Chapter 1

Choosing and evaluating customer relationship management (CRM) systems


Figuring out what technologies to upgrade or implement starts with determining your needs. What features or capabilities do you require? What should your new CRM system enable you and your staff to do?

A good way to start is by examining the limitations of your existing system. Identify the major pain points you are experiencing and list the features and capabilities you need to overcome them.

Your team can also be an excellent resource. Speak to your sales, service, and parts managers in particular and anyone else who frequently communicates with your customers.  i.e., the individuals who will be using the system and discuss their needs and gather valuable insights.


While each dealership’s requirements are different, here are some of the key features and functionalities to look for in a new customer relationship management system. The following capabilities will not only help you run a more efficient dealership, but they will enable you to stay competitive in the years ahead.

1. Open ecosystem

Choose a customer relationship management system that can easily connect with other applications. Your CRM platform should be able to integrate with other mission-critical applications, including your e-commerce platform, accounting solution, social media accounts, website, dealer management system, and more.

Shoppers today are using different channels and devices, while dealers are increasingly adopting multiple apps and tools to run their business. Having a platform that connects everything together is a must. 


Ideally, your customer relationship management solution should have existing integrations with multiple apps in the market. Another plus is if the platform offers an open API that allows developers to build solutions within the ecosystem.

2. Centralize your operations

Equip your dealership with a platform that makes it simple to oversee and manage customer interactions. Your CRM system should enable you to view each staff member’s performance from one centralized platform and provide management tools for running day-to-day operations. If you need to synchronize customer’s, units and their service details from your CRM to your DMS, for example, your customer relationship management system should make it easy to do so. 

Customer management is also a key consideration here. Choose a solution that lets you recognize and serve customers no matter where or how they’re shopping. If your customers are shopping online and collecting at the dealership, for example, your staff should be able to provide the same great customer experience irrespective of channel (i.e., online and offline).

3. Robust analytics

There’s very little room for guesswork in today’s dealership landscape. Maximizing your sales and profitability requires data-backed decisions around your parts and merchandise inventory, marketing, financials, and more. That’s why it’s important to have a CRM solution that offers robust retail reporting and analytics. 


The system should offer an at-a-glance view of your sales pipelines and performance while giving you the option to drill down on specific sales people or select departments of the dealership. 


When you have access to the right data, you’ll be in a position to make informed decisions that ultimately lead to better prospecting, smarter marketing strategies, and effective communications.

4. Easily scalable

Choose a CRM system that can grow with you. Ideally, your software should make it simple to have multiple sales pipelines and automate your marketing whether you have 100 or 100,000 contacts in your customer lists. In a fast-moving market, having the flexibility to scale up or down will help you capitalize on opportunities while protecting your business in the event of a downturn.

5. Launch, onboarding, and training services

Deploying a new system in your dealership is no walk in the park. Align yourself with a software provider that can walk you through the process and handle the heavy lifting for you. Ideally, your vendor should also train your managers and team and help you map out a rollout plan for your new system. Look for vendors with a good supporting knowledge base and help videos too. If you do need help, you should be able to help yourself instead of waiting for a support team to respond to your email. 

There’s very little room for guesswork in today’s dealership landscape. Maximizing your sales and profitability requires data-backed decisions.


There are numerous CRM solutions in the market, so finding and evaluating different systems can take up a significant amount of resources. To make this step easier, it’s best to create a business roadmap or a prioritized list of requirements that are important to you prior to conducting your search. 

Your roadmap must detail where the dealership is today and where you want it to go. List the capabilities of your existing system (i.e. what it can do currently) and the things that you would like it to do now and in the future. Provide a copy of this document to key people in the company, especially to those involved in the search for a new system. You and your team must refer to this roadmap constantly when assessing different solutions.

Be specific. For instance, if selling online is on your roadmap, list the capabilities that you’d like to offer (e.g. in-store pickup, mobile ordering, integration with your DMS etc.). Doing so will streamline the research phase of the project and will assist your team in identifying potential vendors.


Comparing multiple vendors (each with their own set of features and functionalities) can get overwhelming, so you need an efficient method for evaluating solutions side-by-side. One way of doing this is to create a vendor matrix that lists all your key requirements. Once you have your requirements on paper, put the different vendors that you’re considering in separate columns, and then check off the features that each vendor can provide.

PRO TIP: START WITH EXISTING FEATURES OR PAIN POINTS While it might be tempting to go all out and list every feature that you’d like to have, the most important thing at this stage is to start with the functionalities of your current system. You don’t want to get sidetracked and end up with a massive project. A good way to hone into these key requirements is to identify any pain points you have with your current solution. You have to fully understand the needs and current pain points your employees/colleagues have with the existing system. Go to them, sit down with them, and determine common problems that the new CRM system needs to overcome. With these insights in mind, you can then proceed to researching and evaluating potential solutions.


After taking the steps above, you should be able to narrow down your choices to just 2 or 3 solutions. The next step is to decide which system to adopt. This isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, which is why it’s necessary to discuss it with key members of your dealership team. Depending on your company, these individuals may include members of your sales team, service team, parts team, and more. Put together a presentation or a document that details what each system has to offer and how much it costs. See to it that everyone has the necessary information to make an informed decision. From there, you and your team should be able to move forward with confidence.

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