The belief is that COVID-19 sped up dealer adoption of digital retailing by 18 to 24 months. Stories from the frontlines reveal the strides dealers made, but they also point to the emergence of another critical storyline — an unsung hero.

The pandemic confirmed that the CRM needs to be at the center of a dealer's retail strategy — whether on the sales floor, online, or in a clicks-to-bricks, connected-retail experience. The reason is it enables the rest of the experience: follow-up, marketing, knowing where customers left off online, and having the insights to move them to a buying decision.

COVID-19 confirmed something else — that, as they did over the last 100 years, dealers will continue to play a critical role in the industry’s future. And as any of them will tell you, everything and every channel were in play in 2020. Here are five observations to fuel your omnichannel retail strategy.

Observation No. 1: Digital Retailing Is More Than Just Lead Generation; It's an Experience

That digital-retail call-to-action button sitting next to every vehicle listed on your site shouldn't be the only clue your dealership is digital retail-ready. It should be apparent the moment a shopper lands on your website. Think banners, announcement bars, and homepage sliders with the following: "Getting your best price and creating your deal is as easy as 1-2-3 …"

You’ll also need a dedicated landing page that outlines that process with step-by-step instructions, an embedded video, and maybe a digital-retail “Start Now” button. Customer reviews and FAQs are a must. Offering and promoting an incentive to customers who complete their deals online could also be part of that strategy.

Remember, digital retailing is lead generation that needs to feel like an experience for car buyers. So, you'll also want to remove all those other CTAs surrounding your digital-retail button. You may even want to consider changing the style, color, or size of that button to differentiate your digital-retail CTA. Adding an image overlay outlining your digital-retail experience to your image gallery and slider on your vehicle details pages and homepage is also a must. If you include vehicle walkaround videos on your VDPs, make sure there’s one about your online buying experience.

The CRM link to your DR experience is this: Make sure your digital retail leads are routing to the right people. This message was especially important when dealerships were forced to operate with limited staff last year. In fact, do the same for all lead channels.

Observation No. 2: Can’t One-Touch Without the CRM

Some dealers entered the pandemic behind a one-touch sales and F&I process powering their digital retail strategies. It's not every operation's cup of tea. If it is at yours, three things are probably true. First, your sales manager probably plays a critical role in that process, reviewing every lead that comes in — DR generated or not — to ensure proper handling and a virtual "turnover" into that hybrid process.

Second, it’s highly likely your one-touch dealership realized how critical the CRM is to making that process work. For some dealerships, that meant standardizing the configuration of their sales manager's CRM dashboard, so untouched viable leads, unreviewed and uncontacted leads, unsold demos and writeups, and the day’s created appointments are always a glance away.

Lastly, it's likely you're store also considered standardizing what information is collected whenever a lead is engaged. The more your team knows about a customer, the smoother the process.

Observation No. 3: Your Website Needs to Be Easy to Shop, Mobile-Friendly, and CRM Integrated

You don’t have to be them, but sites like Carvana and Vroom offer an excellent template for how your dealership’s online shopping experience needs to be. And a website platform with do-it-yourself editing capabilities is the perfect way to optimize your virtual showroom.

Here are some other tips:

  • Your website needs to be clean and easy to navigate. A site cluttered with pop-ups and confusing CTAs does no one any good.
  • Your website also needs to be mobile-friendly. With car buyers turning to their mobile devices as their shopping tools of choice, you'll miss out on opportunities if it isn't.
  • Flashy slide shows or drone footage of your dealership might look cool on a desktop, but have you seen what it looks like on a mobile device? Load speed also becomes an issue, especially when most consumers come to your site to shop, schedule service, or value their trade.


Now, as you’ve probably heard, the holy grail of marketing is reaching the right person with the right message at the right time. A website that integrates with the CRM may offer applications that can tap into the site’s behavior analytics so sales teams can monitor, track, and convert online shoppers from the CRM. That integration could also mean that all text conversations and customer opt-ins initiated on your site get pushed to the CRM, where they can be tracked and managed.

Observation No. 4: Fish Where No One Else Is with an Omnichannel-Ready CRM

Your customer database is a treasure-trove of opportunities if you know how to take advantage. There are buyer demographics, buying patterns, and customer information that can fuel a fruitful Facebook campaign. If your CRM offers Facebook integration, that means centralized marketing and attribution reporting.

The same goes for a CRM equipped with integrated data mining and list-building capabilities. Many dealers turned to these tools last year to identify pandemic-weary customers who could take advantage of attractive incentive offers to lower their payment and upgrade to a new car. They did the same when inventory shortages became a real problem, with some operations using that same strategy to locate potential trade-ins to restock their lots.

Now imagine how easy that call is when all those critical customer details are displayed through your CRM.

Observation No. 5: CRM-Integrated Soft Pull Functionality Is a Must

Many dealers finally realized the promise of soft-pull technology through COVID — both online and on the sales floor. It was for Washington-based Spokane Hyundai, helping to fuel the three consecutive months of record sales once the dealership reopened its showroom in May. Not only did the soft-pull functionality available through the dealership's CRM improve the customer experience, it cut the Hyundai store's F&I expenses by almost two-thirds.

“Previously, we were spending a ton of money on hard pulls for deals that might not happen. Now I can serve up accurate payment quotes without the customer having to complete a credit application, which speeds up the process,” said General Manager Craig Fruin. “The biggest advantage is it keeps all those critical details in the customer's profile within DealerSocket’s CRM."

COVID-19's real impact is that it increased the number of potential outcomes for every opportunity that lands in the CRM. That's why this essential customer lifecycle-management tool will continue to play a critical role in your dealership's budding omnichannel retail strategy.

Author Bio: Darren Harris joined DealerSocket in 2003 and now serves as Executive Vice President and General Manager of Retail Solutions. Email him at [email protected].