CRM—the Backbone of the Dealership

With all the talk in our industry of social media, mobile marketing, and the myriad of other new ways that have become available for dealers to market their vehicles and communicate with customers, it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Fortunately, CRM systems have evolved to handle the influx of new online technologies, big data, and communication channels that have sprung up the last decade.

CRM systems touch every aspect of your dealership, from your social media and mobile communications to marketing and data management. Unfortunately, many dealerships fail to take advantage of the powerful tools available in their CRM. In order to help our readers make full use of the CRM systems, we interviewed several experts on automotive CRM: Boyd Warner, CEO of AutoAlert, Jonathan Ord, CEO and cofounder of DealerSocket, and Sean Stapleton, vice president of sales for VinSolutions. They gave us their thoughts on how dealers can get the most out of their current CRM technology and the future of the industry.

Where is CRM technology headed in the next few years?

Boyd Warner:

CRM is about a methodology of communication from the seller to the buyer. CRM is no longer just a piece of software that produces worksheets or drives birthday follow up. CRM is about unlocking the potential in the dealer’s data. Another opportunity for CRM is to more deeply integrate with other proven vendors, to eliminate the dreaded double entry requirement that is in place now. Portability is on the rise; iPods and Smartphones capture customer data real time in the service drive and on the lot.

Jonathan Ord:

CRM will always be headed in a direction that enables customers to have better relationships and experiences with their trusted vendors. It will continue to proliferate across all functional areas of the dealership and I think it will even infiltrate some of the more historically transactional activities at the store. CRM will also continue to get more refined from a user interface perspective to continually find ways to make it easier to use. Aggregating and reporting on massive amounts of information will also continue to improve and be combined with manufacturer, inventory, valuation, social media, service, and personal information across groups and OEM segments to better market and serve the customer base.



Sean Stapleton:

The future of CRM is Artificial Intelligence or “lead nurturing,” meaning the CRM will be able to identify consumer behavior and automatically start the sales process based on where the customer is in the buying cycle. We will see more CRM’s consolidate to serve as a single login, supporting website and digital marketing so that data can be passed through the CRM to better identify consumers’ shopping behaviors. CRMs will move towards serving the entire dealership so that sales and fixed operations can manage their owner base and missed sales opportunities more efficiently.

How can CRM integrate and improve auto dealers’ social media efforts?

Boyd Warner:

CRM systems should acquire, grow and retain profitable customer relationships, since customer loyalty is a major ingredient of profitability. CRMs often fail to focus on the long-term, picture-improving customer retention. So, what should we consider? Vehicle valuations are becoming more and more transparent, and because there are so many different sources to tell a customer what their cars are worth, how can the dealer bring them back? The answer is differentiating the evaluation process. Customers want to replace their car not just sell it, so why not answer their questions? Mr. Customer, if you give me your vehicle back early, our goal is to put you in a new one and keep your payments about the same. The dealer’s ability to offer their customer an intrusive view of what they can replace their current car with the new one for could clearly be part of their social media outreach.

A PURL monitored by dealership personnel would generate more leads via Facebook/dealer website. AutoAlert® will play in this arena soon, and it does more to further our brand. Imagine the AutoAlert® logo on every dealer’s Facebook page and/or dealership website.

Jonathan Ord:

True social media and customer management house the same principles of understanding and serving relationships. By understanding the customers’ buying processes and habits dealers are better able to target “like” potential customers in social media. The dealer is also able to capitalize on their employees’ use of social media to get their friends and family members to come purchase vehicles and use the dealerships services. With good CRM technology and processes in place the dealer will also create a wonderful customer experience every time a customer visits the dealerships and those customers will talk openly on social media about those experiences. The CRM should also help the dealer define what content would be relevant to publish via social media feeds that can then be disseminated to employees and customers for them to re- post on their own social media outlets.

Sean Stapleton:

Social media integration is key in the CRM as it can provide a dealership key insight to who the customer is and what their buying motivations may be. How so, you ask? Think of this…You get a lead, click on the customer, and then click on a social icon taking you to the customer’s Facebook page. On this page you see a photo of the customer with his/her three kids. Could safety be a buying motivation? Is it a larger vehicle that would best suit their needs? This insight can help you take the customer down the feature/benefit path better than you could before. Today with good process and good tool sets we can understand more about an internet lead than a walk-in!

How can dealers integrate their CRM with their marketing efforts?

Boyd Warner:

With our upcoming mobile VIN-scanning technology, the dealer will no longer have to rely on the DMS to hand off the data. This represents a monumental leap in the sales process never seen in the service drive before. Dealership personnel will be able to scan the VIN and know immediately if the customer has the ability to replace their current car with the new one and keep the payment about the same. The answer to this question can be communicated to the customer electronically, by paper, or person to person. And, since sales associates can see many more customers this way, it offers many additional sales opportunities.

Jonathan Ord:

Mobile CRM makes it much easier to track every interaction with customers. The sales person is better enabled to capture information, follow up, market, call and generally mentor the customers buying process with a device that sits in their pocket! The customer is also enabled with mobile applications that allow them to set service appointments, search inventory, look at vehicle service history and manage their relationship with the dealership in a very friendly and efficient way.

Sean Stapleton:

Mobile CRM can change the way sales people interact with data, in turn, increasing utilization. Mobile technology gives you key CRM data that is vital to your dealership, at any time or any place. It can provide you with the ability to respond to a customer in real-time, view inventory to better serve customers both on and off the lot, and stop the clock on email leads to satisfy the OEM response times. Click to call and email functionality makes it easier for the user to move forward to next steps. In addition to consumers, dealers can manage their staff and keep a close eye on their productivity while they are away from the dealership.

What can dealers and salespeople do to improve how they use their CRM solution?

Boyd Warner:

Most CRM’s are like closets. Your staff put leads and client contact notes in it, and promptly forgets about this information. A plan, goals and accountability are crucial for providing results. AutoAlert is a CRM unlike what ordinarily is considered a customer relationship management tool, which often is viewed as a passive technology. Instead, AutoAlert is an assertive-selling tool. It helps dealers create active, daily lists of existing customers whose buy profiles based on vehicle equity, age, mileage and make/model (plus such factors as incentives, bank and tax rates) make them buy-ready. As a customer, we would all like to be contacted when there’s an offer that proves that there something in it for us. When we feel that the communication is more one-sided and only benefits the dealer, CRM is not effective. Dealers and sales people can improve the use of their CRM solution by making sure that the offer is targeted to the right customer at the right time.

Jonathan Ord:

Spend time with it! Focus on it! We spend millions of dollars creating facilities, flooring inventory, and marketing to the masses and a comparatively little amount of time and resources making sure the customer experience is perfect. That is CRM. In this day and age of social media and dealer reviews the dealers that do not focus on the CRM data to define better and more efficient practices will literally go out of business. This is a top down exercise. The GMs have to be involved. The owners have to be involved. If Roger Penske and Larry Van Tyle are focused on this stuff with hundreds of stores don’t you think it is important?

Sean Stapleton:

To put it simply, use the system! At the end of the day, if people are not using their CRM to its fullest potential then you are creating a profit leak, not the software. The best way to utilize any CRM is to have buy-in from the bottom to the top, make it a culture, and continue to learn your system through ongoing training and sharing of best practices.” Make sure you find a system that is easy to use so it gets used. A cloud-based, use it anywhere mobile system needs to be part of the dealership culture. Utilization starts at the top!



What aspects of their CRM systems do dealers most often fail to take advantage of?

Boyd Warner:

Dealers who recognize how powerful customer follow up is when done consistently with all store traffic, including service customers, prospects who visit but don’t buy, no-shows, and existing customers, always sell more cars and service. Pursing opportunity versus waiting for it to show up is a more productive way to sell. Vendors also owe it to their customers to provide ongoing training, 24/7 webinar and online tutorials and proactive customer care services to help their customers get the most productivity, satisfaction, and ROI from the technology products they provide. Dealers should be more assert themselves in holding their vendors accountable for these deliverables. Dealers seldom learn the current set of tools before the new set arrives. By many accounts, two-thirds of CRM products go underutilized.

Jonathan Ord:

Different for every dealer, but I do see a tremendous amount of potential in the fixed operations side of the business. As new car sales slow and the used car inventory continues to increase the service, parts, and used vehicle sales will be the areas where dealers can really set themselves apart from the herd.

Sean Stapleton:

Most dealerships don’t maximize their investment in CRM. Many of the good users of CRM today only use 50-75 percent of the full system! The more you integrate your CRM into all of the profit centers the more you will see the competitive advantages and profitability.

In addition to this, all too often dealers miss the mark, because they failed to build efficient, custom defined rules and tasks for the sales process that don’t wear on the customer or staff. If you make tasks that bog a salesperson down, they are more likely to bypass the system than use it.

Another miss is marketing to the dealers’ owner base; most CRM tools have effective ways of marketing to consumers that are in equity, lease expectation, declined op code, and the purchase cycle.

Michael Bowen

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