IRVING, TX – Sejal Pietrzak got a crash course in auto retailing while preparing to become CEO of DealerSocket, a software provider specializing in dealership customer-relationship-management systems.
The education – which included rounds of conversations with dealer clients – continues to this day.
She took the helm of DealerSocket in late 2017 after serving as chief administrative officer for a software company specializing in online activities-oriented registrations.
Since her arrival, DealerSocket has invested more in client service and support. That includes a 35% increase in staff focused on helping clients become proficient in CRM functionality with an eye toward using the system to make more money. “We are customer first,” she says.
Pietrzak talks about that as well as her management style, new products, women as CEOs and more in a Wards Q&A at the company’s headquarters here.
Wards: We hear “customer first” a lot. Everyone thinks they know what it means in a general sense. What is it exactly?
Pietrzak: There are many different definitions of it. See that empty chair? (She points to a seat across from her desk.) I tell our team, “Imagine one of our customers is sitting there and listening to our meeting. What would that customer say about our discussion?”
Also, customer first is finding out what the dealer customers are looking for and what they need help with. Then let’s look at our product roadmap. Make sure we are focusing on the perspective of the customer. Some companies look inside out.
Wards: As part of beefing up your customer support staff you took some inside people and put them out into the field?
Pietrzak: Our customer-success managers were all based at our Utah location. We moved them to be local to the customers. We’ve also hired additional staff in local territories. It’s a top priority to visit customers face to face, watch them utilize our software, give them insights on where they are doing well and in areas where they could utilize our software to grow their business even more. In the last several months, we’ve done 7,500 instore visits. These aren’t quick shake-hands. You can’t build a relationship because you see someone once and never again.
Wards: The idea of the imaginary customer sitting in a chair in your office is interesting. Have you ever thought about taking it to the next level and actually having customers sit there, or is that too freaky?
Pietrzak: No, in fact that’s a great point. We are launching a dealer advisory board for each of our core product families. We can have our key customers with us in the same room.
We’ll bring them together. I’d like to do it quarterly, but I know they’re very busy. So sometimes it would be a conference call. We want the feedback; what we are doing well and what we need to change. We’d like to get the dealer sentiment.
Wards: When you came aboard here, did you come in with a game plan or rather a feeling that you would learn about this company and respond accordingly?
Pietrzak: I spent time with Jonathan Ord, the founder and (former) CEO. I spent time with members of the executive team prior to joining. I did a lot of research on the company and industry. Even before I joined DealerSocket, I spent time with dealers, asking about what products they were utilizing and watching them use the products.
I did a listening tour internally and with our customers for the first six months or so to understand what’s happening in the industry.
Wards: Taking over from a CEO who was the founder of the company can be tricky. Was it?
Pietrzak: The transition exceeded my expectations. No.1, Jonathan is a great guy. He was open and willing to help. He has been such a huge adviser. As a member of our board, he says he’s my biggest cheerleader. Anytime I had a question, he’d answer it.
Wards: What’s he up to these days?
Pietrzak: He’s still on the board and a strategic adviser. He’s on the board of a number of companies. He has a great entrepreneurial mindset.
Wards: All dealers have CRM systems, but to what extent they use them varies. How are you addressing them using all the bells and whistles?
Pietrzak: The best part of our CRM is it’s so comprehensive. That’s also a difficult part. We want to make sure our customers are able to utilize it as much as possible. Our job is to go in and make sure we are helping them see areas that could help in terms of providing new insights, helping new employees utilize the products and showing the new enhancements.
One new thing is the ability to have videos and photos that dealers can send back and forth to customers and have it all integrated in the CRM. It’s called SocketTalk.
Wards: There is that frustration of providing a CRM and then certain people at a dealership don’t use it, or don’t use it enough or misuse it. That can lead to “Why did we buy this?” Your double job seems to be to develop the technology and then make sure it is used.
Pietrzak: That’s why we are investing in growing our customer success team.
Wards: So they tell clients, “If you do this, this and this, you’ll make more money?”
Pietrzak: That’s the ultimate pitch. It’s not even a pitch, it’s the ultimate reason for (dealership personnel) doing what they are doing.
Wards: Do the success or performance managers have to have a particular background?
Pietrzak: It depends. Some have worked at dealerships and utilized our software there. Some have been in software for their career and love automotive. Some, believe it or not, are former DealerSocket employees who have come back. They all go through extensive training.
Wards: Could it be someone who worked as a Starbucks barista and is really good at interacting with customers?
Pietrzak: We have a rigorous interview process. We’d never say no to anyone.
Wards: How fast does auto-related technology change?
Pietrzak: You want to constantly be ahead of the curve. I’m pleasantly surprised at how dealers are progressive and using technology to help grow their business. They believe in technology. For us, that’s fantastic. We’re looking to expand quite a bit into the world of AI and machine learning. Our RevenueRadar (equity mining tool) is an example of that.
Wards: Describe your management style.
Pietrzak: I always talk to my team about the three things that represent my leadership qualities: integrity, presence, purpose. I focus on getting better on them at home and at work.
Integrity is about honesty and doing what you say you will do. That helps build trust. I try to earn that personally and professionally.
Presence is focusing on what you are doing. It is important in a leader for people to know you are listening to them.
Purpose is the reason you do what you do. If you have that inner purpose, you’ll never work a day in your life because you are doing something you believe in and love.
Wards: A woman CEO is not an oddity anymore but still is a bit unusual. Talk about being a female CEO.
Pietrzak: A question I got was, “How do people handle you being a woman CEO, especially in automotive?” It’s been incredible. People have welcomed me with open arms. A woman CEO can bring a fresh perspective.
Those three leadership traits I mentioned are universal. They don’t relate to being a woman or man.