Your CRM contains a goldmine of sold customers. But where are all of the ‘ups’ who visited once and never came back? Industry pros explains why these leads often go missing.

Our company operates a certified research center that has made calls to unsold customers for more than 18 years. Our representatives with CAR Research XRM ask specific questions about each customer’s dealership experience. Questions can include: Did they get a demo drive, a product presentation or a service walk? Did they meet a manager? Has their salesperson followed up with them? Why didn’t they buy? We then share the answers we collect with our dealer clients. There is one additional question we ask, one we feel is the most important. What we want to know is whether the customer would ever consider going back to the dealership. We recently analyzed all the answers from 2012 to see what the data would tell us about our industry. The most interesting and staggering realization from the report was so obvious that we nearly missed it.

We were studying the numbers in front of us and one of our analysts said, “Wow. Eighty-five percent of the 167,503 customers we surveyed were satisfied overall with their dealership experience. Yet, they didn’t even buy a car.”

Another added, “Only 38 percent of them received a service walk. That’s terrible.”

A third analyst noticed that only 1 percent said they didn’t buy the car because of negative equity. That can’t be right, we thought. That’s when we put the brakes on and looked at the data in a whole new light.

In that moment, we realized that we were looking at the wrong numbers. We were only calling customers who were logged into the CRM. After all, how can we reach a customer who we don’t even know exists?


We have other data that shows that the average dealership only logs 25 percent of their “ups.” The customers who did get logged were those who had reached the negotiation stage, were close to closing and therefore seemed most likely to buy. The customer who walked into the dealership and was greeted by a rude or unprofessional salesperson, however, wasn’t logged into the system. The salesperson probably dismissed him as a flake. The customer probably did end up buying a car — just not from that dealership. Unfortunately, the salesperson never logged the customer into the system, which meant nobody could follow up with him or her to rectify the situation and get him or her back in the dealership.

A recent study by J.D. Power and Associates found that customers are now visiting an average of no more than 1.4 dealerships before purchasing, down from 4.5 in 2005. And 78 percent of the time, the lead doesn’t originate from the Internet; they just call and come in or, more likely, just walk in.

The good news is you are more likely than ever before to sell a car to a fresh lead, but you must be the “1” in the “1.4,” not the “.4.” That means you have to follow up and get them back tomorrow or next week. You must be the first dealership a customer visits, the first dealership that gives a great experience, and the first dealership that actually logs him or her into its CRM.

Even then, all of your efforts mean nothing if there is no follow-up. Statistics have long shown that two-thirds of people who were able to buy a car but walked off the lot will return to the dealership if followed up with properly.


So what is proper follow-up? First, make contact immediately. Call them within 90 minutes of leaving. Chances are they are still out shopping, most likely at that second dealership. If you get the customer on the phone, be pleasant and remind him or her of the great experience he or she had with you, and commit to making the deal happen. Just get the customer back in the store.

If you don’t reach the customer right away, try again over the next few days. Send e-mails — I know you captured his or her e-mail address during their first visit — and leave brief, friendly voicemails. Make sure the customer knows how important he or she is to you. And if the customer bought somewhere else, capture what he or she bought and why — that’s if the customer will tell you.

Having and using a CRM and being accountable to this process is key to being the dealership that turns shoppers into buyers. Your CRM should provide the tools needed for results-based follow- up and accountability. Your managers shouldn’t have to worry about telling the same old follow- up story a thousand times; they only have to push the salespeople to log the up, the call or the Internet lead and hold them accountable to the result.

Julie Jamison is the director of marketing at CAR-Research XRM.

Julie Jamison is the director of marketing at CAR-Research XRM.

Keith Shetterly is the director of business development for CARReasearch XRM in Houston.

Keith Shetterly is the director of business development for CARReasearch XRM in Houston.