Systems: The Backbone of your Dealership

November 2010

It is stating the obvious to assert that core systems such as your Digital Response Management (DRM) system, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, dealer websites, inventory management system, vehicle locator system and dealer management system (DMS) are vital to your business. But as critical as they are, how do you evaluate their impact? For many, “systems” are maddeningly complex, prone to failure and too often inhibit (not support) mission-critical work flow. But in attacking the problems, dealers can quickly acquire a case of tunnel vision, focusing just on the existing system and not thinking about its purpose in supporting overall sales strategy.

That’s not true in the best practice dealership. Like the Zen symbol, strategy is embedded in systems, systems are embedded in strategy, and one embraces the other inextricably. Anything else ensures dysfunction.

To build a powerful and integrated set of systems, one starts with the customer experience. What is the experience you want to deliver your customer? It should look something like this:

  • The customer may be drawn to your website(s) by many channels—positive posts on social media sites, SEO and SEM
  • The customer may be drawn to you via channels beyond your reach, such as manufacturer or third party websites
  • If on your website(s) the customer should be easily able to search competitively priced inventory, request a price quote, determine your hours of operation, location, etc.
  • Some customers will call you; if so they should reach someone who has the ability to answer basic questions
  • After sending in a lead, the customer should receive (within 10 minutes) a multi-vehicle price quote from the assigned sales rep
  • Within 10 additional minutes, the customer should receive a first phone call or follow-up email from either the assigned sales rep or his assistant, proposing a test drive
  • The disposition of the prospect should be noted
    • If the prospect wants a test drive, the time of the test drive should be noted
    • If the prospect indicates a purchase timeframe, that should be noted
    • If the prospect indicates preferences, that should be noted
  • The customer should receive calls and emails on a 2-week follow-up schedule that is aggressive and respectful, given she has expressed interest in a vehicle purchase
  • If the customer hasn’t engaged by the end of 2 weeks, she has indicated she’s not in the immediate market to buy and therefore should begin to receive less intensive, softer follow-up connections, mostly via occasional transactional emails checking in on her buying status over time.
  • If the customer comes in for a test drive and ultimately decides to buy, the purchase status should be recorded along with all the necessary information to communicate with the customer post-sale
  • As the customer encounters service timeframes, reminders should be sent to draw the customer into the dealership. Simple appointment-setting tools should be incorporated into the follow-up messages.

There is much more detail required in order to build out a comprehensive vision for the customer experience you want to deliver, but the points above should give you the sense for it. Only once you have clarity as to your desired customer experience, can you turn to your systems. Systems exist to reduce labor inputs in the accomplishment of a task. Since your systems exist to support your sales process vision, you can take each step in the process and ask yourself the basic question: how do my current systems support that step? Do they make the human effort easier or harder? Where more human effort is required, is the investment in time (say, to enter data) rewarded in increased sales impact down the road? Is every step within each system seamless, clear, obvious? Or does it take a long time for the user to learn how to work the system?

Out of this discovery process, you can determine the state of your current systems, and begin to evaluate your alternatives. With this foundation you can methodically identify the pros and cons of every system (DRM, CRM, inventory management, website providers, DMS, etc.) and make intelligent choices.

Of course, the acquisition of a system is just the beginning. Configuration is next. Referring to your “desired customer experience”, configure the system to support the steps in your process. Don’t create any step you don’t need to take. Build in every step you do need.

Once you have configured, you need to train your team. Leverage the system vendors! They can be your partner in ensuring that every person tied to a system knows what to do.

Once you’re up and running, the game turns to optimization. Every system can be refined. Adopt a culture of “continuous improvement”. It is far better to make a series of small improvements, one or two a week, every week than to try to “fix everything” in periodic fits of rebuild activity once in a blue moon.

At the end of the day, your systems are your backbone. They give you the structure and strength to scale your sales and manage your team. Tend to them well, consistent with your strategy, and you will reap powerful rewards.


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