Recently, I've heard several comments alluding to the fact that CRM (customer-relationship management) is dead, or at least is at a point where people are tired of talking about it.

There is a notion among many dealers that vendors have over-promised and under-delivered. While that is true, it might be dealers are expecting too much.

Ask for a definition of CRM and you'll get 10 different answers. The problem is, automotive retail is a complicated business with a lot of moving parts. Add to that, dealers will have different goals or objectives for their CRM initiatives, and that makes measuring the return on investment difficult.

In the store, it's easy to get bogged down in the details of the process, and if there isn't a well-defined goal, dealership personnel get CRM-fatigue. Before long, you're writing a check for a solution that sits on the shelf and never gets used.

Enough of the problems, what are some solutions?

It's not giving up on CRM — now more than ever, you need to find ways to drive both sales and service traffic. There are several simple solutions.

Here are some creative things dealers have told me they have done the last 12 months that have helped business. Nothing earth shattering; nevertheless, there may be some nuggets for you.

First, market to customers in your database. You already have the relationship with them. Offer something of real value on the service side. You can generate a ton of service traffic and repair orders with simple campaigns marketing to folks that haven't been back to your store within the last year.

To do that you should find a solution that integrates easily with your dealer-management system. Being able to pull data from your DMS and integrate it with information in your CRM tool is invaluable.

Many of you are looking for used-vehicle inventory. CRM can help you do that. Create a list of vehicles you need, and then send targeted offers to people in your database that have purchased those vehicles from you in the past. Make it a special invitation, not a generic direct mail piece.

I know “Cash for Clunkers” probably is a dirty word right now in your stores. It was an intense program while it lasted and nobody wants to even mention the term now.

But there has to be a way to continue leveraging those sales. There might even an opportunity to reconnect with people who didn't qualify for the program and who left the store without buying.

Offer a special service incentive for people who bought cars using the program. Some dealers are planning a Cash for Clunkers after party a few months from now to generate service business.

It doesn't have to be a Clunkers party — it could be a party or picnic celebrating anything.

Some dealers tie into the local sports teams — whether it's college, professional or high school. For example, offer free oil changes or car washes if the football scores 40 points. You can go in so many directions with this.

There are vendors who provide pretty cool solutions and do a great job partnering with their dealers. The challenge is finding them. Do some research online and read some of the dealer-related blogs. Call dealers who are using the solution you're considering.

Here's a hint. Don't rely on dealer videos or comments on vendor websites. We all know the game — dealers often agree or offer to be used in promotions in exchange for “special” deals on pricing. A few phone calls may give you the real story and save you a ton of trouble. On the other hand, you might find a real jewel.

Several years ago, I flew to California to interview a “poster” dealer offered up by a vendor. The executives from the vendor company were there.

The dealer told me while in his office he was going to tell the executives to remove the solution from his store because it was complicated to use and too expensive for the few results he was getting.

Needless to say, that vendor is no longer around.

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