After years of adding third-party components piece by piece to an old customer relationship management system, Chris Vester reached an inescapable conclusion. The system — used by Hubert Vester Auto Group’s five dealerships in eastern North Carolina — had been, in a word, Frankensteined.
Like Gothic-author Mary Shelley’s legendary creature, which was sewn together from disparate body parts, the system lurched along, unable to operate fluidly or fulfill its potential. It was so cumbersome to operate, Vester says, that employees avoided using it whenever possible, depriving the group’s Honda, Toyota, Chevrolet and Nissan dealerships of many efficiencies it was designed to achieve.
All that changed in December 2016 when the company invested in a new cloud-based system called CRMSuite, developed by CRMSuite Corp. Under terms of a licensing agreement announced in March, the product now is sold by Dominion Dealer Solutions under the brand name Dominion Vision.
The results? Since late 2016, the closing rate on Internet sales leads jumped to an average of 23 percent per month, up from 9 percent previously. The industry average is around 15 percent, said Vester, citing National Automobile Dealers Association statistics.
It’s hard to determine how much of that increase stems from the system itself, he told Automotive News. But one thing is certain: CRMSuite makes it easier for salespeople to follow the dealerships’ internal processes. “We intrinsically know it’s having a positive impact on our bottom line,” he said.
Vester is COO of the auto group and co-owns two of the dealerships with his father, Hubert, who founded the company and is sole owner of the other three stores. Chris Vester’s conviction that his dealerships’ operations needed to be customer-centric led to a determination to build those operations around the customer relationship management system — which meant having a workable system.
Hubert Vester Auto Group’s Chris Vester says the system “pays for itself.”
Vester isn’t the first dealership executive to experience CRM growing pains, exacerbated by third-party software add-ons. The auto group, which sold 2,444 new and 2,057 used vehicles in 2017 at its dealerships — four in Wilson and one in Roanoke Rapids, N.C. — bought its previous CRM system in 2009. A litany of pain points followed, he said.
“The CRM could not send videos or text,” he said. “The mobile app was terrible, too. It couldn’t even scan driver’s licenses to add customers to our database, which made that process very labor intensive for our front line. Everything involved keystrokes.
“A CRM is only as good as the information you put into it,” he said. “So the easier it is to input customer information, the more accurate it will be and the more likely employees will use it. Ease of front line use is huge.”
Moreover, the old system made it all but impossible for management to track how well salespeople followed up on leads with emails, phone calls and the like. And to use videos, the company had to buy third-party software to record them and then embed them into the CRM.
“I wanted almost every follow-up to include a video, which builds rapport and credibility with customers because they hear someone’s voice and see their face,” Vester said. “It gives them a personal experience they can relate to and building relationships with customers is everything.”
Things are much different now, noted Vester, who sat through more than a dozen vendor demonstrations. “I knew if we were going to make this change, we didn’t want to do it again in 12 months,” he said.
With the new system, which costs $2,500 a month per dealership or about the same as the dealership’s prior system, salespeople now can use their cellphones to scan customers’ driver’s licenses. The new system also enables them to easily follow up on leads with phone calls, emails and texts — whatever medium that customer prefers — as well as to include videos.
The system also gives management the ability to efficiently track how well salespeople follow up on leads. In addition, it offers salespeople efficient desking capabilities that streamline sales negotiations, Vester said. If negotiations take place through the CRM, without having to use the dealership management system, “it’s just better,” he said. “This way the sales manager and salespeople are looking at the same system.”
For marketing, CRMSuite also can be used for equity mining, the extraction from a list of customers those who have significant equity built up in their cars, which might make them more willing to trade in for another vehicle. “It’s one of the best ways to sell cars because it helps us maintain a constant source of used cars,” he said. “If we can move someone up to, say, another trim level without much of a change in [monthly] payment, that’s a pretty easy way to walk someone into a new-car purchase.”
Vester said the CRMSuite system also is a valuable coaching tool. Whether or not a salesperson sells a car, a sales manager can use the system’s tracking features to walk him or her through the sales process and point out what went right and what went wrong.
The transition to CRMSuite included a few bumps in the road. For the first couple of weeks, employees raved about it. But then some pushback occurred when they realized how much monitoring by management it allowed. “But I think that if I asked anyone now if they’d want go back to the old system, they’d say no,” he said.
Is the system worth the monthly expense? “Without a doubt,” Vester said, noting the fees are about the same as those for the prior system. “It pays for itself. Next to our DMS system, CRM is absolutely our most important tool. Building relationships with customers is vital to our business.
“Plus we no longer have that Frankenstein creature, made from different pieces,” he said. “It’s all right there in one seamless package.”