Mark only logged a fraction of his showroom ups in the CRM last month… again. Mary in the BDC has overdue calls going back two weeks… again. The delivery count is off… again. Sound familiar?

Everyone struggles with the human element of CRM success: utilization (a.k.a. adoption). Because utilization is a process, not an event; and it’s easy for management and end-users to lose focus day to day, or they get bogged down in granular detail in a CRM system. And many dealers devise their CRM strategy as they go, without a roadmap for success.

The following ten steps for CRM success will help you focus on the most important aspects of your CRM initiative to ensure your team understands their objectives and goals, and your results will improve month to month.

1. Define your CRM Goals per Rooftop

What do you want to get out of your CRM effort? How will CRM success improve the customer experience with your dealership? What is CRM success for your organization anyway? You MUST document the answers to these fundamental questions. Otherwise “CRM Success” becomes nothing more than how well your vendor is treating you this month or how much your employees like this or that CRM software.

But reality is that CRM Success is of strategic importance to your organization. CRM is more than your software of choice; it’s a strategy that should improve profitability by focusing on customer acquisition and customer retention.

Your written CRM goals should be shared and constantly reviewed with all dealership management, and it should apply to all your profit centers. With written goals and CRM objectives, your CRM selection (which software you purchase) and utilization efforts will fall into line.

2. Executive Sponsorship & Utilization

The most common mistake made by GM’s is a failure to use the CRM product of choice. If a customer was in the showroom today, and the GM ignored that customer, employees would quickly adopt similar bad habits. Similarly, employees quickly realize that “the boss” is not using the CRM, and they take advantage of this excuse to reduce effort logging traffic and performing follow up. Senior management must “inspect what you expect” by using the CRM on a regular basis. Expertise with the product is not essential, but logging in and running reports is a must.

This habit, once built, will allow every manager to reinforce the CRM’s use across departments and with many employees. Think of the “reinforcement effect” of walking by a sales rep in the hallway and asking her about the up she logged the day before. Doing this once or twice a month, will quickly reinforce your CRM with the team.

3. Manage to the CRM Application

Management at all levels (i.e. GM, the tower, team leaders, etc.) must apply accountability to subordinates based on the numbers in the CRM. Employees must be held accountable for their performance based on the numbers in the CRM; this is how you manage to the application. If the CRM indicates low deliveries for the current month, for example, management must address the deficiency promptly with the appropriate managers or sales personnel.

One very effective best practice is to hold a daily sales meeting where reports are projected on the wall for all to see. Displaying the showroom log on the wall using a laptop and projector is a very effective way to manage to the application to ensure all attendees recognize their performance is measured based on their use of the CRM, and that the CRM is the “document of record” for ups, deliveries, etc.

4. Use both the Carrot and the Stick

Use positive and negative reinforcement at the right time to incentivize employees to use the CRM software and to fulfill your business goals. With “the carrot,” you can spiff employees to log ups, appointments, etc. from time to time. This can be a very effective way to address adoption during an initial installation. Moreover, “the stick” may be writing up a habitual offender that continually refuses to log all his ups on a daily basis. Without these positive and negative reinforcements, many users will never adopt your CRM, and the Desk will “chase its tail” month to month.

5. Select a dedicated, Full-time CRM administrator/trainer/expert

Every dealership/group that dedicates an employee to this role reports dramatically higher utilization of their CRM across the dealership and reports tangible results month over month (increased sales, higher contact-to-appointment ratios, etc.). The trick is selecting an individual with the right personality and skill set for the job. He/she will not sit at a desk all day long; this person will work within multiple departments to facilitate results with the CRM. Basic technical skills should be a prerequisite, but you’re not looking for a “techie”; nor are you looking for a sales person.

This person’s primary focus is to drive CRM utilization; that’s how success should be measured. He/she will coordinate changes to the CRM set up, add new users, delete users when they quit, reassigning deals to new hires, print and send letters to customers, run reports for management, assess and train employees on upgrades from the vendor, and all the other myriad efforts that go into running a successful CRM over the course of the year.

The position pays for itself when this individual begins to facilitate higher-level use of the CRM tools in the dealership. The most common pain dealers report with CRM is finding the time to use all the tools in their toolbox! What if this administrator could sit in on your sales management meeting where you identify promotions and campaigns that could be set up to run in the CRM every month? This person would be responsible for taking these ideas generated by management and tracking them to delivery via the CRM each month (i.e. the 2.9% financing campaign your captive lender might be running until the end of this month that you never have the time to communicate to your customers via email).

And the position itself does not have to be “only” a CRM administrator. This individual should be the internal administrator and expert for many “tools” used by the dealership. For example, in one dealership this employee managed the dealer’s web site (i.e. keeping the content fresh), the CRM, Inventory management software, and even their call tracking software. Spreading the individual’s time across many “tools” allowed the dealer to receive more “bang for the buck” month over month.

6. Solicit User Feedback & Address Objections Rationally

A few times a year, your CRM administrator should survey your user population for feedback about the CRM software, vendor support and your company’s CRM strategy. One of the good things about turnover in the car business is you have a constant stream of new hires that typically arrive from other dealerships. Many will have used other CRM’s and have great ideas about how you could get more out of CRM in your stores.

We recommend sending a blind e-mail survey to every employee (that uses your CRM) with five to ten questions. You’ll be surprised by the answers. You’ll learn about employee experience with your current vendor’s support team and what they like and don’t like about the current CRM software. But you will also receive great ideas about how to implement CRM more effectively for your dealership.

7. Regularly Communicate with Team Members about the Importance of the Initiative

GM’s, senior management and desk managers must be the primary drivers of your CRM initiative in terms of encouragement, vision and accountability. Failure to communicate the bigger picture of why you’re investing time and money in CRM will result in employees relying on their own personal perceptions to “figure it out.” Or your employees’ Customer Relationship strategy becomes simply a “flavor of the month” attitude; meaning team members only think of CRM in terms of whatever program you’re using “this year”.

All too often employees perceive CRM to be about management micro-managing their efforts, looking over their shoulders, and other figments. Communicate your vision and purpose in terms of the customer and employee experience, and adoption and utilization will dramatically improve.

8. Identify Advocates for the Cause

Identify employees that a) believe in CRM, b) use your CRM software effectively, and c) are willing to help other employees get more out of the CRM. Those that believe in CRM are much more likely to quickly adopt your CRM. When they use your CRM effectively, others will notice the results they experience (increased sales, increased CSI, etc.). For example, every dealership has a short list of producers that usually sell more vehicles than the other sales staff. These team members are respected by most of the sales team and their adoption of the CRM lends credibility to the overall effort. If they become detractors of the CRM, general adoption will take longer.

CRM adoption is a “bell curve”. A small group will adopt it early (20%); most adopt when they realize they must or when they see the tangible benefits of doing so (60%), and the remaining minority either never will adopt CRM or will do so much later than other users (20%). You need to plan for this from the beginning of your first CRM installation, and you (not the vendor) must decide what to do about each “user group”. How are you going to handle the “late adopters” or “refuse to adopt” employees?

9. Tie Compensation to the Application

If adoption stalls across the organization, associating CRM utilization with pay plans can help. While I don’t advocate this step for every dealership, an effective application of this concept (for example) could be sales people only receiving commissions on deliveries when the deals have been logged into the CRM.

But be careful… if deliveries are the only practice you incentivize in this way, you could end up with a CRM full of only delivered customers! Think through what you want out of your CRM, and then design a pay plan that incorporates the CRM habits you desire.

10. Leverage Vendor Resources

If you get stuck with system utilization, call on your vendor for assistance. Always remember that every CRM vendor wants their product to succeed in your dealership. If they don’t help you solve the adoption dilemma, eventually you must find a new system/vendor! Many vendors have useful resources (materials, classes, online training, best practices, etc.) you can use to improve utilization before considering a system migration. But be realistic! Treating CRM as nothing more than “just another payable entry” when you should be treating like a critical business driver could be part of the problem!