Howard Leavitt, President of AutoRaptorCRM

Howard Leavitt

What’s the cur­rent strat­egy and com­pany mis­sion for AutoRap­tor CRM?

Our com­pany mis­sion is sim­ple, we have been dou­bling ever since we started this. I left auto­mo­tive retail in 2008 to start push­ing AutoRap­tor CRM aggres­sively. Since then we have dou­bled our busi­ness con­sis­tently. It is work­ing that way this year and we are expand­ing into new office space in about six weeks because we are grow­ing. The mis­sion is really to pro­vide a ser­vice to the deal­er­ship that is per­son­al­ized and not be a com­pany that out­sources help or out­sources any­thing that we do. Our cus­tomers know that we pro­vide per­son­al­ized ser­vice, they can pick up the phone and talk to some­one at AutoRap­tor, as well as email or work any of the help sys­tems that we have to get the appli­ca­tion work­ing the best for him. It is a goal to pro­vide a cost effec­tive solu­tion in a space that has very expen­sive competition.

What are your mar­ket­ing objec­tives and oppor­tu­ni­ties for 2012 and beyond?

Well, I think the CRM world is about to explode, con­sid­er­ably. I think the oppor­tu­nity for increas­ing mar­ket share is tremen­dous because if you take a look at the auto­mo­tive base and what every­body is fight­ing for there are so many deal­ers that are not using tech­nol­ogy or not using it prop­erly. It is just an open­ing to be there if you can pro­vide a cost effec­tive solu­tion to solve the prob­lem that they have at their desks in the deal­er­ship of get­ting to customers.

So, one, we think the oppor­tu­nity is going to be there at a much higher rate than it has been in the past. I know that bleeds into the next ques­tion but it is part of the mar­ket­ing strat­egy. We are pay­ing atten­tion to state orga­ni­za­tions, to the small deal­ers, to new car fran­chise deal­ers as well as inde­pen­dent buy here/pay here. We think regard­less of the way you sell cars and what you sell CRM appli­ca­tions are a needed piece of the process. It is no dif­fer­ent than what you have done on paper, but tak­ing it dig­i­tal and doing it bet­ter and smarter and build­ing a rela­tion­ship with your cus­tomer. So, our objec­tive is to really get some more of those peo­ple, to edu­cate them, to teach them and give them a solu­tion in the next com­ing year. Part of the rea­son that we are mov­ing into larger office space is that we just need a few more peo­ple to accom­plish the task.

What are some of your cur­rent man­age­ment chal­lenges? Obvi­ously growth must be one of them.

Right now we have a sup­port a team that is run with a senior sup­port per­son that is the man­ager and it is get­ting bet­ter in the sense that we are bet­ter able to han­dle more cus­tomers with the same amount of peo­ple. We are even increas­ing that capa­bil­ity. The goal is to keep the staff lean but also make the appli­ca­tion work bet­ter so that it requires less sup­port on our side. We think of this oppor­tu­nity that is out there with all the deal­ers that are not using CRM tech­nol­ogy – how do we get to them, what is the right media? How can we tweak their inter­est to get them into AutoRap­tor CRM and make it, obvi­ously, prof­itable for us but show them that they will get a higher return on their investment?

The chal­lenges are to con­vince the deal­ers who are not using a CRM appli­ca­tion that they are miss­ing the boat and that they bet­ter get on board sooner than later sim­ply because they can sell more cars which is the name of what we try to do. We are just try­ing to make it eas­ier for them to sell more cars in a very tough mar­ket which I don’t think from an eco­nomic point of view is going to change much. There will be an increase, I think, on the new car side as far as vol­ume goes but not enough to push a lot of cars in the used car place. So, how do you get to those cus­tomers? It is our goal — you have to teach … you almost have to teach more than you sell. Espe­cially for peo­ple that haven’t accepted the technology.

What is your cur­rent assess­ment of the indus­try and the market?

Well, I think you have two phases going on right now. This fore­cast that the new car mar­ket will go up another mil­lion cars, for argu­ment sake, maybe 12 mil­lion a year which still leaves a lot of used car deal­ers with­out cars because when we were doing 17 mil­lion we had a lot of turn. When you are doing 12 – what hap­pened to those extra 5 mil­lion cars? They didn’t fil­ter their way down through the sys­tem. You do have an area where a lot of peo­ple are dri­ving older cars. They are going to need cars and so I think the short­age of cars to some extent is going to con­tinue. I think the dif­fer­ent aspects of the auto­mo­bile sales busi­ness are inter­ac­tive. I think new pushes cars into place that even­tu­ally become used and become buy here/pay here. I think the buy here/pay here mar­ket will increase because I think a lot of peo­ple that are out of jobs that paid good money are work­ing in lesser jobs but still need a car to go back and forth. Their credit has been hurt and the econ­omy in cer­tain parts of the coun­try is still poor. They are not get­ting the wages they need so the buy here/pay here indus­try in cer­tain parts of the coun­try are going to do bet­ter. It is my feel­ing that from the Dako­tas where there is oil and gas com­ing out, more than they can han­dle, down through the cen­ter of the coun­try you have one eco­nomic sys­tem and the coast you have two eco­nomic sys­tems. It is eas­ier in the mid­dle to make your money than it is on coasts.

I think with the elec­tion com­ing up and where it is going to wind up I still think no mat­ter what hap­pens we are going to end up with a split gov­ern­ment that might not get a lot of things done. The peo­ple are ner­vous about where the econ­omy is going and it is affect­ing pur­chase power and going out there. I see another year of a tough road to go and it will take through the elec­tion into six months—the first two quar­ters of next year where I think the buy­ing pub­lic will have more con­fi­dence and maybe push for­ward. But in the end, deal­ers need a CRM exactly for that rea­son because they have to make sure they don’t miss a sale. The best way not to miss a sale in a tough mar­ket and a good mar­ket is to have some way to man­age your cus­tomer data. That is what CRM really is; it is a way to man­age the data with the cus­tomer and your­self, to build a rela­tion­ship with that so you can get that cus­tomer to think you are the only per­son in the world they need to buy a car from. Because you are stay­ing in con­tact, you are com­mu­ni­cat­ing — you are show­ing them you care. CRM’s are what make that happen.

What do you con­sider AutoRap­tor CRM’s most sig­nif­i­cant accomplishment?

It is kind of funny in a way. There are a lot of start-up com­pa­nies in the world that start and a lot of them don’t suc­ceed. We started with an idea. It wasn’t a unique idea. I think we approach it uniquely. We started with zero and we are now in 35 states. We feel very good about where we are and what we have accom­plished so far but we also know that it is only the beginning.

What we hear in feed­back is that we have been able to grow as a busi­ness but still main­tain a per­sonal rela­tion­ship with our cus­tomers. We are not just a com­pany; we are names, we are peo­ple, we are faces. We care about how our cus­tomers suc­ceed and how they use the appli­ca­tion. That is some­thing that I didn’t think we could accom­plish when we first started based on scale but the peo­ple I have are really good and smart and under­stand the phi­los­o­phy of what we try to do and they have been able to accom­plish that. It is a very sat­is­fy­ing feel­ing when you have a cus­tomer walk up that is pay­ing a monthly fee telling you that his peo­ple have embraced the sys­tem and using it and they see a ben­e­fit. That hap­pened at the last con­ven­tion I attended. At the same time that this cus­tomer, whose name I won’t give out, was telling another ven­dor about a prob­lem in their soft­ware and ask­ing what are they going to do to fix it? In the same breath — this guy gave me a hug and I got fin­ished and said, “holy cow!” that is what this is all about.