Todd Smith is a serial entrepreneur who is now building the leading sales text messaging platform for automotive dealerships. Todd is an industry author, speaker, and industry expert with over 30 years of automotive retailing experience. View all posts
We live in a world where new technology swirls around us at a relentless and often dizzying pace, yet as we look closer inside the automotive industry and one particular area – the CRM – the winds are very calm, and the marketplace solutions aren’t keeping pace with innovation outside of the industry. In a nutshell we are operating in an innovation rut for automotive CRM. We believe that we are about to enter a renaissance that will completely reimagine what is possible with an automotive dealership CRM solution, and we have analyzed seven areas to pay especially close attention over the next twelve months.
Lead Enhancement Data
Dealership CRMs have been receiving lead data in a standardized ADF/XML format since the late 1990s when the standard was first created. Then, about 10 years ago, an alternative format that enabled more data to be transferred to the CRM was created, the STAR format, but the CRM industry pushed back, and it never really took off.
Today the sea of data is exponential, and it can be used to help salespeople engage shoppers with more meaningful communication. Knowing how long the shopper has been in-market, the website shopping history, the specific cars that they are looking at, homeownership status, marriage status, credit, current vehicle in their driveway, hobbies and more. All of this data and more can be compiled to create a comprehensive shopper mosaic that a salesperson can use to create instant rapport and trust, which are both pillars of sales success.
At 360Converge, we believe we will see more of this data appending to lead information over the next twelve months as dealerships realize the power of data and the financial impact it will yield. Some of this data is already in our industry; it just hasn’t found its place at the critical junction points where it will make the greatest impact. We also don’t believe that existing CRMs will remain the automotive industry’s primary CRMs – as they stand – in the market unless they bring this data picture to life for the dealership.
This one area of CRMs has been left virtually untouched since the inception of the digital calendar. Back and forth communication with shoppers to nail down a time to view and drive a vehicle is an absolute waste of precious time for both the shopper and the salesperson, whether through email, text, chat, phone or even smoke signals. Yes, I am exaggerating, but you get the idea. This waste of time is enhanced by the fact that salespeople sometimes forget to ask for the initial appointment, almost never confirm appointments and, finally, totally forget about rescheduling them because they are on to the next opportunity.
Today our world is just entering into automation. This will usher in an entirely new experience for car shoppers and deliver a next-level time management experience for the salesperson. This technology has already been implemented in many other industries. Even my dentist is using automated appointment technology via text for a simple teeth cleaning. It also works in email, and I have personally saved so much time enabling both prospects and customers to select times that work for them to meet within my hours of work.
We believe empowering the consumer to decide when they want to come into the dealership creates a level of control that today’s shoppers demand. This will deliver more appointments with a higher show rate that can all be automated through email, text messaging and more. By doing this, it will take a fundamental weak link in a salesperson’s process and turn it into a consistent shopper-centric approach that delivers value to the customer and instills trust at the start of the relationship.
Omni channel communication
Unfortunately, most automotive CRMs haven’t embraced open architecture and, with limited APIs and restrictive access, they have become inhibitors of innovation. Dealerships are now forced to run multiple platforms simultaneously. This causes user fatigue, or worse, lack of utilization. It also costs dealerships time, money and, in many cases, delivers a poor experience to the shopper or customer.
Today, dealerships have a base CRM then have to add additional services like call tracking, texting, equity mining, sales & service email marketing and more, creating poorly integrated solutions. After that, they need to add an entire additional layer of platforms like chat, social, website, attribution and the list goes on from there. Technology has only continued to have gone downhill making it almost impossible for a dealership to decide on which vendor to select in fear of the CRMs lacking integrations thus increasing portals to log in to.
We believe the only way for the advanced automotive CRMs to catch up to the generic CRMs that dominate the automotive industry is by adopting a complete open platform architecture and transparency. The automotive industry has been secretive by nature for over 100 years, and it is apparent that even the automotive dealership vendors have aligned with this strategy. It only takes one trip to Silicon Valley, however, to see how different things are done and how philosophies are completely the opposite of the automotive norm. Yet if we look at where true innovation is happening, it is painfully obvious it happens through collaboration. Over the next year, we will see a new generation of platform design emerge, similar to Slack or Salesforce, that will enable a cohesive experience for the dealership user no matter what product they wish to plug into their platform.
It is impossible to predict the future or the speed at which new technology will be adopted. When you look at the current top automotive CRM providers, all of their products were built at a time when desktops ruled the dealership environment. Naturally, their technology UI and UX were, respectfully, aligned to serve the marketplace, which makes absolute sense. Mobility was an afterthought with which a consumer would check a box, then the CRM would move some of the same information and functionality down to a mobile device in order to stay in the game.
Today, we live and breathe mobile. Look around at every intersection, dinner table, airport, office meeting or Starbucks, and you will see our entire behavior is mobility-driven for good reason. It enables us to be on the go, yet still be engaged, and feel we are a part of the connected Internet culture. Mobility offers us new levels of productivity enhancements that we have never before experienced all while giving us our kick of dopamine with every click. We are addicted, and we love it. This hasn’t yet played out nicely for automotive dealerships. Many salespeople are using their personal mobile devices to communicate with shoppers and customers, and none of this information is finding its way back into the dealership’s CRM. This creates a gap between the technology of yesterday and how a dealership’s sales team does business today.
We believe this mobility-first revolution is here to stay. Dealership CRM technology needs to embrace mobility to unlock its potential. Creating technology solutions that align with existing habits is a powerful way to pave the road to usability. Current CRM providers will need to completely recreate their data and communication infrastructure in order to leverage the mobile-first mentality, but doing so will pay enormous dividends. By turning a salesperson’s mobile phone into a selling assistant through more comprehensive data, including inventory, communication, training and more, the salesperson and customer will be more highly engaged and productive for the dealership.
The bedrock of a dealership’s sales success are the vehicles, their products, on the lot. With the increase in the number of models and the sheer amount of technological improvements which have been made in vehicles over the last twenty years, not to mention all the supportive characteristics like safety, it is important to recognize that we have entered an era of product information overload.
Today’s environment is one in which shoppers tend to know more about a particular vehicle than the salesperson selling it. The Internet has created this research tool that is empowering shoppers like never before in the course of an automotive purchase. This shift in knowledge away from the salesperson and towards the customer hurts the dealership’s brand and the confidence its shoppers have when a salesperson can’t explain or describe the vehicle in detail in order to help the shopper either qualify or disqualify a particular vehicle from a potential purchase.
We believe this can be fixed with data that would give the dealership’s salesperson an advantage during the discussion by providing key elements of any vehicle based on extensive data from its VIN within a click on the salesperson’s phone. Through helping the salesperson keep the shopper engaged and informed, while simultaneously building trust during the conversation, a dealership will see increased sales. This data is already in existence, but it hasn’t made its way down into a CRM system as of yet. This new mashup of technology and innovation will have an amazing effect since a growing number of salespeople are new to the business and knowing everything about a dealership’s inventory is impossible.
When you log into an automotive CRM today and see TEN thousand uncompleted tasks, you have to wonder what is broken? Is it the salespeople at the dealership? Is it the processes themselves? Is it the technology? Is it the management? At the birth of automotive CRM, it was imperative to create processes that the sales team would follow. Those processes were usually developed by dealerships taking other dealer’s processes and applying them to their own CRM. By adopting processes, the expectation was that the dealership would have complete control and consistency; a shopper or customer would never fall through the cracks or see salespeople miss a step in the sales process.
Today, all of our hopes and dreams about CRMs have turned into a boiling point of frustration for dealerships across America. It seems that none of what I wrote above has become a reality. In fact, it has created an entire set of new issues that dealerships have to grapple with on a daily basis. Salespeople skating deals by entering in slight variations of the shopper’s name in the CRM or senior salespeople insisting that the CRM slows them down and avoiding it like the plague has ended up creating a whole new department called the Business Development Center (BDC). In the BDC, we remove appointment setting away from our existing salespeople. This creates an additional cost center a dealership has in order to fix this problem and, hopefully, will deliver some resemblance of the consistent processes that a CRM promised dealerships in the first place. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Doesn’t it sound a little crazy to actually read about the problems adopting a CRM was supposed to fix in the first place? Do you believe it has accomplished that task?
We believe that these linear and predetermined TASKS are creating huge friction in the automotive sales process. They are also creating complete misalignment with the dealership’s shoppers and customer. What will happen over the next twelve to twenty-four months is pretty simple: dealerships will see big data make its way down to a granular level, which will finally enable the CRM to create actions points (instead of simply creating tasks) by monitoring a shopper’s on and offline behavior then aligning it with an action for the salesperson to execute. For example, John Doe sent a lead into ABC Chevrolet over a month ago but went dark before first contact was even made. Over the last three days, John Doe has visited multiple automotive websites, including ABC Chevrolet, searching for a “Chevrolet Tahoe”, “Preowned”, and “Low miles”. With an advanced CRM, this search would trigger an action for the salesperson to reach out via a phone call. At the same time, an email is simultaneously delivered to John Doe’s inbox with an offer on multiple vehicles that meet John’s shopping criteria. By leveraging machine learning in near real-time, dealerships will reduce friction points along the salesperson’s journey to complete a sale and, at the same time, deliver the right information to the shopper at the right time, so he or she can take the next step. When salespeople follow up repeatedly with shoppers who have fallen out of the market, it creates a negative feedback loop that can motivate customers to stop wanting to pick of the phone. Big data, machine learning and analytics are going to completely change that.
Personalization at scale
Do you remember all the rage in the mid-90s about one-to-one marketing and the future of personalization? It then hit the direct marketing community by storm, quickly followed by finding its way to automotive CRMs in the early to mid 2000s. The problem is that these templates that included personalized data points became an everyday thing and, as humans, we have learned to identify and quickly dismiss them. The human race is highly adaptable, and it is hard to fool any individual for any length of time when the novelty of these basic tools have worn off as people stopped paying attention to them. In addition, dealerships are constantly bombarding shoppers with flashy offers, discounts and savings, and those messages aren’t getting through like they were.
With automation being all the rage today, bots are driving us deeper into creating a vanilla robotic experience for the shopper. This will have benefits, but it will also come at a cost. You have to ask yourself a couple of important questions: How will dealerships be able to stand out in 2020? How will they reach into the soul of every shopper and customer and touch them in a meaningful and impactful way that not only moves them into conversation but, more importantly, into an experience that builds trust?
We believe personalization at scale is not only possible, but that it is also inevitable. Personalization requires taking the lifeless logo of the dealership’s brand and augmenting it with the dealership’s smiling employees’ faces. Human connection is a powerful currency that delivers every single time. The average dealership has sixty-six employees, and by curating employee’s stories, it enables shoppers and customers to personally connect and communicate with the dealership. Whether the questions are about repairing or replacing a part, keeping their car clean, removing road tar or learning about the latest features in the upcoming model, these answers will all be driven by the next generation of CRM platforms.
In conclusion, you probably understand that automotive CRM is about to enter a period of renaissance. The areas above are just the beginning of a cascade of changes in how salespeople will interact with shoppers and customers, and the tools that they will leverage to do so. While existing CRMs may still bring a level of ROI for the dealership, data, bots and personalization will start to change shopper and customer expectations and redefine how the automotive sales process will work. Stop focusing on things from the past or cobbling together technology that creates more work than reward. Ask yourself two hard questions. Is your current technology reducing friction for both the customers and the dealership’s staff? Are you creating experiences that create rapport and build trust that will last a lifetime with every single shopper and customer your dealership touches each and every day?
That is the only path that will lead to future success.