The Relationship Begins Before the Sale

Many people relate CRM to customer follow-up. While follow-up is an integral part of CRM, some believe managing your customer relationships long before the sale is just as crucial. At Anchor Subaru and Anchor Pre-Owned, customer relationship management (CRM) begins as soon as a potential customer drives onto the lot.

“Controlling the activities that lead to getting the cars sold, that’s what CRM is all about… [It’s about] making sure the activities are taking place and making sure that [customers are] getting logged and that no one’s getting dropped.” That’s Brian Benoit’s philosophy when it comes to customer relationship management. Benoit, the vice president and co-owner of Anchor Subaru and Anchor Pre-Owned in North Smithfield, R.I., has been actively managing his customer relationships with the help of a CRM product since 2001.

The road he took to get to where he is today was not straight or short. There were a couple of wrong turns, and it took years to perfect the processes he relies on and manages by today. Early on, he discovered that price doesn’t necessarily dictate the quality of a CRM product. He started out using a free CRM product provided by Subaru. “It was pretty primitive, but it was a start,” said Benoit. He soon decided it was time to upgrade to a better product, but his first attempt at upgrading was unsuccessful. He’d opted for an expensive CRM product that came with lots of promises about what the product could do and what it would be able to do in the near future. “We wanted to link with our service department … We wanted some more forward-thinking things to come out of the program,” said Benoit, adding that the company had “promised it all and it never panned out.”

After severing ties with the second CRM product, Benoit went without one for a while, until one day in 2005 when he was introduced to the tool that has helped shape the CRM culture at Anchor—Customer/Mate, an Auto/Mate product. Benoit, who’d had Auto/Mate as a DMS since ‘02, said , Customer/Mate was a “shell of a product” in the developmental stages back then. Michael Esposito, president and CEO of Auto/Mate, offered to install it in Benoit’s dealership and turn the store into a primary beta test site. So, while Benoit perfected his processes, he helped mold Auto/Mate’s CRM product into the solution it is today.

To date, Benoit is still working with the Auto/Mate team to improve the product, and he commended the company’s willingness to listen to what his dealership would like the product to do and quickly implement the changes.

One feature that simplifies everyone’s lives at Anchor is what Benoit calls “seamless e-mail.” Once upon a time, in order to keep every e-mail contact with a customer, the staff at Anchor had to copy and paste every incoming and outgoing e-mail into each customer’s file. Nowadays, they no longer have to spend time doing such tedious tasks because it is done automatically. While that may not seem like a big step in today’s technological world, it was a big step a few years ago for the staff at Anchor.

It was such a big step that Benoit said it’s still one of his favorite aspects of the product. “The first thing they did was make that seamless, so when we click on ‘e-mail system’ in the CRM, it’s mated up to our Outlook, so all of the e-mails come into a basic Outlook account. Then they filter out all of the junk e-mails and filter in all the pertinent e-mails [which] go right into our customer system.” It was a big task to determine how to get that to work seamlessly, but it saves a tremendous amount of time for his staff.

Another part of Benoit’s life made easier was tracking the road to the sale. As an owner who manages by the numbers, the program allows him to dissect the dealership’s statistics and enables him to set measurable goals for his sales force. It also helps isolate any weak points in the road to the sale. Through the metrics, the entire sales team knows exactly how many opportunities, test drives and trips to the finance office they need to make to reach their sales goals.

Based on his tracking, Benoit has car sales at Anchor down to a science. He knows between 50 and 60 percent of all ups will result in a test drive. Of the test drives, about 75 percent of customers will sit down and talk figures. Of the people who sit down to talk figures, 60 to 65 percent will buy a vehicle. That means for every 100 ups, between 50 and 60 will go on a test drive. Of those who test drive, 37 to 45 people will sit down and talk figures, which will result in the sale of 22 to 29 vehicles.

If any of those numbers are significantly off, Benoit said, “It leads to the right kind of coaching.” It allows him to see how the team is performing and how each individual is doing compared to the group. “If I can pinpoint what the problem is, that’s all we’re going to work on. We’re not going to work on 100 things. If a guy is … getting a lot of [test drives], but he’s not taking write ups, I’m not going to sit here and talk to him about demoing more cars.”

To be able refine the road to the sale, all the numbers must be on point. “If you’re going to let your numbers dictate what you need to fix, then you’ve got to make sure that the numbers are accurate,” said Benoit. “There are a lot of places that don’t count a customer until they get logged in or until a license gets swiped in; that’s not the way we do it.” Every customer who drives on the lot is logged, even if it’s on a paper log initially and later input into the system.

As for incoming sales calls and e-mails, Anchor’s sales managers handle all those and turn the customers over to the sales staff once they show up for an appointment. For the past three years, sales managers have been involved early in the sales process and Benoit wouldn’t have it any other way. “From the point we put the system in and the sales calls started going to the managers, appointment shows and actual sales [from phone ups] went up by 50 percent.”

With management involved from the start, Benoit knows the relationships being built with his phone and Internet customers start off on the right foot, hopefully turning them into customers for life. He said the phone was the first step to building more solid customer relationships. For example, he said if one of the salespeople (there’s a total of 10 between the two stores) was having a bad day, it could negatively affect all the phone ups that person gets during that day.  

Prior to management handling the Internet and phone ups, Benoit found it difficult to monitor his phone and Internet traffic. “It was hard to measure all of the percentages, closing ratios, appointment ratios … because the information going into the system was reliant on too many people.” A management staff of four, which includes Benoit, is much easier to hold accountable than the 14 people in sales and sales management. Plus, since he watches his phone metrics as closely as he does his floor traffic, it’s extremely important to have accurate numbers to be able to determine when management needs training on certain segments of the phone and Internet appointment-setting processes.

While Benoit’s CRM processes are extremely important prior to the sale, the two Anchor stores keep in touch with customers long after they drive their new cars off the lot. Once a deal is marked “sold” in the DMS, he said, it “talks” with his CRM system and “sets up four years of follow-up for that customer.” The salespeople are in charge of all sold customer follow-up. When it’s time for each point of contact, the salesperson is sent reminders to make the contact, whether it is a phone call, mail or e-mail. Some points of contact are as simple as “happy purchase anniversary” or birthday notes, while others are service- and purchase-oriented messages designed to get customers back in the door.

In addition to the preset follow-up plan for sold customers, Benoit works with his marketing manager to create custom campaigns to send to past customers. For example, when the pre-owned store opened in November of 2008, every past customer with an e-mail address on file received an e-mail about Anchor’s new pre-owned store. To make sure every customer was aware of the store opening, customers without e-mail addresses were sent mailers.

While there’s no set schedule for these campaigns, Benoit said between the two stores, they run one at least every other month. He added, “Obviously the e-mailing is a much more cost-effective way … and we get a lot better response when we do e-mail contacts over mailers, so we’ve been doing more of those recently.”

The wide-ranging CRM efforts at Anchor are clearly working, as 35 percent of the two stores’ sales are repeat and referral business. In addition to a high percentage of repeat/referral business, Benoit and his two brothers (also co-owners of Anchor) were able to open the new pre-owned location as planned in late 2008 despite the economy. The newly-opened location doubled its first month’s sales from October ‘08 to December ‘08.  Between the two stores, Anchor retails about 100 units a month, and Benoit said he hopes to see the stores selling a combined monthly total of 160 by mid-2009, provided the economy returns to some form of normalcy.

For now, Benoit is continuing to work on providing feedback for product enhancements to his CRM system and streamline more of the processes at Anchor. What he wants to see are major changes to help link his service and sales departments together, something he’s been wanting for years. He wants all his salespeople to receive reminders to follow up with sales-turned-service customers after they’ve been in for a service visit. Benoit said, “That’s probably a few months away.” Once that’s complete, he’s sure to find something new or something to improve to help him better manage his stores and customer relationships.
Vol. 6, Issue 3