IT TALK

Most dealers know a lot about what it really means to be an entrepreneur. They have experienced decades of delivering the right vehicle to the right customer at the right price. Providers of information technology and services constantly seek ways to electronically complement the entrepreneurial aspects of dealership customers. Currently, one of the best ways to do this is to help dealers implement

Most dealers know a lot about what it really means to be an entrepreneur. They have experienced decades of delivering the right vehicle to the right customer at the right price. Providers of information technology and services constantly seek ways to electronically complement the entrepreneurial aspects of dealership customers.

Currently, one of the best ways to do this is to help dealers implement and use advanced electronic Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software applications.

The first CRM item of importance that dealers need to recognize is that most of them have been practicing it since their very first day selling and servicing vehicles. CRM is not new. Electronic CRM tools are. The market has seen many new entrants and offerings in the last 18 months.

What is eCRM and what can it do for dealerships? We hear that question a lot lately. The answer is relatively simple, but actual implementation can be complex.

Effective eCRM tools allow dealer personnel to institute solid, repeatable business processes when engaging customers and prospects. In essence, an eCRM tool lets the dealership team engage the public in a uniform and documented manner, allowing the dealership management team to track, monitor, and measure the results of a defined set of activities or tactics.

Accordingly, the best eCRM systems are ones that the entire dealership team will use on a regular basis. An eCRM solution that offers industry-leading features, functions and benefits delivers sub-standard results if not fully integrated with the dealer's existing customer contact process.

Interestingly, non-electronic CRM solutions have been around for decades (daily planners, call sheets, etc.). The main problem with these is that data integration and information flow relies almost completely on manual processes and word-of-mouth exchanges. Electronic CRM solutions are designed to integrate team members and managers into a cohesive unit that could be characterized as a “playbook” for all types of customer relationships.

As with any category of popular software tools, there is a full spectrum of capabilities and price points from which a dealer can choose (Figure 1). At the lower left of the spectrum of eCRM solutions, we find basic tools that many sales consultants may have purchased on their own over the past several years. These tools are fairly inexpensive and offer a base level of functionality, which is typically targeted at individuals utilizing a stand-alone PC. The significant drawback is that data security is minimal.

If an employee who is using one of these tools leaves the dealership or is terminated, it is quite easy for them to take a copy of the customer/contact database with them. Additionally, it is likely that there is no level of integration between these tools and a dealer's existing systems.

In the middle level of the spectrum are a number of offerings with varied degrees of functionality and price points. These solutions offer integration with a dealer's in-house system, while providing an easy user interface for employees utilizing the program. If these offerings can be connected to OEM data feeds, this added functionality greatly increases the value of the application to the dealer.

At the high-end of the spectrum are packages that are beyond the reach of the average dealer, due to software licensing costs. These powerhouse applications offer numerous and sophisticated eCRM activities. There is a push by several of the larger automakers to build eCRM solutions that seamlessly span the OEM and dealer communities. These efforts are worth monitoring, yet the majority of dealers will not be affected over the next 12-24 months.

Each dealer must determine the most appropriate application for his or her operations, depending on the IT experience of staff, existing level of IT infrastructure (desktops, Internet or Wide Area Network connectivity, TCP/IP in-store cabling) and the level of sophistication sought in terms of deploying and maintaining consistent processes.

Many in the IT business expect dealers to progress through the eCRM spectrum as their level of sophistication grows and their needs change.

eCRM tools are becoming increasingly important elements of a dealer's business plan. Select the right one to match your skills and needs.

Just becoming accustomed to eCRM is important. A few lessons learned in the early stages, before the consumer expects the full eCRM treatment, will be valuable first steps in preparing your dealership for the inevitable wave of the future.


Matt Parsons is the vice president of marketing and new business development for EDS' Automotive Retail Group.

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