From 1997 ‘Til Now with Doug Miller

September 1, 2022
A digital retail perspective. Doug Miller has helped some significant brands make big digital transitions. Ever heard of Ticketmaster? Doug was there when they sold their first ticket online. What about Expedia? They started by faxing orders to hotels. So when it comes to the automotive industry, an industry that Doug started in, he’s confident about the digital/physical hybrid future. He’s the President and Chief Commercial Officer of CARS.com, and we are grateful to be able to spend time with him on Auto Collabs.
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What we talk about in this episode:
0:00
Intro with Michael Cirillo, Paul J Daly and Kyle Mountsier.

4:29 Doug was part of the team that originally helped launch CARS.com in 1997. Somehow, the official history starts in 1998, but Doug was there with Alex Vetter when it all began.

11:20 CARS.com has done the legwork of building a marketing platform that puts advertisers in front of customers looking to buy vehicles. Plus, they’ve analyzed the flow and experience of a dealership and built digital tools that can be tailored to individual dealers. Doug is somewhat baffled why more dealers don’t learn from how CARS has operated or take advantage of their tools.

16:41 Doug values connection over credit. He says we spend too much time worrying about attribution and not enough time making all of the tools work together, for both the dealers’ and consumers’ benefit.

21:35 Expedia started by taking orders and then faxing them to the hotel. Ticketmaster used to be 100% in person at a box office. Both of them connected into the digital space over time. Doug thinks that the automotive industry is going to work a little differently.

“I think that the digital transformation of automotive is still going on. But for all the right reasons, right?. The the dealership experience for the consumer matched together with digital is the future is that hybrid of being able to do things digitally, then move locally and actually physically be with this car, get the service that you want on that car, test drive that car, have that relationship with your local dealer, but also then be able to move seamlessly back digital that that's the platform that CARS is investing in to help dealers to get to and and and that it's also I think why Automotive is going to take a little longer because it is by definition more hybrid.”

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Paul Daly: 0:00Well, today we get to talk to CARS newly named president.Unknown: 0:10

This is Auto Collabs.

Paul Daly: 0:12

And Chief Commercial Officer, I think we need to ask him, what that actually means is one of those like C suite roles that maybe could be a little confusing, but Doug Miller's got experience from all across retail, which is why I can't wait to have a conversation, because that is the experience that we're always trying to get into automotive, to say, broaden our perspective, show us what it's like in the rest of the world, and maybe help us feel a little bit better about where we are, you know,

Kyle Mountsier: 0:39

you know, sometimes you can get so much in the weeds in something, that you you forget that other people do something similar. I hear this all the time, it's like, you know, we're the only platform that bla bla bla bla bla, and I'm like, so there's these other guys?

Michael Cirillo: 0:53

Well, they, you know, to break,

Paul Daly: 0:55

I guess, the only platform that you know.

Kyle Mountsier: 0:57

And I think that that happens, and we're the only we're the only business that the people business, you know, and it's like, there's other people, businesses out there doing people business thing. And so I think that perspective that we get from people that have been both, I love the perspective because he looked at his LinkedIn, it's like, you go, you go from Cars.com, to outside of the industry to back inside of the industry. And I think that that mode of perspective, because a lot of people are in the industry stay in the industry. And so we forget to kind of keep our eyes up on what's going on. And so I'm gonna, I think I'm gonna appreciate this perspective a little bit.

Michael Cirillo: 1:36

I couldn't agree more, I love that you brought up LinkedIn, because I feel like I'm the one that's bringing up LinkedIn a lot. And like I was just under a LinkedIn profile, but there's kind of two sides to the car business. There's those of us who say, and kind of tongue in cheek, say, we fell into this business. And then there's guys, when you're going through, like you said, you look at his LinkedIn history. And it's like, General Manager, Senior Director, Global Vice President, Chief Revenue Officer, Chief Executive Officer, you're like, like, you can see this man climbing to the top floor of corporate America. And he looks at it as automotive was the natural progression in my career chain. There's problems there that I want to solve, which I certainly hope we can get into some of that, I mean, just such a unique perspective, we hope you enjoy this conversation with Doug Miller, President of CARS.com.

Paul Daly: 2:33

Doug, thank you so much for joining us today. Um, it's been a long time since we have have had a chance to have a conversation. And all of us have never been in the same room or virtual room together. So thanks for carving out some time for us today.

Doug Miller: 2:45

It's, it's great to be here, Paul. And like I said, I'm humbled to be here with you guys. It's just going to be a lot of fun. We agree.

Kyle Mountsier: 2:54

And we're looking forward to promise that

Paul Daly: 2:56

that's the one thing we can say. You may not learn a dang thing. But hopefully you'll probably laugh.

Doug Miller: 3:03

And the hat collection, I am going to work on my hat collection for next time. So we'll bring it a little stronger than just the crack. And

Paul Daly: 3:10

we'll send you a few. We'll send you a few here. Which one? Yeah. So first of all, we haven't started an episode talking about someone's title, but you're President and Chief Commercial Officer at CARS. Explain to us what a Chief Commercial Officer is?

Doug Miller: 3:26

Yeah, well, I think about the whole business, right? Think about everything that we're doing the two sides of the marketplace, on the car side, all of the solutions that we're bringing, there are a whole lot of dimensions to what we're doing and building the CARS, platform across media marketing, reputation solutions, and and in the marketplace. So when I think about all those things, I think about our consumers, and I think about how we're going to match them up with with dealers and OEMs out there. And lucky enough, I work with some really great people who make that all happen.

Paul Daly: 3:59

So okay, so you have experience outside of automotive, which we think is a very valuable thing. But can you talk to tell us about maybe some of that experience, but also we're very curious. When did you first like, slide your way into the automotive space at all right, like, I don't know if there was experienced before cars or not. If we'd like to know when people first woke up and realized like, oh, I guess I'm in the automotive industry now.

Doug Miller: 4:26

In the automotive space. Yeah. My story is pretty good. There. I was there. I have street cred original founder street cred with CARS.com. I was there in 1997. With Alex, getting it off the ground going into the original affiliates when it was an affiliate model going through newspapers, we were building that business. In partnership, the class of adventures, the CARS.com brand it was it was these days, I give him a hard time because these days we don't even count 1997 as part of the history everything In the history says that it started in 1998 intentional effort

Paul Daly: 5:03

to cut you out,

Doug Miller: 5:04

I don't know, again, I feel like they're

Kyle Mountsier: 5:04

That's awesome. You know, actually, I want to leaving me. But I was there really early very early and then went off and was in the entertainment space at key in on this thing that you've said a couple of times. Now, Ticketmaster and with the travel space with Expedia and did some other things in the in local with City Search and, and with Living Social and just had been in two sided marketplaces a lot it's two sided marketplace, two sided marketplace. And I don't of my career and wanted to come back to get into automotive, and it is a great space, there are very few spaces like this where think that's something that we talk a lot about in the I've spent a lot of time, as I said, at the intersection of local and E commerce and, and, and digital. And here, these incredibly savvy, local, entrepreneurial, community oriented, just drivers of the local economy, and I get to work with them. And I like that a lot. So I'm excited to be back. They're back in the automotive space. But it started in 1997. industry. You know, the I'll say this, as an industry, there's been a lot of push over the last five years against this, like, what what in our industry we call third party vendor? Right? Yeah, it's like, Oh, nobody wants to do that go direct to where the inventory is, you know, the or direct to consumer from an agency, we don't need other places to put and what I think that sometimes we don't recognize and what you just highlighted, is that as consumers, even just if we consider ourselves a consumer or customer, we deal in two sided marketplaces quite often. And actually, there are probably way more two sided marketplaces outside of auto than there even are inside of auto. So I'd like to kind of hear your perspective on like, the, not just the inside of auto two sided marketplace, and maybe, like, explain what you mean by that a little bit. But also, like, the more global the more our national, like attachment or responsibility of a two sided marketplace in our economy.

Doug Miller: 7:18

Yeah, I mean, I maybe the easiest way to get there because we are all so steeped in being in automotive right now. And all the lingo that's in it, is to jump over to something like the travel space. When I was when I was with Expedia for seven years, we, we we were matching consumers who are trying to discover where they wanted to go, travel, and we all do it. And in sometimes that starts with like, Oh, I love Hyatt, and I'm gonna go to the Hyatt website, and I'm, and that's fine. And sometimes it just starts with I need to go figure out what destination I want to go to, or whether I want a beach holiday or a city break or, and and marketplaces play that role. They there 75% of the consumers who show up at CARS.com don't know what car make model, they might have some vague idea, I want an SUV, but they they they don't come in really knowing make and model when they arrive and we help them to discover what's possible in used and in new and and we've now helped them to sell their car and find out what their their car's worth. So there is so many possibilities when you come into that space and then match them up. I think most importantly for us it is it is about connecting them with the experts locally the people that can help them to to get that car to sell that car.

Michael Cirillo: 8:43

This is something, Doug, I think is really interesting because you know, especially as we go around the industry, there's a lot of talk about the funnel, the marketing funnel, the funnel that the consumer moves through. I like the way that you articulated this and drawing that similarity acknowledging that No, even in a 2022 world and beyond with all of the absolutes. People are still conducting research in a certain way. And you have the data points to validate that,

Doug Miller: 9:11

especially in a 2022 worlds as new models are coming in EVs are becoming irrelevant the amount of consumer education that we're all going to have to get out there whether it is the OEM or the dealer or the marketplaces and everyone in the industry, the amount of education that we're going to have to get out there to help people to come up the learning curve on EVs is massive. We were just sitting with one of the leading OEMs the other day, and they were describing to us how they have people driving off the lot and then they have no idea where a charging station is and they run they run out of juice and they're getting towed. Like there's a massive amount of education that has to go on and at every level. On every player and we think we play a really critical role in helping with all of our content, or, you know, we really invest a lot in content, put out a great guide for the EV curious and have had a lot of engagement, both from the consumer side as well as from the, from the dealer community on that. And we're going to continue to invest there to help to educate the consumer on EVs and bring them through and in recent months and quarters with gas prices being with AR, we've seen a lot of engagement with that content.

Kyle Mountsier: 10:32

What can dealers learn? Particularly, you know, because I think that there's obviously a place for consumers to get education and, and trade behaviors, both at the third party or retail marketplace level, as well as the dealer level, what can dealerships maybe learn about their own efforts for education, or shopping behaviors from watching a company like CARS.com, that has all the resources and all the data points? And all of all of that, that you're looking at? What, how can how can dealers kind of navigate the waters of this education by learning from a company like CARS.com? To balance the pathways for a dealer?

Doug Miller: 11:20

Yeah, you know, one of the things that I think I am both really pleased with Kyle and kind of pissed off about or I don't understand is why why they don't actually look at the ridiculous amount of investment that we make and and then learn from it or model off of it or understand that they can almost arbitrage it, right? Because we when we go and we say, Look, we have already invested in bringing all the consumers who are in market, real people in market, ready to buy a car, and we have a marketing solution like fuel and market video where they can go ahead and make sure that when their first dollar that they spend on marketing is in front of a consumer is actually in my mind right now. Ready to buy a car, they still go off and buy some model audience somewhere or they they they spend dollar one on some the 99% of consumers who are not in market for a car and it it makes me bonkers, but it is something that I think dealers can learn that we know the platform is available for them in that way. The other the other thing that I think with the look at the Dealer Inspire side of the business and the work that we've done in in really thinking through scientifically, like what is the best flow and experience that we can create for a dealership, but also then make it personal, highly personalized and customized for that particular dealer. You know, lots to learn on on all sides. We're running 5600, I think nearly 6000 dealer websites at this point and this massive consumer marketplace with 25 million uniques leader in the space now in unique visitors each month. And we're really proud of that. And there's there's a lot, a lot of innovation that goes on there. And a lot of dealers can take from that.

Paul Daly: 13:24

You know what we just said about you know it, and it should it should piss you off. Right? It should you know, the inside and you know, the value that you're working hard to bring in the fact that you're that passionate about your product, I think is amazing. And May everyone else have such a passion for their product product as well.

Doug Miller: 13:42

What do you think... It's making me go gray? Paul,

Paul Daly: 13:44

it's okay. It's okay. We'll blame it. What? There's definitely something under the surface, right, that leads people because you have the data, right? You have the proof. You have the unique audience, you're doing the work on the back end to actually create organic content that drives the traffic organically, right? You're doing all these things that any marketer inside or outside any content creator inside or outside automotive, even like it'll validate across all outside automotive platforms saying like, well, that's actually how you build valuable traffic to your site. You do all those things, right there best practices outside automotive, there must be some level of kind of distrust that's built up in the dealer mindset. That is no, because you know, when people hand you something free, right? You're always like, No, I don't want that. No, it's free. Yeah, sure. Right. No, no, it really isn't really. Right. It just something about it. This distrust that comes up with that. Where do you think the root of that is? Like, I'm just curious on your thoughts of that because it's there, right. And that's the reason that people aren't leaning in.

Doug Miller: 14:56

Yeah. We're lucky that we work with So many 1000s of partners that do Lean In, right, I would say that first like, we have some great partners that do Lean in and cross the whether loss of reputation guide, the Dealer Inspire side the CARS marketplace that they're leaning into the entire platform, and they're really powering their business off of it, which is great to see. You know, I, I wish that I knew the answer to your question I like I think we endeavor every day, we work really hard every day with hundreds of people are on the street, working in the local communities side by side with those dealers and trying to help them to understand that we're, you know, we're their partner to help future proof their business. And, you know, I'd like to break through with with some that we haven't yet, but I think we're lucky that we've got a lot of partners that do Lean in. And, and sometimes it's going to take that right, like you guys know this well, it's that they listen to one another. And so we we work really hard on on making it work for those partners and from that our reputation will will build and grow. But like to see more commitment. The The other thing that will make makes me all bonkers, and it's hard to understand is it's so efficient. It is so efficient. The connections that are created through the marketplace. Now we're with with Credit IQ is an example we're introducing right now, right now we're introducing this instant finance capability on VDPs. And this is also something that is a page taken and learn from another world right at Expedia. We never sat around and wasted time talking about attribution. If you were at Expedia, we put heads and beds, we put butts in seats, the airlines understood exactly how many tickets we booked or how many hotel rooms the hoteliers understood that we would debate and go tooth and nail on what are the commercial terms there. But we wouldn't, we wouldn't debate attribution. It makes me nuts that we spend so much time in this space, so much time in this industry, debating attribution and trying to figure out and the sort of games that are going on of you know, who should get the credit. And so when we introduce a program like Instant Finance, which is built on the Credit IQ platform, which is a recent acquisition, it allows us to connect a consumer directly into one of the dealer's loan products right off the VDP on CARS.com, or right off the VDP on the dealer's website, it just connects them right into one of the dealer's loan products, and then you just get out of that debate. Like we created this loan together, that there isn't a debate about where that originated. And and I'm looking forward to more and more of that type of future where we just wait stop wasting time on questions of attribution

Kyle Mountsier: 18:02

is the reason why the questions of attribution weren't there was because things weren't connected enough to appropriately attribute is that what you're saying? Or not?

Doug Miller: 18:14

We're not Yeah, like, you know, gosh, the like they

Kyle Mountsier: 18:17

were with with Expedia. But there

Doug Miller: 18:20

is an E commerce model and the other is connection model. And I think that the CARS.com marketplace is increasingly moving toward helping the dealer with the sale of that car and getting getting getting consumers into a car and and that's where we want to help clear up that path attribution make sure that it's not fuzzy anymore. What kind of also helping consumer to sell a car right with our recent acquisition of Accutrade? I think that that's another place where it just won't be fuzzy. It's not it's there's there is very little question of how a consumer came through to say, Hey, I'd like to get a price on my car. And then they go through this great process, which is supported by the attitude appraisal tool, and the OBD scanner that that syncs with that software, and they get a penny perfect offer and then they're out the door. It really won't be a lot of attribution discussion. That's a totally

Paul Daly: 19:27

different layer of a to two sided marketplace. Yeah, right. Because now it's flowing in both ways. Yeah, I guess it'd be like if Expedia got into like, you know, Airbnb type. I don't know if they are not right. They are.

Doug Miller: 19:40

Yeah, yeah. Well, and I, I think it's it's an exciting moment. I will check back in with one another in a couple of years. I will be sitting here but I think it's quite possible that when our network of dealers and dealers partners are talking about the value they get from the CARS platform, more and more of them are going to be talking about their ability to acquire inventory, their ability to appraise cars, effectively, their ability to take cost out of the the process of appraising cars or buying a car, at a bad price, like to be able to check and make sure that there's not a hidden flaw in that in what's going on with the mechanical history of that car. They can see that in real time and make those decisions. So I do think in a few years time, we may be sitting here talking about the value of the platform has balanced into not only a discussion of helping them to sell cars, but also helping them to acquire and getting out of the auction. Michael, you had a question?

Michael Cirillo: 20:50

No, I think part of it was answered. So I know my role. I'm just gonna sit here and shut up not look good.

Kyle Mountsier: 20:59

I'm looking, not mighty DAPA doing it.

Michael Cirillo: 21:02

Shucks, now I'm blushing. I think about the early days, I'm really intrigued, listening to some of the parallels that you're drawing between an econ model like Expedia. And then of course, the model that we have the current ecosystem. Was there ever, and I don't know the history. But was there ever a moment in time where Expedia had to jump through hoops to try and connect all of the puzzle pieces similar to that? I think we're going through an automotive right now where nothing talks properly. And

Doug Miller: 21:35

it started with a fax machine, right, like like that, then like Expedia would take an order and fax it to the front of the hotel. Like there was no connection. There. It was all it was all

Paul Daly: 21:51

manual labor in between the two points.

Kyle Mountsier: 21:54

My mind I'm not Yeah.

Michael Cirillo: 21:57

Yeah. But it also kind of gives me hope for are

Kyle Mountsier: 22:01

starting to fax machines.

Michael Cirillo: 22:03

Yeah, we're not starting there.

Doug Miller: 22:05

But the like, and then slowly built into some, some computer connections, and then some even deeper ways of connecting into existing hotel systems. But everything just had to kind of grow up over time in order for that kind of activity to happen. But it did start with factoring even like the ticketing business, I'll give you that parallel to I was there when 100% of the business was not online. Like we, we were just bringing the business at Ticketmaster. Online, it was entirely a retail. Right? Remember when we all stood in line and print tickets, a box retail and it was phones. And the founder at Ticketmaster, the original founder of Ticketmaster is that like over my dead body, this business goes to that crazy internet thing. Barry Diller had the foresight to say, Okay, I'm going to take this thing, and we're going to move it to the internet. And within four years, we went from 0% of the inventory being sold online to 50% of it, and now it's damn near 100 That was in that period that we also invented the or created and launched the print at home ticket and some other things that really transformed the way we all consume that in that space now. But that innovation happened really fast and explosively. Here we, here we are 22 years later. And I think that digital transformation of automotive is still going on. But for all the right reasons, right? It Automotive is by its nature like that the camping out experience was bad for the consumer, and the printed home ticket is better. The the dealership experience for the consumer matched together with digital is the future is that hybrid of being able to do things digitally, then move locally and actually physically be with this car, get the service that you want on that car, test drive that car, have that relationship with your local dealer, but also then be able to move seamlessly back digital that that's the platform that CARS is investing in to help dealers to get to and and and that it's also I think why Automotive is going to take a little longer because it is by definition more hybrid than that ticketing experience.

Kyle Mountsier: 24:28

Yeah, for sure. Well, Doug, I we've just I feel like we've been across the map but connecting your experience to what CARS.com is working to do for the automotive industry has been really insightful for me. And I appreciate you coming on Auto Collabs. Thank you so much for joining us in a couple short weeks at ASOTU CON and being born today. That's going to be a ton of fun. So on behalf on behalf of myself, Paul and Michael, really appreciate you being on today.

Doug Miller: 24:59

Thank you all And I like I said I'm gonna work on my hat sporting some good hats for maybe maybe in two weeks time on that right

Michael Cirillo: 25:11

I got an idea guys. We should do this podcast over fax machine

Paul Daly: 25:18

that would take a long time

Kyle Mountsier: 25:21

as recorded on Walkmans. And then what? Man is our ship us a first sentence you shipped me the second speak

Paul Daly: 25:30

of 1997? Hey, I remember 1997 very distinctly as the year I graduated high school. Wow. You know, like, why

Michael Cirillo: 25:38

2k? Baby,

Paul Daly: 25:39

where are you? You know what the hit single was in 1997 Semi charmed life by Third Eye Blind.

Michael Cirillo: 25:48

I was gonna say Barbie Girl by Aqua that might?

Paul Daly: 25:52

Ah, oh, no, I don't know.

Kyle Mountsier: 25:57

Like, if you think about 1997, which he was telling us, obviously, it started with papers and affiliate marketing and classifieds, which was, which was what it was really was. But then CARS.com, right. 1998, which was when they kind of officially went into the online marketplace side of stuff like that. Super early adoptive, Oh, you don't even have a dealer. Like I would say 90% of dealers haven't even adopted some sort some form of website past, like maybe landing page. I mean, it's still early 2000s That, that dealers are getting into websites at this point. So, you know, for a company like that to continually be leading the charge on on adoption of newer technologies, you know, they acquired dealer inspire, which was definitely, especially in the mid teens, just the fourth, the front runner on innovative website technology, they acquire a Credit IQ that has already been powering some of the world's leading FinTech providers from a vehicle perspective, right. You know, they acquire act, you trade a very new and innovative approach to to trade cycle management. And so, you know, I appreciate that, like they haven't given up that initial entrepreneurial spirit in looking for innovative

Paul Daly: 27:20

ways. No, it seems like it is like it is charging forward like nobody's business. It seems like it's kind of got a little renewal resurgence. You know, he did tell a story. After our interview that was fantastic about his TicketMaster days, and I have to share it. They sold the very first ticket, like online through Ticketmaster, and all the executives are gathered in a room. So Ticketmaster, obviously massive, influential company in pop culture and commerce. guy buys a ticket to a merit to a Seattle Mariners baseball game, and they're all gathered around, the transaction comes through and they're like, We should call the guy. And so the all the executives, they call the guy, and literally he's like, the reason I bought it online is so I don't have to talk to her jerks, like you. And then he hung up. So unbelievable. I mean, look, I think it's a validation that the move that they made was for all the right reasons. And their

Michael Cirillo: 28:15

first review from that guy, the first review was from that guy via mic. I will never buy another ticket from Ticketmaster again, because I want to talk to anybody he promised

Kyle Mountsier: 28:25

and under delivered. Me. Oh, well, look, we look. We really hope that you enjoyed the conversation with Doug Miller as much as we did, and even our jokes and jabs afterwards in 1997 Top hits for myself. Kyle Mountsier, Paul J. Daly, Michael Cirillo, this has been Auto Collabs. We'll talk to you next time. Sign up for our free and fun to read daily email for free shot of relevant news and automotive, retail media and pop culture. You can get it now@asoto.com That's ASO T u.com If you love this podcast, please leave us a review and share it with a friend. Thanks again for listening. We'll see you next time.