COSTA MESA, CA – It might seem like a case of too much information, but Shaun Kniffin of the Germain Motor Co. tracks how many times online customers view and print out locator maps to the dealership group’s stores.

Likewise, Kniffin tallies how often customers link to Germain’s website, click on its banner ads and view inventory listings.

Tracking and measuring are “the Germain method,” says Kniffin, who oversees Internet, phone and business-development center operations for the Columbus, OH-based dealership group, the 21st largest in the U.S.

His latest project: Setting up separate phone lines for each advertising effort and channel – from third-party websites to Labor Day mailers – so he can track the number of calls in, handled, unreturned and abandoned, as well as the average talk time for each.

“This is a monster for me right now, but it is worth it,” Kniffin says during a fast-paced presentation at ENG’s annual automotive customer-relationship management conference here.

If Kniffin seems fixated on numbers, there’s a business case for it.

“These reports go to our general managers so they can see what’s working,” he says. He meets monthly with them one-on-one “to discuss the numbers to allow them to make educated decisions to help manage their stores.”

It goes to the business adage: You can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Much of Kniffin’s work is Internet related. For instance, a new initiative for Germain – No.15 on the Ward’s e-Dealer 100 – is inventory optimization in which an online consumer, using a search engine, types in a vehicle make, model and year, and the ensuing search results show dealership inventory matches.

Yet, despite the Internet orientation, the goal of Germain’s marketing efforts, online and otherwise, is to get prospective buyers on the phone.

“It’s about telephony,” Kniffin says, noting the number of customer emails is down. “Customers are just picking up the phone.”

And while virtually every customer at some point “is looking at us online, a lot of them show up at the dealership without having emailed or called us,” he says.

That can fuel an ongoing industry debate as to just what constitutes an Internet customer. But Kniffin seems more interested in tracking data than defining terms.

“We are learning to reinvent ourselves in an industry that traditionally has fought change,” he says. “A lot of dealers know they have to do something. They just don’t know what it is.”

His boss, second-generation dealer Steve Germain, knows what he wants. “He says, ‘I just want my unfair share of customers,’” Kniffin says.

sfinlay@wardsauto.com