CRM Helps Put Customers in Control of the Buying Process

By Tracey Schelmetic 

All over the country, auto dealers are coping with the idea that customers “driving by and stopping in” no longer means they’re literally showing up at dealerships to roam the lots. Instead, customers are surfing by and having a look around web sites, inventory lists and mobile apps. While it may be a bit harder to capture their attention on a virtual visit, there are ways to do it to ensure you’re not missing lucrative sales opportunities.

Today, most dealers use some type of customer relationship management (CRM) solution. To what degree they use it varies from business to business. The more robust CRMs, however, feature tools that can be employed to capture digital customers and build maps of the online customer journey.

To get to this point, however, dealerships need to “disengage from the ‘old now’ and re-engage with the ‘new now,’” said Dave Cantin in a recent Dealer News Today podcast. “Executives, CEOs and leaders that can’t get with the new normal – that just can’t figure out how to adopt the new [virtual] way of operating – they’re going to be hurting.”

Mark Vickery, Senior Director of Performance Management at VinSolutions, joined Cantin on the podcast to help advise listeners how their CRM can help capture visitor information and data.

“Our numbers tell us that people want to complete steps of the process before they ever darken the door of a dealership, if they darken the door of a dealership,” said Vickery. “They want to complete steps online before they come in. A dealer friend of mine said to me recently, ‘They’re wanting to do the stuff in the virtual processes that they hate, then come into the dealerships for the parts of the process that they like.’”

Most dealers – even those that were reluctant to change their practices in favor of digital sales a few months ago – are preparing to sell vehicles in a more virtual environment. To do so, they need to accommodate three types of customers: those that want to buy entirely online, those that are sticking to a traditional shopping experience, and those looking for a hybrid of virtual and in-person research, paperwork and purchasing.

A good CRM can help a dealership remain consistent in the digital sales experience and integrate it seamlessly with any in-person activities, according to Vickery.

“The role of how you use the CRM is changing now,” he said. “Historically, we’ve created a process in the CRM that you follow. It might look something like this: the lead comes in, I respond with a quote on four vehicles, I make a phone call, I send an email [that says] ‘Are you still interested?’ and so on down the line.”

This rigid and canned process isn’t necessarily accommodating the way people shop for vehicles today. Processes aren’t as linear as they were in the past, according to Vickery.

“We don’t control the process,” he said. “The consumer controls the process. What I’ve got to do in the CRM, then, is be able to read the information I’m getting from the consumer. What does the lead say? What information do I have? Do I have a credit app? Do they have a trade-in?”

A good CRM will help a dealership understand what information they have, and what information is still needed, to move the customer relationship ahead in the way and at the pace desired by the shopper. With this information, the salesperson can determine the path the customer wants to take — as opposed to the path the dealership wants to take —  and explain to the customer how the salesperson plans to deliver the experience the consumer wants. 

It becomes incumbent on dealers to effectively communicate to customers how they can do a majority of the process – or even all of it – on the dealer’s web site, with backend support from the CRM. It also means dealers will have to get used to giving up much of the control of the process to shoppers, something many dealers may still be reluctant to do.

“I’ve got to be comfortable with verifying what it is [the customer] is interested in,” noted Vickery. “I didn’t used to give up that much control. I made the decisions about what I wanted to tell them, when I wanted to tell them.” Now, he says, “I’ve got to slow down enough to understand what has to happen for the customer to get what they want.”

Cantin warned dealers about becoming complacent and thinking that current levels of robust in-person sales mean that the clock will be turning back. Thanks to months of limited social contact due to COVID-19, shoppers may see visiting a dealership as something to do.

“We’re going to see this huge surge of people wanting to get out of their homes, even if it’s to go to the car dealership,” observed Cantin. “That’s going to come to a halt, or a huge decrease in people wanting to drive into the store once they know they don’t have to.”