Over 5 years ago I was approached by our Vice President of Variable Ops who wanted me to take what I had done as our Honda Internet Manager and spread it through all the stores in our group. He told me the job was temporary and not to expect it to last more than a year or 2. He titled me the Internet Director and my job was to train “Internet Sales Agents” on how to move a lot of cars through digital communication. His thoughts were that I would eventually find a store to call home and continue working my way up in a more traditional manner.
Since he asked me to do this job back in March of 2004, my job title has changed and I’ve worked my way into quite a few very different directions. Once we had figured out a good way to handle not just Internet leads, but all incoming non-physical traffic too, and we had the right people in place I was able to focus more on things like our website, new technologies, and CRM. It is the CRM that gets you!
The most important technology of any dealership is the one that promotes process.
Traditionally, dealers’ only process was what to do when a customer was physically there. How to get a customer there was more of something a salesmanager talked about in those early Saturday morning meetings, but he never followed up on anything he ever trained anyway. Service Departments simply sent mail as the only form of consistent follow-up. Of course there are exceptions to my stereotype of dealership process, but this was the traditional approach. Today we have CRM to babysit instruct us on who and when we should be following up.
I hated CRM. As a salesperson that thing was stupid. It never told me the right time to call and it never told me what to say on that call either. I felt like I was cold-calling even though these were people I had already worked with. I mean, Geeeez, the guy couldn’t buy 6 months ago, why do I have to keep calling him? On top of that, my monthly sales gross and volume was definitely above average, so the boss left me alone most of the time. I was under the management of a sales manager from 1999 to 2004 and that paragraph pretty much sums up my feelings toward CRM during that time (I bet some people still feel that way today).
When I finally started looking at things from the perspective of a career-minded professional who saw the interests of the entire company as something personal, my CRM views shifted. Since I was being paid on the entire organization’s Internet closing ratios, in my new Internet Director position, I had to make sure contacts and follow-ups were happening amongst the Internet staff – and I had to track all of it! (still the worst part of my job). However, I was totally concentrated on the Internet department and screaming about how the sales floor was just a CRM black hole where customers were entered and left to die. It was up to the Internet Department to tackle the follow up. This is how we got into BDC’s. Unfortunately, you have to over-staff a BDC to compensate for a lack of a consistent effort on the sales floor – that’s expensive! And a BDC does not help with rapport building or any of those things a salesperson or service writer worked so hard to do while the customer was physically in the showroom or service drive.
It has been 10 years since we installed our first CRM and we have definitely had a rocky history with some of the companies we’ve contracted with for CRM services, but I believe the technology has gotten to a point where we can truly rely on it to give us good data and take care of the most basic part: follow-up process.
As someone who provides technical support for dealership technologies, I strive for a fault error ratio where 10% of the faults are issues of the technology and 90% are issues with our people. We’re there!
In 2009, I’m sitting with my boss again, to retask my concentration points (a.k.a. job responsibilities), and the focus is now on the sales floor. I feel like I’ve made a complete 360 since my original promotion to this job except we’ve shed the “Internet” part of the whole thing. We’ve admitted that every customer is an “Internet” customer, and we need to concentrate on making the entire company better from the ground up – just like we did with the Internet Department.
With a weak economy, the days of compensating for inconsistencies by adding more staff is over.
The CRM, love it or hate it, is the heart of a dealership. The DMS is the backbone. Executive staff is the brain, and everyone else are the arms, legs, fingers, mouth, eyes, and ears. So how do we get this teenager in puberty walking without tripping over his own feet? That’s right, we’re all teenagers again!
Technology, through the Internet, crept in the back door and kicked us right in the ass. We’re all having to become “born-agains” as we reassemble our businesses to meet today’s standards.
Just like the Internet snuck in through the back door, your “Internet person” is rapidly becoming your savior. That person understands and embraces all these changes the technology is engineering behind your back. But you already knew that!
I am simply telling my story to show how a job that is thought of as something a little extraneous and temporary can come back around to be something very central. Don’t ever discount the technologies and try to keep an eye on the back door – you never know who could slip in.
If you take anything away from this article, I’d like you to think about how you’re not leveraging your CRM to exercise its true potential through your own people. If you need some help in finding a CRM solution or simple CRM best practices, visit the CRM Forum on the DealerRefresh technology forums: http://forum.dealerrefresh.com