Best PracticesDealership MarketingDealership Operations & Processes

Leads? Customers? What’s the Difference?

A guy walks into a bar and says, “Bartender….” — oops.. wait.. different story.

A guy walks into a dealership and says, “I’d like to see an SUV with 3rd-row seating.”

Who is this guy?  Is he a lead?  Is he a customer?

If you ask the Salesperson, he’s an “Up,” but again, that’s a different story.

What is he in your system?  Does it matter?

If you’ve ever attempted to produce Lead ROI reporting, generate Customer lists for targeted Campaigns, or just generally wondered what the heck was going-on with your data, then yes, it matters. It matters a lot.  But it’s really not that complicated — let’s make this easy.


Rule of Thumb: you cannot shake hands with a Lead.

Think of a Lead as a starting point: data with a need to be understood:

Lead is an entity with unverified information and unverified intent that has purposefully contacted the Dealer.

Sounds a little complicated, but think of leads as simply words on a piece of paper or words sandwiched between tags in ADF/XML — just words sent to a dealer or dealer’s system that need to be understood.  The words don’t change — ever.  Leads are immutable, a fact from a particular point in time.  Once we start to understand these words, the game starts…


Rule of Thumb: you can shake hands with a Customer.

Customers are often people, although businesses can also be customers.  Therefore, let’s use the word “entity” in our customer definition:

Customer is an entity with verified and sufficient information that has purposefully been in contact with the Dealer.

“Customer” is synonymous with “identity;” the answer to “Who?” when the question is asked.

Does “Customer” indicate a transaction has occurred?  Not necessarily — but a verified person or business has been in contact with the dealership.

We have the concept “verify” in both of our definitions because verification logic is a key to determining the maturation path of a lead: do we have enough data to make a determination that the words reasonably represent an identity?  Or are the words a bunch of gobly-guk destined for the trash can or in need of further information to make sense?

If we’re shaking hands, it’s pretty easy to verify that there’s an identity.  Systems are not so fortunate, so verification logic is put in place to start separating the wheat from the chaff: the maturation of a lead.

This Maturation Path is what it’s all about — commonly referred to as The Road to the Sale.  In the old days, The Road generally started when a customer walked through the door.  Today, that door is no longer the glass rectangle hanging on the front of the building, and very often our systems are performing the first Meet-n-Greet. When a system understands the difference between a Lead and a Customer, the system’s foundation is set to be an integral partner as the dealer travels the Road alongside his or her customers.

And when your system understands the difference between Customers and Opportunities…. then WOW!  But that’s a story we’ll save for next time 🙂

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15+ years front-line, battle-hardened automotive vet, foreshadowing 7 years in automotive software construction, production, training, sales, and supp...