Sheena Banton

POSITION:Director of customer marketing, AutoNation Inc., Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
ACHIEVEMENT: Improved sales and service results by developing a central customer database and automating email marketing

Four years ago, Sheena Banton had no experience in the automotive industry. Today, she is overseeing the customer database, email marketing, social media and reputation management for the largest new-car retailer in the U.S.

When AutoNation Inc. tapped her in 2012 to oversee email campaigns, Banton, who has an MBA and had worked at Carnival Cruise Line and American Express, was wary about working in retail automotive.

"From the perspective of the customer, my impression of the car business was it was behind the times and outdated," Banton said.

But AutoNation executives, preparing to launch the company's digital storefront, said the right things: Auto retailers could no longer ignore the Internet or consumer behavior. "I bought into that," Banton said. The opportunity to help transform customer perceptions of an entire industry proved powerful.

AutoNation credits Banton since her arrival for helping improve sales and service results by developing a centralized customer database, launching a campaign automation tool and executing email marketing campaigns at scale. Banton's six-person team interfaces with the dealerships and handles email marketing for such customer matters as service reminders, test-drive events, recall alerts and sales promotions.

"We're in close contact with the stores pretty much every day," Banton said.

The idea is to drive loyalty and additional sales by sending targeted and relevant messages to customers. The customer database her team built allows AutoNation to recognize and act on opportunities that cut across automaker brands and reflect where the customer is in the ownership cycle.

For instance, when the database shows customers have sufficient equity in their vehicles, equity trigger software ensures they'll get an email showing them the kind of vehicle they could be driving if they trade up. When customers are in a strong equity position, AutoNation can prioritize its marketing money and target those people, Banton said.

"Customers are receiving the right communication at the right time," she said. "The more we know about our customers, the smarter we are when we communicate with them, and that drives sales and service for the stores."

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