How to buy a CRM | Part 1: Introduction

This will be a series of articles because buying a CRM is a massive undertaking.  It requires a lot of research and it requires knowing exactly what you want.  This series is not intended to help bolster anyone’s sales or to paint something in a good or bad light.  I wrote these articles to help dealers know what a CRM is supposed to do and how to pick one.

There are a lot of opinions surrounding CRM and how it should be approached; this is just mine.  There are also a few good resources you can turn to for help in either getting back to using your current CRM better or finding a new CRM.  Autobase has a book called Seven Months to CRM Greatness that I hope they’d send to you if you reached out to them (it is a bit dated and 101, but it is something to get started with).  Consultants like David Kain, Jennifer Suzuki, and Joe Webb are fantastic resources when it comes to CRM.  These people work with a bunch of different systems and usually know a great deal about each one.  Your current provider’s support and account management/training staff is also a great resource for redeploying or advancing your current CRM solution.

I hate to say this, but I have been through a lot of CRM sales pitches and in 90% of the experiences I’ve had the sales representative was not working in my best interest.  If this series does its job you will know what to look for the next time you are sitting down with a CRM sales representative.

Let’s get this introduction really started.

What is a CRM system?

A Customer Relationship Management system helps to keep you focused on your customers by enforcing process.  In a basic nutshell it is a system that tells you “who to call when.”  Stepping outside those boundaries is where CRM systems begin to get more sophisticated.  It is also a database of your customers that organizes their information in ways that aid in your marketing and decision making efforts.

Three parts to a CRM system:

You should understand that there are three parts to a CRM.

  1. Process enhancement.  I would argue this is the most important part of a CRM.  You move the needle in your store by working one-to-one communication based on employees following process guidelines.
  2. Marketing abilities.  A CRM can be used to send bulk emails, push advertising phone calls for your staff to make, and export a list of customers for mailers or for external call centers to call customers.  Some get a bit more fancy in this area.
  3. Decision making capabilities.  This mostly boils down to reports and dashboards, but it is simply the system providing data that allows you to make better decisions.

Why are most CRM options from automotive-specific vendors?

There are many CRM companies supplying the rest of the world with solutions like Sugar and SalesForce being examples of the bigger ones.  I bet a few of the automotive CRM companies use a non-automotive-specific CRM within their own sales departments.  Many of these non-automotive CRM’s focus on Business to Business (B2B) stuff while dealerships are Business to Consumer (B2C) organizations.  The models for each are quite a bit different.  That’s not to say there aren’t B2C solutions outside automotive; there are tons!  Automotive is a tough nut to crack and almost a fraternity.  But that still isn’t good enough reason why.

What makes automotive CRM so different?

One major thing is that it is so difficult to transact with dealership DMS systems.  Outside of automotive these are commonly referred to as ERP systems, but there isn’t a stranglehold on them like there is in automotive.  There are also things like manufacturer certifications and what not, but they’re much easier to work with.

Outside of integrations and certifications, we have different process demands as the level of communication between a dealership and a consumer vs. something like Best Buy and a consumer are vastly different.  Also within our process we have what the outside world would call two different quote tools.  One is a quote tool that may be used for email communication once an Internet Lead comes through and another quote tool is something we call a “pencil tool.”

Then we’ve got that complex monster that is constantly shifting, and usually late to be updated when new models come around, called inventory.

Then our language comes in.  In order to build software you should start and finish with something called an object model and that requires a precise vocabulary.  I won’t get into the details of an object model, but I can tell you our vocabulary is all over the place.  What we call a lead, a client, a customer, a phone-up, a floor-up, etc can all mean the same thing to us; these are completely different things in software definitions.

Oh yeah, one of the biggest problems in automotive is that we don’t take CRM as seriously as we should.  Sorry to end on such a downer, but read Why We Suck.

We might think of ourselves as an industry that isn’t very technologically savvy, but that’s probably because we’re an industry the technologically savvy struggle to understand.

Where does a CRM system break down?

You.  Most of the time you are the destroyer of your CRM.  For additional reading on this topic check out Why hasn’t CRM sold me more cars? All technologies solve some sort of problem and that inherently makes each one good.  Where they are bad is when they don’t solve your particular problems (we’re going to try to fix that with this series), or they don’t innovate to keep up with your advancing abilities.  However, when it comes to CRM, it is more about providing your basic users (Sales Agents, BDC, Call Center, Service Writers, etc) with a schedule of things to do and a place to add to your database.  If your basic users are not inputting customers and/or not calling customers then it isn’t the CRM that’s broken, it is you.

There are many times when I’ve thought simply replacing a technology will give me a fresh start and the ability to fix the problems I was currently having…..but all it really did was sweep the problems under the carpet for a few months.  When those problems reappeared they were worse than ever.  Good CRM utilization requires work and maybe a lot of time looking in the mirror.  I just wanted to point that out before we dive into the next steps in this series.  I promise the rest of the series will be more positive.  I had to point out our shortcomings up front so we can all have them in the back of our head while we’re discerning what is most important to each of us in a CRM system.

How to buy a dealership CRM series:

Part 1:  Introduction (this article)
Part 2:  Process
Part 3:  Marketing
Part 4:  Decision-Making
Part 5:  Conclusion

Alex Snyder

Alex was one of the automotive industry's first eCommerce Directors. Whether it is the latest Internet trend or the oldest selling philosophy, Alex Snyder has a unique approach to the automotive business because of his years of experience. During these years Alex was introduced to Jeff and became a integral part of DealerRefresh. Alex has since moved from the front line of the dealership and is now the Senior Director of Product Design at Dealer.com

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

14 comments
Sandy Barris
Sandy Barris

If CRM seems way to taunting, that's because it is and exactly why I create "Sales Goals On Fire" 

After talking to hundreds of sales people who only wanted a simple way to track their sale goals without all the bells and whistles that made using CRM frustrating, I decided to create an iPhone App.


Check it out and let me know what you think is working, what's not working and what is missing.


By the way, it's OK to don’t believe me yet. I wouldn’t expect you to. But please don’t disbelieve me yet either, because you haven’t seen all there is to see.”

So here's a link to check it out: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/SalesGoalsOnFire/id592408093?mt=8

Whether you’re new to sales, been selling for quite some time or are struggling in your sale career, you’ll see results in the first week.

Media Praise From: REALTOR MAG, LIFE INSURANCE SELLING, TOP APPS TODAY, ALLTOP, LIFE HEALTH PRO, APP ADVICE, HOME BUSINESS MAGAZINE & CNN NEWS “PRODUCT OF THE WEEK”

After all, who wouldn't want a quicker, easier & incredibly affordable way to track their sales goals & activities? 

Thanks for listening and talking a look.




Automotive Marketing Guy
Automotive Marketing Guy

Great article! I have to agree about not taking the CRM process seriously. I recently bought a new car - the sales person who sold it to me knew that I promote and build automotive crm systems - No post-sale contact. Nothing, not even a phone call or email! - It's a new car company and people love it. Instead of telling people who ask about it to buy from my sales professional, I tell them to check out a dealership! Too bad, he could have an additional 5 - 10 sales from my referrals. Great article!

Automotive Marketing Guy
Automotive Marketing Guy

Great article! I have to agree about not taking the CRM process seriously. I recently bought a new car - the sales person who sold it to me knew that I promote and build automotive crm systems - No post-sale contact. Nothing, not even a phone call or email! - It's a new car company and people love it. Instead of telling people who ask about it to buy from my sales professional, I tell them to check out a dealership! Too bad, he could have an additional 5 - 10 sales from my referrals. Great article!

Joe Webb
Joe Webb

Great article and thanks for the shout out. I spend so much time inside my client's CRM, I feel like I should be paying rent. I think your entire take on this is strong, but I'd break up the 3rd part of a CRM system (Decision-making capabilities) into two categories (so there are 4 total). This can be broken into Data-analyzing capabilities and Management Behavioral watch. The former can detail how customizable reports are able to be generated (and preferably automatically emailed to the desired parties - owner/Internet director) and the other is how easily it allows the sales management (or service management if possible) to quickly account for their team's progress in a deal, in a day, in a month.

A great CRM is set up by the Internet Director (after insight from all departments), Reviewed and launched by the executive management team, enforced by ownership and management, driven by sales managers, and utilized by salespeople. Beyond the initial set-up, I believe a truly great CRM is made and broken based on the support and use from the sales managers in store.

Once again, an amazing piece. When I was in retail, I interviewed 11 CRM companies. 7 were in-store demos and 4 were held virtually) The average time spent reviewing each piece was about 5-7 hours (and this is before many were really integrated with anything more than DMS and inventory). I found all 11 CRM from researching at the conferences and from things I've read. (Their references - before the days of online reviews - would be checked at a later point in the process.) However, the CRM I chose was not on my initial list of 11.

Here are three questions I ask of EVERY vendor.
"Who is the best?" (They'll all say they are :)
"Who is the second best?" (Here is where the inner turmoil for them begins)
"What is something about THEIR technology, beyond price, that you would like your system to have?)

8 of the 11 CRM companies I asked all said the same vendor was 2nd best and I hadn't heard of them. Then I did a 12th demo and that is who I chose. Happy Hunting,
Joe Webb

Joe Webb
Joe Webb

Great article and thanks for the shout out. I spend so much time inside my client's CRM, I feel like I should be paying rent. I think your entire take on this is strong, but I'd break up the 3rd part of a CRM system (Decision-making capabilities) into two categories (so there are 4 total). This can be broken into Data-analyzing capabilities and Management Behavioral watch. The former can detail how customizable reports are able to be generated (and preferably automatically emailed to the desired parties - owner/Internet director) and the other is how easily it allows the sales management (or service management if possible) to quickly account for their team's progress in a deal, in a day, in a month. A great CRM is set up by the Internet Director (after insight from all departments), Reviewed and launched by the executive management team, enforced by ownership and management, driven by sales managers, and utilized by salespeople. Beyond the initial set-up, I believe a truly great CRM is made and broken based on the support and use from the sales managers in store. Once again, an amazing piece. When I was in retail, I interviewed 11 CRM companies. 7 were in-store demos and 4 were held virtually) The average time spent reviewing each piece was about 5-7 hours (and this is before many were really integrated with anything more than DMS and inventory). I found all 11 CRM from researching at the conferences and from things I've read. (Their references - before the days of online reviews - would be checked at a later point in the process.) However, the CRM I chose was not on my initial list of 11. Here are three questions I ask of EVERY vendor. "Who is the best?" (They'll all say they are :) "Who is the second best?" (Here is where the inner turmoil for them begins) "What is something about THEIR technology, beyond price, that you would like your system to have?) 8 of the 11 CRM companies I asked all said the same vendor was 2nd best and I hadn't heard of them. Then I did a 12th demo and that is who I chose. Happy Hunting, Joe Webb

Jake Wirth
Jake Wirth

Great topic Alex! You make a strong point:

"There are many times when I’ve thought simply replacing a technology will give me a fresh start and the ability to fix the problems I was currently having…..but all it really did was sweep the problems under the carpet for a few months."

It is also crucial to mention that success will never be defined by the CRM service you choose. There are a few good choices out there and the competition is breeding increasingly better tools, ultimately benefitting dealerships. The key to success, as you touched on, comes down to utilization. Since dealerships hire and fire quicker than fast food joints, ongoing training for new (and seasoned) salespeople has to take place. Also, they need to be required to use the CRM as a condition of employment.

In addition, the best Automotive CRM providers realize that for dealerships to be successful, it is critical the CRM adapts to the changing processes within the store. The beauty of a well-used CRM tool is the ability to see where the shortfalls of a dealership's sales process exist. Then in turn the dealer can make adjustments to the process, schedule more appointments and close more deals.

We should all love CRM, because in the end we make more money using it!

Jake Wirth
Jake Wirth

Great topic Alex! You make a strong point: "There are many times when I’ve thought simply replacing a technology will give me a fresh start and the ability to fix the problems I was currently having…..but all it really did was sweep the problems under the carpet for a few months." It is also crucial to mention that success will never be defined by the CRM service you choose. There are a few good choices out there and the competition is breeding increasingly better tools, ultimately benefitting dealerships. The key to success, as you touched on, comes down to utilization. Since dealerships hire and fire quicker than fast food joints, ongoing training for new (and seasoned) salespeople has to take place. Also, they need to be required to use the CRM as a condition of employment. In addition, the best Automotive CRM providers realize that for dealerships to be successful, it is critical the CRM adapts to the changing processes within the store. The beauty of a well-used CRM tool is the ability to see where the shortfalls of a dealership's sales process exist. Then in turn the dealer can make adjustments to the process, schedule more appointments and close more deals. We should all love CRM, because in the end we make more money using it!

Ed Duval
Ed Duval

Hey Alex, really looking forward to reading the rest of this series. So far you're right on target. Thanks!

Ed Duval
Ed Duval

Hey Alex, really looking forward to reading the rest of this series. So far you're right on target. Thanks!

Alex Snyder
Alex Snyder

But Joe - there are only 5 days in the week. I can't break decision-making into 2 parts :)

You'll have to email who #12 is to me.

Alex Snyder
Alex Snyder

But Joe - there are only 5 days in the week. I can't break decision-making into 2 parts :) You'll have to email who #12 is to me.

Jerry Thibeau
Jerry Thibeau

I am pretty sure his 12 was the one you had when at CF.

Jerry Thibeau
Jerry Thibeau

I am pretty sure his 12 was the one you had when at CF.

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  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jeff Kershner, autodealerchat and RobbieCamp, Pacific Dealer Sol. Pacific Dealer Sol said: How to buy a CRM | Part 1: Introduction: This will be a series of articles because buying a CRM is a massive un… http://bit.ly/hkOUdR [...]

  2. [...] If you are shopping for a new CRM system or would like to learn more about the decisions that surround CRM features, Alex Snyder has posted a series of articles on http://www.DealerRefresh.com, so start with Part One; How to Buy a CRM System – Part 1. [...]

  3. [...] using elead CRM? What have been your experiences? Also – if you have not already, be sure to read How to buy a CRM. An introduction to CRM for dealers. | DealerRefresh over on the [...]

  4. [...] that are notorious for overselling. I encourage every dealer and dealerrefresher to read Alex's How to buy a CRM. An introduction to CRM for dealers. | DealerRefresh I would spot check their support lines a few times to see what the response times are like. [...]

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