Software Drives Customers To Buy

Volvo approves software for dealerships to use in order to find customers and close sales
So far, Howard Orloff's experience with Command Center suggests that's a realistic goal. Moran would like to be generating automated E-mail responses to leads within an hour from the time a car shopper presses the "enter" button to request a price quote after configuring a car online. Ideally, it would happen within 15 minutes--which Moran estimates is now happening about half the time. Once the automated message is delivered, the lead is forwarded to a salesperson, who in turn sends a personalized message with a price quote to the prospect within minutes of the automated response. The tool also can track whether the salesperson followed up on the lead.

But Moran's staff is the exception to the norm. More often, dealerships aren't attuned to the importance of quick response to Internet leads and focus more on customers who walk into the dealership. That, Gartner analyst Thilo Koslowski told attendees at an auto-industry CRM summit in Los Angeles last month, is why lead management represents an opportunity for automakers to improve their collaborative sales efforts with dealers. Gartner's research indicates that 57% of dealers are receptive to increased collaboration with manufacturers in the area of lead management.

Volvo's Tools

Dealerships now have choices of apps to use to manage their sales leads


Applied Virtual Vision's Web Control

Autobase's Autobase

AutoNation dealership group's custom-developed Compass

Fresh Beginnings' eLead

Higher Gear Group's Command Center

Prize's ReckonUp

Reynolds and Reynolds' Contact Management and Salespoint

Data: Volvo Cars of North America

To achieve quicker responses, automakers should take steps to motivate dealers by offering incentives, such as additional bonuses, marketing incentives like "hot" leads, or help with initiatives or tools that focus on closing deals, Koslowski recommended. There should be consequences for poor lead-management performance, such as reducing the flow of leads to a dealership, he said.

The motivation part is in Volvo's plans. Once it configures its analytical tools to generate reports from certified lead-management applications, the automaker plans to identify dealers that are struggling with response times and work with them to understand the importance of more-efficient lead management, CRM manager Elaina Verhoff says.

Volvo has taken other steps to improve lead management in conjunction with the certification effort. It recently started working with a lead aggregator, FordDirect, which compiles leads from 10 to 12 lead providers and imports them as Auto Data Format files into the certified tools at dealerships. Before that move, Volvo worked with four separate lead providers, which required more formatting work and resulted in fewer leads. It also has begun conducting annual "mystery shopper" tests in which a third-party service poses as a car buyer and reports back to Volvo on the speed, frequency, and quality of dealer responses. That data is circulated to dealers via field personnel, the idea being that competition will spur laggards to improve.

Volvo's tribulations in establishing a workable lead-management process with its dealers underscores the value of manufac- turer-dealer coordination, Gartner's Koslowski said. Volvo's certification approach gives dealers the confidence that they can pick a tool that works for them while also preserving the parent company's visibility into the sales pipeline, which in turn lets Volvo develop more standardized processes for delivering leads to the dealers. "Any strategy or initiative by an OEM that forces dealers to change their behavior will fail. That's the big lesson here," Koslowski said.

As Volvo has moved to loosen up its approach to lead management, it's done something similar with dealer Web sites. Between 1999 and 2004, it mandated use of a templated site that offered little but static information. This proved unpopular with the more-sophisticated dealers, many of which already had interactive multibrand sites up and running. As it did with lead management, Volvo backed off the template mandate last year and started evaluating dealer sites on a case-by-case basis to ensure they conformed to certain standards, such as a dedicated Volvo page on which car buyers aren't tempted by other brands.

Next year, Volvo plans to tackle another area the auto industry has ignored: direct marketing. The goal is to develop a turnkey process that will make marketing assets, such as logos, standard copy, and vehicle artwork, available to dealers that want to build their own campaigns. But agreeing on where the dealer's marketing responsibilities begin is critical, Volvo's Verhoff says, pointing out that Gartner's research indicates consumers want to hear from the manufacturer when they're looking for a car or have recently made a purchase. Once they're an established owner, they'd prefer to get personal communication from their dealer.

If the manufacturers and dealers can get those efforts in sync, they'll take a key step in securing long-term customer loyalty, Forrester analyst Mark Bünger told attendees at the auto CRM event. "CRM is less about what happens around the sale, but rather what comes after," said Bünger, referring to the personal service that buyers receive from their dealerships, such as vehicle service quality, reminders for checkups, and maintenance promotions. "That's where the revenue generation in CRM happens."

Of course, leads have to be converted into sales to make that happen, and Volvo believes it has found the right recipe to get there.

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