DANA POINT, CA – A good email subject line is like a good book cover. It looks interesting enough to open.

Auto dealers should keep that in mind when using emails to communicate with customers. Emails with dull subject lines typically end up unread and in the e-trash bin.

“The subject line makes or breaks an email,” says Hunter Swift, a sales manager and trainer for DealerSocket, a customer-relationship management software firm.

“It needs to be clear, concise and, if possible, personalized using a CRM tool so the recipient views it as unique,” he says. “And be creative, so it doesn’t sound spammish or blocked by a spam filter.”

Swift and his colleagues shared email-marketing best practices at a CRM conference put on here by DealerSocket.

Done right, emailing is a cheap and effective way for auto dealers to reach out to customers.

It starts with getting the customers’ email addresses in the first place. That shouldn’t be hard, although some dealership personnel are reluctant to ask.

“One of the most effective ways to collect emails is for service advisors to ask for them when people pull into the service lanes,” says Peter Ord, DealerSocket’s sales training-development manager.

Customers are more likely to give their email address if they’re told of the benefits for doing so. Those include getting safety and recall notifications quickly, as well as receiving discount coupons.

“It’s more effective than just saying, ‘Give me your email,’” says Brad Perry, DealerSocket’s co-founder and chief technology officer.

Sales people should capture emails, too. Swift suggests conducting a periodic contest in which the staffer who collects the most valid customer email addresses wins a $50 gift card.

Some dealership collection rates are nearly 60%, others below 20%, he says.

Once a dealership has built an email database, the next step is to send relevant information, using CRM software to make sure the right customers are getting the right message.

“The last thing you want to do is send a $200-off incentive for purchasing a car to someone who just purchased a car,” Swift says.

Some dealership emails should be informative and not contain sales messages, he says. “You don’t always want to be selling something.”

Other tips:

  • Develop a dealership template because customers are receptive to consistency.
  • Never send just a photo of a car.
  • Never send a message in which the entire text is capitalized.
  • Use black font only.
  • Don’t embed vital information in images that conceal the message unless clicked.