KANSAS CITY, MO – It’s oversimplifying it to claim customer-relationship-management systems are simple to use at car dealerships.

It takes staff effort, skill and commitment for CRM to show its stuff, which includes systematically creating personalized customer experiences, executing targeted marketing, fielding leads and communicating with prospective buyers and established customers alike.

“CRM is not that complicated, but sometimes people overcomplicate the process,” says Mark Vickery, senior director-performance management at VinSolutions, a Cox Automotive brand that provides CRM software and services to dealers.

“Dealerships communicating with customers is not something new,” he says. “It’s been the case forever. All CRM does is let dealers communicate in a cadence, so that the right customer gets the right message at the right time.

“CRM doesn’t sell cars. Dealerships still have to do that. But CRM helps get people into the dealership.”

VinSolutions recently hosted VinWorx User Summit, an event held here to help dealership-staffer attendees sharpen their CRM skills and learn how to fully utilize the technology.

The summit and an ongoing performance-management program (in which VinSolutions representatives work closely with dealer clients) are intended to overcome the challenge of getting people to do such things as enter every customer interaction, whether it’s an email, test drive or follow-up phone call.

“I’ll ask dealers all the time, ‘What’s your No.1 problem with CRM?’ and they’ll say, ‘Getting people to use it,’” says Chase Abbott, VinSolutions’ vice president-sales. “Some people aren’t putting stuff in. They’re handwriting information and making it hard on themselves.”

He attributes some of that resistance to an older generation of managers that isn’t plugged in to using technology to run a dealership. “They often harbor the non-usage of a CRM tool. They’ll tell salespeople, ‘Just make sure you get it on my sheet,’ which is totally counterproductive.”

To address that, VinSolutions’ performance managers regularly work with dealer personnel. That includes periodic store visits.

“They are responsible for the dealership’s CRM success,” Abbott says of the performance managers. “Their success depends on it. They meet with dealers every month to review usage and opportunities.”

A commonality among dealers who successfully use the technology is that they all have “a CRM czar,” someone on the premises who prods others to use it, Vickery says. “It can be an e-commerce director, marketing director or BDC (business-development center) manager –whoever. But it’s someone who believes in the tool and knows it inside and out.”

CRM systems particularly serve dealership managers by tracking where customers are in the sales process and making sure salespeople are moving it along, Vickery says.

Managers should look for suspicious entries as well as progress, he adds. “If someone logs in they made 10 phone calls in two minutes, that probably means they didn’t make any. They just checked the boxes. Someone has to be on top of that.”

Both he and Abbott sold cars earlier in their careers. “Things are changing and we’re changing with them,” Vickery says of dealership technology.

He notes texting has become a preferred communication channel for many customers. “People read their text messages. That’s not necessarily true of emails. And texts are briefer. Some emails are a page and a half. No one is reading that.”

But he advises against salespeople relying too much on either texting or emailing. “Eventually, you want to talk to the customer. Pick up the phone.”

VinSolutions started under another name as a company that sold vehicle-inventory stickers to dealers. It subsequently dove deep into technology with an array of offerings, from inventory management to dealer website maintenance.

“We were like a mini-Cox Automotive,” Abbott says of the 20-brand parent company that bought VinSolutions in 2011 and then streamlined its services. “In 2016, they decided we would be the CRM of the future; we’d put our chips there.”

He sees technology not only as a way to run a modern dealership, but also as something that attracts and keeps young talent.

“As Millennials move up – and I’m a Millennial – you want to make sure the tools in their workplace are cutting edge,” Abbott says. “No one is playing PlayStation 2 when there’s PlayStation 4. If a young person at a dealership has to click eight times to do something, they’re reaction is, ‘This is broken.’ And they’ll check out.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com