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September 3, 2014

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Loyalty begins with the seller

The art of selling is synonymous with the art of showing that you care!

We all want our customers to be loyal to us because it is so expensive to gain a customer, especially in today’s world where competition is so fierce.  We kill ourselves, or feel like we did, to gain a customer and after he or she buys from us, that customer never comes back for service or for a second purchase.  This is especially difficult as today’s auto business is far more about retention than acquisition.  The question is what makes a customer buy from us just once? Or perhaps the better question is what makes a customer a loyal, repeat customer.

After some 20 years of experience in customer management and serving over 500 dealerships in CRM and now with autoWALL, and much research, I have some conclusions that need discussing and they are as follows.

  1. When selling focus on the relationship rather than the sale.  Think of it as a family member asking your opinion on something so; be forth right in answering questions, remember you might sell them once but never again otherwise.  This is extremely applicable to the millennial as they have no loyalty to the car but they will build a relationship with the seller .Truth to be known disingenuous, people have a very low chance of selling anyhow.  This is a major problem in the automotive world as the focus is so much on the present sale that the relationship is forgotten.  Remember the true “BEST” salesmen have a great following who buy from them time and again and that is because they have mastered this art to perfection. Such focus increases your odds of winning the first sale and of retaining the customer for future purchases. Obviously, if you don’t win the first sale, you have nothing to retain.
  2. Pay attention to your COI on this matter.  What is COI?  Cost of ignoring!  Do not ignore the customer relationship.  So you say, I have a CRM, I have many salesmen and I have Internet department and a slew of wonderful service advisors.  That is all true, but what is your relationship barometer?  How do you gauge the “true” treatment of your customer?  Having CRM and enabling the consumers “voice” are two very different things.  CRM is a great tool, don’t get me wrong, and is very much needed but is designed for selling and its focus is inward not outward toward the customer. You need more because the customer wants more.
  3. The world is changing are you going to change with it? Dinosaurs were huge and successful and are extinct. So, remember your new consumer the millennial, they respond to transparency, and open lines of two way communication.  The systems you bought ten years ago do not address their needs.  The open lines of communication are the killer here!  This requires direct ability to contact to an “enabler” and that person in many cases can be many different people.
  4. Lastly remember that the most successful companies are those that focus on the needs of everyday common people; those are your customers.  Ask yourself this question “is my company at present equipped to do so”?

August 26, 2014

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Ten Rules for Creating Customer Loyalty


True customer loyalty means making the relationship more important than making the sale.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.  Click here for the full article.

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.


July 3, 2014

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We are Nissan Certified!

We are one of the few “Certified CRM” providers with Nissan Infiniti

It is an honor to announce that the Gratis CRM/autoWALL has been approved and certified as a CRM provider to Nissan and Infiniti dealers.

GratisCRM/autoWALL provides a complete suite of tools that totally address the needs of a dealership in e-commerce arena. These tools encompass, CRM, website, SEO, SEM, Reputation management, Digital Service Drive and organic lead generation. Needless to say autoWALL is also a certified website provider to this prestigious OEM. We welcome all Nissan dealers to these tools and assure optimum success in their usage.

Please click here in order to contact us to receive a 25% reduction in cost coupon for any and all our services for all Nissan Infiniti dealers.

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.