Best PracticesDealership Communication ToolsDealership Operations & Processes

Was I Too Dumb for CRM?

In the early aughts, my dealership invested in a CRM system.

I was basically a sales guy/assistant manager who (quite by accident) had championed/embraced internet leads, and whipped-up an internal lead management system for our 15-store group. I had probably just “graduated” from 100% commission to a salary+bonus pay structure — probably 4-5 years into my automotive career, and was unknowingly building what would later become widely accepted and known as a BDC. So naturally, this CRM thing was my baby. And then, my baby was born.

I can remember instant regret, remorse, anger — this “thing” and these “trainers” that landed in my dealership didn’t much seem to resemble the system we researched. But alas, here it was, it was here, and I was here.

Here’s where, in hindsight, I look back and ask, was I that dumb?

You see, the thought of throwing this thing (CRM) out the door never really occurred to me. The thought of investing time, money, people and then “switching” was never a reality in my mind.

My mindset was to tear it apart, figure out three things:

  1. What it does well.
  2. What it just “does.”
  3. What it doesn’t do.

In the process, I was able gain an unexpected reality: I learned and understood the tool better than the people who built it (at least as it pertained to my business).

I focused the majority of my time on…#1, spent appropriate time on #2, and built relationships to do my best to address #3. I think my business benefitted… I think… I became an SME, so I benefitted…. I think…

But maybe that’s where I was mistaken? Maybe that was dumb.

I see a whoooooole lot of “jumping.” Dealers jumping to new systems every couple years. People jumping jobs every couple years, and at big companies, an “Executive Roulette” at leadership positions that propel a constantly evolving strategy to win the market. Change is a constant and powerful thing… soooo many achievements. Seems like there is a real argument to be made for advancement via the opposite of my stated approach.

This Jumping Reality seems to be a complete 180-degrees from my Tear-it-Apart Reality. I’m not a black & white guy, nor make claims to the existence of right & wrong, good & evil. So I can’t say if one approach is better than the other. Still, with my familiarity more with Tear-it-Apart, naturally I have questions.

Especially today, with tech and digitally-savvy people all over the dealership (not the case in 2001, I assure you!!), I’m wondering if we’re waaaay too far in the weeds? When I see reasons for jumping, the first question I ask is: how will the opposite help you sell more cars and make more money?

You see, the most important thing about selling (cars, horses, widgets…) has never changed: take care of our customers. Have a people-centric culture that rewards personnel for achievement, and clients for loyalty. As technical, intricate and sophisticated as we all make it (or want to make it) out to be, it REALLY IS just that simple.

But when we’re so far in the weeds, are these “issues” blown out of proportion? Once you get this all-important statistic on this report that you just have to have to justify this system’s existence in your dealership, are you going to be better able to take care of your customers or your personnel? Are you REALLY going to be able to make game-changing decisions that sell more cars and streamline your bottom line?

(Hint: if you’re not addressing the culture thing, then the answer is simply “No.”)

This might sound a little dark, but I don’t mean it in a bad way: in my 20+ years in automotive, in a variety of roles and examples, I’ve seen little relationship between “strategy” and “pragmatic solution;” the former being a diverse multi-dimensional strategically segmented ergonomical environmentally sustainable moisture avoidance and abatement solution and the latter being an umbrella. The hierarchical structure of most companies places a barrier between many in charge of market strategy and many in charge of execution; the people that manage/lead are generally not the same people who have ever “done.” You might think that the resulting natural system of checks-and-balances produces a stasis when it comes to varying perspectives: “Doer” has a problem with moving the needle on X; “Strategist” is happy with the bottom line – no need for additional investment.

But what happens when the strategy gets too far in the weeds? Jumping?

What would happen if strategists adopted “Tear-it-Apart?”

What happens when academics meets experience?

I dunno… back to my original question: Was I too dumb for CRM?


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