Welcome to our Authentic Series. Our second interview in this series features Samantha Foster, Internet Sales and Marketing Manager at Romano Auto Dealerships.
For Samantha Foster, life and career have followed the path of people and relationships. As you listen to her talk about what has guided her, what motivates her, what she reads and comes back to again and again, it is people and relationships. From launching her career in social media to her newest role as a founding member of Auto Genius, she’s a woman who has learned how to harness her heart for the benefit of all those around her. But don’t let all that heart talk fool you. As Internet Sales and Marketing Manager for a top 150 U.S. dealership group, managing a staff of 9, Samantha Foster may lead with all heart but the heart is a muscle and hers is a strong and sure one.
Let’s start with a quick acknowledgment of a very recent announcement on LinkedIn, and that’s about Auto Genius. What is it?
Auto Genius is a members-only professional organization for those of us in the auto industry. The organization exists to support one another through connections, mentorship, and shared learning as well as opportunities to grow and innovate together. I am so excited to be part of it. The automotive industry has a lot of room to grow, and I want to be part of that growth. Auto Genius is a really good way for me to give back to our industry.
What do you mean by “a lot of room to grow?”
Let's face it, in the automotive industry we still face many stigmas. The growth comes from the changes we make to move past those stigmas and bring consumers a buying experience that exceeds expectations. Vendors in auto are changing, allowing dealerships new and better ways to grow. We are seeing companies break in that will help us leverage our first party data as we navigate the changing privacy paradigm and build a cookieless strategy.
I don’t think, by any means, the industry is broken. Do I think we need to flip everything upside down and start over? Absolutely not. We do a really great job and our dealership group (Romano Auto Dealerships) is a perfect example of that. It’s not that we are changing the foundation or the core of who our dealership group is, it’s that we see the need to change in order to continuously grow.
What led you into the automotive industry?
My mom always said I was a car girl, even from a young age. My aunt had a talking car that said things like, “the car door is ajar.” And I was so fascinated by that vehicle, and even as I grew up I just loved cars. That being said, I think it was part fate.
I was working as a marketing coordinator for an HVAC distributor, hosting social media roadshows across New York and Pennsylvania. I was young and had big dreams and was thinking about ways I could branch out and help contractors leverage their social media to grow their business. And then in that exact moment, I was also presented with the opportunity to grow the Romano Auto Dealerships social presence from the ground up. So I jumped at the chance to showcase what I knew I could do. I also was really looking forward to the opportunity to learn about a new industry too. What I didn’t know then was that it was going to lead me down a path to also build a digital marketing presence from the ground up, as well as grow and manage an incredible internet sales team. Now, I can’t imagine ever not working in auto.
Since your career began, what are the most significant changes you have seen in marketing?
Facebook. I remember signing up for Facebook in college- when you needed to have a college email just to sign up. So to see where it is today, and how it impacts our marketing strategy is pretty incredible, especially since I signed up for Facebook as a college kid so I could use it as a social platform. And that’s really how I started my career with Romano as well (with social) and so for me, it holds a lot of significance.
What’s one marketing tool you can’t live without?
Google Analytics--with so many dashboards out there for every product we use giving us different numbers, I think that GA remains neutral, and truly focused on the consumer journey to our website, without all the fuss.
Are you more of an auto woman or a marketing woman?
I have to be both! Years ago, I would have said, hands down, I am a marketing woman. But today I would say, I am both. I have such a huge love for the automotive industry and a passion to help drive a better car-buying experience for consumers. We, as an industry, have grown so much, especially in the last few years. I’d say my love for both is deep. I couldn’t choose one over the other anymore.
What book are you currently reading?
“What I Told My Daughter: Lessons From Leaders on Raising the Next Generation of Empowered Women” by Nina Tassler with Cynthia Littleton
I am a mom first above everything else, and I am really blessed to have a strong and loving little girl. I think it’s extremely important to empower her from a young age, as well as empower my son. So I always look for books that will help me in some aspect whether it’s personal or career-wise, but most of the time they intermingle. Even this book connects both worlds. I manage a team that is 90% female in a male-dominated industry, and I believe this book allows me to be a better leader to each of them because it gives many different examples of how different women approach empowering others around them, not just their daughters but their colleagues and coworkers, male or female.
What words or beliefs do you live by?
I believe in partnering with people first and technology second. I think that’s really one of the reasons I chose to partner with Clarivoy. When you hear Steve (White) speak at a conference, you want to be part of what he is creating. Although I think the attribution model and tool itself is impressive, it is the people behind the scene that make it what it is today. They are the innovators, the dreamers, and the support behind the technologies that make good products, great. Your team behind the product is just as important, if not more important to the longevity and success of a product or service, which is why I believe in the power of partnering with people first. There’s so much technology that is changing and moving around us and it’s such a [significant] part of everyday life, but all of the technology was, you know, invented by people and takes support (provided by people). The technology doesn’t ever stand-alone, even the best AI out there doesn’t stand alone.
What (technology) goals do you have for the next 6-12 months?
I want to be an expert in our first-party data. We hear the buzz about first-party data all the time. And I think building upon and utilizing our first-party data is going to be the key to our success as we move into 2022. I really like to dig deep and research everything I do, or what I bring to the table. And with working with Clarivoy and other vendors in the space, and listening to each of them as they educate me on some of the changes in marketing, I think it’s really important to start working with our first-party data. I have always relied on agencies for their data, but we have a whole warehouse of data that I feel almost goes untapped. I think that I can do so much more with it than we do right now.
How do you want to close out 2021?
A better leader. I know that seems really simple but it weighs the heaviest on my heart. How can I inspire and build up those around me? I take a personalized approach to managing each person on our internet sales team, and I want to close out 2021 helping each one of them reach their goals.
What will you take away from the year?
As far as what I will take away from the year, that’s a hard one. What I do know is that in 2020 the global pandemic forced us to look at how we do business differently. And now in 2021 with inventory shortages, we continue to adapt and grow through the challenges presented by COVID-19. We meet challenges with solutions and I am lucky to be surrounded by like-minded individuals who continue to fight the good fight and rise above any situation.
Given the inventory and chip shortages, has your marketing changed?
Of course, we have had to adapt to the current landscape, but we also believe that a strong marketing mix is still important to maintain during these times. We used tools like Clarivoy to evaluate our current spending and strategies. We were able to optimize our accounts and cut costs where it made sense. Given the low inventory levels, now is the best time to double down on people and processes. So, we are adding in areas that will help our team and then in turn, the overall consumer experience. Although a challenging time, there are so many areas of growth even in the chaos.