Automotive CRM 101: Master the Basics of Customer Relationships

Every dealer can tune up their customer-relationship skills. That’s because consumer behaviors are always evolving. Shopping and buying experiences are vastly different today than they were even a few short years ago. So, too, are the ways consumers interact with your dealership.  

Let’s help you master the basics of CRMs so you can manage better customer relationships. We will explore the following topics:  

  • What is a CRM?  
  • Why is a CRM Important?  
  • Benefits of a CRM 
  • What is an Integrated CRM? 
  • How to Use a CRM? 
  • What Makes a Good CRM? 
  • What CRM is Right for Your Dealership?

What is a CRM? 

A CRM, short for customer relationship manager, helps businesses of all types and sizes to manage interactions with existing and prospective customers. It’s software technology that keeps track of conversations, contact information, time between contacts, and even the subject matter of the conversations themselves.  

Think of a CRM as a central hub for managing relationships for your business. It gives sales teams the resources and information they need to reach out to customers, grow relationships, and ultimately close more sales and bring more customers back—all within one convenient tool.  

Different CRMs come with different capabilities and options. Some are more user-friendly and intuitive to use than others. Some provide helpful reminders and feedback to help you stay connected to your customers and track the success of your efforts. Some even come equipped with artificial intelligence (AI) to help you understand more about your customers’ interests and motivations, so you can give them a more personalized experience.   

Why is a CRM So Important?  

As a dealership, people are your most important asset and improving relationships with people is your top priority. Thankfully, a CRM can help you prioritize your employees and your customers by giving them a single tool to make their shared interactions simpler, efficient, and effective.  

A CRM helps you manage customer relationships through the following basic functions:  

  • Record Contacts: Keep track of every detail of every contact you’ve ever made, such as names, numbers, email addresses, and even social media handles.  
  • Manage Communications: Track all customer outreach by communicating directly through the CRM.  
  • Track Metrics and Forecast Sales: Maximize profits with a bird’s-eye-view of your sales and marketing strategy, utilizing powerful reporting to gauge the success of your campaigns and outreach efforts. 
  • Understand Shopping Behaviors: Gain valuable insights into each customer’s shopping behavior, including which vehicles they might be interested in and their readiness to buy.   
  • Automate Workflows: Streamline your customer outreach with notifications and updates about who you should contact and how and when you should contact them.  

Of course, prioritizing people also provides plenty of benefits for your dealership. Managing relationships more efficiently improves productivity for your team and helps them close more deals faster. This boosts efficiency across operations and improves profits for your dealership.  

Benefits of a CRM 

Beyond the benefits of a CRM, it’s critical to focus on how a CRM can optimize the way you run your dealership.  While a CRM might be used somewhat differently between dealerships, its overall benefits cannot be overstated. In fact, a CRM might be the most important tool you use daily.  

Stay Organized 

First and foremost, a CRM helps you to keep your customer information organized. It can compile information about your customers, including the reasons they reached out to you (or you reached out to them), and give you a single view of each customer. This helps you to know the best next steps to take with each customer to grow relationships and close more sales.  

With a single, organized view of each customer, a CRM also allows your team to see previous conversations with every customer, so you can reference conversations that took place days or even years ago. This gives your team a holistic view of each customer, so they can be equipped with all the information they need to give your customers a great experience and keep them progressing down the path to purchase.  

With all the customers you encounter, both online and in your store, a CRM can be a lifesaver. It prevents customers from falling through the cracks and helps you stay on top of your relationships. 

Streamline Customer Communications 

Instead of having to import, look up, piece together or (gulp) remember important customer information, a CRM streamlines the entire process. It presents every last detail you need to know about your customers in a single, easily accessible view.  

If a customer calls in, reaches out online, or shows up in-store, you can quickly look up their entire history with your business to (literally) get on the same page and give them a better experience.  

A CRM also streamlines your ability to proactively reach out to more customers, more effectively. With helpful reminders about who should be contacted and who hasn’t been contacted for a while, a CRM can help you stay on top of every relationship and prioritize those who might be closer to making a purchase decision. It gives you recommended next steps to take with your customers, saving you time and improving the efficiency of your customer outreach efforts. 

Build Better Relationships with Customers 

At the end of the day, a CRM helps you to build better relationships with your existing and potential customers. All the technology, all the data, all the convenience, all the organizational and streamlined CRM features come together to help you manage and nurture better human relationships.  

Knowing more about your customers helps you to customize their experience. It helps you to consistently reach out to them to keep your dealership top-of-mind and ensure their needs are met. Knowing more about your customers helps you to strengthen relationships with existing customers and show new customers that you’re on top of every last detail. Knowing more about your customers helps you to show your appreciation for them, so you can build trust and create customers for life. 

What Is an Integrated CRM and What Does It Facilitate? 

Most CRMs offer dealers the data and information they need to reach out to customers and manage relationships. But many dealers lack the time and resources to aggregate that data across their multiple dealership tools.  

Fortunately, some CRMs integrate dealership tools and sales processes automatically to deliver a single view of every customer – across multiple touchpoints and departments. This kind of CRM can empower your dealership to turn raw customer data into real insights (and insights into sales). 

This not only reduces duplicate data entry and the need to constantly enter information into a dealership database, but it also gives you actionable, aggregated insights across your various technology platforms.  

For example, an integrated CRM can align your used car inventory with your customers’ wish lists, so you can reach out to customers with specific offers that pique their interest, drive sales, and improve inventory management.  

You can also integrate your CRM with your dealership’s website to pick up every online deal right where the customer left off. This integration allows you to streamline deals, improve the customer experience, and provide a single record of real-time shopper activity. 

If you’re trying to bring in more sales or service customers, your CRM can integrate with your DMS and service department software to consolidate data and increase sales and service opportunities with repair order alerts.  

How To Use a CRM? 

While every CRM is slightly different, there are a few general rules and best practices that you can implement to help you get the most out of your CRM.  

Keep a Good Record of Customer Information and Interactions 

Make a record of every customer interaction, whether online, on the phone, in-store or otherwise. Be detail oriented with all the information you record. Track every call, every car discussed, every salesperson involved, etc. The more information you can record, the better you’ll be able to facilitate the customer’s shopping experience moving forward.  

If this seems daunting, you’re in luck. Some CRMs will automate much (if not most) of this process—automatically recording information about customers, topics of conversations, and small but important details about your interactions that can inform future conversations.  

Let Information Guide Your Next Steps 

With all the detailed information you (or your CRM) have recorded, you can let information be your guide in managing your customer relationships.  

Perhaps your CRM shows that a customer signed up for your newsletter online. That gives you the opportunity to reach out and start a conversation about a recent newsletter topic in your first conversation. 

Maybe your CRM shows that your customer hasn’t come in for service in quite a while. Let that information be your guide in inviting them to come back to your service department. You may even choose to send them a service discount coupon to provide a personalized incentive.  

In some cases, your CRM will automatically give you recommendations for what to do next, removing the guesswork of sometimes complex customer interactions. It can tell you who to reach out to and when to reach out, based on past interactions, recorded data, and data-driven insights. 

Personalize All Interactions 

Today’s customers expect a personalized car shopping experience. Based on the information stored in your CRM, you can give customers exactly what they want.  

For example, if a customer browsed a blog article on your website about a specific car and then viewed similar inventory pages, the right CRM can help you put two and two together to inform your next steps and your conversations to personalize their experience pursuant to their interests.  

If a customer calls in asking about inventory availability on a specific make and model, when they arrive at your dealership unannounced, you can be ready to respond to questions and browse buying options without having to be reminded or get caught up with the customer.   

With a combination of customer history and car preferences in your CRM, you can give every customer the personalized experience they expect.  

What Makes a Good CRM? 

What makes a good CRM is probably different for every dealership, but there are a few common tools and capabilities you should look out for when selecting a CRM.  

Artificial Intelligence 

As consumers spend more time shopping, purchasing, and researching their options online, they leave behind valuable clues about their preferences. These clues can inform your insights, even tell you what they’re interested in and when they’re most likely to buy.  

A CRM that comes equipped with artificial intelligence can give you these valuable insights and help you to know when to reach out to your customers with personalized offers, even before they’re ready to reach out to a dealership (maybe your competitors), accelerating the path to purchase and improving their experience.  


Your dealership has enough to do without having to manually record every last detail about every customer relationship—yet that’s exactly what you should do if you want to give your customers the kind of personalized experience they expect.  

With automation, your CRM can do much of the heavy lifting for your dealership. It can record the big and small details about your customer interactions and provide clear next steps for who you should contact and what you should talk about.  


Speaking of reducing manual labor associated with managing your customer relationships, the right CRM can bridge the information gap between your dealership technologies to ensure that you have all the information you need in one centralized CRM location.  

An integrated CRM can combine data from your sales team, your service team, your website, your digital retailing, and more to ensure that you always have the most current information about your customers and that your customers always get the best shopping experience when interacting with anyone at your dealership.  

What CRM is Right for Your Dealership?  

Your CRM is as personal to your dealership as it will be to your customers. Evaluate your dealership’s needs, consider the needs of your customers, and find a CRM that will be beneficial to both.  

Know the needs of your staff, who will be operating your CRM technology, and what resources they will need. While you’re doing your due diligence, take time to evaluate your CRM provider too. Get a feel for whether your prospective CRM provider will be a good technology partner—willing to assist you with questions, needs, concerns, and strategy as you continue to manage your technology and your personal relationships.  

If your dealership is ready to get back to the basics of building better customer relationships, consider the benefits of switching to VinSolutions. VinSolutions Connect CRM includes all the latest features you want in a CRM, plus unmatched access to Cox Automotive’s car shopper data. To learn more about Connect CRM, visit