Going After Other 80%

COSTA MESA, CA Leaving it to individual dealership sales people to regularly get customer information from shoppers is like expecting kids to clean their rooms every day. It won't get done. Not without carrots, sticks, oversight and a firm understanding that you're serious, mister. Collecting that all-important customer data goes towards converting shoppers into buyers. But few dealerships do it well

COSTA MESA, CA — Leaving it to individual dealership sales people to regularly get customer information from shoppers is like expecting kids to clean their rooms every day.

It won't get done. Not without carrots, sticks, oversight and a firm understanding that you're serious, mister.

Collecting that all-important customer data goes towards converting shoppers into buyers. But few dealerships do it well because they have failed to set up or follow a process.

So says Greg Besson, e-commerce manager for Group 1 Automotive Inc., a dealership chain based in Houston.

Besson has established a course of action for systematically getting customer information. It then is put into a computerized customer relationship management (CRM) system, allowing for a better working and tracking of sales leads.

The goal is more sales closings from more follow-ups, particularly of customers not deemed as hot prospects.

“We do a decent job with those customers who spend money with us,” says Besson. “We forget about those who don't, about 80%, even though we spend the same amount of money to get them in the door.”

It starts with trying to get the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of every customer, says Besson, who, tapping into 11 years of dealership experience, has implemented such a program at about 20 Group 1 stores, starting with World Ford in Pembroke Pines, FL.

“You have to give customers a reason to surrender data,” he says. “Otherwise, why would they want to give us their personal information?”

Group 1 gets the information by urging customers to register to win prizes, such as a new car, plasma TV or — on the premise that everyone wins something — money off a vehicle purchase.

“Give the customer an incentive,” Besson says. “Give them a chance to win what they want, so we can get what we want.”

He suggests changing the standard meet-and-greet to: “Are you here to see if you won?” Then escort the customer to a data-collection point.

The best is a stand-alone electronic kiosk equipped with a driver's license scanner and touch-screen entry. It should be near the front door, not stuck in a back corner.

Expect “push back” from sales people (and even managers) who fail to use the new greeting, log every customer or introduce every customer to a manager.

Solutions to counter that:

  • Eliminate all materials related to the old process.
  • Post signs telling customers they get $100 if not asked to register to win. (It is docked from sales staffers' pay.)
  • Have prizes printed at sales desk, requiring a manager's signature.
  • Implement a bonus plan for sales people with the most logged customers.
  • Add component to managers' pay plan based on data collection.

Meanwhile, Besson suggests creating a new position of “customer follow-up manager,” who oversees phone, e-mail and direct mail follow-ups by sales staffers, internal business development centers and third-party marketing firms.

“Multiple channels give customers an opportunity to come back to the store,” he says. “A return appointment is the goal. Different customers want to be treated in different ways.

“There's a saying in the car business: ‘Listen to the customer; they'll tell you how they want to be sold.’”

Particularly important is long-term follow-up of “dormant” customers.

“No one does a good job here,” says Besson. “Continue to send them e-mails and direct mailings and stuff unless they opt out. They'll eventually be back.”

Group 1 has learned that staff “buy in,” training and retraining are critical to a successful CRM-centric selling process.

Training includes a classroom setting (better for not singling out individual deficiencies, says Besson), role playing, hands-on learning and “hand-holding individual training for people who are slow at getting it.”

It also includes sales-management training. “Seldom do we focus training on sales managers,” says Besson. “But they are younger than ever these days and need it.”

Group 1 results of the overall effort:

  • Customer data collection went from 20% to 80%.
  • Follow-ups increased 100%.
  • Return visits resulted in increased sales and gross profit.
  • Customer satisfaction scores improved.

Besson advocates CRM technology as a way to sell more cars. “But unless you build a process around it, it is useless,” he says.

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