First Pencil: Marrying the CRM

The key to showroom success is marrying the CRM. Accountability is critical, but are you making your sales team excited about engaging this vital front-end tool?

Departing from my recent rants about digital retailing, I thought I'd get a little controversial this month by asking: Why do some dealerships not allow their sales teams to use the CRM to create their own customer lists? Wouldn't their customer communications be more personalized?

If every car or service you purchased from a dealership was from a particular salesperson, wouldn't you be more willing to listen to what he or she had to say?

I raised those points during a recent conversation with Regis Saffold, a DealerSocket Customer Success Manager. We were talking about CRM usage rates and why some dealers struggle to get their sales teams to engage the tool. I just wondered if I was crazy to think that access to list builder-type features should not be limited to only general managers and BDC managers?

"Not at all," Regis said. "All users should have a BDC manager mentality. If not, huge portions of the tool are being ignored — the most important features, in my opinion."

Having led an industry publication for more than a decade, I had the pleasure of meeting and learning from many of this industry's great minds. One of them is Jim "The Alpha Dawg" Ziegler. The one piece of advice he imparted in one of his columns that I'll never forget is the importance of the sales team marrying the CRM. It's "the heartbeat of sales and service," he wrote.

I figured "Da Man," as he's also called, would set me straight. Well, he did. Through Facebook Messenger, I posed those same questions to him. Having sat through his workshops, I knew what his answer would be before I hit send.

"I would NOT allow it," he responded.

With my tail between my legs, I reached out to one of my old buddies, an F&I director at a Cadillac store in Colorado. The guy is one of the most talented F&I professionals in the business, and I knew his dealership was a Socket store. I posed the same question I posed to Ziegler.

"We don't restrict access here, and we encourage them to interact with the CRM," he said.

Feeling less crazy, I reached out to another one of my old friends, a former F&I director-turned-GM from Maryland. She responded with a "No," adding, "The sales manager or I create those lists."

Listen, I get it. As a general manager, you want your salespeople working the hot leads you or your BDC serves up. You also don't want customers getting hit with emails or mailers twice in the same week. And you certainly want your sales team focused on the campaigns your dealership is pushing, and the programs your promoting.

Then there's the floor "ups" your sales team needs to handle and your road-to-the-sale process. Keep in mind the car business is the only retail vertical in which salespeople are required to stay with the customer through the entire transaction. Add that all up and there isn't much time for salespeople to be working their own lists.

Then there's the transient nature of the business, and you certainly don't want salespeople walking off with lists of your customers. These are all excellent points for limiting what a salesperson can access. I just wonder if focusing solely on accountability is why the CRM is often viewed by sales staff as kind of a nanny cam, recording everything they are and aren't doing.

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to interview Rudy T., aka El Patronn, about his Brooklyn Mitsubishi dealership. In his first year at the helm of what he described as an underperforming store, Rudy increased sales and profits by 65% and 52%, respectively. This year, Rudy's store broke into the national sales ranks for Mitsubishi dealerships.

How did he change things? He got his sales team excited about using the CRM by encouraging them to create their own lists. But he did much more than that. He instructed them to become their own brands, create their own logos and websites, get active on social media, and use their mobile devices to record vehicle walkarounds they could email or text to customers.

What he did was show them how his seemingly trivial requirement of logging every customer in the CRM helped them become mini businesses within the dealership. And that spoke directly to their entrepreneurial spirit. Truth is, many of the issues I previously mentioned can be solved with a little coordination between your sales team and BDC, assistance from your vendor rep, and employing the many features today's modern CRM offers.

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