Golling Chrysler Jeep Dodge in Bloomfield Hills, MI, was one of automotive retail’s early technology pioneers piloting some of the Internet’s first CRM solutions. Owner Bill Golling and General Manager Joe Ellsasser used technology to help create Chrysler’s top selling store while maintaining a strong focus on customer satisfaction.
Ellsasser shares how the store early on saw the need to separate Internet marketing from Internet sales while weaving CRM throughout the service and sales departments.
Golling Chrysler Jeep Dodge finished May as the top selling store in the country, right?
Yes, with 308 units sold.
Nationally, where are you ranked usually? The top 10?
Nationally, we are usually number one. We’ve had that ranking for three years now.
Personally, how does it feel when you think about it you are the general manager of the top selling Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep store in the country three years running? That has to feel good.
Yes it does. I am very proud of all of our people and how hard they work each and every day to keep us on top. And I’m more proud that we are right at the top on customer satisfaction too. Not only do we deal with tremendous volume, but each and every customer is very satisfied.
How have you used technology on the sales and marketing side? Also, how have you used it for training? How has it helped you become more efficient as a dealership?
I think it all started with the affordability of high speed Internet access. That’s when technology really started to take off. We can see how CRM software has evolved the last several years.
As I look back, I think we were one of the pioneers using CRM software. We were doing it before “CRM” became the buzzword.
Our strategy has been to take all the mundane things a salesperson had to do and use some type of technology to help them perform those duties. We know that they should keep in contact with their customers. But for good salespeople to build a portfolio there just is not enough time in the day, so we use CRM technology to print and distribute e-mails, letters and to help us contact customers in the way they want to be contacted.
We also use the CRM tool to act as the salesperson’s personal assistant. It keeps them right on top of keeping in contact with their customers. Also, it is a great management tool. Every single manager can manage their sales staff and each individual person.
The call recording ability we have enhances our training of our veterans but also helps us to bring on new sales people.
A lot of dealerships buy the technology and it ends up sitting on the shelf. How do you combat that from happening?
It starts at the top with Mr. Golling and myself, if we see something we can improve, and it is not burdensome on our people’s time, you can sell it to your staff.
It is critical that you sell it to your team, because people resist change. We have to show them if they get into the habit of using the technology how they can create revenue for themselves. It creates revenue for the dealership.
It starts at the top management then it has to go down to mid-level managers and then right down to the sales staff and service advisors. It’s really about follow-up and making sure that the concept is going to work.
We used to pilot a lot of new software and tools that I thought were good, but our thinking has changed on that. You take a lot of time from people doing that, so in the last five or six years, we’ve done it less and less. If we are going to pilot something, we try to make sure the concept is going to work. You can’t just pilot things; it wears out your people. We made the decision a few years ago, and I think our people respect us for doing that.
What CRM software do you use?
Today we are using Cobalt Prospector, which had been created by a Toronto firm called Cowboy, before Cobalt acquired it. When we were trying to implement CRM, we flew up to Toronto and looked at it.
We also went to a couple of dealers who were using it, and at the time it was the most dynamic CRM software and the easiest to use. We ended up bringing Cowboy on board and were pretty happy when Cobalt bought it. But Cobalt’s plans for it never really panned out and they are supporting it less and less.
We are going to install Reynolds and Reynolds contact management in the next couple of months. We are looking forward to it.
Let’s talk some about the Internet department and how you approach Internet sales.
Traditionally you have an Internet manager that would manage your website, contact all the leads coming in through, either through pay-leads or leads from the manufacturer.
We kind of segmented the Internet into two areas – marketing and sales. We consider the website as a marketing function at our store and we consider Internet leads as a lead, the same way we do walk-in and phone leads. We created a team to manage the Internet and phone leads.
Our marketing team manages the corporate web site and now is starting to experiment with Facebook and YouTube.
Not many dealerships understand clearly that you can’t just throw someone into the Internet and say, “Manage our web site, our Internet marketing and manage all the leads.” Those are two completely different skill sets. It is marketing and then there is selling.
You are absolutely right on that. It took us a number of years to figure that out. Traditionally we would take a person that — forgive me — is a little geeky or a computer “nerd,” and expect them to be able to communicate and get customers into the store. That surely does not work.
How many people do you have working in the Internet department?
We have five salespeople and a dedicated manager for both marketing and sales.
Does the Internet manage report directly to you, or a sales manager?
The Internet manager reports to the general sales manager. Frankly, five salespeople aren’t always enough. So the Internet manager has partnered with a couple of the traditional salespeople, and will generate leads for them also.
How do you determine whom you send the leads to on the showroom floor?
We’ll send those leads to whomever is doing a good job on the floor. Our closing rate is 18-20%. That is basically double Chrysler’s national closing rate, when you count every lead, and with those you need to. So the traditional salesperson that wants to do it, is willing to learn how to do it and is able to at a 20% rate will continue to get the leads.
On the marketing side, do you make it an effort to integrate your traditional marketing with the online marketing?
We do. We use the manufacturer’s web site that is provided to us by Dealer.com. It is a pretty dynamic site. It has some nice lead management features on it for dealers that might not have a CRM solution.
We put our entire inventory on the site, including all of our used-car inventory, with photos on there. We also have the video program where they take 15 to 20 still photos and make a video-ad. It’s pretty slick on the used car side.
We continue to market traditionally in news print, radio and television. We still think there is at least 60% of your budget should be in traditional. We’ll push people to the web site, though, because they use the site to get locations and phone numbers, much like they used to use the phone book.
Are you doing anything on the mobile side – such as a mobile site or text messaging?
At this point we don’t. But the mobile and texting seems like it might be the way to go a couple of years from now. My kids are teenagers and a little older, and they don’t talk on the phone anymore. Instead, they text back and forth between their friends.
That’s going to be the generation we are going to have to be in contact with. I think that’s a few years away. But, you take the iPhone and you look at how they have integrated YouTube, I think that’s going to be a good marketing tool.
We’re currently taking a look at how to respond to emails with video. If you look at it from a process perspective, you still have a traditional salesperson that does a great walk around, but if you put a camera in front of them, they freeze up. Also, you have to have the camera person. So we are looking through that process now, but I think that will be big. You get an email inquiry on a used car from a consumer 50-60 miles away. Wouldn’t it be nice to walk around the inside and outside of the car and send the video back to them? I think that would help out the closing ratios dramatically.
The technology should enhance your processes, and that’s what we try to figure out on a daily basis.
How do you implement technology in the service department?
We have computers for every two technicians. That was put in five or six years ago. We also do an MPi inspection. That’s a multi-facet inspection we do on every vehicle. When the customer picks up their vehicle they get the information sheet so they know the status of the wear items on their vehicle and any safety issues the technicians discover. Also, the technicians use the technology to repair the cars all the time.
Do you use online marketing for the service department?
We use our CRM solutions, starting with when the customer picks up their car. We’re scheduling future service appointments and calling people back prior to that appointment as a reminder – much like a dentist office does. It sounds very simplistic, but we’re servicing 120-140 customers a day, so if you think about it, you have to have that technology appointment system and the personnel to call those people back to remind them.
The results are, if you call someone today and say you have an oil change scheduled for tomorrow, they show up and get their service done. Whereas five years ago, we just hoped they came in. We might have seen 50% of our customers come back for service. Now with the technology and appointment system we have, more people coming back. And everyone knows that if customers return for service they are more likely to come back and purchase a car there too.
We also implemented a Call Command function that is sponsored by Chrysler Corp. They are doing a number of automated phone calls for service reminders.
With this, you have probably been able to build your return business significantly.
Most of our business is repeat and referral business – I think it’s 65%. We have built that over 25 years.
Let’s go back to the Internet department, how do you determine which companies you want to buy leads from?
We buy all of our leads from Chrysler. We are not buying any outside leads. We tried that in the past and it is hard to tell what a real lead is and what isn’t. So, at least doing it through the corporation, they want us to sell a car and make sure we are profiting, Chrysler works it so multiple stores aren’t getting multiple leads. They’ve done a great job with that.
Your web site provider Dealer.com manages your search engine marketing?
Yes they do.
Are you doing any pay-per-click also?
We currently are not doing any pay-per-click.
There is not one right way, it depends on the dealership.
That’s right. We’ve tried the pay-per-click, but I find it unique when you have to give the vendor what your budget is, and they cut you off in the middle of the month before it’s done. I want to see specific results. I want to see the old fashioned tail lights over the curve.
How’d you get started in this business?
I went to Ferris State College in the automotive management curriculum and came out selling cars. I did a little bit of management for a few years and then began working for Bill Golling. I’ve helped him build a few stores, and we’ve consolidated. We were one of the original Genesis dealers and then an Alpha dealer.
We’ve built facilities and consolidated and it has been a lot of fun. We have dealt with changes every day. How do you stay ahead of the competition and how do you keep your customers happy? And how do you wrap technology through it whether it is the number of cars you sell or it is the labor dollars for a technicians?
You’ve always had a love of cars?
Oh yes, I’ve got my fun cars. I have my 1929 Ford Model A Cabriolet convertible. I have had that for three to four years now. I also have a 2001 Plymouth Prowler with a super charger. It is everything the Prowler should have been. It has the look, the power and the sound.
Last year, I picked up a 1971 Dodge Challenger – one of the Indy pace cars. They made 50 pace cars, two were on the track and the rest were dignitaries. I have one of the dignitary cars. Good looking car, it is a small block – a 318.
As a general manager what is one of your toughest challenges today?
I think the toughest challenge is behind us. We came out of the Chrysler and GM bankruptcies. It was keeping our people and team members focused every single day. You read in the newspapers about the bankruptcies and the places going out of business. We’re going to do our best each and every day to make sure we satisfy each and every one of those customers. It was just refocusing each day that each employee knew we were in control of what we had. I think that was the toughest thing.
What is the thing you love about the business the most?
I love the people. I live up in Clarkston, MI and am a Detroiter through and through. There is no place I don’t go on the weekends that I don’t run into an old customer or an old friend. It is funny, my wife always says can’t believe it if we go out and I don’t run into someone I know. It is kind of funny, in the restaurants and the local grocery stores. It is nice to have a reputation and work for a dealer that you are proud of. I am never afraid to bump in to anybody.
I was able to talk to Mr. Golling last week. It’s clear where the culture in the store comes from.
Absolutely. Mr. Golling is my mentor. One of the first things he said when he brought me on board was, “Make the decisions based on how it would look on the front page of the Detroit Free Press.” It is just a simple way to do it. If it is the right thing to do, and you would be proud to read it in the paper, it is the right decision.
What are some other things you are looking to implement as you move forward in the next couple of years?
I can tell you immediately we are going to have the new CRM tool installed. We will be one of the first Reynolds customers that has the CRM tool installed in our service department. So that will be kind of a first.
We are waiting for that, because we think CRM should go throughout the whole store, not just the sales department. In a couple of weeks we are installing a computerized phone (VOIP) system, we will be connecting Mr. Golling’s other stores through a T-1 line. That is my next six months worth of projects. A couple of years, who knows? We are hoping that, not only will Chrysler/Jeep/Dodge/Ram grow, I am praying we obtain a couple other franchises, but that is in the future. We are going to do things day to day and keep our customers happy.
A CRM tool through your service department? Not a lot of dealers are doing that.
It is great be able to come in every day and by 10 or 11 in the morning we’ve had 60 or 70 customers through our service department. They are efficiently processed, they are happy. There is no more dropping the car off and picking the car up the next day. We have a nice fluid organization and it works out very, very well.