Software Drives Customers To Buy
Volvo approves software for dealerships to use in order to find customers and close sales
Leads--potential customers--are the lifeblood of all sales organizations, whether the products they're peddling are computers, clothing, or cars. How those leads are handled can make the difference between revenue growth or decline. For many businesses, the process of converting leads into actual customers is so important that they've implemented technology to monitor, manage, and track the handling of sales leads. But problems can arise when there's a dispute as to which lead-management software should be used.
Volvo Cars of North America LLC, which historically has sold cars better known for safety than design, discovered that problem when some of its dealers refused to implement the software the automaker specified. Volvo mandated the use of a single tool for managing sales leads to ensure conformity with its standards. But last year, after being pushed by its dealers, Volvo decided to create a certification program that would give dealers more choice when it came to selecting a lead-management application that jibed with those standards. Volvo and its dealers hope that move will result in more-nimble sales efforts and increased sales.
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Over the five years prior to creating the certification program, the company had required that its dealers use Reynolds and Reynolds Co.'s Salespoint, a private-label version of Dealerpoint, a lead-management tool Reynolds acquired from Microsoft in 2003. Volvo wanted to be able to easily access reporting data on how leads were being handled across the Volvo brand. Sixty percent of its 350 U.S. dealers complied, but the rest found that issues such as data-format discrepancies, lack of cohesion with existing business processes, and incompatibility with other brands forced them to adopt one of 37 other lead-management tools.
One of the consequences was a lot of time wasted moving data from Salespoint into a dealership's tool of choice. "When I have to take the information someone prints out and manually put it into our lead-management tool, it's a data-entry nightmare," says Christopher Moran, Internet sales director for Howard Orloff Imports, a Chicago-area dealer that sells vehicles for Jaguar, Land Rover, and Volvo, all of which are owned by Ford Motor Corp. That manual process caused delays of several hours before Moran's staff was able to respond to some leads, giving fast-moving competitors a huge head start in grabbing the attention of potential car buyers. "The goal is to get customers in the door," he says. "You're fighting for an appointment." It also was a source of frustration that the dealership had to take extra steps managing Volvo leads that it didn't have to take with Jaguar's and Land Rover's.
Meanwhile, Volvo watched helplessly as it lost visibility into the lead-management processes at the dealerships that moved leads into other tools. There was no way to access reporting on dealer responses to leads, and that rendered incomplete the reporting it was able to get from compliant dealers. And then it started hearing from dealerships that had developed processes specific to the lead-management tools they were using and were having difficulties getting Volvo leads imported into those tools.
"Over the years, we got more and more complaints from the dealers: 'Why force me to use this lead-management tool if it doesn't support my process?'" says Ginny Dominguez, Volvo's E-retail manager. It was also an example of a lack of sales coordination between automakers and dealers that has long plagued the industry.
But Volvo listened to the dealers and took action. The automaker established a process for certifying lead-management tools, which would allow Volvo to preserve some measure of control while giving dealers more autonomy when it came to their lead-management processes. And in time, Volvo could build the reporting capabilities it needed for each certified tool.
Last month, Volvo increased to nine the number of tools it has certified, and it's prepared to approve additional tools that meet its requirements--the key one being the ability to support Auto Data Format, an industry XML-schema standard for passing lead-management data among systems.
Salespoint is one of the tools Volvo has certified, along with Higher Gear Group Inc.'s Command Center lead-management app, the same one Moran's staff used at Howard Orloff Imports.
Volvo's support of dealers during the transition has been key to making it a seamless process, Moran says. The automaker set up an easy-to-use resource-management site so dealers could subscribe to leads and have them delivered to the tool of their choice. In Moran's case, the leads he chose were automatically pushed into Command Center. Moran anticipates that the resulting simplified lead-management process will pay off quickly. The reason? Faster responses to leads mean more customers are lured into the store. "It's absolutely critical," he says. "I would expect to sell more cars through the process."
Moran isn't alone in his thinking. Volvo also expects to see a bottom-line benefit by getting leads in salespeople's hands quicker and eliminating costs, including training programs, associated with supporting a tool, such as Salespoint, that many dealers would rather not use. Now they'll offer training on Salespoint only if a dealer asks for it. All the other lead-management apps are dealer-managed.
"It's allowing us to get more leads in the funnel and increase our sales rather than spending our money on dealer tools," says Steve Conniff, Volvo's manager of E-business and customer-relationship-management technology.