Fresh Out of Retail with Carol Marshall

September 9, 2022
Connection matters. And ActivEngage is all about making a connection, through their chat platform to their TikTok accounts. Carol Marshall, their COO, found her first dealership job as a GSM, coming right from retail. She joins us to talk about acronyms, conversation and what today’s customers are looking for when they shop.
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What we talk about in this episode:
Intro with Michael Cirillo, Paul J Daly and Kyle Mountsier.

3:09 Paul and Kyle both remember the first time they learned about ActivEngage’s TikTok account, and particularly a TikTok about the different kinds of people you encounter at automotive conferences.

8:13 Carol was hired right out of retail to be the General Sales Manager of a used car dealership. She talks about what she learned from that experience.

13:28 Listen. Acknowledge. Understand. Guide. Have fun.

24:35 ActivEngage is a product based around real human interactions. All of their chats happen with real human beings and they aren’t scripted. The goal is for the interactions to be as conversational as possible, but this wouldn’t happen without the human element.

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Kyle Mountsier: 0:00So I'm sitting there at Digital Dealer this yearUnknown: 0:10

this is Auto Collabs.

Kyle Mountsier: 0:12

And we had just started our Tiktok account as ASOTU and for some reason, I logged into it. And the first thing that I saw when I logged in with some how they got the hashtag, right, was a TikTok from ActivEngage of like showing all of the types of Digital Dealer, people that would be walking in and it was probably I wish they would have had millions of followers at that point, because it was one of the most dialed in bought impressions of how people engage in automotive conferences.

Paul Daly: 0:51

I love those I love those videos where they talk about where they give all the stereotypes like dude, perfect does that a lot? Right? They'll do like the plane guest the dad you know, the it's so much fun. And so the fact I saw that video, I think you probably are the one that showed it to me. And the fact that they were able to nail that just as you were logging into Tik Tok, just as you were at the same conference, they were at I mean, talk about a personality introduction to a company.

Michael Cirillo: 1:16

It takes a lot of courage to do stuff like that, like I don't think people realize, especially in like automotive, whereas there's kind of two buckets you are either the prepared notes. You know, I don't want to stereotype to white collar like prepared notes must be like, yes, and hello, call Kyle and Paul. How art. How are thou today? You know, like that old English and everything. Yeah. Yeah, right. For the other side, which is like we're not afraid to show personality, but also maybe run the risk of the industry at large. Not understanding I love that people stance and be like, yeah, yeah, no, we're fun. We're gonna show how fun we are. So I love I love hearing about stuff like that.

Paul Daly: 1:57

Yeah, Carol kind of embodies that she she is really this great blend of, you know, fun loving, playful spirit, with a really savvy understanding of what's going on. In her company, a sit when you look back through a history talk about someone who has like, came into automotive from outside automotive, and then had, you know, gone through the ranks, and then has come back and stayed in automotive as someone with vast experience vast understanding, a very technical understanding to so I mean, I guess it makes sense that their TikTok account is captures kind of the that those two sides of the personality. So we hope you enjoy this interview with Carol Marshall from ActivEngage. Carol, it is such a pleasure to be with you today. Thanks for giving us some of your times here on Auto Collabs.

Carol Marshall: 2:51

Absolutely. I'm excited. Thank you guys.

Paul Daly: 2:54

Oh, man, it's so much fun. Actually, your company is so much fun. Your TikTok account is so much fun. Is that because you're so much fun?

Carol Marshall: 3:03

I'm the queen of fun. I don't I don't know how to explain that. No, I appreciate that. That the whole TikTok thing started by accident. And it was because I was making fun. And

Paul Daly: 3:18

wait, did you start the TikTok account?

Carol Marshall: 3:21

No, I, I just, you know, was admiring the way someone was walking through Digital Dealer. And trying you know, the highest form of I have

Paul Daly: 3:32

a feeling the word admiring the way you use it in that sentence isn't exactly the dictionary definition.

Carol Marshall: 3:40

So the team was like, What are you doing? I'm like, couldn't you see like, so then of course, they took that idea and they ran with it. And

Paul Daly: 3:48

is that is that the video I've seen where it was like the different types of people you'll see a Digital Dealer. Fantastic. Look, we'll have to link it up in the show notes. Because if you haven't seen that, when I first saw that I was like somebody understands this world. Yeah, so one of the things one of the things that I love about your background specifically is that you kind of have gone from inside management of automotive dealers, then in a real estate than backing automotive. And now you're like taking a different angle on automotive. So can you answer like, when did you first get into automotive? Because I couldn't track that, you know, from just reading like LinkedIn and stuff, but like what was your first experience in the auto industry?

Carol Marshall: 4:29

My first experience in the auto industry was working the front office for my stepdad who was a dealer turned wholesaler, and then going to the auction and when I was in college, he would buy the beer in the hotel room for me and my friends drive the cars and then drive the different cars home the next day.

Paul Daly: 4:53

I got a bunch of words together in the sentence right there but normally the beer to dry If the cars you're meeting, he bought the beer

Carol Marshall: 5:03

that night, so we would drive the cars there spend the night, then the next day we would drive home. Okay.

Paul Daly: 5:11

Okay, so to clarify that, yeah, every graduate it is a car business and

Kyle Mountsier: 5:17

the wholesale side like 90.

Carol Marshall: 5:22

So officially, that was the first experience. But um, after that, because I went to college, I was working with Sears as a national trainer. And then I found myself at home with my first child, I went to a job fair to get information from my neighbor, who wanted to work for a large real retailer. And the only way I could talk to someone was fill out an application. And then I was hired a few, a few weeks later. So we were, I was at home with one child, and they said, hey, we'll pay you this. And I said, What day do I start? And so

Paul Daly: 6:04

what was that? What was that role that you stepped into? I was

Carol Marshall: 6:07

it was a GSM. And in a used car store, so.

Kyle Mountsier: 6:12

So you entered you entered at the GSM? Level? Because of your your retail experience? At that point?

Carol Marshall: 6:19

Yes. Because I had been a district manager with Sears for floor coverings for window coverings in the DC area, we decorated the vice presidential house like I negotiating skills and negotiated all the contracts with the installers. So there are many reasons and they were trying to introduce non automotive blood, I probably did not share the auction story at that point with them. We'll talk about that. Yeah. And that was a, that was such a wonderful experience with Auto Nation and starting with a store and then E commerce district manager, and then Field Operations Manager out of Fort Lauderdale. And, wow, I learned so much with Mike Rooney, I mean, to be in the room. And I remember him telling us like, imagine the kids game with some liquid in the spoon. He goes, I don't care if you have one drop left in the spoon, you get there first. So that's, that's what we did. And what an impressive team we had, you know, at that point in time, so okay,

Kyle Mountsier: 7:25

I don't want to skip over the fact because I think it's really important to kind of hear your experience. I didn't know this, this is some time ago. But the the reality that as an industry, typically we do not hire, really anybody at the dealership level that has the title manager or director into automotive from outside industries, there's kind of this, like, have to cut your teeth mentality. And I'd love for you to kind of talk through maybe just a little bit like how you experienced that learning curve at that point. And how maybe you see it as more of a possibility potentially, for more people to take your path and for our industry to recognize that there are transferable skills from outside our industry at the management level.

Carol Marshall: 8:12

Absolutely. So when I came in at that level, the general manager came from the rental car industry. And he did pretty well today. He's COO of Echo Park for Sonic. So it was Tim Keen, who I was working for. And I would take one day off in the month to say it was easy would be a lie. It was bell to bell every day, one day off in the month I come in the next day, he would be waiting, how many ups write ups. I mean, it was driven into your head that you knew what was going on in your business. The transferable skills is what I touched on, you know, I had experience sitting across the table negotiating with people I had, obviously the customer service experience, I mean Sears 20 30 years ago was was all about the the customer experience. So and then it was I was really surrounded. That team was very, very special. Again, it was in the early days. We want it there were many other non automotive people on our staff, with just a two or three in there. So, you know, you you We had Reynolds and Reynolds we learned the system, we learned f&i And we just continue to get better at it and a sense of humor is key. To go back to the fun part, like you have to have a sense of humor and and when you miss it, you just miss it and you own it and you get better. So

Paul Daly: 9:45

So you said sense of humor is key. Was that a part of the culture in your time at

Carol Marshall: 9:51

AutoNation? I'm in pockets of my time. Yeah, I mean, there's certain lead times I remember a weekend we used car manager and I were having a passionate conversation with the GM and he's like you just completely missed the boat. You missed the boat. You missed the boat and the used car managers like, boss. I think we were like paddling right next to the boat. Really? We were like right there next to the boat. Find ways to break the ice levity to this. Yeah, a little bit. Yeah.

Kyle Mountsier: 10:26

So. So for the last, what, 13 14 years right now you've been with ActivEngage, which ActivEngage was an extremely early provider in the chat environment, in automotive? And so were you were you on kind of the ground floor with the organization or because I don't really know the history behind active engage? And how, how bringing chat to the automotive industry? Because it was one of just like a couple of providers initially that that was bringing this this new idea?

Carol Marshall: 10:58

Yeah. Yeah, I was employee number seven. And so there were the two owners at the time were two of the seven. We did not have an office, I had known them, you know, through the industry for years and years. I hadn't seen them in a while. And I actually went to a Digital Dealer, and they would do this, and then they go talk to me. And they did so they were chatting while they were in the booth. And we kind of reconnected then. So when I had the opportunity to come on board. I mean, it was a complete dream, because I remember being in the dealership, and AutoNation dealership and being told, Oh, you had 11 people on your virtual showroom yesterday morning. That's awesome. And I'm like, Yeah, well, who were they? What did they look like? You know, what, what were they looking at? What did they want to know? Are they looking to buy this weekend, and you don't know any of that, you know, none of that. So when they came to me, and I was presented the opportunity, wow, I knew from being inside the dealership, what information I would want to know, to continue that relationship and sell something. And so that's the way I've structured the conversation. And we have an acronym for our the way that we have our conversation flow, and have fun, h is the last one. Because it should be fun. It's it's the most expensive emotional purchase someone's going to make. So you have to establish trust, and a relationship and help them. This is the most exciting part of the journey, right? Imagining which vehicle you're gonna get by, by all means, and then flip it over to the service side. You know, one of the things that we're very careful about is we never asked, When do you want to bring it in? Because I don't want you to have in your mind that Tuesday at 10 is when you want to bring it in for that time not to be available. So, you know, instead let me get

Kyle Mountsier: 13:02

us hanging out because you told us about an acronym. Right? Right and got to know the acronym because I feel like that's really crucial to to the way that maybe you manage conversations and the way that like maybe it's an industry we need to approach conversations. Because if I'm thinking that the word ends with H in it, and it's like have fun is kind of the the crux of the thing. I'm guessing there's some other good stuff for us as an industry.

Carol Marshall: 13:28

There's other good letters in that word. The first letter would be L for listen. And the second is a for acknowledge because think about when you go through a drive thru you say go on with this. I want a chocolate milkshake and no one repeats that back to you. Do you pull forward? Right? No, you do not. Yeah. Oh,

Kyle Mountsier: 13:53

stand after that. Hmm. Would you understand?

Carol Marshall: 13:57

If yes, you should understand a cup because again, you really do need to clarify and look this is what gets to the heart of what separates us is we have to have humans because a word can have multiple meanings. Oh yeah. Especially in English. How? Yes. And people hijack words that don't even I have a 15 year old son that I just keep going on. Yeah. He'll say bad and I'll go

Paul Daly: 14:28

fight what I don't

Carol Marshall: 14:31

mean to agree agrees. Just last night

Kyle Mountsier: 14:33

at the dinner table. We had a whole conversation about HSAs it was the greatest thing ever set out. Yeah, yeah.

Paul Daly: 14:42

Oh, somebody my my 13 year old daughter just told me a word they're using. And it means that like someone is like eliciting sympathy from you like saying, Oh, you guys probably don't want me anyway. I'm not any good. And she said another English word. That is it doesn't mean that but that's what it means. Yeah.

Carol Marshall: 15:00

Yeah, yes, that's exactly right. Yeah,

Paul Daly: 15:03

so what so we have L A us understand what's the G? Is it laughs I'm assuming the words lack of give, I'm calling it you have guide guide

Kyle Mountsier: 15:14

guide, because for those out there that aren't good spellers, we L A, U, G, H, and we end in have fun.

Carol Marshall: 15:24

We laugh the whole we laugh the way through the conversation, we, we explained that we're the hostess. And I mean, I love food very much. So this is probably why the analogy came

Paul Daly: 15:36

back to food analogies.

Carol Marshall: 15:38

We are the ones to put that shopper exactly where they're going to be comfortable. But we can't take their order. We can't serve the food that is far dealer partner to do. But we're putting them exactly by the window away from the fan, whatever it is. We're gonna put them right there with just such care. Yeah, I mean, that's, that's why we kill it. Look, my mom. My mom always said if it's, if you're not having fun, it's not worth doing. And it's interesting that day, I went to the digital dealer conference and reconnected with Ted. On that day. My mom was in hospice in Jacksonville. And the last word she told me was Go work, go work. She had brain cancer. And so I said, Okay, I'm gonna go, I'm gonna come back. And I came back and and that was it. So she sent me to work. And I reconnected that day with Ted and ActivEngage. And so that's, this is my family. That's, I am such a competitive person. It's, I'm working on it. But

Kyle Mountsier: 16:53

you don't want to catch me.

Paul Daly: 16:56

Man. That's a good but yeah, you're working on regulating it is what you're saying? Yes,

Carol Marshall: 17:02

yes. Yes. i It's, it's a part of my family, you know, everyone that's here, the product, we put out our dealers, because I've been there. I did spend some time with the manufacturer. And I watched how those district reps just beat the crap out of their dealers to sell whatever model we had coming in, you know, and so remember those days, all that in mind,

Paul Daly: 17:26

over those days? Yeah, we have all these cars, we need to force and dealers to take them,

Carol Marshall: 17:31

right? You want this you're gonna sell 20 of those.

Kyle Mountsier: 17:36

Time. This this is, you know, what, the one of the things that I love about this podcast, and I think that our industry, and even just like culture in general just needs a humanizing, you know, approach to the businesses and the people that are involved in them, you know, I think about like, you know, like, the, the, the kind of like, Eat Local idea, right? And it's like, Yes, eat local, but also, everybody that's interacting with you from any company is quote, unquote, local, so to hear you and the stories that you tell about being at AutoNation coming from, you know, Sears, and then this acronym, that's core and central to every conversation that you encourage your people in your chat, your humans that chat, is like, there's nobody that can get aligned with that. And whether they learn that on their own or connect with ActivEngage. Like that is that's it? That's, I'm taking that I'm going, I'm gonna laugh in every conversation, right? So I need to listen, I need to acknowledge what Okay, yep, I understand you. I'm going to repeat that back and then I'm going to guide you I'm going to sit you you know, and the window seat away from the fan with the good view and all how we're just going to have fun while do if if everybody can't take that into every conversation that they have in the show room on the internet. And with a lead. It doesn't matter like that's a that's unbelievable.

Carol Marshall: 19:01

It's difficult for those in the store that are paid based on a commission they've got they're trying to get to the sell right? They're trying to close a deal. We're just trying to close an appointment and allow them to do what they do. And then when you think about we are our conversations are unscripted so we take people who are not from the automotive field and we train them in different makes models considerations. Shout out to Kevin Frye I'm using this video on the EV tax credit, thank you. And we teach them this flow. And then we have a team of quality professionals a team of training. In addition to our operation supervisors, it's constantly watching it constantly tweaking it, so yeah, it's a good skeleton, but you got to have everything to support it.

Paul Daly: 19:50

So you're fully unscripted. Yes. Wow. Wow. That's nuts. Yeah, that

Kyle Mountsier: 19:56

is for those that have never run any level of BDC, right? That is a that's a bold ask to have people unscripted.

Paul Daly: 20:05

Well, it means that you trust your training. Yeah. Right. You're very competent in your training, because the script is, in a lot of ways, a crutch, where you're like, hey, yeah, we don't have time to train just read this enthusiasm people.

Carol Marshall: 20:18

Yeah, for the agent themselves. They're like, I want to make sure I'm checking the right box. And so you also have to have a culture that supportive of you really dropped it there that that was not good. But let's let's readdress that you have to have a culture where people are confident and able to go out on a limb.

Paul Daly: 20:37

Yeah, unable to be corrected in the spirit of kind of like humility, and like, hey, just this this desire to everyone get better together. It's funny, it reminds me and since you'd like food illustrations, I'll give you one. Did you know that at Five Guys, they don't have any French fry timers. Now, you'll never hear a french fry timer go off because they wanted to create an environment that didn't have that like they felt that that got in the way of of their thing. And so that meant they had to train their people to know by look when the fries were done. Right. So there's no backstop there. Trust and if I'm sure some fries have been burned, right? Yeah, it's a very similar scenario.

Carol Marshall: 21:16

But there's some good fries though

Paul Daly: 21:18

saying, because there's no timer. Yeah. Fries.

Carol Marshall: 21:26

Well, we have a VIP lounge. I hope

Paul Daly: 21:30

so. We can, we can we could probably make that happen, but they're not going to be Five Guys fries. But right below the VIP lounge. There's a Geno's Steaks and a Chickies and Pete's that both have fries. So I'm sure we can get some up to

Kyle Mountsier: 21:42

flights and better we can make some french fries happen. You know, one of the things that I'm interested in, especially as you know, dealers are still it's funny, because you talk about, you know, at auto nation you is like 11 visitors to your digital showroom. And we're still, obviously we've done a lot more digital. And we've moved to understanding website and interaction and customer journeys and all that. But there's still I feel like there's still a gap to get there in automotive. And so as a as a company that lives in this chat world and customer communication in digital spaces, what are you seeing that are like maybe shifts or changes that we as an industry need to make, or things that that are on the horizon for you all that you're trying to figure out how to more clear up customer communications or the way that we engage with customer journeys online right now.

Carol Marshall: 22:32

So there's a couple of things, you know, some dealers don't want us to be conversational, they're more like, just get the name and number, we'll handle it. And so we go through a little ABX testing with them and try to get them to understand, okay, you still may get the name and email address, but you're not going to get someone to pick up the phone, you're not going to have that person's not invested in you. You know, our conversations typically are 10 to 12 minutes. So they've invested already 10 to 12 minutes with your dealership. So when your team follows up, they're like, oh, yeah, I talked to sue blah, blah, blah, this get a message, I don't need a full conversation. I don't need to build a relationship. I mean, how quick can someone click over to another site, that still, it's crazy. But still, today, you have a little bit of that. With digital retailing coming up, you got to understand the importance of having a human guide you through that. I mean, even if you go to the grocery store, Home Depot, Walmart, and you go through the self checkout, who's standing there, someone from the store? Just to help you do this? How much more difficult is a digital retailing tool? How many more questions are they gonna have? And so we're integrated, we have fantastic partners that we're integrated with and and we study what questions we get and what are those trends? And are they changing and we can provide that feedback. We can provide feedback to the dealer if they want to do something different on their specials page. Sometimes people click into digital retailing just looking for the special interest rate, you know, and and maybe there's something you can do to call that out on your specials page or we can just use that to move them down the funnel so that way, you're going to close the gap between the small percentage of people who today are ready to do Dr. And where we want to get to and that human assistance is how you close that

Kyle Mountsier: 24:39

outside of inventory availability right now, which I think is the prevailing question of the customer and they access access to to get the car. What are you seeing any trends and like the prevailing questions that customers are continuing to bring up across the across the board?

Carol Marshall: 24:57

price and availability has always been The big two and your right availability today is like, is it there? Can I drive it? And so yeah, you gotta have your team familiar to look does it say in transit, because that's important. But we were chatting in 2008 2009. And so the team, were prepared from a training and management perspective at the right time, to then roll out training to teach how to handle those types of conversations, you know, 2008 2009, it was, my car broke down, I needed to get to work. My credit is 550. You know, can anyone help me? So you do you and then after that, when the economy recovered, it was all about features. So what is blind spot monitoring? What is Honda Sensing, you had to know all of these features? So yeah, today is still availability. But, you know, I'm certainly

Kyle Mountsier: 26:01

turn to like an economic question, right? access to funds or something like that. I love that that's a leading indicator, because also, there's there's something that that I think dealers can do to kind of like preemptively strike that potentially with content that they're putting out or content that they're that they're building right now in their content ecosystem, whether it be landing pages or video, to kind of talk through that conversation so that maybe when they land on the page, and they have further questions, that they've already been given access to the knowledge that this dealership is ready and willing to help them with those questions. And I think, you know, your team being prepared for that is really key. Well, Carol, we've had just a lot of fun are this just a bunch of laughs We cannot wait to see you and your team at ASOTU CON, because we know there'll be more laughs encouraging anybody that's listening to follow active engage on social because they do have a lot of fun. And it speaks to the company culture that that you've helped build over over the time over your time as the seventh employee. And thanks for joining us on Auto Collabs.

Carol Marshall: 27:02

It was my pleasure. Thank you guys so much. I can't wait to see you.

Michael Cirillo: 27:11

I'm always amazed at the variety of ways people come into the car biz,

Paul Daly: 27:16

what are you holding in your hand right now?

Michael Cirillo: 27:19

This is my little extension so I can reach the record. But

Paul Daly: 27:25

I'm always it actually looks like some sort of boys amaze. Wow. It's a Canadian tripod. I'm sorry, I can't help it. Because you're just waving, waving it around. I'm good. Take it. Yeah,

Michael Cirillo: 27:37

I'm getting old. I gotta have something in my hand to wave around. It's clip. Eastwood. But like I love I love the fact that like, most of the time, when we hear a story, it's like, well, you know, I kind of stumbled into it and fell into it. She's like, she needs a shirt. That's like, I came in as a GSM. Like, biatch? Yeah.

Paul Daly: 28:02

That's what was going through my head. That's like you

Kyle Mountsier: 28:05

No, it's impressive to me. And I think said it? that that's something that we can even learn as an industry till still the day that hey, look, there are people that are valued with for the management of expertise, their ability to negotiate their ability to lead teams outside of the industry, and hey, they might be a valuable part of our management structure, both on the industry partner and the dealer side. And we should look at that more as an opportunity. Because I think actually, what's really cool about that is if we looked at the rest of culture and the rest of business as, as that way headed into auto, then people inside of auto might actually be looked at with more skills and expertise from from those outside of auto and you might see a more transient business culture and people being able to pass between. And I think that that would, that would lend itself to some of the things that Carol has been able to bring to the the ActivEngage company and her leadership and the culture that we talked about in the intro, but as well as things like that acronym that she leaned into, and being able to learn how to get how to communicate how to engage with customers, and with dealers and, and all of that, like, that's going to be something that as an industry, if we can bridge that gap, if we can be the leaders in bridging that gap. It's actually going to be better for both for all verticals.

Paul Daly: 29:24

So, look, if you haven't, I don't know what the handle is, it's got to be at ActivEngage on on TikTok. It's got to be like no one else has ActivEngage. Michael Cirillo fact checked in us on that, but if you haven't, you need to after hearing Carol, you gotta go check out the TikTok account because it'll really give you an understanding of the personality the industry, so much fun. Can't wait. They're there. They're rocking the VIP lounge at ASOTU CON so I'm sure that's going to be a wild blast. I hope they let us go up and have some fun with them as well. Thank you so much. On behalf of Michael Cirillo, Kyle Mountsier myself. Thanks for listening to Auto Collabs

Unknown: 29:58

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