It is sometimes tough getting the dealership sales staff to use modern customer-relationship management software to stay in touch with buyers, track prospects and follow up on leads.
I’ve heard horror stories about dealers who bought expensive CRM systems, which ended up being unused or underused by staffers set in their ways.
But consider what Bryan Anderson was up against in 1988, when he founded Autobase, one of auto retailing’s first CRM systems.
I asked him what it was like training dealership personnel on the system that was rudimentary by today’s standards but still a major challenge for clueless employees. Some of them were so computer illiterate they had never used a keyboard before.
“We were dealing with guys who looked at the keyboard and said, ‘Wait a minute, the letters aren’t in the right order,” Anderson recalls. They were expecting them to be alphabetized.
There’s none of that with young dealership employees. Most of them grew up using keyboards. In fact, on a recent flight, I sat next to a college teacher who complained that a lot of students had trouble writing in cursive because they were so accustomed to banging on a keyboard.
Today’s CRM systems are much more sophisticated than the 1988 vintage, and they’re easier to use, says Jonathan Ord, CEO of, a CRM firm for dealerships. “We’ve made it more user-friendly.”
Training also has become much better than some of the cram courses of yesteryear.
For example,has acquired Car Mind, an online training firm. Its serious purpose is delivered in a light-hearted way, Ord tells me. “It’s instructive, but in a situation-comedy format. It’s almost like watching ‘The Office’”
It's all part of getting people to get it. It starts at the top. Determined dealers are behind most successful CRM training efforts.
Kevin Reilly holds bachelor degrees from Georgetown University, a law degree from Yale and an M.B.A. from Duke.
Accordingly, he took a studious approach in selecting and implementing a CRM system at his Virginia dealership, Alexandria.
He figured if he spent all that money on CRM, he wasn’t about to brook employees failing to use it.
Most of them “got it.” About 30% resisted. To overcome that, he rewarded staffers for using the system, not just achieving better sales and profit margins.
“The chief obstacle for the success of your people is your people,” Reilly says. “It’s human nature. We don’t like change, even if it helps you make more money and gets you more customers.”
If employees learning to use the system goofed up, that was OK, he says. At least they were using it.
He quotes Meister Eckhart, a 14th century philosopher: “The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake.”