Customer Relationship Management (CRM) took center stage at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. convention this year. Today, CRM is vita, as more consumers rely on it for product information and comparison shopping.

I talked to many dealers at the convention. I heard a recurring theme: How to effectively capture and manage customer information across the dealership to better target customers with the right message at the right time.

That's where CRM comes in. It is an integrated approach to identifying, acquiring and retaining customers. By managing customer interactions across the business, CRM helps dealers maximize the value of every customer interaction and drives satisfaction.

With the Internet, call centers, direct mail and floor traffic, there are many ways in which a customer can interact with the dealership. Each is an opportunity to win new business or, on the flip side, lose business if a customer should fall through the cracks. The challenge of CRM is to make it easy for customers to do business with your dealership, and empower employees to recognize customers at every point.

Success starts with a process, backed by trained employees and an integrated CRM system, that enables you to capture, control and convert every selling opportunity.

You should have defined processes and proficiencies in the following:

  • Internet Leads

    Nearly 70% of inbound leads come from the Internet. These prospects are closer to buying so it's critical to get them into the showroom. How many Internet leads does your dealership capture and are they responded to in less than 15 minutes? How many are converted to appointments?

  • Phone

    Use of the Internet is also driving greater phone volume. If phone calls are mishandled, leads are not converted and appointments don't get scheduled. How many of your phone leads result in appointments?

  • Showroom

    When prospects enter the showroom, are they promptly greeted? Is their contact information captured quickly with a system capable of scanning driver's licenses and business cards? Are leads entered into your central database? Does it get checked for duplicates?

  • Service

    New service customers can substantially boost profits. How do you get them? A CRM system can transition new-car buyers to the service department for follow up. The system and its automatic features such as service-reminder capabilities can also keep existing service customers coming back.

Follow-up creates opportunities for employees to verify customer information and build relationships.

That, in turn, increase service and sales business.

Here are some types of follow-ups:

  • Unsold follow-up

    The average showroom closing rate is 20%, which means 80% of prospects don't buy. Customers who didn't buy today could be your customers tomorrow. Keep relationships with them. Have specific processes in place to follow up on be-backs?

  • Sold follow-up

    Contacting potential return customers with the right message at the right time helps build lifelong relationships. Have a process for predicting when customers will be in market to buy again.

  • Prospecting

    Work your prospects to increase sales and market share. How effectively are you turning prospect data into new leads? Mine valuable customer data to follow-up on prospects and inactive customers.

With the right people, processes and tools in place, your dealership can start capturing, controlling and converting every selling opportunity that presents itself to your dealership.

Rob Urbanowicz is CRM marketing director for Reynolds and Reynolds Co. (www.reyrey.com)