CRM means Customer Relationship Management. The short answer to why you should care is that your future success may depend on if and how you implement CRM.

Retail, your business, the business of selling and serving end users, is very competitive. Long term success often depends on doing a lot of little things right. Selling and servicing farm equipment is no different than any other industry where CRM is now a standard practice. But our industry is just starting to learn about its benefits of and to use CRM successfully.

The purpose of this column is to define CRM; to learn why and how it can help your business; to explain what to look for in a CRM system; and then how best to implement CRM in your dealership.

What is CRM?

Customer relationship management is the use of software technology to organize, automate and link all interactions with your customers and prospects. CRM may also be called a contact management system, a customer service and support system, sales force automation, or referred to simply as a comprehensive customer database. Yet other names for CRM are lead management, lead generation or sales opportunity management.

CRM is not a sales management tool only — it is primarily a tool to increase the productivity and communication in your dealership. As such, all customer interactions must be recorded by everyone. Think about going to your doctor and getting a prescription. If you call a week later to say that the prescription is not working; only to be told we have no record of your visit or your prescription — then, your view of the doctor (the brand) is tarnished.

The sharing of information across all of your departments improves efficiency and productivity so you can focus on keeping current customers happy and finding new ones.

Some CRM systems have the capability for direct marketing (direct mail, email, social media) as well as capturing leads from your website and managing marketing campaigns. Sales force tools can include managing leads, forecasting sales results and identifying specific sales opportunities.

More comprehensive CRM systems extend beyond marketing and sales to include customer service. Parts and service departments can use CRM to track specific customer technical issues — called case management — to a successful conclusion and can build a body of knowledge that link customers with issues or questions to on-line solutions, which is commonly called a knowledge base.

How can CRM help your dealership?

CRM can serve your business in a wide range of ways.

  • Build strong customer relationships for long-term success. Because the purpose of CRM is to manage customer relationships from prospect to close to the creation of a lifetime customer, CRM will equip your dealership with the necessary information to engage customers, earn loyalty and drive repeat business.
  • Identify the best customers, keep them satisfied and lead to conquest sales. CRM allows your sales team to keep on top of priority opportunities at every step of the sales cycle. By implementing standard sales methods, every salesperson follows the same best practices including step-by-step activities to increase close ratios and maximize sales efforts. From forecasting sales to product demonstrations to final sale, your sales team gains full control of the sales process enabling them to close the sale in a timely fashion. Doing so increases your revenue and better satisfies your targeted prospects, as well.
  • Optimize your dealership’s efficiency and productivity. There are many daily tasks and deliverables in large, active and successful farm equipment dealerships. CRM increases your effectiveness by establishing follow-up activities, whether it’s making the next call, completing a proposal or sending a courtesy email. The integrated calendar in a CRM system helps in scheduling tasks, action items and follow-ups so they are more likely to be completed on time.
  • Understand the flow of prospects through your sales process. One name for CRM is sales opportunity management. CRM helps your dealership to exploit the opportunities by allowing you to stay on top of productivity and sales levels with real-time information about individual, team and dealership performance. You can monitor KPIs (key performance indicators), such as the status and value of leads, then drill down deeper to understand variances. CRM makes forecasting effortless and lets you take proactive measures to ensure your sales team hits revenue targets.
  • Bring sales, parts, service and finance into an integrated system. A comprehensive CRM system allows every relevant customer interaction to be recorded, allowing you to “see” each customer in total. When a sales rep learns through the CRM system of the service work done on a customer’s machine, this can be a sales opportunity for a new machine. When the parts department learns that a customer has purchased a different brand machine from another dealership, then they can determine whether your dealership can provide the parts for that machine.

What should you look for in a CRM system?

There are many questions you should ask when considering the many choices in CRM systems. Here are few of the most important ones:

  • Is it simple to learn, use and maintain? Adopting any comprehensive software technology will take time, effort and a commitment to implement effectively and embed in your dealership’s culture. The ease of use will make the change more likely to happen.
  • Is access to CRM data possible through the web, from a desktop computer and mobile devices (laptops, mobile phones, tablets)? The more opportunities to access the CRM system from the field and in real-time in the dealership mean it is more likely to be used.
  • How well is the integration with your other business systems (finance and accounting, work order management, parts, new and used inventory)? The more sharing of data among systems, the more effective and efficient the use of CRM.
  • What is the integration with standard business software (email, spreadsheets, word processors, presentation and reporting)? The more the CRM is integrated with other software, the lower the cost and the wider its capability.

What’s the best way to implement CRM?

Many dealerships have basic business systems for accounting, inventory control and parts management. When making a change in their business systems, dealers often cite the time, effort and frustration involved in changing from one system to another.

Implementing CRM can be a big task because many farm equipment dealerships will be changing their “way” of doing business. The comprehensive nature of CRM means that a lot of little things can change or be added to daily tasks. The benefits are large but the cultural changes are often significant.

This leads to a couple of key lessons when it comes to implementation.

  • Implement CRM in phases. Don’t try to use all of the features at once, but have an organized plan to tackle one process and get it done well. The integrated nature of CRM means that as you add more processes and detail, the benefits will increase exponentially.
  • Plan ahead. According to Neil Mezabish, Light Industry Service Crop., “Every dollar spent in preplanning saves $7 in deployment.” As with building a new shop or an addition to your building, the more work you do ahead of time with your architect, the faster and less expensively your contractor can work.

Other aspects of a successful launch and use of CRM include: strong support from management, a dedicated project leader, active involvement of all users, continuous motivation and a healthy dose of realism.

Is CRM worth it?

There’s little doubt that CRM should help your bottom line. But how do you want it to accomplish this? Do you want to increase sales to existing customers? Do you want to capture more customers? Do you want to integrate your parts and service marketing efforts with sales? Do you want to increase customer satisfaction with better customer service? Are you looking for a single view of all your customer relationships for strategic planning? Do you want to track sales performance more closely? Do you want to collect data to support and direct marketing campaigns?

CRM can do all these things and more, which is why the rewards are large. But the risks can be large too unless you plan and implement well. Done correctly, CRM is well worth the journey and may hold the key to your future.

George Russell can be contacted at