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CRM Success: West Herr Nissan

West Herr Auto Group began over 50 years ago when Joseph Herr, Jr. and Harold West began selling Ford vehicles in Hamburg, N.Y. Building on the success of their original 1950 Ford dealership, West Herr has since expanded from a corner tent to 15 dealerships. They have become the largest automotive group in New York, selling 21 brands of vehicles and employing over 1,100 people. With that much activity, they must know something about Customer Relationship Management (CRM).
West Herr Automotive Group, Inc. has deployed three different CRM products in four of its 15 dealerships, “…with varying degrees of success,” said Pete Small, director of variable operations for West Herr. “We’ve looked at dozens of others and even [the prospect of] creating our own, which we are more than capable of doing.” The process itself of managing customer relationships – organizing data, adapting to issues and mitigating problems – can threaten to turn brilliant sales teams into burnt-out bulbs.

In the past, “We relied solely on our salesperson’s abilities, or inabilities, to keep track of our efforts,” adds Joe Rizzo, general manager for West Herr Nissan. “The methods for collecting and parsing that data included everything from scraps of paper in vest pockets to sophisticated logs,” continued Rizzo. They needed a far more accurate means of keeping track of daily opportunities that came to the door.

Buffalo Bills Coach Marv Levy once said, “What it takes to win is simple, but it isn’t easy.” The concept of CRM and following up with customers is just as simple, said Small, “…it just isn’t easy.” Small uses the analogy of getting in peak physical shape: “You could try to do your exercise at home, or you could hire a personal trainer.” Once you have a seasoned professional on your side, “Your chances of success are much greater, day after day, but only if you commit to the hard work that needs to be done to get there.”

The most important item is not the product; it is the level of commitment. “What matters is that the highest levels of the organization agree with the product, and that support flows down through the management team to the salespeople…then you have a chance,” said Small.

Rizzo concurs, “Unless [a CRM product] is very easy to use and has everybody’s buy-in, it will not succeed. The success we are now having is in no small part due to learning from some of the struggles we’ve had in the past, including lack of buy-in.”

In short, any dealership can achieve CRM success by: hiring professionals that have, in Small’s words, a “passion for the process,” having support from senior management, and gaining salespeople’s cooperation. “The salespeople will be the glue to make the CRM system work day after day,” emphasizes Small.

Once everything is in place, the dealership needs someone willing to continue to carry the ball. Small calls this person a CRM Champion. He or she can be the general manager or general sales manager at first, but as soon as possible Small, the responsibility and authority for running the CRM, should be passed to a designated “go-to” person at the dealership.

Hire a professional is exactly what West Herr Nissan did when they called ProResponse, a database management system that began in 1998. Craig Colender, national sales manager for ProResponse, summarized their services, “We assist dealerships in keeping track and keeping in touch with customers and prospects. We are a high-tech secretarial team for the salespeople. We help them with letters, e-mails and targeted marketing pieces, including design of the piece.”

For example, if Nissan is offering a rebate on a specific car, this CRM provider allows the dealership to isolate which customers (and prospects) need to know about the rebate first. They then can send out direct mail pieces to a targeted group. “It’s manageable, and we can measure it,” explains Colender, who contrasts this method against “dealers who just communicate deals in the newspaper.” ProResponse also meets with West Herr regularly to communicate new ideas or marketing opportunities.

Though ProResponse can handle as many or as few aspects of CRM follow-up as needed, West Herr Nissan has entrusted them with all follow-up and direct mail advertising for all customers and prospects. “Craig comes from the business and was able to communicate very well with our salespeople,” says Rizzo. “He cut through the typical jargon and resistance whenever you introduce something new. Salespeople now regularly submit their information to our chosen CRM provider and ongoing training is provided. In exchange, our staff receives a daily activity report. “

West Herr Nissan has maximized its sales team to new competitive levels by turning over many of the CRM duties of follow-up. “Our business has improved in every aspect,” says Rizzo. Many prospects have returned based on the follow-up letters alone, which are sent out one week after their visit to the dealership. Sales reflect this success story. Sales improved roughly 25 percent in 2004 and another 25 percent in 2005. Market share has increased by seven percentage points over the past two years, while the local market has grown about six percent.

Beyond any CRM software or systems, West Herr has always operated on a policy of customer commitment. “It’s been said a hundred different times, a hundred different ways,” said Small, “It’s a matter of exceeding the customer’s expectations. You take their temperature and assess what they are trying to accomplish. You just have to be certain that what they wanted is accomplished and exceed their expectation.” If you do that, life is good.

West Herr’s satisfied customers have helped it become a three-time winner of the Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Marketplace Ethics. This award is quite an honor because it is open to any business not just automotive dealerships. West Herr also actively serves its community through numerous charitable organizations, including the Roswell Park Cancer Institute, Kids Escaping Drugs, The Center for Hospice and Palliative Care, and Skating Association for the Blind and Handicapped.

Both Small and Rizzo agree that CRM really boils downs to interaction with the customers. Rizzo is very involved with the day to day operations of the dealership, spending a major part of his time on the sales floor and in the sales office, interacting with both salespeople and customers. “Make it a point to meet folks when they come in the door,” said Small. “You need to get ‘face time’ with the customer and the employee.” If there are problems, fix them quickly.
“Our president has never called us to task on spending too much money on a customer. He will call us to task on not responding to [a customer’s problem] that same day, or making him or her wait too long,” says Small. The key thing, with or without a CRM service, is whether or not senior management truly believes in making the customer happy. If they do, commitment comes from the top down. By adding the right CRM provider or service and having total commitment, you will have a successful CRM initiative.
Vol 3, Issue 3


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