is sales going to go after this, you know, the right type of dealer and the right type of client to fit the product strategy. So that's been worked, but

Michael Cirillo: 10:31

I'm thinking about the number of companies that started in automotive, they're like, Hey, we do customer data. And we also have a robust dog grooming management system. Some dealer was like, We got dogs in the back our mascot, I could do that, you know, be really nice, as if we had some, like, in booking and out booking software to go along with our DMS. Was

Paul Daly: 10:55

that Patrick Abad? No. Larry? Yeah, so yeah, I think that the the point, the thing that you just brought up, about, like, who wins on, you know, getting the next thing developed. And a big part of figuring that out is the communication to the customers, the communication on like, what the product actually does, or what the need is projected to be? Because I think a lot of people don't realize the need for some of this new stuff coming out, you know, customer data lakes, and like, why is it important? And so I've seen an increased effort by AutoLeadStar to communicate better like you have these quarterly launches going on? What's the mindset behind the quarterly launch? As I've kind of been seeing and hearing about it?

Ilana Shabtay: 11:44

Yeah, well, I'm glad you've been hearing about that. And but basically, we want to make sure that we have a commit from product, right, so every single quarter, we have to release something. So that from a product perspective is like, Alright, I gotta get my shit together. So I'm reading on this,

Paul Daly: 12:02

like, there's a deadline people are gonna be expecting in public, right?

Ilana Shabtay: 12:06

Exactly. From a marketing perspective, also, we have a deadline, we didn't make sure we have everything, all our ducks in a row to get it out to the public and get some kind of adoption. But I think it also, besides for the fact of just like, from a brand perspective gets us out there. It helps us just innovate, we've always been innovating, but it really pushes us to innovate and make sure that we're bringing to the industry that change that we want to bring that tech innovation, and, and gets us on like a calendar, not just from a company perspective, but also from an industry perspective. I'm assuming others will follow and then it will be really nice to just be able to see that innovation quarter after quarter. The other thing that I was thinking about when you when you mentioned like, oh, I have technology, but I'm also like, you know, build dog houses for for dealers is that you're getting super distracted. I'll use OTT as an example. Like Ott, every single, every single company was all of a sudden OTT company, right? Like they were doing, I don't even know, like website, but they're also OTT. And so we even asked, we were like, should we do Ott, like should we should we be doing that. But that type of stuff is super distracting. At the end of the day, you want to own what you're good at. And if you have those quarterly launches, and you have that like, you know, deadline and that perspective and that calendar in mind, then you can really roll out quality quality work. So it just helps us not get

Paul: 13:28

to that point. I think the smaller companies have a big, big advantage in what you just said about like the pressure to get into the fad of the moment, right? Everyone got to OTT and everyone would swear to you that they had data and inventory that nobody else had and most of them were white labeling the same two or three things. And you get to kind of stand outside of that. Obviously the bigger the company shareholders want to see returns, they want to just feel good about you being on the cutting edge and like buzzword products do that for larger companies. Oh, yeah, we got that. Yeah, yeah, we're all over and our people are out there we have a Salesforce. So I think that the smaller the smaller the company, the bigger advantage, you have to actually stay focused on innovating the long term meaningful things and not just you know, those things that pop up and they they kind of, I mean, like Ott, obviously it's a very important part of the marketing ecosystem. Yeah. Oh, it's all important. But the initial like, Hey, you got Do you have OTT? Yeah, you know me you know what? Yeah. Yeah, you know me Come on.

Kyle Mountsier: 14:33

Wait, so Okay, so this is what's because we're, we've been talking and like, I knew this podcast could basically go anywhere because if you don't know Ilana has her own podcast Inside Auto podcast you should follow it. She's it's incredible. But the the thing that I think is always a question mark for me, like coming from the dealer perspective is how's this valuable? How's this type of information valuable for me as a dealer, like knowing product timelines? How close product is, you know why quarterly releases and all this type of stuff. For me, it's like any technology company that a dealer is working with, that isn't like, constantly after innovation. That's, that's a problem, right? Not that it's just after innovation for innovation sake. But after innovation for customer and employee engagement sake, is a necessity, especially in our fast paced moving thing. You know, one of the things that I see a lot in automotive is that as you acquire a mass of clients, or as you be get on certain, like OEM programs, you start, like you major on support and not major on success, which are two totally different things. And in order to major on success, you have to drive product timelines for new and Integrated Technologies. And so as I'm hearing you, and as I'm listening with my dealer ears on, that's what I'm listening for, whether whether it's a dealer that's working with auto lead star or not, that I'm listening for, where where are the tech part? What are the tech partners that I'm working with doing to ensure continued success, not just support for the current product that I own? Right,

Unknown: 16:09

yeah. And also, you mentioned something else, which I think is really important, which is our actual communication with the client. So yes, as you're scaling, and as you're getting bigger, it is one of the challenges is how do we make sure that our support and our success is actually still top notch when we're bringing on more and more dealers. And you'll see like the, you know, Google, Facebook, they're rolling out all these products right now, which is totally automated. It's like no touch stuff, right? You can automate everything without even talking to a Support Manager without even you know, going into your campaigns. And that's great. We're all about automation. But then you kind of lose that, that that community, we talked a lot about community on the r&r podcast, Inside Auto podcast where I hosted Paul and Kyle last week or a few weeks ago, but you lose that touch of community and the quarterly events really help us do that, as well helps us reconnect to our clients, which I think is really important. And you know, as they get bigger and bigger, and people get to know about it more and more, hopefully, we'll even bring clients into the launch a bit more. And it will give us an opportunity to, you know, make a day seminar about it and bring them in and, and do some tech seminar, you know, before or after the launch, or have them even speak at the launch. So there is also something else to it, which is yes, of course partner with people that are innovating and partner with technologies that are innovating, but also partner with people who want to have that kind of community and communication with clients. So that's kind of like the the second part to it, which I didn't mention before, but thanks for bringing me there.

Michael Cirillo: 17:33

Here's my unpopular opinion of the day.

Paul Daly: 17:36

You only have one? Well, it's early. It's early.

Michael Cirillo: 17:40

one per 30 minute podcast. We've been It's talking about innovation. Kyle, you spoke to the importance of kind of well, actually, a lot of you spoke to the importance of like focusing in on a thing. We see this outside of automotive all the time. I mean, Slack, I've been hearing some Slack notifications, right,

Ilana Shabtay: 17:59

turn them off. I turned them off.

Michael Cirillo: 18:01

No, it's perfectly wrong to my thought. But yeah, thanks for a minute, and I was like, oh, like, I'm sure, similar to many other tech companies Slack as an example has felt the pressure to expand in and, you know, try their hand at so many different things. But at the end of the day, to your point, they're like, No, we are direct communication for a specific purpose. And I think sometimes, I guess maybe that's my unpopular opinion, as I see it specifically in the context of automotive. We assume we go to extremes, that's our human behavior. We're like innovation means coming up with something new. And what does that what do you end up with, you end up with big conglomerate companies who do all things through the alphabet, their their integrations, their DMS, their CRM, their website, provider, their or whatever? And they felt the need and they've assumed that that's what innovation means. My unpopular opinion is that innovation is in dialing in your your focus, like to your point and not feeling the need to go to these other things. And how does that relate to dealer to cut Kyle's point I've been thinking about this as I as I've been listening. Well, it makes perfect sense because do I want like do I want the best Nike shoes that I can get? Yeah, most comfortable for my feet? Or do I want the narKis that you can get on a street corner in New York. You know what I mean? Like I want the best thing that I can possibly get for that purpose. Like I don't want shoes that also pairs a hat. And in automotive we tend to do that right we think innovation means I must figure out how to make shoe a hat also and maybe a raincoat. And here we are. And we because so so to your point that's that's my kind of unpack popular opinion, I know that there's going to be vendors gnashing their teeth, at this point listening to this, but I really think that's the that's the key. And for the dealer listening, you want something that's specialized, you want something that's specialized.

Ilana Shabtay: 20:15

Now, here's the here's the caveat on that. I agree with that. I agree with that. The same time, I think if you can do a few things really well, as long as your data is communicating, and it's actually integrated, then you have real innovation. And so I think that yes, in automotive there is there are many companies that are trying to do it all. But at the end of the day, if they didn't Well, and they actually communicated, then it's worth it.

Paul Daly: 20:39

Well, that would be your innovation, then the actual innovation would be the fact that you know, the things that are adequate, work really well together. And in that you get ease of use, and efficiency and effectiveness and all those things. So I would argue that in that everything working together is the actual innovation.

Kyle Mountsier: 20:55

And that's like back to Slack. That's actually Slack's innovation, is the fact that they do like eight things really, really well. Yeah. And then they have like, a beautiful API that touches hundreds and hundreds, integrated services, which is why Salesforce was interested in them. Because now Salesforce has a deeper level of integration with every single one of Slack's current API integration partners, which I think is like when I think about how to, um, like, find the specialists and help them integrate, find the specialists and help them integrate. And, you know, I mean, I just I know a little bit about the CDP, and the CD XP and the data lake that you guys are building. And like, I think this is just one thing contextually, I'd like to ask you, because, you know, AutoLeadStar, as a company started as an auto lead star, right, it was driven towards leads. And I think that you all are rebranding that, at least through your purchasing and technology than not just like, oh, that's a lead widget. Right, that it's that it's much more than that. And I think that you're keying in on what what we're talking about right now, which like specializing on a few things, and connecting to the things that make that work really well.

Ilana Shabtay: 22:12

Yeah, exactly. And I think, well, you talked a bit about data lake, which is, which was our most recent quarterly launch event, which was about I think it was actually last week feels like it was forever ago, but it was on Thursday, we released it. But the point of that is, yes, we are a marketing execution engine, meaning we you can drive traffic through our technology, and you can will convert your visitors for you. And we'll, you know, automate lead nurture campaigns for you. And that's a part of it. And we don't want to do everything, we want to do that really well. You can't do that really well, without a proper customer data platform, which in automotive is pretty much foreign because everyone's using CRMs, which sit in silos to their DMS into their website, right? Even if you're using the same company for your CRM, your DMS and your website, because you're an automotive company that does it all. It's not actually integrated, which is absolutely insane. So the customer data platform actually helps you do that. It you know, there's identity resolution where you can actually find, you know, eight different Jane DOE's that will go into one profile that you can then actually hyper target and do the marketing execution on but make sure that you have that 360 view of that customer. Obviously, outside of automotive This is very, very common inside of automotive I think in the next year or two we'll see it everyone's gonna be you know, everyone's gonna be a CDP as well as CRM and

Kyle Mountsier: 23:35

CDP. You know, me

Paul Daly: 23:40

that song is the new criteria.

Ilana Shabtay: 23:43

It's so funny that you even you even, you know, went in that direction. Because I was looking for the release. I was like, We got to think of a CDSP rap.

Michael Cirillo: 23:51

Well, I mean, there's there's a TikTok video that could go viral in here, for sure we got to go viral.

Ilana Shabtay: 23:59

I think it's a really critical part. Just consolidate, like the concept of cleaning your data, consolidating your data, being able to export your data and use it for other things. It's just so uncommon in automotive, but that's the best way to actually understand own your data, take control of your data, and then mark it on your data. So that's what we're trying to do,

Michael Cirillo: 24:19

man. This is this is a very needed conversation, especially as it pertains to tech and innovation in the automotive industry, like the the industry is ripe for both disruption and interruption. And so it's been a lot of fun hanging out with you today, Alana and of course, you're going to be at ASOTU CON, so we can't wait to connect with you there as well. Thanks so much for taking some time with us and hanging out with us today.

Ilana Shabtay: 24:44

Yeah, thanks for having me. It was a blast.

Paul Daly: 24:45

I love the fact that they are intentionally planning quarterly launches and making a regular cadence and putting some time and energy into production. because like the production is why people, it makes it easy for people to watch. So that level of intentionality, bringing to market, the things that you feel are most important as, as a tech provider. I think that's next level. I'm excited to see what they do with those. Yeah, you know, what I,

Kyle Mountsier: 25:16

what I find a lot in automotive is everyone is kind of focused on NADA. And what are we doing around NADA. And so that just clears the air on that. I also appreciate that they that as a company, AutoLeadStar, is pushing the boundaries of the technology that we're used to in automotive, they're not just going, Hey, look, we're gonna make a better X, they're gonna be like, No, we're going over here. And we're going to do this that nobody's thought of yet. Now, they might have some market competitors, but I appreciate their their intentionality, not just on the content side, but also on the product side. And I'm excited to kind of watch the way that these rollout as they've only have had a couple

Michael Cirillo: 25:53

I think it's really valuable to to just, you at this point, know, go off of what you're talking about Kyle, I mean, all of us are kind of nerds on this call. It's cool to be able to connect with somebody else in the development technology space. We all know, Kyle can nerd out on some tech, but she really brought into focus, you know, to your point, Paul, about the quarterly launches, I think she really brings into focus what it actually takes to develop something good, like, like formulating a thesis, proving it out, seeing if there's a market for it. And I think sometimes the lines get blurred in our industry, especially after the last 30 years where people are like, oh, yeah, just develop the thing. And it's like, yeah, you know, a lot goes into it. So I really I really love that she brought that into focus and that they I love the word that your that both of you have use just that intention moving forward with intention, and I hope certainly all of you listening and tuning in, felt that same way about this conversation. We know we had a blast, and we're so glad that she joined us on the auto collabs podcast. Hope you enjoyed it. On behalf of myself, Michael Cirillo, Paul Daly and Kyle Mountsier. We'll catch you next time.

Unknown: 26:59

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