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The Truth About CRMs…


Customer relationship management (CRM) software is always on a dealership’s agenda in our 20 Groups, and they almost always come up in every single workshop. And this is how it should be — it is one of the most important tools and resources that a dealership has in its arsenal for automotive Internet sales. Over the last 12 years, I’ve seen Internet lead management (ILM) and CRM technology companies evolve to have amazing offerings.


But over the years I still get the same question “What is the best CRM for dealerships?” The answer is complex, because there are different “flavors” of CRM, and what’s right for one dealership can be the wrong fit for another; we’ll get to that in a moment. The goal of a CRM package is to reduce redundancy by offering with multiple tools and consolidate to one centralized platform. That means if you have multiple tools / products that do the following:


• Digital or manual showroom control system (desk log)

• Service reminders

• Permission-based e-mail campaigns

• ILM tools

• Phone up tracking system

• Inventory management system

• Call tracking software

• Service appointment system

• Data mining

• BDC campaign management

• Special finance

• Reporting and analytics


With the right CRM, you don’t need a separate tool to perform all these functions. Theoretically, the right CRM lets you consolidate all of this with a single technology platform. The benefit here is multiple. It’s certainly cheaper to pay for one CRM tool than having to purchase numerous tools individually. While an individual tool will almost always be cheaper than a full CRM, if you add up all of individual tools out there, the total cost would be much more expensive than the average cost of a CRM.


One of the most powerful benefits of using a single CRM solution, however, is the fact that all information is on one centralized platform. For example, if you have a prospect that sends an Internet Purchase Request, the CRM will have that in its database. If that prospect decides to walk in the dealership and is “logged” into the dealership’s CRM as a showroom prospect, it will be recognized immediately that that prospect was originally an “Internet opportunity.” Furthermore, if that prospect was ever in the dealership’s service department or did any type of business with that dealership, it would show up in reports. Most CRMs will calculate the amount of profit made from each customer, and the dealership can see the whole picture of a customer or prospect. This is important because if the dealership has the full picture on a situation, it can make better business decisions.


Not all CRMs are perfect fits with all dealerships, though. CRMs can be designed to focus more on one area of sales than another. If your dealership also focuses on this area, it’s a good fit. If you don’t have a particularly strong Internet sales department, but your CRM specializes in Internet lead management, that can be a bad fit. You have to do your research before committing to a CRM solution.


The best advice I can give is to stop trying to shove a round peg into a square hole. Too many dealers out there buy one tool, and then try to make it do what it wasn’t designed to do. I’ll give you an example. I have a dealer client that purchased a tool that was 100-percent designed for special finance. It was designed for a “special finance” depart ment, and was designed by a “special finance” branded company. But the dealership uses this tool for its entire store, and they depend on it for their Internet sales department. The crazy thing about this situation is that the dealership doesn’t even have a “special finance” department. They bought this tool without researching the situation, and are now paying the price.


Here are some steps you can take before you buy a CRM:


• First, simply ask yourself “What do we want or need a CRM for —Internet, sales, service, BDC?” When you answer that question, find a CRM that specializes in that area of need.


• If, for example, you have an extreme need for Internet lead management, compair CRM tools that specialize in that area with each other. Find out why they feel they specialize in ILM, and find out what credentials they have for ILM.


• Get references, and then actually call other dealers using the tool. Ask for references who aren’t in their marketing, and speak to the actual department you are investigating. Don’t ask the dealer principle or GM about Internet lead management; ask the Internet or BDC director. Get their real opinion from a day-to-day operational level.


• Accept the fact that you might need to have more than one tool. For example, I have a lot of dealer clients who have multiple tools. They might have a full CRM and an ILM tool, as well. Yes, this goes against the myth that a CRM can do everything, you’ll be better off in the long run with the right tools for your dealership.


Look at it this way: You wouldn’t go to the ophthalmologist if you had trouble breathing. The ophthalmologist is a doctor, but that’s not his specialty. Use this same mindset when selecting your CRM.


Please e-mail or call me if you have any questions about CRM or if you would like a free strategy session/assessment on your current CRM solution.


Sean V. Bradley is the founder and CEO of Dealer Synergy, a nationally recognized training and consulting company in the automotive industry. He can be contacted at 866.648.7400, or by e-mail at

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  • Not so sure Sean that the vendors and/or dealers are implementing a wrap around showcase of enhanced value elements, on most of the CRMs. They stop with Sales in most stores. Imagine the personalization that is apparent when a retained customer comes into Service/Parts/Collision with with  our staff accessing the client's interests/Family/car ownership....
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