The Sultans of CRM and Customer Loyalty—Mastering Customer Loyalty and Acquisition

Every dealership is different; there are large dealerships and small dealerships; there are dealers that sell multiple brands and there are dealers that only sell one brand. All dealerships, however, have one thing in common—the customer. Without customers no dealership can survive.

Advertising is one way to grow your business and expand your customer base, but with an average cost of over 600 dollars per vehicle sold, dealerships need to make sure that when customers submit a lead, they are contacted with the right offer, at the right time, to convince them to buy. And once a customer has bought a car, dealers need to stay in touch to convince them to return for vehicle service and their next purchase. In the old days, this was done with note cards and pads of paper. The advent of new technologies, however, has brought auto dealership Customer Relationship Management and Loyalty into the twenty-first century. Today’s CRM and Loyalty systems allow dealers not only to accurately track their leads and increase their return on investment from marketing, but also to create a relationship with those leads and turn them into loyal, returning customers.

The right Customer Relationship Management and Loyalty system for your dealership depends on what your needs are. So, in order to help you find what’s right for your dealership, we spoke with Jon Greene, vice president of operations for NuCar Consulting, Howard Leavitt, an auto expert with over 40 years experience and president and founder of AutoRaptor CRM, and Christian Thornton managing director for, LLC, developers of the AEROS Suite CRM in the Trinity Suite inventory management, website development, and CRM dealer solution, and asked them a few questions. They told us about the benefits of CRM and Loyalty programs and how you can take advantage of them in your dealership. Take a look at what they have to say and let us know what you think on

Jon Greene, vice president of operations for NuCar Consulting

For the past 14 years, Jonathan Greene has been working directly with auto dealers throughout North America to design, build and launch the most creative loyalty programs in our industry. Since 1997, he has personally delivered over 4,000 automotive customer loyalty seminars to dealer groups of all sizes. Jon can be contacted with your loyalty questions at 302-696-6000X705 or by email at

How can an effective loyalty program benefit an auto dealership?

Jon Greene—A truly effective loyalty program should benefit an auto dealership on many levels. First, it should become a definitive reason for a customer to choose your dealership over the competition. If your program does not contain enough value to be used on the sales floor to build value in your dealership, take a serious look at its benefits. A truly effective loyalty program should help your salespeople close deals. Period.

Second, a truly effective loyalty program should offer service customers an earnings program that tracks their purchasing behavior and periodically rewards them based on their continued loyalty. The benefits of being in your program should always give customers an unbeatable reason to return to your dealership for all services, not just a handful. If you can do this, your R.O. count and average gross per ticket will go up.

What type of tools and incentives are the most successful at growing customer loyalty?

JL—Highly creative ones. An effective loyalty program is never static. Your offers and incentives should always be relevant and valuable to your customers or it will die on the vine. For this reason, your tools and incentives should be flexible and evolve as the market changes. A truly effective loyalty program gives you this ability to think and launch creative, valuable incentives.

What effect has the internet had on loyalty programs?

JL—The internet has really helped automotive loyalty programs grow in popularity. These days, it is so easy for customers to see their account balances, reward schedules and actually track the steps they need to take to earn their next reward. When you have your customers tracking their point balances to see what they can earn, you have an engaged customer and a successful loyalty program. The power of the internet gives your customers the information they need to choose to stay loyal, from the convenience of their home computer.

How can auto dealership loyalty programs work with their marketing plans?

JL—Quite easily. A good loyalty program should completely integrate and support a dealership’s overall marketing efforts. If a dealership can be creative and find a way to use their loyalty program to complement their marketing plans, it will create a highly valuable strategy that will always dominate the market.

Howard Leavitt, president and founder of AutoRaptor CRM

“Car guy,” Howard Leavitt, has spent over 40 years establishing a strong reputation as one of the brightest and most accomplished retail managers on the U.S. automotive scene. And as founder/inventor of AutoRaptor CRM, he has leveraged his expertise to develop the perfect tool that not only aces traditional CRMs, but actually gets used.

Throughout his career, Leavitt was frustrated by the existing sales solutions offered. Determined to find a better way to work, Leavitt set about designing a desktop system that combines a CRM follow-up system, ILM and desking, and is easy-to-use. The result? AutoRaptor CRM!

What is the biggest advantage of having a CRM system in an auto dealership?

Howard Leavitt–The biggest advantage to a CRM is capturing all of your leads and customers in one place and then being able to utilize the system to carry out your sales strategy. A sales strategy involves many components. A CRM allows a dealership to gather and store critical customer information, implement a follow up plan to maintain relationships with the customers, and use the data gathered to increase customer satisfaction and better reach the dealership’s goals.

Where is CRM technology headed in the next few years?

HL—Because CRM will remain about the customer and their experience from start to finish and starting over again, CRM technology will need to consistently find ways to connect with people where they are the most. Successful dealers are savvy marketers, and utilizing integrated email marketing tools directly within your CRM is a powerful and effective way to target your customers and leads with your dealership’s message. Also, the use of the CRM for end users will continue to become more mobile as people are using smart phones and tablets more often to conduct business.

What can dealers do to make sure they are taking full advantage of their CRM systems?

HL—The first thing a dealership can do to ensure their CRM is being used to the fullest is to have a champion of the system. The ideal champion is a manager who will monitor the system daily to ensure the sales team is carrying out their follow up as well as monitoring the data. Once you have your champion, the second most important step is making the CRM mandatory and part of the sales team’s daily routine. Any CRM is only as good as the data that is entered into the system.

Christian Thornton, managing director for, LLC

Christian Thornton is managing director for, LLC, developers of the AEROS Suite CRM in the Trinity Suite inventory management, website development, and CRM dealer solution.

Trinity Suite is an integrated, one-solution CRM, website, and online inventory management tool that equips new and used auto retailers to merchandise and price the freshest, most competitive online inventory in the industry.

Trinity Suite is the dealer's single-source for web services, lead management, and follow up, all integrating with multiple, real-time inventory data feed updates from the dealership to its website and various other online car listing sites like

What is the biggest advantage of having a CRM system in an auto dealership?

Christian Thornton—The primary advantage for dealership management and ownership of deploying a CRM application is that the technology allows analysis and measurement of marketing and follow up efforts related to new customer acquisition and existing customer retention across all departments. As the old saying goes, “inspect what you expect”. To consistently grow bottom line results, retailers must continue to acquire new customers in all departments and maximize retention of those customers both during the vehicle ownership life cycle (i.e. service, aftermarket, parts, body shop, etc.) and during the transition from one vehicle to another. Without an easy to use and reliable CRM application to measure results in these areas, you simply cannot inspect what you expect.

A significant additional benefit to owners and managers is improving business continuity to reduce the costs of employee turn-over and disasters that could cause data loss inside the dealership. Having a web-based CRM application utilized by all personnel dramatically reduces the risk of these types of “business life events”. And with the increasingly common use of customer databases as a business valuation influencer during the sale or purchase of the business, the need for a safe, secure, accurate customer database is as important as your P&L!

Where is CRM technology headed in the next few years?

CT—CRM technologies have matured over the past ten years and the next five years promise additional features and benefits to end users. One of the more promising improvements for retailers is the ability for CRM databases to integrate seamlessly with more and more applications and systems in the years to come, keeping valuable customer and transaction data up-to-date in real-time across departments and even across companies. This will allow retailers to consolidate vendors in the short term to achieve savings and streamline support, while leveraging new technologies in the future.

What can dealers do to make sure they are taking full advantage of their CRM systems?

CT—Document your goals! When we meet with a potential CRM customer who is unhappy with the current CRM deployment, before we discuss feature needs and product issues, we first ask “Why do need CRM for your store(s)?” It’s not that people can’t answer the question, but it exposes how different the answers are, cross-functionally, inside the dealership (owner vs. GM vs. sales management vs. service, etc.). A consolidated, written list of CRM goals ensures, from top to bottom, the organization’s objectives are clear, and it provides an artifact for the team to review down the road to gauge progress towards the goals.

Then, manage to the goals by ensuring CRM systems are utilized by all team members in such a way that it tracks toward your written goals. To accomplish this objective:

  • Top-down utilization: if your owner and GM both fail to use the CRM, the troops will notice. Everyone has to use the system month-to-month to accomplish the company’s CRM objectives because everyone from top to bottom plays a part! Make time as an owner or GM; and it doesn’t have to be daily.

  • Utilize the CRM application’s built in report(s) to visualize usage by employees (i.e. who is logging in, who isn’t)

  • “Manage to the system:” by holding team members accountable for performance based on the figures in the CRM reports (i.e. ups logged, demos, write ups, appointments scheduled, deliveries, etc.)

  • Establish a written employee policy for software system utilization to ensure it is an official part of the job description or employment agreement. And ensure that your CRM goals are shared with every employee in this document. Give ‘em a target to aim at.

  • Leverage vendor resources like training videos, online training courses, site visits, seminars, WIKIs (aka knowledge base) apps, etc. in your new employee on-boarding process to ensure new hires are given CRM knowledge as they begin performing their day-to-day duties. Turn-over can and will adversely affect your CRM implementation over months and years; don’t let it happen to you!

  • Be a coach, not a police man. Observe behavior and improve or correct it. Don’t get completely overwhelmed by the points and clicks or the minutia of a given system.

  • Michael Bowen


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