How to Use CRM to Sell Better in Automotive Retail

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Let me tell you a story about how not to sell a car. A couple went to a premium brand dealership and wanted to buy a family car with some air of glamor. The car should be beautiful, powerful, functional and sportive, and they thought of a five-seat limousine after checking on the different available models on the Internet.

Leaving the dealership, they had instead signed a sales order for a sportive four-seat convertible. After having realized what happened, they called customer service to cancel their sales order because they really weren’t happy about it anymore.

What went wrong? From a pure sales perspective everything went perfectly&mdashthe salesman sold a car the dealership couldn’t sell for months, cutting their monthly carrying cost. In reality, however, the salesman has caused a serious damage to the dealership, because the the customer felt betrayed—a victim of impressing rhetorical skills and sales determination. The rude awakening had the effect that the couple not only called customer service to cancel the order, they never again visited the dealership.

Luxury automotive brands before the economic downturn didn’t have to be worried about reaching short term sales targets. A desired product is the best method of generating high quality leads, which easily could be converted into sales orders.


Looking at worldwide sales volume of Mercedes, BMW, Lexus, Porsche and Audi in January 2009 compared to January 2008, some differences in performance can be seen.

All of the depicted brands are suffering extremely from downturn, but still BMW and Audi can keep their losses beneath the 30 percent border. What are they doing better than Mercedes, Porsche and Lexus? There probably exists no all-wise answer, but what they definitely have pursued in the past years is the set-up and implementation of a global CRM program, combined with an aggressive product expansion and branding strategy.

Integrated Brand and Dealer Network CRM

To sell your cars better, you necessarily need to empower and enable your distribution channel to do that. This is the critical issue when implementing CRM in Automotive. It’s great to know your customer on wholesale level, and to set-up great campaigns for conquest and customer loyalty…but in the end, the customer needs to visit a dealership to make a test drive and buy the car.

All manufacturers have understood the role of the dealer, but not all of them have reached a high integration in processes and system landscape to perform sophisticated customer management. Capturing customer interest on the corporate website, receiving the customers’ personal data and model of interest, qualifying the data and then sending it to a dealership for follow-up—this is effective lead management in an integrated CRM approach between brand and dealer network. And this is what makes one brand sell better and more than the other.

Effective car selling means supporting the customer in making the right decision in the buying process.

Apart from that, CRM dealer enabling also includes “rules of the game” for handling customer interactions. What is the correct attitude towards customers? Taking them serious! Answering e-mails with the request for information/proposal in a set timeframe; answering the phone or calling back when the customer wants to talk to a sales person; or following up on them even if a short term sales deal is not realistic. Selling better means investing effort and enthusiasm in selling.

Effective Selling

Today selling does not mean to wait until a customer comes into the showroom to ask to be attended. It means actively searching for the customer, conquering him, showing him that he’s important and valuable for the company, and that a salesperson is there to serve the customer.

In a nutshell: effective car selling means supporting the customer in making the right decision in the buying process.

How many times have you visited a dealership of a premium segment brand and nobody would even show up to serve you? More than once I had the sensation that I should be thankful for being able to see and touch the cars in the showroom! High quality sales starts with providing excellent customer service (breaking the paradigm that customer service starts after selling a car). The right welcome, offering something to drink, asking for the customers’ needs, listening without dollar signs in the eyes, and honestly advising the customer.

If you don’t have the right product for the customer, don’t sell him the one that you consider the right one to reach your sales target. In the long run, this comes back as a boomerang and the customer will be angry and lose trust in you. Looking back at the mentioned example at the beginning, this could have been avoided if the CRM approach would have been integrated between wholesale and retail.

Role of Product and Branding Strategy

The CEO of the biggest automotive retail distribution company of the Iberian Peninsula once said: “The secret lies in being a desired product. I don’t understand the volume strategy BMW, Mercedes and Audi are pursuing. I prefer to be the most desired car than being the most sold car”.

This is a controversial statement. Is it possible to expand in product offering, use economies of scale in production, and still be a desired product? I do think so, and BMW and Audi are demonstrating this. They have not lost in attractiveness towards the customer: BMW emphasizing its sportive, fun driving leadership, and Audi leading with its technological leadership and innovation.

CRM alone will not help to sell better and more, but it needs to be integrated in an overall business strategy, on the same level as product and brand positioning policies. A great product can survive without mass marketing initiatives. A great product will die if the customer is not convinced about its greatness. And a great product will be appreciated even more, if its selling process is oriented towards helping the customer in taking a buying decision.

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