by Peter High, published on Forbes
Cars.com is a web 1.0 company, having launched in 1998. It receives roughly thirty million visits per month, and it focuses on the merchandising of new and used vehicles. Kevin Steele leads IT and product for the company, and as such has typical CIO responsibilities, but also is responsible for the Cars.com website, the products the company sells to dealers, the features the company presents to consumers. Therefore, he has an unusually strategic set of responsibilities. Within the past three and a half years, Steele has shepherded in the rise of Cars.com’s mobile presence to reflect the fact that customers increasingly wish to access the site on their smartphones.
In being a customer-centric IT executive, Steele and his team must bear in mind two sets of constituents, both dealers and those who purchase cars. In this interview, Steele describes the methods he uses to stay on top of the needs of each, the sanctity of having a solid strategic planning process, and the need to develop in an agile fashion, among other topics.
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Peter High: Kevin, you are the Vice President of Technology at Cars.com, and I wonder if we could begin with a description of Cars.com’s business. I know you are one of the older of the dot com companies, actually having emerged during the internet 1.0 period. This is an organization I would imagine that has gone through a variety of iterations, changes, evolutions, perhaps some pivots through time. I would love to get your high level overview of the business itself as it stands today.
Kevin Steele: Cars.com is essentially a web platform that enables the connection of consumers that are looking to buy vehicles, both new and used, with dealers that are looking to sell vehicles, both new and used. We are a website that gets approximately thirty million visits per month and we focus on the merchandising of new and used vehicles.
High: When you think about the website and your customer you are in between a couple of different parties— both the dealers and the people who are purchasing cars. How do you think about the experience for each of those sets of constituents? And as you are iterating around the development of products, for instance, when you are reaching out to customers does it tend to be a cross-section between those two different sets of constituents?
Steele: Yes, it is. Our objective is to try to strike a balance between the two. Certainly our site is structured and focused on being a consumer-centric site. We look to create features and content and search capabilities that favor the ways that consumers want to engage with vehicle shopping, in particular engage with dealers from a connections standpoint—whether that be viewing a map and how to reach a dealer through a mobile device, or sending a dealer an email and seeking a quote on a vehicle they are interested in. On the dealer side, we look to make sure that we are leveraging our large audience to the best of our abilities to merchandise dealers in a positive light, make sure that they have the largest exposure to consumers for their inventory, and provide them with products to merchandise, attract, and build brand for their dealerships.