Opinions & Advice

CRM is putting your well-oiled machine back on the assembly line

lowoilOver 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

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 ...
  • A
    Andy Wright
  • June 10, 2009

Great post and very accurate. We dissolved our centralized BDC in favor of individuals in each store that are held accountable by the managers. Its working with moderate success although from a general management standpoint, the centralized model was easier from a training and accountability standpoint. The system is key in that it can't be filled with bugs that prohibit the process from being executed. We were able to tailor our processes to our system. Its been a long time with many challenges but its working for us.

With that said, this is a great post and I think it is highly representative of what most dealerships and the dealer industry as a whole are coming to grips with.
Very good piece Alex. Everyone reading this should be very attentive to the fact that when we emerge from this down market, your dealership must be a leaner and more efficient operation to compete effectively in the future. "The days of compensating for inconsistencies by adding more staff is over" rings true and ties directly into the fact that you must operate with less expense and waste. This also applies when looking at your lead sources, and really focusing on maximizing the return on your best lead source, your own website - and then getting the best return on those leads by managing a great process (utilizing your CRM)...
Thanks guys. It is truly amazing how well people start taking to your various technologies when you just do some simple one on one's. If salesmanagers did more one on one's it would be amazing how great a salesfloor could become. Fortunately the CRM provides the points to get the conversation started and is fantastic for pointing out which areas need to be concentrated on.
  • J
  • June 13, 2009
Very nice article. The main problem with a BDC arrangement is lack of product knowledge,and or salesmanship abilities.

The typical internet prospect is loaded with specific information when they initiate contact with you. If your personnel are not equally prepared then business is lost. A simple question we ask ourselves frequently is are we aware of what the current market is doing in our area. To me that is the secret of the internet to stay competative in a ever changing market. JMHO
Jim -

I agree with you. Our online prospects has an unlimited amount of resources to pull information from and are locked and loaded when coming in.

Great article!
Great article, as you know I am a huge CRM advocate and have been for some time. It is amazing to me how many dealers still don't think they need a CRM. Obviously not the dealers that frequent this site and others like it, but you really would be suprised. It seems to me that those dealers, the ones with no dedicated internet dept. and "no need for a CRM" are not going to be prepared for the next phase of the automobile business. You do a great job of pointing out how important it is to make full use of the tools you have. Unfortunatley there are alot of ISM's out there that dont have many tools but know they need them. The hard part for them is trying to convince there GM/Dealer that a quality process will make more money for the store then it will ever cost. Somtimes it is frustrating to lead the horse to water and watch them not drink.
Great read, and very "spot on". Getting "traditional sales managers" on board with working and LIVING in a CRM is a constant battle for me, besides getting a bigger stick, any ideas you'd like to share on how to 'nudge them in the right direction? Thanks
p.s. where's the spell check in this tool?