As senior vice president of dealer software solutions at Cox Automotive, Lori Wittman and her team don’t just harness the power of data—they harness the power of people, too. In fact, says the SVP, it isn’t only the software that she and her team members work on that has driven Cox Automotive’s success. It is the company’s dedication to leveraging its people capital that has allowed VinSolutions, one Cox Automotive brand Wittman leads, to achieve double-digit growth during her tenure there.
For Wittman, who grew up on a farm in Kansas, the idea of a people-centric working environment is nothing new. “When you’re on a farm, everybody pitches in together to do the work, whether it’s picking sweet corn or gathering eggs,” she says. “I’m sure I grumbled about doing some of those things when I was little, but we really were all in it together. My dad led by example, and to this day that’s how I try to operate with my team at Cox Automotive.”
A division of Cox Enterprises, Cox Automotive leads the global automotive industry in comprehensive dealer solutions, from sales and marketing to inventory and service. A few years ago, Wittman says, Cox Automotive was growing fairly rapidly but didn’t feel that its clients were enjoying the experience that the company was aiming for. “We knew we wanted to be able to leverage incredible technology so we could do things that other companies couldn’t,” Wittman says, “but we knew that people would be essential to creating a personalized experience for clients.”
To create that personalized experience, Cox Automotive turned to a concept called performance management, originated at Cox’s inventory solution brand vAuto. “What that means is that someone at Cox Automotive meets with dealers to understand their business and performance metrics, then uses that information to figure out how our software can help them take their business to another level. Because at the end of the day, it’s about delivering results for our dealers,” Wittman explains. “It also means that we’re very intentional about the people we hire.”
Employees at Cox Automotive go through a comprehensive training program so that they fully understand everything about the company’s technology as well as the key concepts and priorities in the automotive industry, Wittman says. But unlike many tech-centered companies, Cox Automotive doesn’t only look for people with technological expertise.
Feedback Is a Gift
As a young mother, Lori Wittman noticed early on that her two sons responded well to open, direct communication. “Through listening and talking to them, I learned about how they think, what’s important to them, and how best to guide them,” Wittman says.
Today, Lori’s sons are millennial professionals working in the software industry and the lessons go both ways. “They continually reinforce for me the importance of communication if you want to influence and inspire a young workforce motivated by the purpose and meaning behind their work,” she says. “Feedback is a gift: whether you want to move your career forward, complete a project, or strengthen a relationship, communication is the way to accomplish that.”
“We hire people from a number of different backgrounds, including retail,” Wittman remarks. “That gives us access to people who fully understand what’s going on in the field. It’s the combination of these types of diverse backgrounds that makes it easier to leverage technology to drive results.”
In the past year, Cox Automotive has been trying to take the concept of personalized experiences to the next level. “We actually did a study on this,” Wittman says. “It’s intuitive to people that consumers want a personalized experience—that’s why Amazon is so popular. And that preference actually increases as the demographic gets younger.”
“But now we know from our research that consumers want a really strong relationship with their dealer,” Wittman continues. “A car is one of the most expensive purchases that we make in our lives and having someone that you trust guiding you through that is really important.”
To help dealers across the country build those strong relationships, VinSolutions has developed an industry-first product called Connect Automotive Intelligence. “The artificial intelligence powered tool actually takes data that comes in from other businesses in our ecosystem and uses it in predictive modeling,” Wittman describes. Customer data points are analyzed by the tool and then delivered to dealers as accessible, actionable insights, such as the prospective model of interest and budget. These insights enable dealers to better understand the people coming into their dealerships.
“Understanding people better is really critical for sales representatives and dealers,” Wittman emphasizes. “VinSolutions Connect Automotive Intelligence gives them all the information they need: when a person walks into a dealership, they know whether that person is ready to buy or not and what that person may be interested in.”
Those insights help dealers and sales representatives create the kind of tailored, highly relevant experience that consumers these days are looking for, Wittman says. “And it’s also a better experience for those working in the dealership: they can be so much more efficient with their time.”
Every month, Cox Automotive’s performance managers check in with their dealer clients to get a sense of what’s going on, what might need to be changed, and what those dealers think will help them be more successful.
“Sometimes the solutions that we come up with aren’t what the dealers would have thought of; they aren’t how the dealers would have solved a problem,” Wittman says. “But we’re constantly combining really diverse ways of thinking about the car buying journey, and working with our dealer clients, in order to make our technology a catalyst for improving it.”