One Dashboard, Multiple Channels
As one of the most popular online car shopping destinations, Cars.com depends on gathering and analyzing consumer behavior on its site to improve experiences for its visitors. It uses the same approach to help the site’s paying advertisers—primarily car dealers and automotive manufacturers—improve their results.
The company’s data warehouse and business intelligence team gathers and interprets site visitor data from the 11 million monthly visitors. Based on traffic volume, there is a significant amount of data stored in its 12-terabyte Teradata warehouse appliance.
“Among other things, we track impressions, conversions and other key activities a consumer can take on our site that indicate engagement with an auto brand or to a dealership,” says Kevin Wyderka, Director of Data Warehouse and Business Intelligence for Cars.com.
Wyderka knew that visualization would help several audiences make better use of this data.
“In the past, a lot of what the business analysts and power users within Cars.com did was pull data from various places into Excel. They did pretty much everything in Excel,” says Wyderka. It was clear that dashboards would save these internal users a great deal of time.
Wyderka also wanted to publish dashboards outside of the Cars.com firewall for two very different audiences: advertisers and Cars.com salespeople.
“We wanted to be able to publish in the customer portal that we created for our advertisers,” says Wyderka. “We also want to be able to publish those same dashboards to Salesforce, because most of our sales reps work strictly within that solution.”
Sales Force on Salesforce
In fact, Cars.com best practices require that the more than 600-person sales team be able to do all of its work from within the cloud-based Salesforce solution.
“We don’t want our salespeople logging into multiple systems to find what they need. They should be spending all of their time consulting with their customers, not logging into systems to find information,” Wyderka explains.
During a call, a Cars.com sales person must be able to tell customers what ad products they’ve purchased, how their ads are performing, and offer tips on how to improve performance.
“In order to make information available to our sales and customer support folks who live in the Salesforce ecosystem, we were pushing lots and lots of data from our data warehouse up into the Salesforce cloud,” says Wyderka. This process took up to three hours.
“Usually the warehouse was loaded by 8:00 a.m. central time, which is already 9:00 on the eastern time zone. Then, if we had to package up the data and further ship it up into Salesforce to make it available to the sales team, it could be 10:00, 11:00, or noon eastern time before users have access to the information,” says Wyderka.
At times, there would be delays loading the warehouse, which slowed access to current data even further.
“From a business perspective, the sales rep at the close of previous day was pulling essentially all of the information that they needed for their morning appointments because they knew that data wouldn't be refreshed in time,” says Wyderka.
Super Bowl = Super Busy
One of the busiest times for Cars.com and its customers is the month of February, so it is also a very busy time for the data warehouse and business intelligence team.
“One of our big advertising events is the Super Bowl. We’ve advertised in the Super Bowl for the past six years—and many of our national auto manufacturers advertiser customers also advertise on the Super Bowl,” says Wyderka. “So the month of February tends to be a fairly intense time of the year when people are online shopping for vehicles.”
Wyderka’s team runs reports for these auto manufacturers throughout February. This manual process has been time-intensive.
“It was a manual feed of pulling data from a couple of places, mashing it up in Excel and sending it out,” says Wyderka. “This took a couple of hours each day. So the report generally got to the customer by about noon their time out on the West Coast,” says Wyderka.
“Tableau Was at the Top of the Shortlist”
Wyderka went looking for a data visualization and dashboarding tool that would help him improve efficiencies and complement the existing reporting platform.
“We are an SAP Business Objects shop from a reporting perspective. I wanted a tool that would augment what we have and also position us well for doing some data exploration. ” he says.
He turned to a consulting organization, the Chicago Business Intelligence Group, for help in narrowing the search.
“They did some investigation, and came back with a nice summary of all the different tools, where they fit in the marketplace, and what Gartner and others were saying about them,” says Wyderka. “When they gave us their shortlist—Tableau was on top.”
Wyderka arranged for a Tableau proof of concept (POC).
“Quite frankly, you sold my business users right out of the gate,” says Wyderka. “And I had someone on my staff that came up to speed very quickly and said, ‘This is great—I know I can help our user community adopt it.’ So we pretty quickly landed on Tableau.”