It can be tough getting today's dealership sales personnel to use modern customer-relationship management software to stay in touch with customers, track prospects and follow up on leads.

Horror stories abound, telling of dealers who bought expensive CRM systems, which ended up being unused or underused by staffers set in their ways.

But consider what Bryan Anderson was up against in 1988, when he founded Autobase, one of auto retailing's first CRM systems.

Training dealership personnel on the system was a major challenge for clueless employees. Some of them were so computer illiterate they had never used a keyboard before.

“We were dealing with guys who looked at the keyboard and said, ‘Wait a minute, the letters aren't in order,” Anderson recalls. They expected the letters to be alphabetized.

There's none of that with young dealership employees. Most of them grew up using keyboards.

In fact, a college teacher tells Ward's many students struggle to write in cursive. Why? Because they are so accustomed to banging on a keyboard, they seldom use pen and paper, It shows in their poor penmanship, she says.

Even though today's CRM systems are much more functional, they're also easier to use, says Jonathan Ord, CEO of DealerSocket, a CRM firm for dealerships. “We've made it more user-friendly.”

Training also has become much better than some of the CRM cram courses of yesteryear.

For example, DealerSocket has acquired Car Mind, an online training firm. Its serious purpose is delivered in a light-hearted way, Ord says. “It's instructive, but in a situation-comedy format. It's almost like watching ‘The Office.’”

Determined dealers are behind most successful CRM training efforts.

Kevin Reilly holds bachelor degrees from Georgetown University, a law degree from Yale and an M.B.A. from Duke.

Accordingly, he took a studious approach in selecting and implementing a CRM system at Alexandria Hyundai, his dealership in Alexandria, VA.

He figured if he spent all that money on CRM, he wasn't about to brook employees failing to use it.

Most of them “got it.” About 30% resisted. To overcome that, he rewarded staffers for using the system, not just for achieving better sales and profit margins.

“The chief obstacle for the success of your people is your people,” Reilly says. “It's human nature. We don't like change, even if it helps you make more money and gets you more customers.”

If employees learning to use the system goofed up, that was OK, he says. At least they were using it.

He quotes Meister Eckhart, a 14th century philosopher: “The price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake.”

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