David Kain interviews Eric Schlesinger on CBT News Kain & Company

David Kain Interviews Eric Schlesinger on Kain & Company / CBT News

Written By Eric Schlesinger

David Kane: Hello, and welcome to CBT news. My name is David Kane, I'm president of Kane automotive and this is Kain & Company. We are now proud to say that we are streaming on Roku, Apple TV and mobile devices. So you can watch us most anytime. Today I have a special guest, who's a longtime friend of mine, his name is Eric Schlesinger, he is the Chief Revenue Officer of a company called ActivEngage. And not surprisingly, his company is all about helping dealers engage with guests who are interested in purchasing vehicles or asking questions on dealer websites and all places on the World Wide Web. So Eric, would you do me a favor and introduce yourself and ActivEngage and tell us how you got into the car business? I'd sure appreciate knowing that.

Eric Schlesinger:  Well, David, I mean, it's great to see you happy new year, obviously. You know, as you said, my name is Eric Schlesinger, I am the Chief Revenue Officer with ActivEngage, I think most people probably know or recognize ActivEngage as the predominant live messaging provider in the automotive industry, we still very much believe in the aspects that people buy cars from people, and not necessarily technology, although we do see the places for technology to help in those endeavors. We've been in business now since 2007. So quite some time. You asked the crazy question of how, how I got into this crazy business. Wow. You know, it was the typical, 'My older brother's best friend's dad owned a couple of car dealerships in Philadelphia.' And when I was 15, I kind of got sucked in with the, 'hey, if you ever need a summer job, come in and see me.' Well, you know, 33 years later here, I am still stuck in this crazy business. 34 years later, now that I'm thinking about it. Um, yeah. So I mean, you know, been president, obviously, I grew up inside of the Sloan Automotive Group in Philadelphia. And then from there went on to working with Ismo cars in the infancy days of, wow, online marketing, online content, SEO and so forth, to  becoming a part of ActivEngage back in 2010. As we all watched this incredible industry just continued to evolve. 

David Kane: It certainly is incredible. And 2024 is going to bring a lot of new challenges. And I want to go back to what you were saying, starting as young as 15, Vic Ficklin., Within the Auto Man was just on and he was talking about his business partner started 15. My son Andy, who is joining me today, he started out as a lot attended at our family store in his teens. And same with me and my eight brothers and sisters. So it is a good industry and really good for family and nice to have friends who drag you along and say, 'Hey, this would be a good place for you to work.' So why don't we talk just a little bit about that one to one connection, and the fact that you guys are to a lot of customers, the very first live interaction that they're going to have with an automobile dealership. How critical is that?

Eric Schlesinger:  Unbelievably, I mean, it's one of the most important things. In fact, if you look at the you know, statistically what consumers are looking for today, more than ever, they're looking for that interaction, but they're looking for that human interaction, that human connection in a way that's conducive to how they want to communicate, not necessarily to the way that the dealer, and this is, this is the age old thing. I mean, like let's face it, we as dealers, we've always been trying to control the way in which the consumer communicates with us versus us trying to be present and communicate with the consumer rather the way that the consumer wants to communicate with us. We've always been trying to pigeonhole them instead of just being present where they want us to be present. And amazingly, one of the things that's come out over the last few years, especially as the millennials are becoming older and older and older, and they're now like our largest segment of consumers, that they actually believe phone calls are aggressive. And that, it's out of the norm. So even if you call somebody or you text somebody, and they call you back as opposed to texting you back or they call you back as opposed to emailing you back, well, you're now communicating outside of the realm in which they wanted to be communicated with and it doesn't matter where they are like we need to be able to present them with those opportunities. So if it's having those phone numbers on the website, but then to be able to click to call, right? If it's being able to connect to things like Google My Business or Facebook Messenger or being present on an Autotrader, or Kelley Blue Book or any of these other places, we need to be able as dealers to be there for the consumer in the way in which it is that they want to communicate. And if we do that, and we can sit there as you know, as dealers, as vendors, as well as in this industry, and start to build that relationship with the consumer, we're going to be that much more likely to then transact with them.

David Kane: Oh, I can just imagine, I'd be curious, because you mentioned millennials. When you look across the generational spectrums, from the youngest of shoppers, to the oldest of shoppers, and all those generations in between, have you been able to identify that one generation is more trusting more compelled by live engagement? Is there anything that that kind of guides you when you're talking to dealers?

Eric Schlesinger:  You know, it's definitely it's changed over the years. Let's face it, I mean, I remember meeting you for the first time, I think it was 2004, 2005 at a Ford dealership outside of Philadelphia. And you know, you and I talking about how to relate and deal with consumers at that point in time. There's, there's this belief in the industry and to consumers about what it means to go and buy a car and what it's supposed to be, and that there's supposed to be this certain sense of feeling of distrust, yet the very, very first thing that consumers do as soon as they pull off that lot, is they're picking up the phone, they're calling their sister, mother, daughter, brother, whomever it is that they can saying 'David you got to check out this brand new Chevy I just got.' And so they want to trust those people. They want to feel good about it. And the great part is that as we've gone through the last really 5 or so years, especially through the pandemic, their ability to trust more and to understand that there are outside circumstances that play into it, it’s allowed consumers to have a little bit more of an ability to trust. But from the standpoint of asking if they’re a specific demographic, it’s not the Millennials. Millennials overall don’t have brand loyalty, they don’t have loyalty to a specific OEM, dealer group or any of those types of things. Moreso, it comes down to who is going treating them the way they want to be treated, who’s going to communicate to them the way in which they want to be communicated with.

David Kane: So you’ve just heard from my dear friend Eric Schlesinger with ActivEngage, and we all hope that you start out 2024 really like a rocket and do great things. And remember, it’s always about the engagement with your customers. Thank you very much for joining us here on Kain and Company, on the CBT News Automotive Network, now streaming on Roku, AppleTV, and mobile devices. Thanks a lot Eric!

Eric Schlesinger:  Thanks David!