LAS VEGAS – Dealers strive to know their customers when they visit the showroom. But it is becoming important to use modern analytics to know shoppers and their automotive interests well before their arrival.

So says Dennis Galbraith who leads dealership research and business development for DrivingSales, an online dealership social networking and training firm.

It is holding its fourth annual Executive Summit here for dealers interested in sophisticated methods of Internet marketing. “This isn’t a 101 event,” DrivingSales CEO Jared Hamilton tells 1,000 attendees, double the turnout of last year’s conference.

Advanced information-collection technology garners so-called “big data” that, when aggregated, provides dealers with vivid customer profiles drawn from online research and shopping behavior.

Such knowledge can help auto dealers understand shoppers’ needs and wants, leading to a quicker sale and happier customers.

But data analytics may seem dry to some dealers. “A lot of people say, ‘I don’t want to learn this data stuff, I just want to sell cars,’” Galbraith says. “But this is where (the auto-retail industry) is going with business intelligence.”

Modern data-crunching systems early in the buying process can give dealers assorted customer information, right down to car-color preferences.

Knowing the shopper from the start allows salespeople to ask relevant questions and listen better. Some dealership staffers lack good listening skills, Galbraith says, describing them as “long on mouth and short on ears.”

Dealers should use customer-relationship management software and other resources to keep and use customer-interest information obtained from online chats, emails and phone conversations with shoppers before their showroom arrival, he says.

Galbraith sold cars at his grandfather’s dealership years ago, showing an early interest then in procuring and tracking customer information, much to his grandfather’s bemusement.

“I’ll take shopping data over sales data any day of the week, because shopping data is what’s happening now,” Galbraith says. “New CRM is where you need to be. And some dealers are really working Google analytics.”

A growing number of consumers want to shop for cars like they shop on Amazon.com, he contends.

“They go to a search results page, find what they are looking for, and then go to a detail page. People buying cars have to make some human contact, but they still are interested in search results and detail pages.”

Organizations using modern analytics enjoy higher sales and revenues, Galbraith says. “Those that embrace big data are growing twice as fast as those who don’t.”

Technology centered on sorting out and assembling unstructured data “is taking over.” 

sfinlay@wardsauto.com