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August 11, 2014

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This is a Time for Change

From the years as a CRM developer and marketer, I understood the importance of generating a lead and selling that lead. Of course our well being is tied to the word “sell”! But the focus has to change from selling one vehicle to the subsequent “sales” and revenue generated from those deals. In short, one should not kill the “golden Goose” but nurture it and generate a great relationship to assure she will lay more eggs and does so regularly.

And, how do we do this? Of course the first answer is that we bought the best CRM in the market, we have trained our sales staff and BDC and they are “handling” our customers.

Of course “handling” something or someone does not necessarily indicate “handling with care”, which is not the case most of the time, when talking about customer handling through CRM, by sales staff.

And, if a customer is unhappy and would like to have a dialogue with someone other than salesman or service advisor! We all know how available the management staff of a dealership is and how readily the customer can get through the latest phone trees of the new dealerships to actually have a dialogue.

On top of that we all boast our beautiful “plastic websites”. How much business is that really giving you? Who is telling you that it is producing result? Your vendor? And most importantly if your site is so result producing, how come you have to pay for your leads? And, if your CRM is so good in delivering marketing results, how come you have so many other vendors who market for you? Have you considered asking yourself why is it needed for an auto dealership to have so many vendors just to operate? Have you considered looking into the duplications of efforts for which you are paying?

Why is it that auto dealerships have to reach out for so many services to so many vendors?

First reason is that the mentality of “I can do what I want and you can do nothing about it” perpetuated and initiated by the DMS providers. Of course they have enablers also and who they may be but the OEM. You see it is impossible for a new DMS provider to sell to a dealer unless they were first certified by their OEM no matter how good that product may be. So, there might be an state of the art DMS that can outdo and deliver most services a dealer needs, but he will never be able to get in front of a dealer until he is certified by OEM, and the OEM employees who perform those certifications will ask why I should certify you as you have no dealer of my type? Do you remember the “chicken and the egg”?…….

So, now the same process of must be certified before I buy is also applied to CRM and website; effectively eliminating the right and power of competition within this industry. For those who are certified vendors, this is a haven of opportunity, for the end user and new producer of tools and services a nightmare!

Who is to blame?

The OEM people are under bombardment from many vendors who would like to sell. The dealer the same and he also has to comply with the requirements of his OEM and others. The vendor, well he is raking in and really has no incentive to produce better product as the door is closed to innovation. The only possibility of hope belies with the dealer, he usually has the resources to acquire or “test” new products and he also does have the ear of OEM if he saw a tool worthy of consideration and his well being is really tied to seeking and finding new technologies or services that improve upon the old. There are many dealers who are outstanding in this realm and my hat is off to them but they their ranks are few! So, if as dealers we want change, we must also agree to change our mindset. If your company is important to you then, realize that it has to change with times and that means so do its service providers. The following are some recommended steps!

  1. All processes should be regularly up for review
  2. All tools should have a method of measurement specific to your company
  3. Those measurements are to be reformed periodically
  4. I know there are many vendors calling your dealership and you don’t have time to talk to them! But at least put a process of vendor data collection in place so that you don’t miss the diamond in the rough! And realize that most innovations start small and don’t have the resources to climb out of the “noise and clutter” and many times it is the job of the listener to make that distinction.
  5. Don’t ever forget that someone helped you get where you are and you must pass the baton. Your survival depends on it.
  6. He has a right to criticize, who has a heart to help.” – Abraham Lincoln

August 8, 2014

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Generation Y and Social CRM

Generation Y is a tremendous gold mine of opportunity, do you have the tools to take advantage? Does your dealership know how to handle this marketing tsunami?

So, who are these people called the Generation Y or GENY for short? They are the children of the baby boomers. You know, those born between the years 1977-1996, they are also known as the millennial. There are around 80 million members of GENY in this country alone and they seem to be the most ethnically diverse generation in the history of this country. However, this generation is fastest growing generation in the market place globally. This group is so influential in business today that major entities such as Mercedes-Benz Corporation and Starbucks have spent a great deal of resources researching their buying habits. Any business owner, who directly markets to the public, needs to learn the buying habits of this great business force. And, invest in tools and processes that assure acceptance by Generation Y.

This group has experienced similar events in their lives and hence tends to react to situations similarly. For example they were present when Challenger exploded and The Berlin Wall fell. As we all were, so were they, during the infamous events of September 11th.

As mentioned before, these young people, obviously I am not one of them, were born to “Baby Boomers” and in their lifetime there were some unusual and great advances in technology having to do with communication, data collection and transparency. Although you cannot say that the whole generation is “tech savvy”, but they all have had a cell phone most their lives, mostly went to school using computers and very quickly became adept at travelling through the Internet. They also tend to live at home longer and enter the workforce later in life.

What does all of this add up to as far as a business owner is concerned? Well if you want to succeed in the future, then you really need to adopt tools and processes that will address the needs of your new buyer. Let’s face it, we have no choice. The old buyers are quickly retiring and even most of them, although a bit more patient, tend to be more tech friendly than a lot of our dealerships. Another aspect of the GENY characteristic that tends to be very important to the dealer is their love of social environments and open communication. Unfortunately, though, they really are not interested in doing business with their “favorite” dealer on Facebook as they see that medium strictly a “social” gathering space and that might be why Facebook has failed as a “selling” or advertising medium so far.

The millennials are not much into email, but they love to post and text. And will surf the web before they visit you, they surf the web using their mobile devices. While on the web they tend to research the “voice” of others about you.

So, in order to succeed with this group you must provide an easy venue for this consumer to communicate back to you. Text will not always work if you are sending an offer that needs future reference; here post is your best option. Secondly, remember that the device they mostly use to surf the Internet is a cell phone. So, that tells you that your website must be built in responsive web design. That is the kind of site that knows what the resolution of the tool is and how the user has accessed it and fits itself to the presentation device. So, the result looks the same on a high resolution monitor as a low and fit themselves in a phone screen without side to side navigation, only up and down. In this market we are far beyond “mobi sites” and a dealership really needs to seek a “responsive website”. If you hope to sell to this great group of individuals you need to appear as though you are one of the flock. We as dealers, accept old technology in a great deal of our tools, but our website? That is our presence on the World Wide Web and that must be as top notch as any.

The second point I made earlier was addressing your “reputation” on the web as the GENyers tend to seek that. No matter how much you tout your companies’ greatness a bad review can affect their opinion. So, you need genuine good reviews and that only happens with truly addressing the “unsatisfied consumer” first. That means every transaction at your dealership needs a request for evaluation and a venue for the customer to address their grievance to someone who will really address it. Just sending an email to one guy at dealership is not acceptable, you must first have a way to log issues bring it to attention of more than one “enabled” person, take true action and then offer an easy way for your customers to post a review. This sounds complicated, well it is, but remember at the onset I called this generation a Tsunami of opportunity so you need to get on your fast ship if you want to survive.

July 25, 2014

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Dealerships Benefit from Social CRM

So, in the last Blog we discussed the benefits of the Autowall to the dealership customer. In this Blog we will discuss the benefits to the dealership. First and foremost the dealership can communicate easily and seamlessly with their customer base directly. If they want the customer to see a special they do not have to email that customer they can just post that special on the wall for all to see or post it on specific profiles. No more sending extensive emails that get lost in the great World Wide Web and no one is sure if they are ever received or even seen. The Autowall is an application where the movement of the customer on the Wall is measurable and visible. Hence the dealer now can tell which advertisement is receiving more attention. Or which widgets tend to receive more clicks and therefore the dealer can measure customer trends and gain knowledge of customer interests and then tailor further advertising to match the interest.

Dealership data is also tremendously valuable, and few dealers know how to receive revenue from the valuable data base of their constituents. The concept of “Adds-On” dealer has been born to address this tremendous revenue generating opportunity. Here the dealership allows other service providers or retailers to post advertisements on his Wall, which is visible to his constituent customers and employees. For this great opportunity afforded that retailer the dealer can and should charge a fee. The revenue generated from this opportunity can easily offset the usage costs of the AutoWall and provide a nice stream of revenue. For a change here the dealer makes money as he uses a service rather than always paying for that service.

Lastly, most web sites designed for a dealership are static boring and never changing. Although the dealership pays monthly for these sites they are always the same. The web site of a dealership is their presence on the World Wide Web and many customers walk into those “doors” far before they do the physical dealership without anyone having any knowledge of such and just as many are turned away by the not useful difficult to maneuver web sites. The question I would like to ask is what is the rule when a customer walks into your dealership? Do you just allow him to roam around your dealership unattended? Try and find a car he likes by himself? And if he did not succeed do you just let him walk away unnoticed? If the answer to all of above is NO, then why are you letting this go on in your virtual dealership?

The Autowall, lets you know who came on site, where they went, what they looked at and what was of interest to them. Would you not like to gain this knowledge, while you are also making money from your hard earned customer base just by their presence on the Wall?

Another great advantage of the Autowall is its ability to store content. This content is not only relevant information for the customer on product safety, product use and other pertinent information, but also moves the Autowall higher and higher in the search engine optimization. The search engine crawlers of today are highly sensitive to words packed together just so that the site is elevated in the search results. However, true relevant content is the best and most effective way of promoting your presence on the World Wide Web.

Can you afford to be without this tool?

July 15, 2014

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Customers Benefit From Social CRM

This series will discuss what’s in it for each and every constituent using the AutoWall. The sign of a successful tool is one that every constituent benefits by using it. The most important user of any business is their customer base. We business holders have and should first and foremost focus on services and tools that benefit our clients. The constituent who benefits most from the usage of the AutoWall is the customer. How is that? That is what this blog aims to address. When communicating with clients as to one of the most aggravating issues when contacting their service provider be it an auto dealer or any other, most indicate finding and communicating with the right person within the company who can address their concern easily and in a timely manner is the number one issue. Some, of the most successful and funniest advertisements have to do with customer treatment when calling a company and trying to communicate with someone within the company. The customer could email someone at the dealership, but who is that person and when will they respond if the request is urgent? They can call the dealership but usually after a lengthy wait they end up leaving a message which will end in a pile and usually goes unanswered.

So, the customer wants to communicate with their favorite salesman and they do not remember who that guy was? What do they do, call the dealership and ask who? And where does that call go. How about service advisors? Who was the guy they liked so well? How do you find again who that person was? And most importantly, if a service was performed on the customer’s car what was the nature of that reapir, how long ago was that? What is the next service? Supposing a customer just had their car serviced and he is driving the car and the car again has similar problems, how does the customer know exactly what was the service performed, what they paid for and what is their recourse if the service done did not address the need.

The Autowall addresses exactly the problems portrayed here. The Autowall is a community networking tool for the auto industry through which the whole community can communicate with one another. Who is the community? All employees of the dealership, all prospects and all customers who have had any transactions with the company are members of the community. They each have their own profile. However, unlike the profiles of most familiar social networking tools that have to do with a “personal” profile, this is more about the vehicular profile. Meaning every member of the community has their vehicle list. This includes employees as in many cases they are also customers as well. This “profile” is only visible by those with “rights and privileges” to see it. No customer has a right to access the profile of another. All company members can access those customers to whom they are assigned. Which means the salesman can access “his own” customers the service advisors the same, but if this is a group dealership each dealership manger can access his own customers, but only “group mangers” can access all. On each profile, a user can load their own picture with a minimal description of themselves. But each user has a list of their won vehicles and all the repairs done to that vehicle in chronological order. Each user also has his own list of appointments and their “wish list” of any car they would like to have if that vehicle type entered the inventory. Needless to say total access to inventory is available to all.

 

June 15, 2014

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Benefits of Social CRM to Salesmen

A salesman can first post a dealership accepted photo of him on his profile wall and write a short bio for customers to read.  Per dealership permission he can post a mass message to all his customers but most importantly he can communicate with his customers directly and seamlessly.  Of course the entire inventory is right there at his and the customers’ disposal , so he can direct the customers’ attention to the specific car he is marketing without asking the customer to yet log into another site.  For that matter, using the monthly payment calculator widget  the customer can get an idea of what his monthly might be.  In short, the salesman lives on the Wall, so to speak, the benefits of this tool to the dealership and its employees are hard to quantify.

June 1, 2014

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Benefits of Social CRM to Service Advisors

Of course the service advisor can post messages for the customer about a specific service and gain acceptance to change or up-sell a service easily and quickly in a documented form.  Remember that all messages are kept for perpetuity.   He can also post invoices and set appointments that are accessible at anytime the customer needs.  He can also reference previous repairs done on a customer’s car at anytime he wishes without leaving the system as all previous repair orders are already posted on the Autowall customer profile.

May 20, 2014

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Case for CRM

After 16 years of serving the Automotive CRM vertical, I have come to the conclusion that the best CRM is one that is specific to the user and is free.  Many CRM companies such as the one I founded Prize Corporation ReckonUp was and is capable of making some customization to the end users needs but never enough to be satisfactory.  I have gotten to believe that in the automotive space being a CRM vendor is a thankless task.  The greatest evidence of that is the end result that there is no CRM company in this vertical that has made a true success of them in the form that true financial success is defined in today’s world.  What is the reason for that?  Do we all not produce good solid products?  Do these products lack in functionality?  Do we not train users well enough?  Do we not produce enough interfaces?  What do we do wrong?

The answer is none of the above.  Most all top CRM’s offered in this vertical are decent products with rich functionality.  They interface with DMS, OEM and other vendors to make life easy for the automotive end user and they do train the user as much as they are financially able to and as much as the user is willing to buy and to take.  So, what is the problem?  How come in other verticals users have adopted multimillion dollar companies such as Salesforce and Sugar and there is none of that level of success in automotive.  Of course one answer could be that those tools cover a much larger segment of the population but the Automotive sector is by no means a small one.  There are some 19000 franchised dealers whom on average employ around 190,000 people and some 35000 non-franchisee who employ about as much.  The revenue generated by this sector is in the billions and they certainly need CRM.  How come there is not one or only two who has not dominated this world?  You could say that R&R and ADP have most of the sector for CRM!  And my answer to that is well they have a lot of the sector as clients, but those clients are by no means “true” CRM users.

   So, what makes a “true” CRM user?  We all know what it means to be a user; but the true user is defined by his usage style and frequency of the tool.  Having and using a CRM are two things.  Most of the sector might “have” a CRM but do they really use it.  It is not unlike saying that most of the population knows that if they exercise they will look better and live longer and most of us either have some kind of exercise machine or are members of an exercise club.  But how many of us really take exercise seriously?  What percentage actually puts time aside in their day that is cast in iron and actually goes and puts in the time?   It is dark in the morning when we got to go to gym or late when we are coming home.  We are sleepy or hungry or tired or many other issues and so we cut out the  exercise time and as we pay for the darn usage and we don’t take advantage we eventually give up send the machine to charity or give up on our exercise club subscription.  Also, it takes a long time and great effort to see results of exercise.  Once or twice or three times shows nothing, it is only after long term discipline and hard work that we see some change in our body.

This is not too different than what happens in the CRM world.  CRM helps us stay in contact with our clients, get to know who they are and make sure they feel good about us and stay with us.  We all know that gaining a new customer is far more costly and harder than retaining one and that most of our revenue is generated by those that approve of our business practices and that without our customers, obviously we will not exist.  We also know that CRM holds our data base of customers, it is our venue of communication with them and brings accountability to our employees.  But, if our business has a hiccup one of the first vendors we cancel is CRM.  Also, just like trying to stay in shape, we got to get our usage of CRM in shape.  Meaning all employees have to use it.  That means you Mr. or Mrs. Dealer also.  All systems have to work together.  You need to make sure your database is clean and duplicate free.  You need to make sure your internet leads are coming in per minute and your service department information is merged accurately and each and every customer visit is logged.  The management needs to get on the tool and use it and have first rate knowledge of this tool, its reports, outcome and results.

So, most dealerships are comprised of busy people and learning CRM is difficult and buying CRM is costly and training employees is difficult.  Specially a bunch of salesmen who are still our front face to the customer who are concerned about accountability these tools bring and are also highly transient.

Now supposing the dealership has “its own” CRM.  One they have invested in acquiring that actually belongs to them.  They can buy and get service when they need and they can buy hosting if they wish and they can buy training if they like and they can buy their own upgrade that they want not the one that fits all.  Think about a truly tailored CRM to your needs, that your people get to adopt and the cost can be managed based on your need.  This is the business model for CRM of this age, a free source CRM.  Although the tool is basically designed for Automotive and is highly rich functionally; it can be upgraded and changed as you wish.   You can buy training for it as you wish or train your own trainer on the tool. You have still not eliminated the fact that with CRM continuous proper usage is the key, but you have taken many of the stumbling blocks that make users shy of CRM out of their way and it is only by hacking away at the rock mountain one chip at the time that we can hope to succeed.

May 5, 2014

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Social CRM and Why it Works

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Social CRM and why it works!

The word CRM brings a warm and fuzzy feeling that we are doing something for our customers.  We enter our customers contact in the CRM, we send them lots of emails and we call them when we want and we are sure that our customers must be happy.  If you were to count the number of “we’s” in that sentence alone, you will realize the fallacy of the premise it alludes to.  When reading that sentence who comes in focus as the most important and focused actor?  The customer or “WE” the dealer?  Many years ago I was told as a CEO that when you interview a prospective employee, listen to how many times he uses the word “I”?  Large numbers of the usage of that one letter word, as a rule, indicates a person who is very self focused and not a team player.

Are we as dealers, using the conventional tools we have at hand, really focusing on the customer’s needs?  Or are we again only focusing on “our needs” which is to sell cars? What is unfortunate is that unless we start really focusing and listening to our customers and installing tools that really affects them we will sell fewer and fewer cars and lose our valued clients to the other guy who has solved the mystery.

The mystery is not so tough to crack; all you need to do is start listening to your customer and install tools that open the lines of communication so you can easily communicate both ways.  AutoWall the newest form of Social CRM does just that.  You can do all you did with your CRM here, but you can do far more than you ever did before for your customer and hence retain them.  In this CRM, the customer and the dealership “people” are all just simple members of a community.  These members have one thing in common and that is their relationship to the dealership.  Through this product they can communicate via post and get notifications that a post is awaiting exactly such as other social networking sites.  Except AutoWall is not “social” and the members if they are not dealership employees, cannot communicate with one another but only with the employees who have served them.

So, if you want to know more about this revolution and if you want to join the “revolutionaries” that have dropped their bondages to conventional CRM, then contact us and see what you are missing.

We even give you an outstanding powerful CRM for only out of pocket charges with AutoWall!

 

April 15, 2014

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The Reason for System Failure

Running an auto dealership in today’s world is a complex proposition.  There are many disparate departments.  There is the DMS that was developed years ago and requires a great deal of babysitting, knowledge and care and as this is the age of Internet and fast communication there are many other  software’s and complex tools that require attention and proper usage.  OF course any business with large constituent customers and employees has to deal with a complex environment.  This is the age of information and the user that can best manage to lasso this wild beast, tame it and use it is the winner.  There are many parameters that come into play in such a complex business world but one of the most important one has to do with the ability of the leader to truly instill a process or decision made at his company.  It is not necessarily the perfection of the tool, or the beauty of the process that matters, but the rigid requirement of adhering to those processes under all circumstances.

I have had the honor of running companies as well as being a mother.  Yes at times a daunting task, but the motherhood side has taught me a very important lesson.  That is your employees are not too different than your children.  You as a leader tend to care for your employees as your relatives and learn to bond with them and care for them and become attached to them, may be not quite as fiercely as your immediate family but pretty similarly.   I have caught myself becoming resentful of a client who directly attacked one of my employees even if possibly he was right.  It takes great self control to question someone we see and work with everyday.  That is why some of the worst embezzlements and crimes are performed by those very close to the victim.  We tend to bend the rules when it comes to someone we care for be it our kids or employees and if we are the president and CEO that “employee” might be someone of high level who could really damage our company knowing or unknowingly if he made a serious mistake.

As a mother, I learned that certain rules could not be broken.  That means the rule cannot EVER be broken, not may be or sometime but EVER.  This is to the benefit of the child and the whole family.  And, if a child broke that rule, he or she has to realize the repercussions were serious.  As an example when kids started to drive, they were told that drinking and driving don’t mix and if you do drink and drive and you are lucky to survive it without harm to you or another person your car will be parked.  This rule was cast in stone and had no buts or ifs about it.  Now, this is a serious rule but there are many processes in business that if not followed properly could have similar devastating effects.

As dealers, we buy solid good tools and products and of course mandate training for these tools but when it comes to attending the training and being held responsible we allow our mangers to do as they please.  The “well we don’t do things like that here” is very often heard when training dealership personnel.  The fact that may be their lack of success so far has had to do with the fact that “they did not do things” the right way does not occur to these employees and of course usually no one of higher management is there to assure adherence.    And as I said above who do we listen to?  Our darling employees who will bad mouth the product and the process until for the millionth time they have again gotten the dealer to cancel yet another tool as “being not worthy”, buggy or just not good enough for their  esteemed business.

I had always believed that long contracts are a bad idea as they bind people to requirements that are not fair.  But now, I believe that in today’s automotive world they might be the only way that a complex tool, training or process can get foothold before getting tossed because of the employees lack of desire to learn and the management’s lack of capability to hold them accountable to processes and training.  Jim Zeigler, had written an article about this same issue in the Dealer Magazine, dated January 17, 2011.  He indicates that he will not train at a dealership unless the dealer principal agrees to force the mangers to adhere to the training processes and take it seriously( http://www.fi-magazine.com/Blog/On-the-Point/Story/2012/01/Training-the-Manager.aspx ).  I  agree with him greatly in this mandate.  Unfortunately in this business the employees are transient, but it seems that the management feels that solid processes and tools can be too.  There is nothing more damaging to a business than this attitude.  Think of a family’s chance of survival if every member followed the rules when they wished bad mouthed new plans and responsibilities and did as they liked.  Can such a family survive and thrive?  This is not too different than a businesses’ chance of survival with the same type of attitude.

April 2, 2014

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One Way Communication is Not Communicating

Communication is usually defined as an exchange of thoughts and ideas between two or more people.  Here the emphasis is on the words two or more.  As a rule, most relational problems occur when one person does all the talking and the other is never given the opportunity to express themselves.  Marriages are often broken due to lack of “communication” where one is throwing words at another but never truly listening to what the other partner’s wants and needs are. In fact relationships are only successful if the feelings and opinions of both sides are heard and adhered to.  The most successful relationships follow the rule of when one member speaks the other “truly” listens.  Not just speak and then act like listening or just simply speak  with the assumption that after all you know what is good for the other and so what “you” have to offer must be the final solution.

This rule of communication does not only apply to a relationship between two people but that of businesses and their consumers as well.  It is well known that the most successful companies have a few required rules that they adhere to and one of the most important rule is to communicate with your clients and know what they want and how happy they truly are with your services and then form your products and services accordingly.  Secondly always have an eye to the future and what your consumers will want and how “they” will change.  Many major companies have met their demise in “shouting” their ideas at their customers assuming that what they are “shouting” is what the customer is “hearing” and of course reacting to and never stopping to evaluate their consumer base and communicate with them to truly know what they think of them.  GM is a glaring example of this one sided communication with the customer. They built what they thought was good for the customer.  They built what, they famously believed was, “what they did best” never wondering if what they built was what the consumer thought was “Best” for them.

The automobile dealerships of today are not run too differently.  We serve our customer, good naturedly, in the best way we think.  We put on a website that we and the OEM think is the best looking one and using our CRM we send out email templates that our customers “must” like.  Surly, the templates are engaging, beautiful and our customers must like them.  We do not stop and ask first does the customer get our beautiful email template in its entirety?  And if he does get it does he like the fact that we take the liberty to fill his mail box with our “stuff”?  What service do we really provide him other than the fact that we hope our template will stick and he will buy another car.  Have we ever stopped to think that is it possible that our fancy templates and its periodical appearance in his mail box might even anger him?  If we are asking him to buy from us what do we do in return for him to make his life easier that does not have a, so to speak, string attached?  What about our website?  It is after all our dealership in the World Wide Web but we do little to spruce it up and rebuild it.  Do we not fire our employees when a customer walks in the show room and goes unattended?  How many customers visit our virtual showroom and go “unattended” do we even know they came for a visit?

As an entrepreneur and a dealer you have survived the debacle of the last four years.  Why?  Mostly because dealers are ingenious and do look to the future even if they are grounded greatly by their OEM.  Do not assume that web site and CRM are taking care of your customer communication needs.  Remember nothing ever comes back from the customer in CRM or website they are one sided “communication” tools that will not satisfy the consumer of this century.