Acquiring and Retaining Customers with your Audience - Auto Anything | Ep. #019
In this 19th episode of The E-Comm Show, our host and BlueTuskr CEO Andrew Maff is with Michael Epstein of Auto Anything and Post Pilot. In this episode, they will be talking about everything about customer acquisition and how to do this more effectively. They'll be discussing some techniques used to manage customer prospects and inquiries generated by marketing.
Bring Online Customers Back Again (And Again) With Powerful Postcard Marketing.
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Acquiring and Retaining Customers with your Audience
Andrew Maff and Michael Epstein
About Michael Epstein
After selling his first company in 2013, Michael has served as CMO of multiple 8 and 9 figure private equity-backed online retailers where he successfully utilized direct mail to improve customer loyalty, retention, and profitability. After leading a turnaround and successful exit for a $200M portfolio of aftermarket automotive brands, he now serves as CMO of a leading venture-backed e-commerce aggregator, E-commerce Brands. Additionally, he's a principal at PostPilot, a platform that allows you to send personalized postcards automatically at scale, as easily as you'd create an email campaign.
Michael is keen to share his insights into acquiring and retaining customers with your audience. If engaging customers, lowering costs, and increasing value is topics that matter to your listeners, then they will love Michael's advice!
If you can't increase your LTV and your competitors can they're always going to be able to outbid you on the customer acquisition side
Hey, this is Michael Epstein. i This is Lindsey Hagerman of raincaper.com. Hey, it's Jay Myers. I'm with bold commerce and you're listening to and you're listening to then you're listening to The E-Comm Show.
Welcome to The E-Comm Show, presented by BlueTuskr, the number one place to hear the inside scoop from other ecommerce experts share their secrets on how they scaled their business and are now living the dream. Now, here's your host, Andrew Maff. Hello,
everyone, and welcome to another episode of The E-Comm Show. I'm your host, Andrew Maff. And today I am joined by the amazing Michael Epstein, who is the CMO at auto anything which we're totally gonna get into about what's going on there. And he's also a co founder and board member at post pilot, Michael How do you do And are you ready for a good show. Awesome. Andrew, great to have here. Great to be here.
Glad you're great to have you. Yeah.
Well done, Michael.
So let I the stereotypical will do the fun, like pretend no one's ever heard of you, and whatever. And you give us a little background. We'll and we'll kind of go from there. So why don't you tell us about auto anything and post pilot?
Yeah, sure. So auto anything is a nine figure online retailer of aftermarket automotive accessories. It was originally acquired by Autozone a number of years ago was divested by a private equity fund to a private equity fund. And that's how I got involved. I've been a private equity operating partner for a long time after selling my ecommerce business to private equity, and came in help turn that around. We ended up acquiring a couple of other brands in the aftermarket automotive space Jeep site and overlanding site, another truck site and grew those, and ultimately just exited that business back in November. So just a few months ago to a venture backed ecommerce aggregator fund, and now focused more on kind of the m&a side of that. Nice there you congrats on the exit. That's always that's always the goal. So how did you get started? I had auto anything? Sure. So yeah, I came in when the private equity fund was kind of doing diligence on that deal. It was, as I mentioned, carve out from AutoZone. And I've been working with this fun for some time on some other portfolio companies. And when it became kind of apparent that it needed the leadership change and a change in direction. I ended up taking on the CMO role with my post pilot, business partner and co founder, Gerson Aki who came in as CEO of auto anything, and really just worked on turning that business around for a few years. And it was it was a pretty heavy lift that lot going on in a in a business of that size. That what, so obviously, you played what I think is the most fun roll, which is the demo. What what was kind of the overall strategy of you know, what was your approach that they weren't doing prior that you ended up pivoting into? Sure. So one of the interesting things was it became apparent pretty quickly, we thought we were gonna get in there kind of run our ecommerce playbooks, you know, put it implement the lifecycle marketing, improve paid efficiency, all that kind of stuff, which we did. But the interesting part was, it became apparent early on that it actually really needed a culture change first. And without that, without getting out of the culture, right? It had been part of this much bigger bureaucratic company, and not really an entrepreneurial kind of digital culture.
didn't always have the right people on there that it just kind of sat for a number of years and got pretty bloated. So recognize that we actually have to turn that around first before we could really focus on driving the execution of the business. And so that that took almost a full year to really, we ended up turning over almost the entire senior management team. A number of folks kind of moved on either because it wasn't the right fit for them anymore, or we just needed to top grade a handful of roles, found some really great diamonds in the that were kind of buried in the org and helped accelerate their career path to get them into position into much better positions. And, and ultimately, after kind of nine to 12 months. We we really had a great, great team and we're executing just remarkably faster and better than than the team was when we arrived.
really stepped in? Nice. So we're what ended up being the strategy that you guys ended up sticking to? Is it you know, with paid ads kind of leading the way for you? Was it community building anything like, so give me background. Um, when I actually first started my career I was in the auto industry and auto parts. And that's where I first started in E commerce. So when I saw you were coming on the show, I was like, Oh, this would be a good one. Like, I'm super interested in what he figured out because back then I was younger. So I didn't know what I was doing. So it didn't really work out. Now. I'm curious what actually works. Sure. That's, that's really interesting. So I did not have an automotive background. So it was new to me and definitely a lot of drinking from the firehose
learning that market, but it's been really interesting. And, of course, we put in kind of the standard EECOM playbooks, as I mentioned, like really got our email program dialed in, this is a big, pretty big company with 5 million people on the list. So when you could really start to segment and create some,
some highly relevant and targeted messages based on what you already knew about that customer, even the the type of vehicle that they drove. And so that was a big part of it getting paid efficiency really dialed in. As opposed to just focusing on revenue at all costs, there was a there was a profitability component that we had to really focus on. And then it came from some of the additional acquisitions that we made. So we had this really great foundation that have been built out to service, the this pretty big infrastructure and a pretty complex business model. And we had a great marketing team in place that was executing really well really understood EComm really well. And then it was like, Who can we identify that would be
that we could we could kind of bring on we didn't have to absorb a lot of the costs when we acquired these companies, because we had all this infrastructure and team in place, and get more scale and leverage over our fixed costs. And we could add more revenue, we bought the site, we doubled revenue, it was an eight figure Jeep site already we doubled revenue, within 90 days, we bought another truck site, that was eight figure revenue tripled that 90 days just by implementing these playbooks because these were under optimized businesses. It's probably oversimplifying it, but that was, that was kind of the essence of what we were trying to do there. I'm sure you have some team members sitting back going like that's it, that's all you're gonna say about it.
Everybody, because we have a fantastic team that again, just executes really well really understands EECOM, segmentation, lifecycle marketing, full funnel, and it's so, you know, easier said than done. But having that right, when you have that right team in place, it just makes it so much easier to start scaling. And, and that's really what we did. So got it up to a couple 100 million dollars in revenue, and then we're able to exit that. Nice. So your main focus now, I assume, post pilot, correct? Yep. Yeah. So where did where did that begin? How did that get started? And where are we at now? Sure. So this was something that that my, myself, my business partner, I mentioned, Drew who came in as CEO of auto anything. Also, we've been we've been in E commerce for over 20 years. And we've seen we're really, we've always been big proponents of lifecycle marketing. And that's like the wit sure your audience knows when back campaigns, second purchase campaigns, things that are triggered based on user behavior. Classic challenge that we've we kept running into, we've used direct mail and some of the work that we had done in the past with E commerce retailers, and it worked really well. But it was super tedious. It was it had high friction, it was like exporting a bunch of you're creating these manual segments exporting a bunch of spreadsheets trying to find a print house, you would send these giant batches of cards to people. And then you'd have to figure you'd get more spreadsheets and have to try and do these match backs and figure out what the ROI was. And everything was just manual, and we're like, one, there's got to be a better way to do that. And then it kind of really started hitting us when we built all these great life cycle campaigns for these brands that we were working with. The the relevancy was super dialed in. These are highly, highly segmented audiences, great creative, great offers. And then you just see the email open rates at like sub 20%. In a lot of cases, you know, email engagement is just getting harder and harder as everything goes to the promotions tab or it's it's so cluttered that everybody just kind of ignores or deletes these emails and we were doing all this great work. And we're like, but at
percent of the people aren't even seeing the message. And so that we did this at auto anything really successfully. And we do it for 1000s of other retailers through post pilot is we just help ensure that that message gets in front of this large percentage of customers that aren't ever seeing your message when you're trying to send it through email. And now, Facebook, and the iOS updates just really kind of crippling people Facebook performance, in a lot of cases, there's just a strong appetite to find an unsaturated channel that's cost effective, and still has the potential to drive high ROI. And we're just seeing that over and over again with our customers. Another reason I was very excited to have you on the show was literally just last week, I had a conversation with someone we're working with about we should try doing something a little bit less on the digital side. And let's you know, let's open up to some new areas. So you know, when when we find out that you're coming on the show, this is great. I'm just gonna send this to them, and then they'll listen. So what can you walk me through, like, how it works? And then why you guys believe that it's obviously a very significant channel to be trying outside of the traditional because everyone always goes like, alright, email, Facebook, Instagram, social, all that fun stuff. So what's what's the process like? Sure. So I think we believe that just in this world of digital overload, where everyone's getting bombarded with all kinds of digital messages that are fleeting, they're forgotten, they're forgotten about in an instant, if you even notice them, you just need to create these more tangible and deeper relationships with your customers. And also, as customer acquisition costs get so continue to increase as competition continues to increase, you need to be ensuring that you're getting you're developing brand affinity you're getting second and third and first and subsequent purchases from customers. Because if you can't get if you can't increase your LTV and your competitors can, they're always going to be able to outbid you on the customer acquisition side. So we see typically customers for post pilot are coming in, they're setting up some, some pretty simple campaigns will actually do it all for you if you want. But, you know, typical kind of wind back campaign, where customer goes a certain amount of time without repurchasing trigger a personalized car to go out to them with an offer to come back abandoned carts, so you can say if they don't respond to my email abandoned cart message within a certain period of time, hit them with a postcard because there's they're much more likely to actually see it, and then act on it. So those are some of the basic campaigns but you've got VIP campaigns, let's acknowledge those customers that are really driving the business, the ones that are purchasing over a certain amount of dollars or over a certain amount of transactions, let's let's do something really delightful and engaging for those customers that keeps them loyal and keeps them coming back. So is it safe to assume the way that you would trigger things is relatively similar to how you would do an email campaign. So you know, like you mentioned, you have an abandoned cart. So after a while, if they haven't opened the email, then you would essentially trigger sending a postcard. Exactly. So we like to say we're like the clay vo of of direct mail, it's as easy to create these campaigns and flows as it as an email campaign. You have segments, you can define the segments the same way you do in your email in your ESP, you can set the triggers the same way you do in your ESP and it has that one to one personalization. So it's not like you're sending giant batches of cards, it's like as soon as customer a meets the criteria you've set, just like it would fire off an email at that time, it'll fire off a personalized postcard at that time. So since you mentioned clay, VO, like is there like is there an integration process so that they you know, those types of platforms speak to each other so that you know you know like okay, they didn't open an email so now it's our turn to trigger something. Exactly right. So we integrate with your E commerce platform like Shopify will integrate with clay VO So one that makes it super easy to segment your customers because we have the the data
around the transactions and the customers and then it makes it really easy to trigger it when they meet that criteria and to your point because we're also integrated with clay VO We can even say if they don't open the email if they don't open your clay vo email then send the postcard so it's truly incremental revenue and profits.
Okay, so did you use this at auto anything? Yeah, with with great success. So especially with our jeep site, for example, these are customers
that are typically working on builds, they, it's not a one and done type type purchase, where they bought their format, and they never need anything again for their car. These are people that are that are building out their Jeep and they're accessorizing it. And so understanding what Jeep we could personalize the card based on what Jeep we know they have send the personalized card to them and help get them back and making those subsequent purchases ensure that we're top of mind that we're the ones that are getting those subsequent purchases, versus our competition is tremendously valuable. Because Same reason customer acquisition costs for that customer is super high. So if we're not doing everything we can to keep them coming back and securing those subsequent purchases where we're in trouble. So how are you tracking the ROI on postcards? Sure. So because we're integrated with the E commerce platform, we also know when that card was sent, and when that customer comes back and makes another purchase. So we track it kind of two ways similar to play the OTA out play via does we know when they got the card, and if they went on to make a subsequent purchase. We also have coupon tracking. So if you include a specific code on the card, it will identify if that code was used and attributed that way as well. Okay, so does it generate its own code per person? Or is it like one code that you do per campaign kind of thing? Yeah. So in the past, it was one code per campaign, and we would, it would just look unique, but it's probably the the top requested features the single use coupon code. And I'm happy to say that we're going to be releasing that in just about a week from now. So hopefully, by the time this, this airs, it will be live. And
I knew I get something good out of this one.
Being Awesome feature. Nice. I'm so very curious about this one. What are postcard best practices? Sure. So we we like to say, take the email campaigns that are that have started performing well for you and start there and pivot them to postcards so that you can reuse a lot of the same kind of segmentation that you've come up with the same even creative that you've come up with. But get the incremental revenue from the customers that aren't engaging with your email campaigns. There's just so much money being left on the table, if you're just relying on email to get that message out. That this just generates that incremental revenue. And that's a great starting point. But we also have the kind of pre configured segments, kind of like I was describing from abandoned carts to win back campaigns if they go a certain amount of time without repurchasing to second purchase campaign. So we got we got purchase number one, how are we going to get them to come back and make purchase number two, or VIP campaigns. So again, acknowledge somebody that in a really memorable way, who's one of our most loyal customers, we did that with auto anything as well, where we actually have new technology that creates handwritten cards as well, it actually writes it out with real ink real pen on stationery personalized in a handwritten envelope and spam. And we would say, once customer buys, you know, their fifth, their fifth part from us, let's send a personal note to them like a on stationery signed by one of our head salesperson and for that business. And the response is just so great. People just value that so much. It's such a surprising experience. But it's a very nice, like, personalized way to kind of connect because I agree like, you know, you see that stuff a lot with like, companies that will kind of create just like hey, thanks thing but it's just like this flyer. And those I always see to like, especially with email, just those handwritten I guess there's a handwritten but like the letter that almost seems like it came from the owners is always really interesting. How can you what kind of level of personalization can you get with this kind of stuff? Sure. So you can use merge fields like the way you would do in an email campaign, so insert their name or the product that they purchased and things like that. You can also do it through segmentation. So if we know that we're targeting only people with a Jeep Wrangler, J K Letson. Let's insert that into the message and so it feels like it was really written for them. Same thing with postcards, we could say these are only going to people with a with a Wrangler JK. That's the picture that we're going to show on the front of the card is is auto anything still a client or because you sold it? Did they let you go like across the board? No, no, there. It works. So so that is
So All right, so we got we got one future feature coming out what what else is working down the pipeline that you're kind of willing to pass a little breadcrumb at? Sure, sure. There's a lot on the roadmap and, and I will commit on timing on a handful of things. Because I know our lead, our CTO would kill me if I didn't, really, but definitely one of the biggest features that we're focusing on over the next couple quarters is a lot more integrations. So rolling out more integrations for a lot of the digital marketing, CRM type tools that you're already using today, from SMS platforms to CDP's and other CRM, customer data platform platforms and customer relationship management programs that allow you to
aggregate data from a lot of different sources, segment it and and create personalized marketing based on that user behavior and transactional history. So we want to be a part of that, that stack, when you have kind of all your core channels, postcards, it's gonna be one of those channels. So I'm, I'm gonna guess most of well, let me rephrase this. I know what that argument I had with that seller last week. Their argument was like postcards, like people just get them and then they throw them away. Obviously, I know that if you follow best practices, and you can make it stand out, that's obviously a very different scenario. But I'm sure that you get that comment a lot. So what's what is kind of your rebuttal to that? Sure. So and it's definitely something that will, that we can, we'll hear. And it's really, the email inbox is what's so crowded right now. That's where you're not even reading, you're just clicking Delete, and ignoring most of what comes in the your actual physical mailbox that used to be where all the junk mail went. But now, you're not getting nearly the same number of pieces of mail that you were in the past. And when you see a card from a brand that you actually recognize and have done business with the read rates, I mean, there's been studies that show it's, it's darn close to 100%, it doesn't mean that every person is going to act on that card. Of course not. But are you even think about when you're going through your mail, you're not typically just taking the mail out of the box and throwing it all into the garbage.
You're flipping through it, right you're, you're seeing what's relevant. And so it at a minimum, you're you're flipping through it, you're seeing a card from a brand that you recognize enough and have done business with, and you're processing that message, which is more than you can say about a lot of the online ads and emails that you're receiving. So if you're at least give getting that message in front of that customer, you've got a good shot, and and our results speak for themselves. Up to your point when you're following best practices. You know, these businesses are getting 10 20x Row is on these campaigns pretty consistently. So it's, it does work. And it's and it's also cheaper than you think. Because with costs with CPCs going up so much. I mean, a postcard is Yeah, tell me about it. Yeah, postcards are fixed costs, right, there's, it's the price of a stamp. So you're not, you're not paying jacked up rates, because competition is increasing, you're not being your CPCs aren't going up, because, oh, I want to target this coveted audience of, you know, 18 to 45 year old females or whatever it is, or because I'm sending around Valentine's Day, I'm not going to pay more, the price of a fan of a stamp is fixed. So it's typically less than the cost of a click. That's a sound. That is a very sound argument. And I can't wait to send to this episode to
me just think of that. So now I'm like, I had a question. And I forgot it was now. Oh, so the example you're talking about obviously, you still use it at auto anything? Sure that's a nine figure plus company? Correct. Okay, do you believe it can still work for your smaller companies that are you know, maybe still in the seven figure range? Yeah, absolutely. So it's a great question. We typically our target customer, our ideal customer is typically 5 million plus, in annual revenue. We can work with companies that are smaller than that. And we do work with kind of low seven figures as well. But the sweet spot, the real, the sweet spot starts to happen around them because you've got enough of a customer base and enough transactional data and history that you can create some really strong segments and you've got enough volume that you can really start to move the needle. So typically seven figure plus once you start getting into kind of that mid to high seven figure range, then you can do some really, really interesting things as well.
I can also see how it might get a little out of hand. Right? So like you'd sometimes especially with emails, like, I know some people that send emails like two or three times a week, and I'm like, Okay, this year, the reason that I can't send emails to anyone? Yeah, so what do you say is like the proper amount to be sending someone a postcard? Sure. So we yeah, we we're not suggesting that you send the card every day or even every week, it's When specific events are triggered typically, or when you have big events that you want to promote. So big holiday of sale events that you might have Valentine's Days coming up, or Mother's Day, Father's Day, Black Friday, those are key events, you need to make sure that your message isn't getting lost among the millions of other men or other marketing messages that are being sent to your customers. Those are great times to send. And then you've got the triggered events. So when you know when a customer has purchased something and you expect them to buy again at a certain point. And consumable type products are a great fits for postcard marketing, because you know that I just sold somebody lipstick. And we have, we have a big cosmetics brand boom on our platform. And they know that when they're when their customer goes 35 days without repurchasing a new lipstick, like that's gone beyond the expected lifespan of that product. And we need to get them back there soon. The retentions typically good and the profits are so high on that product, that if we if they risk losing that that customer that customer defecting the value that they lose if that customer forgets to come back and buy again is tremendous. And when you do get them to come back and buy again, it's just almost pure profit at that point. So what what's like the coolest thing you've seen someone do with the platform so far where you were like, I didn't even I didn't even think about doing that. Um, I think that I was looking at one camp one customer today it's a shapewear company.
So kind of like skims the Kardashian brand, but alternative to that.
And they've sent 100 100 different campaigns, which is a lot when you think about the number of events are there are a lot of them are automated. So that's that's a lot and they were doing. One thing that they did was they came up with their own kind of marketing event, where kind of like their Amazon Prime Day kind of thing. So they created their own event and use postcards to announce it to all their customers. I thought that was really interesting. And one of the other features that we released recently that I'm kind of surprised is taken off to the extent that it has I guess I shouldn't be but we we released QR codes. And and that's been just massive, where people are sticking their QR codes on the cards and making it really easy, I think with COVID in particular code. Exactly. Everybody's doing it. The rest rescued the QR code. Yes,
totally. So seeing a ton of that, and people doing an interesting way is just setting up the special landing pages based on the card that they're getting. It's been really neat. So I don't want to take up too much of your time. Obviously, really appreciate having you on the show. This is that awesome time where you get to shine and tell everyone where they can find out more about you and postpile Sure, so you can find me on LinkedIn, Michael Epstein Epstein, one I think is my LinkedIn handle. And then you can email me Michael at postpile att.com. And visit us at post pilot.com We have really a done for you service. We make it effortless to launch the campaign. We have a team of professional designers on our team that will even do the creative for you. We have account managers that understand ecom. That's their background, and they know the strategies that are going to work. It's basically like, we'll do it all for you. And I'll send you a link to that you can throw in the show notes so that you can even get the first campaign for free. Because we know it all we know when it'll work. We don't want to offer it. Yeah.
If if we know it'll work for you. We'll we'll show it to you for free and then we know you're gonna come back and keep sending. Perfect, Michael big thanks. Thanks for being on the show. Everyone who tuned in, of course, thank you as well make sure you subscribe on whichever podcast platform you prefer. Or just head over to ecommshow.com And you can see it all there too. But are usual. Thanks for coming in and we will see you all next time. Have a going
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