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Jan 23, 2002

Marketer's Diary Part III: What You Can Learn From (Highly) Successful Offline CRM Tools

SUMMARY: Here's the third part of the diary we asked well-known online marketer Don Skarzenski, to keep when he accepted a job at a Saturn dealership a few months ago. Our particular fascination -- what can online marketers learn from the real world? Includes links to the first two parts of this diary.
Publisher's note: Here's the third part of the diary we asked well-known online marketer Don Skarzenski, to keep when he accepted a job at a Saturn dealership a few months ago. Our particular fascination -- what can online marketers learn from the real world? Here are links to the first two parts of this diary --

Marketing Diary: What an Online Marketer Learned by Taking a Job in Offline Sales

Marketing Diary Part II: 9 Lessons in Using CRM to Sell to Real People


One distinctive similarity between marketing/selling online and off is the importance of CRM. Successful offline salespeople – especially those who sell cars -- are the unacknowledged masters of CRM. They live and die on their ability to implement real-world CRM.

On a typical day on the sales floor, 10-30 salespeople work only 3-10 “ups” (walk-in prospects). We can’t survive on such walk-ins. We must cultivate our contacts, stay in touch with customers, and maintain contact with those who did walk in but did not buy immediately. Here in the trenches we have to excel at CRM, one-on-one marketing, personalization, and other clichés I refuse to memorize. If we don’t, then we don’t sell.

For us CRM is not databases and Peppers and Rogers, Seth Godin, viral marketing, and lifetime customer value. Real world CRM is the difference between paying our bills and going under.

But my comrades in the offline sales world have never even heard of the term “CRM.” And the tools they use are pencil, notepad, and telephone. Of the two best CRM experts / car salesmen I know, one does not even own a computer, and the other says he is “still learning email.” At the dealership where I work – one of the most modern in Houston – our 15-person sales department has a grand total of two 266 PCs. We use a dot-matrix, tractor-feed printer. Our assistant sale manager just got his first ever cell phone!

Car salespeople I’ve worked with or interviewed at a number of dealerships tell the same story. They have tried:

- print ads in local grocery store tabloids, church bulletins, etc.
- small roadside signs and various posters
- all sorts of direct mail campaigns
- business cards tacked onto every bulletin board imaginable
- thousands of flyers stuck under windshield wipers
and more

In short, they have made strenuous and varied attempts to generate sales and sales leads. None were really successful, except what we (but not they) call CRM. I’ve been selling in the offline world for less than three months, but I’m currently the number one salesperson at the dealership.

Here’s what works for us (and I’ll bet it will work for you)

Hard copy works.
Telephone calls don’t.
Neither does email.

Once we make contact, either through a walk-in visit, referral, phone call, or a sale, we keep in touch through the old reliable hard copy. Old-timers with a base of hundreds of customers use an outsourced service provided by the dealership. They sign the semi-customized form letters and add a personalizing note. It works, even though the letters are mediocre at best. I write my own letters, never use exactly the same text twice, and do only HAND-WRITTEN letters. It works better. People really appreciate the personal touch. They hate to be called by phone, and email just does not seem to have taken hold in this particular segment.

Treat them like individuals. We track important dates, like the anniversary of a buyer’s purchase; their birthday; the event linked to their purchase (high school graduation gift? Wedding? 21st birthday?) How do we do this? Through the old reliable 3 x 5 note card. Crude, but we never suffer a server failure or virus.

Make time; be sincere. Remember. Care. The most successful salespeople have unreal memories. They recall a customer who they have not seen in two or three years. They drop what they are doing and spend time talking with the customer. They ask about children, spouses, pets. They show an honest, sincere concern for and knowledge of their customers. It takes time and effort. It takes a sincere concern for and interest in people. It often requires a salesperson to pass up a sales opportunity. But the result is repeat sales and referrals. And I just can’t see any software program doing nearly as well.

No PCs, no PDAs. It’s all done the old-fashioned way.

You get what you pay for (Part 1). It’s a basic rule of professional management – you get the behavior and/or performance you reward. We pay a $50 dollar reward for every sale referred to us. I haven’t heard any negative comments. You can call it viral marketing; that has an au current ring to it. We just call it sales.

You get what you pay for (Part 2)

When you do communicate, provide value. I collect questions, complaints, and suggestions from customers and prospects, then include them in a monthly newsletter. The newsletter provides information about how to improve fuel economy, cold weather driving tips, suggestions on the best cleaning materials and engine additives and much more. One customer – who lives 25 miles away – drove in to thank me for the newsletter. Another stopped in tonight to get my manager’s name so he could pass on “accolades.” Yes, we get huge bonuses based on customer satisfaction scores.

Be smart and flexible. Yesterday I sold a car to a computer geek and we talked about wireless technology. Today I sold to an artist, and we talked about diptychs and Audubon. I’ve successfully “connected” with lawyers, doctors, marketers, mothers and fathers, a chef, an artist, and a nude dancer. Could your 7-figure software program do as well?

Don’t be a pest. Be realistic. A growing number of visitors to our dealership refuse to give us any information about themselves – neither their addresses nor their phone numbers. Some won’t even tell us their last names. And when we run a check on their license plates (yes, we can do that easily) we often learn that what little they told us was a lie. They don’t want to be bothered. What to do?

- Admit that some “customers” are more trouble than they are worth.

- Admit that even the best salesperson can not sell to every prospect.

The Bottom Line

At work I’m told daily that I “don’t understand the car business.” Perhaps you are thinking that the above does not apply to your business – online or otherwise. If so, consult your accountant and your state’s bankruptcy laws.

Business is simple. You don’t need to Install Oracle or hire an oracle to figure it out: it’s all about people, not PeopleSoft. On one side is a person who needs a product or service. On the other is a person who believes he or she can fulfill the other person’s need. The buyer needs a price he or she identifies as affordable. The seller needs to get a price that allows a reasonable profit. If they can agree, a transaction takes place.

Yes, there are other players: marketing, advertising, R&D, inventory, SG&A, and much, much more. But the bottom line is human beings, not servers, or optimization, or rich media. It’s the people, stupid.
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