What Dealerships Can Teach You About CRM

Car dealerships offer unique challenges for CRM providers. They require many operation-specific features, such as tools to calculate multiple automotive payments with tax and fee accuracy or to appraise the value of a customer's old car for trading purposes. To complicate matters further, these tools need to communicate in a push/pull fashion with a document management system that tracks the accounting and variables of an inventory of cars over the years, going beyond traditional CRM functionality.

A dealer's in-store sales process with a prospect is also heavily weighted around physical activities and paper. There's a meet and greet, product walk-around, test drive, trade appraisal, an introduction to the service department, negotiation, and the actual contracting, all followed by the physical delivery of the automobile. The amount of paperwork and data entry varies at each stage in the buying process, but there are mandatory steps that must occur for every sale.

As a result, dealers look to their CRM systems to guide them through much of the process; they also look at the behaviors and preferences among car shoppers. For instance, today's car shoppers have an advantage in terms of instant online access to vehicle pricing and availability. By the time the consumer physically enters the dealership, he is most likely well informed on pricing and product, and simply wants to expedite the sales process.

As consumers become more informed across verticals, many other industries face similar challenges. The following are three CRM attributes dealers need that can be leveraged across industries:


On the consumer's end, the car-buying process has often been compared to undergoing a root canal procedure. But much of this negative sentiment is due to transparency—or lack thereof. The experience that has been served up to consumers for years clearly needs to be revisited.

The first step in combating this is to address the level of transparency, as it is crucial to the success of any CRM system. Does your consumer already know everything about your product and competition from her online research, including how much she is going to pay? For automotive dealers, this process used to be a long drawn-out negotiation involving a sales agent scurrying back and forth between a manager and a customer with scribbled figures on a piece of paper. But today, most consumers are already well informed by the time they walk in the store. They not only lack time for that exhaustive outdated dance, but the process also forces a level of distrust and skepticism.

Car dealers are realizing that when this negotiation process is brought "under glass" via a tablet, consumers are much more amenable to the entire process—there is significantly less haggling and more time devoted to building the relationship and dealership loyalty. Their customers view them as much more professional. Increasingly, consumers in all sectors expect business processes to be expedited by tablets and other mobile technology. You don't have to be in the automotive industry to leverage the need for transparency.


In today's mobile-charged business environment, customer connections are often made from afar; for dealers, this means not in the traditional manner of sitting at someone's desk inside a dealership. Especially in community-oriented businesses like car sales, prospects can be courted at the shopping mall, grocery store, or at any social function. With a mobile-capable CRM system, sales teams and managers can add a potential customer to their system seconds after making a connection. The same rings true for offsite customer interactions—such as test drives—where sales representatives can instantly track customer feedback and preferences.


Sales is competitive in any industry, and automotive dealerships tend to be especially cutthroat. With traditional CRM systems, the number of closed sales per month is often the metric that determines leading agents, but gamifying a system can reap major rewards in terms of both CRM utilization and higher sales figures for businesses. For example, showing sales agents an entire funnel of activities, such as lead generation and follow-up initiatives, and how they equate to sales in the long run is not typically gamified in traditional platforms. However, if each metric is calculated on a daily basis so leaders are constantly recognized for their day-to-day efforts, sales agents are much more motivated to complete all activities in the funnel. Ultimately, the system should calculate how many cars each agent has sold, but putting the emphasis on other activities as well rewards the entire sales process and leads to better CRM utilization.

Gamifying a CRM system to this degree also makes training a breeze. When we walk into a dealership for a start-up session, we start by showing the sales agents this ranking aspect of the system, and instantly, they all ask how to become number one. From there, we show them how to walk through each of the steps to earn their rewards.

The product and service buying process is constantly evolving, and the automotive industry acts as a key indicator for trends. By adopting these three CRM trends—transparency, mobility, and gamification—from car dealerships, sales managers and agents across sectors can benefit. Every industry needs to acknowledge how its consumers are being educated about its product or service, then meet them where they are in the sales process.

Alex Snyder is the senior director of product design for Dealer.com. He has overseen the development and production of several solutions there, including the company's CRM system.

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