Car retailers need to quickly change their customer relationship management (CRM) systems to deal with the big changes taking place in the auto industry.

According to a study by Germany’s Detecon Consulting, car buyers perceive traditional combustion-engine technology as outdated, but they don’t know enough yet about new technologies.

For that reason, the customer should take a more central role even before he enters the showroom, according to the study, which is titled “Blue automotive CRM ”“ CRM in the auto industry in times of climate change.”

Analytical CRM should precisely determine customer segments for new vehicle concepts at an early stage. Software can address reservations buyers may have about new technologies and recommend specific vehicles for each target group.

As an example of the need to better segment customers, Detecon noted that, in a German survey conducted in 2008,  69 percent of independent workers were planning to buy a car with low CO2 emissions, compared with nur 26.4 percent of all potential car buyers interviewed.

Said Detecon: “Every type of buyer can be identified. What we need is a much stronger focus on customer needs, apart from buying cycles and goals aimed solely at selling a higher-category car.”

CRM should help provide specific offerings for men and women, low- and high-income buyers, different age groups, and people living in different urban or rural environments. That will help make marketing, sales and service more effective and more profitable, the study said.

"Maybe, the next car for a current BMW 5 Series driver doesn’t necessarily have to be a BMW 7 Series or an X6; maybe he is planning to make a much more fundamental change to his mobility,” the study said.

Detecon also provided concrete suggestions, which include the establishment of online and physical environment information points and a knowledge base about products and services. It also said lead management through a car company’s Web site, as well as after-sales support and a lost-customer program are important prerequisites for success.

Detecon is a subsidiary of T-Systems International, the key account brand of Germany's Deutsche Telekom.

By Georg Winter