Dealership Communication Tools

How to buy a CRM | Part 3: Marketing

If you read through the Introduction and CRM Process articles of this series you already know that automotive CRM is a little bit different than traditional CRM systems and good process is the real magic behind it all.  Marketing can play a big part in the CRM though.

Every email you send, voicemail left, and phone call connected can be viewed as a marketing impression.  Hopefully these one-to-one impressions leave a big impression on your customer.

A good CRM will have a history of communications your dealership has made with a customer and a really good CRM will also archive the marketing materials you’ve directly sent to each individual customer from within the system.

Basic CRM Marketing items to look for:

I think it is safe to say that email broadcasting has become a standard feature of the larger-named CRM solutions available to car dealers.

Email marketing is a very effective channel.  It is easy to abuse though – don’t become an email spammer.

Does the CRM have the ability to send an email broadcast? If yes…

  • How do you build one?
  • Does it give you some sort of spam score or a “likelihood of deliverability” score?
  • How deep can you target?  Make > Model > Email address type > bought car within x months, years > Service R.O. closed within x time period
  • Can you exclude customers who already received one within the last x days?

We should all be well aware that targeted marketing is the key to a successful email blast or mailer, so you want to be sure you have that capability within your CRM.  What do I mean by that?  The ability to target a customer in the CRM is simply a drill-down that is typically done through some sort of advanced search feature.  A few CRM’s try to do this automatically for you, which is great (if it works), but you want to pay more attention to your own ability to create a list of customers to drill-down to during your demo.  There is no way to tell if the automatic list creation features being demonstrated to you actually work for you until you’ve got your own database in the system.

You can apply these same questions/approach to letter printing.

I’m getting a little ahead in the series, as this next statement pertains to Decision-Making, but you want to take a close look at the reporting your CRM offers on email broadcasting.

Does the CRM have the ability to export a list of customers? If yes…

  • How do you create this list?
  • Will the CRM show that a particular customer was included in a list export within the customer’s history?
  • Can you title or create a description for the list so you remember what it was when looking at the customer’s history?

Why do you want the capability to export a list of customers?  There are times when you will want to send a targeted mailer or maybe include a call center for various things.

You should keep in mind that the ability to export a list of customers from your database should not be something all of your users are capable of doing.  As we all know, a dealership has a rotating door on the front and you don’t want a disgruntled employee walking through that rotating door with a list of your hard-earned customers (not to mention the legal issues this creates).

Does the CRM have the ability to search for a group of customers for your agents to call? If yes…

  • How does the search functionality work?
  • Will the returned searches stay on the screen while calls are being made?

If you’ve sold cars or been a manager in a dealership you’ve probably been instructed to make some last minute end-of-the-month calls because you’re a hair short of your objective.  A CRM can help you quickly identify the customers you need to speak to in order to make sure you’re turning every rock over to make that objective.  I admit that calling customers to push a marketing message straddles the line of process/marketing.

Tomorrow’s Targeted Marketing items to ask about

Now we’re going to step into some CRM marketing sophistication.  There is a lot of cool marketing stuff you can do when working with only one customer at a time….or making your customer believe your advertisement is only for him/her.

I predict the future of CRM will share a lot of synergy with dealership websites.  Some of this has already started, and will continue to get better with time.  Just for starters, imagine being able to classify a demographic of IP addresses based on what we know about a group of people in the CRM.  When those IP addresses hit your website the message on the website can be modified to cater to that demographic…..or maybe just target specific individuals.  I’m sure you’ve heard of behavioral targeting and this is where you begin to include this kind of targeting on your own properties (it is pretty expensive outside of your own website).

Targeting is the future of marketing.  If you’re blasting your entire database with the same email or newsletter, stop!  You should be asking your current or next CRM provider how to better target specific parts of your database.

I received a call from my Honda GM asking for ways to find more used Odyssey’s as the stock was getting low and demand was rising.

Using the CRM, I created a list of current Odyssey owners who had bought one from us between 28-36 months prior that were not in a loan.  I came up with a list of 35 who were still opted-in for email marketing with us.  I sent a very simple email stating we wanted their Odyssey back and we wouldn’t only give them extra for their trade, but we’d give them extra pricing assistance on their next car no matter what it was (of course, this was all worded in non-car-speak-English so the customer could understand it).

Out of 35 people we had over half respond and we were able to put deals together on roughly 11 of them.  That’s a 31% return on a cost of roughly 30 minutes of my labor.

Sure beats the crap out of the last mailer’s ROI doesn’t it?

Tomorrow, targeting traverses all mediums, and your CRM should be the hub.  Today it is available by email, letters, and serving phone calls for your staff to make (which is the most effective when done properly).  Ask your CRM provider what is planned for tomorrow to aid you in your targeted marketing efforts.

Inventory Merchandising

With the vAuto’s, FirstLooks, and AAX’s leading the charge on better inventory merchandising I also see more synergy between inventory and CRM down the road.  A stand-alone inventory management system typically does not show how many customers viewed or touched a specific car.  Without this data it is hard to know whether you’re stocking the right cars, pricing them right, or setting them up appropriately to compete on the Internet.  I know this item traverses decision-making, but it is something that helps with your marketing efforts.  I wouldn’t call this a critical piece for your CRM, but it is definitely another “nice-to-have.”

Social Media

I’m sure I would be castrated if I didn’t talk about facebook or social media in general in this part of the CRM series.  Social Media can be considered a marketing channel, but it is really a communication channel. It is best used for individual targeted marketing when and if a customer has granted you permission to do so.  If you want some good perspectives, read about social media strategy on the forums.

I know social media is still young, but today it looks like less than 1% of a dealer’s customer base are agreeing to communicate with a dealership through social media.  Numbers sure have a wicked way of turning sexy into ugly don’t they?

If you are very good at social media, and have the proper permissions from your customer, then you don’t abuse that by marketing on these channels.  You can do that on your own dealership pages/properties, but I’d be surprised if you have a whole lot of followers after doing that.  If you have permission to speak to a customer through the social media channels then social media is a communication media to be utilized in the same method as an email or phone call.

There are some other ways to take advantage of social media that I will discuss in the Decision-Making part of this series.


To date, marketing has taken a bit of a backseat within most automotive CRM systems.  I definitely see it becoming a much bigger force in the CRM feature-set as broad marketing becomes more of a branding/impression solution and targeted marketing is where conversion happens.

CRM Process, as discussed in the last article, is still the number 1 priority of a CRM system.  You need to have the processes in place in order to close on what the marketing brings.  If you’re smart, and your CRM system allows for it, you can build marketing pieces into your processes…..but that’s a very in-depth and personal discussion for your business.

CRM plays a bigger marketing role in the Decision-Making section.  But if there is one thing I hope you take away from this article:

CRM is your vehicle into targeted marketing and targeted marketing is the future.

How to buy a dealership CRM series:

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Process
Part 3: Marketing (this article)
Part 4: Decision-Making
Part 5: Conclusion

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 ...
  • J
    Jerry Thibeau
  • February 24, 2011

This is really great stuff! You've obviously have put a lot of hours into writing this and so far it's spot on! When is the movie version coming out?
Thanks Jerry! You'll have to ask Joe Webb about the movie.