Over the curb: The CRM is digital retailing

June 19, 2020

A case could be made that the most critical dealer tool throughout COVID-19 has been the CRM. So why isn’t it included in the digital-retailing discussion?

By Gregory Arroyo

It’s interesting how much attention the trade press has paid to digital retailing, especially when most dealers I talked to are quick to credit their CRM for helping them navigate this period of social distancing.

But I get it. The CRM isn’t the new shiny object like digital retailing is, and COVID-19 certainly reignited the digital-retail discussion. However, I challenge anyone to question the importance of appointment-setting during COVID-19, especially for dealerships located in markets where sales were limited to appointment-only. It’s an art that predates the CRM, but, thanks to that critical front-end tool, appointment-setting has become a science for some operations.



See, what often gets overlooked is just how often CRM providers update this critical tool. In DealerSocket’s case, the cadence is every two weeks. And the focus of late for DealerSocket is appointment-setting, with texting now a key component, thanks to dealer feedback.

Take the California dealership I spoke to in mid-April. Every internet lead received gets an initial opt-in text. If there’s no response within a few minutes, the following text message — one that garners a response 70% of the time — is sent: “We just received your internet request, and we have a few questions. Do you prefer a call or a text?”

By the way, that dealership logged 26,617 sent and received texts in March.

Then there’s Rashad Tillman, who manages a centralized BDC for a two-rooftop independent group in Southern California. With a keep-it-simple approach, he operates under the belief that a successful road to the sale requires five yeses from a customer. The use of DealerSocket’s SocketTalk texting tool usually accounts for two of those yeses, starting with the opt-in text.

“All we’re looking for is a reply. Once we get one, we’re in control,” Tillman says. And once a customer opt-in, the following text is sent: “We received your lead for the [make and model], which we have available. Do you have time today to test-drive the vehicle.”

“That usually results in a reply,” Tillman says. “I’ve been working with DealerSocket’s CRM for seven years now, and I figured out real early that texting is now the primary form of communication. So, we try to eliminate as much conversation as possible.”

In March, Tillman’s 20-member team sent and received 59,402 text messages through the CRM’s SocketTalk texting tool, with two members logging 2,900 sent and received texts for the month. Tillman notes that texting accounts for 80% of his department’s activity when working a lead, which is he says knowing how to configure DealerSocket’s CRM dashboard correctly is critical to making sure no opportunity falls through the cracks.

With DealerSocket’s CRM, managers don’t have to dig into the solution’s reporting tools to keep tabs on their team’s lead-handling activities. Merely creating a dashboard widget for web leads allows managers like Tillman to keep tabs on every opportunity and every text or email exchange. That’s where he says most managers go wrong. They have the talent and skills, but they resist to allow technology to augment their abilities.

In fact, the use of technology is how managers like Tillman are keeping their dealerships in the game when today’s car buyers are shopping more brands, more vehicles, and more dealerships than those car-buyer studies predicted they would four to five years ago. The latest data on that front comes from a study commissioned by Urban Science, which showed that the average car shopper is considering 2.6 brands, visits 2.5 dealerships, and submits, on average, three lead forms.

So, regardless of whether your BDC staffers or sales teams are selling appointments or demonstrating to customers a willingness to be shopped to win their business, converting a lead into an appointment requires a CRM-driven process that doesn’t end once the customer says “Yes.”

The best part of a CRM-driven appointment-setting process is you can automate every step of the way. In the case of DealerSocket, our CRM’s Campaign Manager allows you to assign your operation’s best word-tracks to a BDC staffer’s scheduled response to an inquiry, as well as automate appointment reminders, confirmation communications, and follow-up. Then there’s the CRM’s Business Rules automation tool, which allows managers to initiate activities such as vehicle prep and enrollment of customers into appropriate campaigns.

And that’s why I think the CRM needs to be included in the digital retailing discussion. Think about it: When the customer structures a deal through your website’s digital retail tool and submits the lead, guess where that opportunity lands? The question dealers need to answer is, what does the experience look like when it does.

Gregory Arroyo is the former editor of “F&I and Showroom” and “Auto Dealer Today” magazines. He now serves as senior manager of strategic content for DealerSocket. Email him at garroyo@dealersocket.com.