In this episode…
It’s not a secret that all dealerships want to increase sales while lowering their cost per lead. As the car buying process continues to move into an online environment, dealerships need to consider the internal and external factors that affect their business. Houshyar Karimabadi, the Senior Director of Marketing and Business Intelligence at MileOne Autogroup, shares his insights in providing dealerships with data-driven solutions to adapt to the rapidly changing automotive industry.
Join Aharon Horwitz and Ilana Shabtay in this episode of the Inside Auto Podcast as they interview Houshyar Karimabadi from MileOne Autogroup. Houshyar talks about how he started working for one of the top auto groups, the use of adaptive analytics to increase quality leads, and what he predicts for the future of the automotive industry. After listening, check out the websites in the resources section below to learn more about Houshyar and his marketing expertise.
Welcome to Inside Auto Podcast where we feature everyone and anyone you’d want to talk to in and out of the automotive industry.
Ilana Shabtay 0:14
This is Ilana Shabtay here, co-host of the Inside Auto Podcast where we feature top leaders across and outside of the automotive industry. I also have here Aharon Horwitz, he’s co-host of Inside Auto Podcast as well. Our past guests and clients include pro-basketball, football and baseball stars that own and operate fleets of car dealerships and automotive influencers. Before I introduce today’s guest, Houshyar Karimabadi from MileOne Autogroup, this episode is brought to you by AutoLeadStar. The biggest question we get from car dealerships is how do I engage quality customers on the web and turn them into car buyers? We created a technology that answers this question for you. The software automates the entire marketing automation funnel and provides around the clock service for dealers.
Aharon Horwitz 1:09
Okay, thanks, Ilana and Houshyar, welcome. Welcome, welcome. We’re so excited to have you here. We’re gonna give you a little bio here and then I just want to ask you about how you got to where you are. I will talk about that in a minute. But for those who are listening, watching, Hoosh is the Senior Director of Marketing and Business Intelligence at MileOne, all of us have heard of MileOne, but for those who haven’t, for those who need a refresher, it’s a Top 150 Automotive Group. I think you have now like 80 dealerships 20 something brands right 27 brands 30 brands, yeah, yeah. 27 brands and Houshyar has extensive experience in developing and maintaining strategic partnerships with industry leading allies. He actually comes from outside of automotive so has quite a bit of just large enterprise experience in terms of analytics and I think strategic insight into business working extremely happy to have him and look forward to just learning a lot about how he sees things in the industry right now. And Ilana and I will be peppering him with questions. And then we’ll we’ll go over this flows. We’ll see how it goes here. So Houshyar just tell us a bit a little bit about how you got to where you are, I mean, you are sitting in the strategic analytics seat in marketing business intelligence at one of the premier us auto groups. What’s your journey? And how did you get there?
Houshyar Karimabadi 2:29
Yeah, it’s kind of a convoluted journey actually. Because, you know, my background or education started off as biochemistry and by my degrees actually in the information system, so in naturally I’m in marketing. So you know, it’s, it’s kind of a career by necessity almost that’s how it started. But basically, what happened is that originally I was invited in by into biochemistry and And things like that it’s kind of under pre med track, then some life happens and you kind of have to make choices. And I got into kind of starting my own business and it was kind of like a tutoring business. And then you get if you have your own business, you know, you have to advertise. So I got into and this is a long time ago, into design and graphic design and advertising and marketing, trying to promote my own business found out that I was actually pretty good at it. And so I started doing that for some other people, and, you know, kind of picked up from there. And then I finally realized that it’s just working for yourself. It’s kind of, it’s great, but it also has a lot of challenges. So, then I got into kind of a more formalized marketing roles. And then in one of my positions the reason I kind of got into the analytic side is in one of my positions in turn of online education, we actually developed a product that was kind of ahead of its time in terms of predictive analytics. But it was used for students who were taking the NCLEX, the nursing exam, to kind of prepare them but also, based on their responses, give them an idea of how well they were going to do on the exam, kind of predict what their score was going to be not just necessarily how well they did on that test. And, and also come up with a way to kind of remediate them, help them figure out based on their responses, kind of more of an adaptive test, to be able to help them figure out what to how to do better. And that’s how we got into you know, psycho working with psychometricians and kind of figure out okay, well, how does that play into all of this, that’s kind of where it started. And then as I approach progressed through my career and went through different companies, you know, the reliance on on data became more, more more of an important aspect of what we were doing. We started building our own proprietary marketing mix model, or media mix model as it was known in house to kind of determine, okay, how do we figure out the value of of different channels in terms of the leads or the sales that they drive? And then, finally, you know, so and I went across different industries, you know, from manufacturing, to online education, to finance to health and well being. And then finally, at MileOne, you know, came here to kind of head up their business intelligence capabilities.
Aharon Horwitz 5:55
And Houshyar tell us what pretty predictive analytics is, and is that an important concept anymore? with how things have advanced in the way business intelligence and analytics are done.
Houshyar Karimabadi 6:06
Sure, yeah. I think it’s, you know, I always liked the term like adaptive a little bit better than predictive, we try to stay away from from predictive just not so much because it doesn’t exist, but because things are changing so rapidly, right. So if you’re only a lot of the predictive analytics that people use, you know, it’s dependent on historical data. Well, as we know, especially as we saw with COVID, a lot of things happen too rapidly to reliably be able to kind of depend on data depending on how old it is. So you need to be able to adapt to it, use it still, but adapt to it fairly quickly. So you have to have different tools in place to perhaps emerge some of that predictive insights with more of real time occurrences. I think that’s, that’s really the best of both worlds type of thing where you you’re able to draw on some knowledge that you’ve gained through what’s happened in the past to be able to predict what typically happens, but also have the whether it’s the measurement tools or the execution tools in place to be able to adapt to things that happen kind of on the fly a little bit, and that are outside the norms of what you would expect.
Ilana Shabtay 7:30
Are any of the media mix models that you develop outside of automotive relevant to automotive today?
Houshyar Karimabadi 7:38
somewhat, I mean, the principles behind them are pretty much the same, right? You take historical data at different granularities. And depending on what business you’re in, what industry you’re in, and what you’re really actually tracking, whether it’s B2B or B2C. And then you know, you’re trying to basically understand the impact Packed of the order value that you’re getting from each of your channels that whether it’s TV, radio, search, display, email, whatever it may be third parties. But beyond that, you also want to see the impact that one channel has on the others, which is just as important, right? So it’s not none of this stuff, especially in today’s world, none of this stuff is really working in silo. It’s not like, okay, I just run TV. And that’s it. This is what I get from TV. No, it’s TV has an influence on search and vice versa. So the media mix model kind of allows you to see both sides of it. And then ultimately, you know, the attribution pieces, one piece of it. Yeah, you have to understand how much each of them each of those channels are incrementally driving. But also, if you just leave it at that it doesn’t help you anything. I just Okay, great. I know this. But really, the important part comes from optimism. Right. So you want to basically take that knowledge and then be able to optimize how you’re spending?
Aharon Horwitz 9:06
And Houshyar how much change, do you see, you know, over the course of a month or a quarter or any given period of time? You know, are you surprised by the variability or do things kind of hit some sort of steady state that you’re happy with? And you can’t necessarily find where to squeeze the rock?
Houshyar Karimabadi 9:23
Yeah, that’s, it’s really interesting, right? Because, you know, we’ve, we’ve been doing, I’ve been doing this for a long time, like, not just here, but in other businesses as well. And it really there, I don’t think there is a clear cut answer for that, right. There are times where things go the way we kind of assumed they would go. And then there are sometimes there there are really some interesting things like one of the things sometimes we find is, you know, and this goes back to my previous work as well, is that there are times where we find out that when there’s an individual message You know, sometimes that works a little bit better. And then there are times where the group messaging works better. And, you know, it really depends on the circumstances and the other channels or like, individual store versus the group versus the group. Yeah. And and sometimes certain media mixes work better for one versus the other. So, you know, those are some of the learnings that obviously you you can have with that, you know, accumulating a lot of data and analyzing them. So,
Aharon Horwitz 10:30
in, let’s say, for your role, like, what’s the, what’s the work product? And who is the customer meeting, when you think about what you’re trying to drive? Obviously, your outcomes are meaning the outcomes that you have are probably similar to the outcomes of many of the major auto groups, but what would you say is sort of the specific product that you’re creating in your role and who’s consuming that product? To what to what influence?
Houshyar Karimabadi 10:57
Yeah, so basically, what we are what we Do is, at the end of the day when you think about dealerships, and this is nothing proprietary. This is something that, you know, everybody wants to sell more. Right? So in terms of marketing and business intelligence, well we do, we were not into stores, we’re not really responsible for selling the vehicles, right. We are responsible for delivering leads, and we’re responsible for delivering qualified leads. So at the end of the day, we have to look at what the needs are as the individual dealership level and then as a group as a whole. And ultimately, you’re trying to drive more qualified leads at the most efficient you know, in the most efficient way possible. So, you know, at times, that could mean that you’re trying to increase your leads, while maintaining your spend, which then optimists. drives down your cost per lead. Other times it means no your lower your cost, but you maintain your leads. So which again drives down your cost per lead, what we’ve been able to do, which is, you know, a credit to the entire team here at MileOne, from marketing through operations really is, is we’ve been able to do two things at the same time, we’ve been able to increase the leads while lowering the costs associated with them. So we’re kind of getting a double impact, I guess, from from that
Ilana Shabtay 12:33
Is that a secret you can share?
Houshyar Karimabadi 12:38
Yeah, hire our entire team.
Aharon Horwitz 12:41
You know, it’s interesting with our products and platform in particular acquire, which does all the media management in our product, we we spent some time working on sort of what is the you know, for lack of a just to use as a stamp, a placeholder kind of like, what’s the algorithm for success Call in the end, we reduced it to really cost per lead, which I think makes a lot of sense. And I think if you ask Google and Facebook, that’s really what it’s about, even though they have all the other metrics, all the other metrics that they have there, in the end, it’s about cost per lead with some sort of quality score that has to be applied to each lead, right? You know, you need that you need to assess that piece. Otherwise, you can drive cost per lead, wherever you want to go, and it’s meaningless. So you know, that’s something you think a lot about, and you have a data driven solution for how you assess the quality of the lead. It’s some of its probably proprietary, but speak in general terms about how you think about the quality.
Houshyar Karimabadi 13:39
Yeah, I mean, we do have certain ways of measuring that here, which, like you said, are somewhat proprietary. But again, I don’t think it’s any secret that there’s two things at play, right? There’s cost per lead, and then there’s cost per sold. And you can’t really look at one without looking at the other one now. In between those two things a lot, a lot happens, right? between the time that lead comes in to the sale, a lot can happen, you have processes in place. So if you have those processes from the lead nurturing process to the conversion metrics or whatever that is being monitored from appointments to what have you, within the stores, if any, if there’s a drop off in any of those obviously can impact and give you a false sense of whether it’s an issue with the lead or if it’s an issue with the process. Right? So if you only looking at one or two metrics, then you’re kind of missing the boat in that sense. So you while again, in marketing, we’re not in the operations, we work very closely with ops to provide the insights that they need or provide the reporting and the tools that they need to be able to effectively measure what’s happening with each type of lead essentially, to that so that we can get to that kind of conclusion of whether it’s an issue with the lead or whether it’s an issue was the process or maybe a combination of the two. And then also, obviously, the working with the vendors pieces is a big part of it too. Because, you know, ultimately, I mean, we have to communicate with them to determine, okay, how are they obtaining their leads? Or is there opportunities for improvements there? And so the it’s not one or two things, but we’ve done a pretty good job of figuring out what is that process that basically ultimately leads to us driving qualified leads in the most efficient way possible.
Aharon Horwitz 15:36
Yeah, I mean, I think about that a lot. It’s such a complex environment. It’s, it’s so rich with variables a dealership and you add not only the variables within the store, but you look at the market variables. You look at the seasonal variables, you look at things like weather you look at there’s so many variables to handle. It’s it’s good to study biochemistry and other variable rich off But, uh, you know, it’s that that’s a real challenge, I think for anyone trying to essentially make an argument in automotive for the success of one or another strategy. I, you know, I think about that a lot because as you know, as a vendor, we’re always trying to justify our value and show our ROI. We’re always, you know, aspiring to use data to do that. But the conversations are not always winnable, so to speak, even if you’re, you’re confident in your data, and they’re also just difficult. It’s difficult to, to essentially clarify what matters in a complex environment like a dealership?
Houshyar Karimabadi 16:39
No, absolutely. I mean, I, you know, I don’t again, I don’t think it’s any secret that a lot of things that have been done in automotive, you know, gut feeling has played a large part in that a lot of that right. And the world is kind of changing, right? It’s everything is data driven now, but I think if you go about it by discounting the things that are addictive experiences that people have had over, you know, however many years, I think you’re doing yourself a disservice, there’s certain things that are that are learned from, from the field that, you know, they’re invaluable. And they’re absolutely important to the success of, of marketing as well. So we don’t discount those things, we definitely take them into consideration, but what we do is that we, and you have to build credibility, honestly, right? It’s not like you’re going to come in and all of a sudden, overnight, say, okay, you know, what, forget about everything that you’ve ever known about marketing, we’re gonna revamp the entire thing. We don’t listen to anybody. And this is what that is saying. And that’s it. I think you kind of build that incrementally and you, you know, you you set up tests and control groups and you show them okay, this is what happened and why and, and over time, you build that credibility. So you’re able to do things But to your point about the variables. We actually again, without going too much into details, we actually take a lot of that stuff into our models into account. Because, you know, especially as it relates to automotive, again, these are no secrets. Everybody knows that things impact whether it’s the OEM offers, or whether it’s the weather or whether it’s interest rates or the job market, or any of those kinds of things can influence. So the trick is to figure out what are the things that are driven by outside influences versus actual marketing, which is where kind of our bread and butter is, and we’ve developed a good system for being able to do that decipher that information. Which, you know, again, going back to you have to have this balance of like historical knowledge versus, you know, the real time stuff. That’s where the historical stuff comes into play, because then you can kind of see, okay, where they have some flows and what happened at those times, and what can be attributed to what, yeah, so that gives you an insight into those things.
Aharon Horwitz 19:00
No, absolutely. I mean, so interesting because in some ways, the, you know, one of the beautiful things about the automotive industry is just how central it is to kind of the workforce in the United States and how many jobs it creates and how much, you know, tax it pays. And it’s such a critical industry for the opportunities of so many millions of people. And then you think about, you know, what’s that evolution it’s going to undergo and to what extent is like, you know, science driven decision making entering the space and how does that impact kind of the, the craft of the dealership, which has been developed over the past hundred years as a sort of, maybe maybe, you know, scientific but not necessarily explicitly scientific discipline? It sounds like you’re on the forefront of that negotiation between you know, the the, quote, unquote, old school of auto and then the new school of scientific marketing that you’re trying to bring to the table. Very, very interesting place to be Ilana want to wrap up with something else, something really controversial to under something cool.
Ilana Shabtay 20:04
Controversial, if you will. Yeah, I would love to know where you see things moving in the next year or two, taking COVID into account and we’re talking about all these external factors. I can only imagine this is going to be one of the biggest ones in the next year.
Houshyar Karimabadi 20:19
You Yeah, I mean, I don’t think it’s necessarily limited to COVID. Right. There’s a lot of uncertainty, obviously, around COVID-19 about, you know, vaccines and when it’s going to be available, how effective it’s going to be for how long and all of that stuff. And I think what what’s created a lot of kind of issues for a lot of businesses, obviously, is that uncertainty, right? So, and it’s hard. It’s one of those things where it’s, you know, you can have all the models in the world, it’s hard to predict certain things. So I do think that that’s depending on what happens with COVID. That’s going to enlarge To a large extent determined what’s what’s going to happen in the market place as well. But I, again, if it’s not COVID, it’s going to be another kind of a event, whether it’s on a national level or global events, these types of things are going to happen, right? Maybe not. I mean, honestly, I can’t even say that it maybe not at the same scale as COVID. Because, you know, there’s stuff you hear on the news about other things that are popping up, the robotic plague apparently has been found or something, you know, so it’s, you know, it’s just like, there’s there are things happening every day is it you know, and the mentality that we have is that there are things that are within your control and are things that are outside of our control. We try not to worry too much about the things that are outside of our control. Just because we you have to be mindful of it, but you can’t really do it. anything about it. So within what we are able to control, I think you make the best, kind of guesstimates or make the best decisions that you can support it by the data that you have available. In terms of consumer behavior, that’s a really finicky things. So you need to be able to one you got to position yourself to to be able to adapt quickly. I think that’s, you know, when this stuff happened with COVID every vendor came out of the Woodworks for digital retailing, digital retailing, digital retailing. Okay, well, that’s great to give people another option, but but if it’s not done, right, it’s just yet another way to lose customers. You know, you it’s still something you got to evaluate, but you have to be in position to have an evaluation process in place where you can do those kinds of evaluations fairly quickly and then move on if it makes sense. I could be proven wrong and this podcast can come back and haunt me. I don’t think in the next year or two, we’re going to be in a position where people are not gonna want to test drive their vehicle in on mass scale. I don’t think you know, it’s one of those kind of touching, you want to touch it, it’s more of a tactile type of thing. And, and people want to have that experience. So yeah, while a lot of this stuff may move online, I think it’s gonna serve more as an opportunity for people to have more things available to them online. But ultimately, I don’t see them necessarily just going soup to nuts online and I’m buying the vehicle entirely online. on a mass scale I’m talking about like within the next year or two.
Aharon Horwitz 23:50
Oh, good words, and we will hopefully not come back to haunt you. Well, yeah, hey, I’d like to come visit again though. The truth is even Before Covid I was avoiding going outside because you guys have a Steelers fan in your executive chain and a ravens
Houshyar Karimabadi 24:06
Aharon Horwitz 24:09
All right, listen Houshyar Karimabadi Senior Director from MileOne focusing on marketing and business intelligence. He very much appreciate your time and your insight. It was super interesting. And we look forward to hopefully doing a follow up one of these days and checking in with you. So Inside Auto, Ilana Shabtay, Aharon Horwitz with Houshyar, we thank you guys all for listening and joining us today. Thank you.
Houshyar Karimabadi 24:35
Thanks for listening to Inside Auto Podcast. Check out our other episodes with top entrepreneurs and industry leaders.