Dealership Communication Tools

Blueprint Series: Automotive CRM Solutions


One of the toughest jobs these days is picking the right technology for the job, so we’re going to take a different approach with something called the “Blueprint Series”.  The idea behind this series of articles is to tell our vendors what we want.  Hopefully they’ll take our ideas and put them into a product we can buy!

For the first Blueprint Series we’re focusing on automotive CRM solutions.  ADP, Reynolds & Reynolds, AutoBase, HigherGear, iMagicLabs, DealerSocket, eLeads, and all other CRM vendors please pay attention…but please do not come in here with comments saying “we do that”, “I am the solution for you”, etc.  WE DO NOT WANT VENDOR SPAMMING IN THIS THREAD.  If you have a selling message, please email Alex Snyder:  [email protected] and he will point you in the right direction.

Dealer Refresh crowd – here’s your chance to put all your wishes on the table!  Please use the comments link to add your thoughts.

Starting with Alex’s first CRM wish:  Coming from a dealer group with competing franchises all on the same stretch of road we are prone for duplicate leads.  I’d like to have a single customer base, inside our CRM solution, that allows for a separate salesperson, salesmanager, BDC agent, service writer, service manager, etc to be attached to a single customer record for each store.  I’d also like vehicles of interest and vehicles owned to be unlimited for each customer record.

My Honda and Toyota stores are less than a mile apart, so I’d like to have a customer be able to have an interest in the Accord and the Camry….and have a different salesperson for each car.  I’d like to be able to send marketing messages on both the Camry and the Accord to that customer.

Yes, I understand this could get messy in the database, so we’ll have to figure out a way to clean things up.  However, I’d rather have my CRM cater to the real world than have to make the real world cater to the CRM.

Who knew an argument with Jeff Kershner, in 2005, would lead to Alex becoming a partner with him on DealerRefresh. Where will the next argument take ...
I wish the industry would mature to the point where vendors came together to create some standards. I could write a mile on this topic, but won't because I'm not really crazy about doing the vendor's innovative work for free.
I would like to see some way to track aggressive pricing strategies via a stock number or vin. My current control panels only let's me track a model. I would like a system that compares inventory views similar to the way autotrader tracks your traffic, that way I can see what effects pricing has on different vehicles in stock. I would also like some type of read receipt for my emails and some way to push info to our arkona showroom management on customer contacts, vehicle interests, appointments and demos. While your at it throw in the ability to manage third party sites such as and from one control panel and if I change something live it doesn't lock out future pushes from our DMS. Maybe current products exist for some of these issues?
Brian - I think you're looking more for an inventory control solution. Check out HomeNet ( for starters. I agree, it would be nice to have all that working inside a CRM, and I think one CRM vendor is working down that path, but there doesn't seem to be a great CRM/Inventory solution out there yet.

While we're talking about inventory, I'll add another one of my wishes (I have tons): I'd like to be able to upload my inventory from a DMS provider or Inventory Control tool such as HomeNet with photos and all details. I don't want a cap on the photos because I'd then like an "ebrochure" feature allowing me to email a professional looking template about a single vehicle (especially a used car).

I'd also like to see a "Dream Car" feature much like's CarFinder (, or have the CRM work with my website's CarFinder. But I want to take things a step further than just sending a customer an email saying "your car is here" - I'd like the salesperson to be notified and task be dropped into his/her to-do list to contact that customer. And to take things a step even further, I would also like the option of having it work with potential trade-ins. If customer A wants a 2005 Ford F350 Diesel and another salesperson is appraising one for customer B, I would like either customer A or customer A's salesperson to be automatically notified when one is currently being appraised.
  • G
  • February 21, 2008
I'd love to see standardization with the ability to send leads from all sources,,, ebay, etc. to one CRM source but this unfortunately seems impossible as all of these online vendors wish to be the "sole destination" within their own products for this and would be unwilling to have these leads send to a CRM system for the simple fact that it would enable us to track ROI on them on one screen and make it that much easier to track the effectivness of our ad spends with all of these vendors. They all wish to be "stand alone solutions".
R&R user.

Email campaign produces many dead email addresses. These bounced emails should be automatically deleted from the system.

Bounced emails have multipe causes for failure. For any emails with a questionable error message, have an fast management single page management area where we can click a check box and edit, delete or re-try as needed

p.s. Alex, is it a good idea to list what CRM you use at the top as we all have different systems with different issues.

Thanks for the suggestion Joe. It would certainly be helpful, but the idea behind the Blueprint Series is for us to be architects for all the vendors. I don't want to see things turn into a "Witch Hunt" against the vendors who don't do something. It also isn't a spotlight for the current vendors who do certain things well. This is an opportunity for improvement for everyone.

If saying who you're currently using helps you to explain what you're looking for, by all means, put it in your comment.
R&R user.

Topic: Post Sale Survey (in store).
CRM offers only a single choice as "lead source". That's ok if a majority of our customers are contacting us online. And, we all know, THEY ARE NOT. So this leaves our reps to key in the lead source. We get erratic data lead sourse data.

CRM should offer a "post sale survey" thats handled post sale, in the store. Reps desk, F&I, at delivery etc...

How many dealerships did you visit before you bought from us?
1,2,3, 4 or more
How long were you shopping?
Do you consider yourself a frequent internet user?
Did you visit our website,
How did you find our website,
____ Heard it on TV
____ Heard it on Radio
____ Found it on Search Engine (i.e. Google, Yahoo, etc...)
____Found it on Auto Shopper Site (,
____ Other

The Survey and financial data can be linked so we can connect financial results with user behavior.
  • L
    Leigh Grant
  • February 21, 2008

I have a number of desired features, automation being a major one. First and foremost however my current issue that is foremost in my mind is communication, specifically via Email. Part of my role at my dealership is coaching the sales staff on good vs bad email techniques. I really want any CRM to allow us to simply enter in our Email settings and 'POP' the Email instead of having to use the built in tool, it would also be nice to be able to moderate new employees emails more efficiently until I know they are up to speed on how to construct a proper email response.

Having moved (over a year ago) from GM's InTouch solution to ReyRey's contact management I can honestly say ReyRey has a much better product. InTouch is now defunct regardless. However I find the reporting abilities to be quite limited. Any CRM tool needs to have superior reporting abilities with in-depth customisation available.

Another point is we have three stores and our sales people sometimes move from store to store. Being able to track clients across stores would be a nice ability as well since sometimes I have one employee with customers across two stores, especially at the management level.

I have one other request to any CRM developer, PLEASE start making your applications platform independent. I want to be able to use your app from any browser. In this day and age being locked into Windows with Internet Explorer hurts our options. Also integration with a Dealer's DMS system is a MUST.

I would love a CRM that would prospect for me, call the customer, close the deal, wire the $ into my bank account and then tell my wife she can't buy that 6th pair of shoes..... maybe 3030??


To expand on this topic, how about lead data augmentation, segmentation and scoring within CRM products. The standard data that comes with a lead is fine, but what additional data would users like in their CRM to help with working and closing leads?
I would add these to CRM...
1. Gives me same functionality as so I can see if prospect opened my emails... visited the site...
2. Send service reminders.
3. Searches by email address... or other data... provides me any sites where customer profile is one... they have commented... on... facebook, myspace, linkedin... etc... etc...
4. Integrates with route one or other financial companies...
5. Has built-in support for commission Calculation... something like QCommission or Xactly Incent...
6. I can view current and previous marketing material... all postcards, newspaper ads, adwords... etc...
7. and most important of all... it can handle reports for any vendor... so I only have to log into to one place to view my reports... and better yet... able to link the third party reports to data in my CRM.

  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • February 21, 2008
I want my CRM company to truly understand CAN SPAM and actually monitor their email servers and take whatever measures in order to stay on the whitelists that way my emails make it into the inbox of Yahoo, AOL, Hotmail and all the rest! Most CRM vendors say they take the proper measure but they are foll of CRAP! And if you have a CRM that allows you to just BLAST out email campaigns, this is your first red flag.

I'd like to have a CRM to match up "like models/trim" of new and used inventory according to what the customer requested. From there, allow me to click on the inventory that I want to import into my email. While you do that, give me the flexibility to format the inventory data anyway I want. Automatically place a link to that car on my website in the email as well.

When I call for tech support, that the person I'm calling actually know more about the CRM then myself.

I've only started!
There seems to be a huge disparity between what is currently available and what advanced users would like in a useable format. Certainly, current systems are capable of doing much of what is listed in this string. The problem is the learning curve to implement and maintain those systems. You almost need a programmer to be able to keep up with demand.

A CRM needs to have some level of "intuition". Multiple non-linked pages to add, transfer, delete, etc. users and customers keep the dealerships in the "training mode" as attrition of sales people is a constant theme.

Outsourcing of these programs (BDC, sales followup, service followup, marketing) is going to continue to increase if we can not implement a user-friendly and cost effective solution long term to the CRM world.

Unfortunately, many of the CRM decisions are controlled by the accounting world of the DMS. So, I would look for a DMS/CRM solution that best meets the needs of the dealership group.

I was hoping that Microsoft's entry to this area would be a significant alternative. It does not appear that is the case in the near future.
I want to thank a few CRM tech support reps for making me feel super smart, insanely angry and on the verge of severe verbal abuse all at the same time. Is there a ticket they can put in which says
"I have no idea what you are asking me and why it's relevant. Or what you are trying to do and frankly I don't care."
And where do these tickets go anyway? I never hear back concerning my issue until bad Ashley comes out. Then I end up explaining the quite simple thing I was trying to do in the first place to 4 or 5 different people who all put in a "ticket" while I become more and more frustrated.
Can any of you relate?
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • February 22, 2008
Totally relating to "Bad Ashley"!! That's your new name by the way.
Can we relate....c'mon Ashley, are you serious? That one crosses over the CRM threshold into so many different automotive-vendor arenas. As for CRM companies, the one we're with now is so bad you can't get anything done unless you speak to a Vice President.....and this is a HUGE company (one of the two Automotive biggest....but I won't say exactly who it is), so you can imagine how hard it is to talk to a VP. I'd rather pay $150 a minute to Microsoft to talk to their tech support in India than waste my time talking to one of the _ _ _ (not saying who it is) support reps in America for free. In fact, they're a major inspiration for this thread and why I've become such an expert on what features every other CRM company has.

You did nail a major feature request on the head Ashley: Customer Support. I would like a CRM with customer support that does not have the word "no" in their dictionary. You're catering to sales staff - in fact - your support is probably catering to senior sales staff and management. These are people who typically "get it". I have to spend 5-10 minutes of every support call trying to make the support rep understand I wasn't born yesterday - I almost think I should send my high school transcripts, SAT scores, college diplomas, and resume before calling. Then I should play a recording of everything the CRM salesperson said to us before we signed the contract.....and remind them our CRM salesperson was a VP, CFO, CEO, etc. Okay, I need to stop, I feel my blood pressure rising. I'll end this little rant by saying there is an ENORMOUSLY HUGE disconnect between tech support and corporate ideology at most companies (not just CRM).

Request: How about making customer support history accessible to the customer?
  • J
    Jeff Kershner
  • February 25, 2008
Yes, Alex! "customer support history accessible". Totally!!

When I was using a CRM that my sales people coined "Lower Gear" every time I would ask for the history of our customer support, it was like pulling teeth to get it.

I remember asking the support guy for our history and he told me "Ok, i"ll probably loose my job but whatever". I told him with an attitude like that he out to quite his job.

My point is, allowing me the see the history was not something they seemed to excited. This was a few years ago and policy's might had changed by now.

I second you request for accessible customer support history.

  • M
  • February 25, 2008
As I've said dozens of times... give me a usage report, and not only will I be able to tell who is adopting the system and who isn't, but I'll be able to defend the CRM vendor when a Sales Manager (who opens the tool once a week) tells the owner the product sucks. Why a CRM vendor wouldn't want to show client usage reports is a mystery to me.

And looking way down the road (for most dealers anyway), we need the capability to add customers to our DB for reasons other than "new Sales lead"... as we move into the era of opting in and subscribing to blogs, etc. As it stands now for most CRMs, where would you enter a new prospect who opted into email updates on your web site? Or a customer who read your blog and submitted their contact info just so they could leave a comment? As a regular new lead? They're not a lead, and they shouldn't be counted or f/u'd as one. The whole customer record concept needs to be expanded to include Sales/Service/Finance/Parts/Other histories, and you should be able to plug a new customer in through any of those histories independently. A guy who lives across the country just bought a new grille from Parts? Great... plug him in as a new prospect in Parts, not Sales or Service.
  • J
    Jeff Larsen
  • February 26, 2008
Relating to the frustrations as Bad Ashley...

I wish for a CRM tool that helps me sell more cars, not beta test their product.

I wish for a CRM company NOT to sell me on the features/benefits of the product that are not finished or do not work at all, then leaving their skeleton tech support crew to clean up the mess.

Meanwhile, I look like a jerk (being nice) to dealership management for selling them on a product that takes more time to troubleshoot, work around bugs, and anxiously awaiting for the over-worked/under-staffed tech support to respond with a VALID answer or solution.
  • J
  • February 26, 2008
Yes, I just love how so many reps think we're stupid.. I used to be a software engineer and managed the development of custom multi-million dollar crm and sfa solutions for fortune 500 companies and the government.. needless to say, most vendors rub me the wrong way :)
The single biggest request I have - GIVE ME QUERY ACCESS TO MY DATABASE!!! Man, if I could run my own reports and build my own dashboards I would be tickled pink! I personally liked BDC Software inc's solution, as they are first and foremost a technology company - they get it. My DB would sitting on my server and I could do anything I wanted with it if I chose to! Even extend the app and build my own modules.. Too bad I was overruled when it came time to pull the trigger on selecting our vendor :(
  • J
    Jason W.
  • February 28, 2008
What if CRM tools aren't even the right solution? Seriously how many people here are really database marketeers, or want to spend all day creating queries? What if the solution is you out source your CRM effort? Dealer's have outsourced the majority of their marketing and other services. Now, especially since a lot these tools are becoming commodities, why not just hire a team to run your email marketing, pulling queries out of the DMS and marketing your serivce opportunites? As many people here I'm really frustrated by most of these crappy clone of a clone not even beta products. I just want to sell cars and not be a beta test or a database marketeer.
  • J
    Jeff Larsen
  • February 29, 2008
Jason W.- Great idea.

Even if we could create the most flawless, perfect CRM tool, how many dealerships would take advantage or pay an experienced ISM to maximize it? No time for creating customized bulk email or dealership e-newsletters for long term follow up... It's all about the next sold vehicle TODAY! What have you sold today?!

Most dealership management does not understand or want to take the time to learn the technology, hire-train-motivate BDC personel, or accurately track the results (or only track results of the internet dept, not fair!) of the money spent on internet advertising.

What if a dealership could out source these services? Is there such a company currently in the market doing this successfully?
Jeff - reverse your thinking. What CRM solutions are appealing to the dealership mentality? Why does it seem the CRM is written and then how a salesperson enters a customer in is an afterthought? If I'm hearing you correctly, you want a CRM that is written for how a dealership operates in real life, not a CRM that forces a dealership to change principles. Is that it?

I think you're right Jeff. I think one of the reasons most CRM's fail to fully integrate into a sales staff is because it forces new processes without showing a sales staff the benefit of that new process. Trainers can tell us, over and over again, what the benefit of a particular CRM process is, but they're trainers for the CRM - they don't work with us. Most of the time those CRM trainers are car-sales ignorant on top of that.

The other side to the coin is that the wrong dealership personnel are typically the ones who buy the CRM.

You need to have a CRM champion within the dealership. There must be a *respected* dealership employee who has fully bought-in to the CRM who can sell everyone else on the tool, and the CRM vendor should cater to that person. This would be the person who sets the processes up and can explain what is going on after the CRM trainers leave . Pair that with a CRM tool that also is simple, good-looking & easily customizable and you have a tool that works.
"CRM Champion" I like that! Could be useful to apply that thinking to several "Tools" around the dealership.
  • J
    Jason W.
  • March 7, 2008
Jeff L.

I've found a few companies that get close. Email me jasonwentlerFOOcomcastBARnet and I'll send you what I know.


I agree that a dealership needs a CRM champion, but to my point usually this person is doing this out of necessity, not by choice.

CRM is more a philosophy than technology that takes time to reap the rewards of the effort put into it. Even if you talk to the CRM vender's they don't get this little but important ethos. They think its great you can do a reverse phone lookup. Ooh, yeah that's great CRM now isn't it? ;-)

Great insights all the way around. I think the biggest key to a CRM tool, (and all software platforms) is the ability to integrate with all systems. We're in the process of shopping for a new DMS, and the headaches that transition will bring are countless. However, it will hopefully solve some of our current issues.

The buy in from sales staff and management are so important. It doesn't matter if a CRM can cure cancer and split the atom, if no one wants to use it, or it's too big of a hassle, it won't give the intended results. Alex'es point is well taken that the people who buy these systems hardly ever use them, and rarely consult those who do before buying them.

I never trust the old "Where did you hear about us" question. I've never seen a reliable system, or one that you could easily spot check for reliability. If anyone comes up with a foolproof system for tracking advertising ROI, let me know and we can make our millions.

One last thing, someone mentioned Homenet in an earlier post, and I will vouch for them. They are very good, easy to work with, and solved a boatload of our online inventory headaches. This is an unpaid plug, and I'm not affiliated with them.

Great comments...I love all the viewpoints, thanks.

hate to be a thread derailer but curious (read:Important) of the integration between homenet and current ILM tool which is the bundled version that comes with control center. Thinking about Imagiclab and I noticed they have a inventory manger as well, all these different logins could pose a issue I would think. That is why I was thinking imagiclab might be a better integration with ILM and inventory manager coming from the same vendor.

Maybe it is time to get specific in this thread - it has been a bit quiet lately. has both an inventory control piece and an ILM, so you already have those at your disposal. However, is mainly a site hosting solution and even though all of their products get better everyday, some other solutions only deal in certain areas. Specialists are always tough to compete against. HomeNet is an inventory control specialist, and iMagiclab is a CRM/ILM specialist - neither do what does with a dealer website though.

If your boss is not keen on spending more money, know that you already have some decent tools in's solutions. Unfortunately, in this day and age, there is no single company who does everything perfectly. It seems like the more they do, the worse they get.....*cough* *sneeze* ADP and Reynolds & Reynolds */excuse me*. rocks on site hosting, iMagicLab has the best ILM solution and an incredible CRM solution, and HomeNet does an amazing job with online inventory control. Maybe you should explore all three?

I think I'm going to be able to tell you a lot more about iMagicLab in the near future. I only use them as an ILM tool right now, but I'm hoping that is going to change!
Looking forward to your iMagicLab findings.
I used to use the CRM of one of the major DMS players at a Ford store, now I use and independent vendor's product. I have test driven the "other" major DMS vendor's CRM and found it better than either. However, the most important comment, that I most agree needs to be addressed is the ability to create your own query, even if ONLY to be able to decide who to send your bulk email to!
I used to have the ability, archaic though it was to write SQL queries, but you literally had to be a programmer to do it!
Now we're using (In a Chrysler Jeep store) a third party solution in all ten stores, not able to switch customers with salespeople or for manager's to have access to ALL. VERY limited ability to query the database to send email, newsletter, coupons, whatever. Granted it's user friendly (I HATE that term) enough for the green pea, and the old school guy alike, but still they don't log every up, just like they didn't log every up when they had to write it. Okay, when they come to the desk, they MUST have a printed worksheet from the system so those are always logged, but how about the guy on the lot looking at a used car? He is likely a buyer at some point, but you can't reach him because you don't know who he is, and if you do, you have to enter him as a prospect, and then he comes up on the salesman's follow up sheet every day, even if he's six months out. There needs to a category for "other" I recently put up a myspace page, what of the people who respond to the blog? How do I enter them to be able to email them coupons newsletters and bulk emails?
And, why the limit on the fields, not only the length of them but the number? What if it's a split deal, but the person was in one of our other stores looking at another car with a third or fourth salesman. I could go on and on and on, but I'll stay with DMS integration, even if your CRM IS from a third party vendor, and the ability to build a query any way you want in a user interface that does NOT require a programmer. After all, after a long day working the desk, closing deals, watching over the BDC, do I really want to start what really amounts to writing code? And the program we use now, (okay it's Autobase) has the interface, but has so few options to build on it's a royal pain anyway.
Okay, I'll leave the rest of the rant to "Bad Ashley" (Go get them Ashley, you got it RIGHT!!!) and sign off for now. GREAT Thread by the way!
Sorry if anyone wants to talk, or anyone has any real autobase experience and is willing to share, I would appreciate it at [email protected] I will be more than willing to offer my LSI experience to anyone who wants it as well.
  • M
  • November 6, 2008
I know my standards are a little high, but I just want one that works.. If I had a penny for all the mins I have spent on the phone with tech over the last 3 years, I wouldn't need this job.I used to gripe about eleads, huh, I would gladly have them! They are gods compared to ADP.
I have the Imagic ILM and will Probably go with the CRM. Can you give me some pros and cons with the CRM from sales to service. Thanks
Sandy - That is a conversation over the phone. Way too much to post. All good stuff though! I am sending you an email with my contact info.
Sandy - I got a bounceback on the email I just sent you, so I left a message with Mario at your Ford Store.
Your original question about having multiple competing franchises under your dealer group and wishing for a single client file is almost answered. VinSolutions is working towards this as we speak and we will be rolling it out in the near future. One record per customer accross the entire group will certainly make life easier for dealer groups. It has to be a bad thing when you are getting worked on ACV against another guy in your group! I will let you know when it is complete if you care to take a look.
  • J
    John McGaughn
  • May 21, 2009
We've recently switched CRM Systems. I can't believe this system doesn't integrate with the DMS. In other words -- if a salesperson doesn't enter/edit the client record correctly, there's no "safety net." CRM/SFA Rule #1 should deal with Integration: the system needs to work with existing core processes to make like easier -- help us be smarter -- don't put the pressure on the Sales Staff to be the ultimate record-keepers for the dealership.

ALSO -- Shawn Morse/Alex -- I work for a group with multiple franchises -- and just switched from a system that was customer-centric -- everyone in the same bucket (sure miss it!). The technology and the system has been around for a couple years -- I will respect Jeff's and Alex's wishes to not make this a commercial.
  • K
    Kurt Hoppe
  • June 27, 2009
The concept of EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) is actually out there. It's used by numerous large industries (healthcare, insurance, etc.) to be able to track and integrate customer information across multiple platforms. In the industries where data management is critical (insurance being a prime example), EDI is the needed "standard", plus a sequence of maps that permit data throughput to other related areas and ways to enforce access security.

However, what the industries did to make EDI happen was WORK TOGETHER. The key to really taking CRM, ILM, DMS and so on in the alphabet soup is to get the OEM's, dealers and vendors together and agree on a standard. Once that happens, you can take OEM Financial Services customers and seamlessly pass them to any CRM vendor when they come due, trigger a specific customer class, do the right follow up without duplicating it to an existing process in the dealer's own CRM work plan. You can more accurately pull histories, sales activity across all departments... the potential is huge and the tech is already there. Most vendors would just have to plug into the process by building their own translator to the EDI standard.

But I'm sure folks already have this idea somewhere. Microsoft .net is a concept that may be able to break the standards barrier or a collaboration between vendors, OEM's and dealers may make it happen. What I've seen though is that there is a strong sense of territorialism in some respects (ADP's data agreements come to mind), which would complicate making an EDI standard work, because one company wants to be tight-fisted and force clients and potential product partners alike to spend bigger bucks than they can afford to participate.

The insurance and healthcare EDI initiatives worked because everyone saw a common good for it, especially since a customer could travel from one provider to another and still need access to all their information.

Just my two cents. If the industry was willing to work together more, EDI and a standard could get done all too quickly, and allow a fairer playing field for all the vendors to compete in.

Thanks for reading.