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From start-up to global player: The success of young automotive companies stands and falls with the use of the CRM system

Alican Sahan
Dec 13, 2023

CRM is crucial for young automotive companies on their way to become global players. For sustainable growth, the following is important: set clear standards, remain customer-focused and maintain agility.

In last years, the shift to e-mobility opened the door for the automotive industry to new market players from all over the world. By then, the industry was considered untouchable in the hands of the established automotive OEMs. Some automotive start-ups have managed to penetrate the market and stand up to the traditional companies, led by Tesla. The successful market entries in the automotive market are partly because, unlike established OEMs, young companies did not have to undergo a transformation in the direction of electrification and digitalization. But the rapid growth of young companies brings also new challenges. The fact that priorities in the (first) years of growth are very much focused on brand building, market share as well as delivery, there is a risk that the cross-functional, consistent customer focus gets lost.

If the CRM system is used by Marketing, Sales and Service in isolation, it will be difficult to keep the recently won customers in the long term

We observe that the customer relationship management (CRM) system is not used efficiently and in a scalable way in young automotive companies. If, in addition, there is a drop in growth rates – which is to be expected in times of high inflation and the threat of recession – the advantage in terms of customer relations compared with the established automotive OEMs can shrink and even become a problem that jeopardizes the company’s existence. This is because, unlike the traditional companies, the new players do not yet have the same level of customer loyalty, which sometimes makes customers overlook poor experiences in marketing, sales and service. Weaknesses in the CRM system and poor customer experiences therefore have an even greater impact.

Based on our market observations and experience, we have identified the following barriers that hinder sustainable growth:

Lack of company-wide standards for CRM core functionalities

Long-term planning on the right CRM usage is a major challenge for growing automotive companies and can be seen among various players:

  1. Joint Ventures often build on the existing CRM systems of the parent companies. However, the potential advantage that exists at first glance is often associated with system-related legacy issues.
  2. Start-ups with a newly built CRM often had too little capacity to focus on the optimal set-up of the CRM system due to the initial focus on sales.

Instead of achieving a cross-functional further development of CRM and using synergies, ad hoc adjustments are usually made where it seems most necessary. However, these are often not compatible with the requirements of other departments. To prevent this, it is crucial to define company-wide standards and to align the CRM system with these standards in the long term right from the start.

Fragmented view of the customer

Most young companies repeat the mistakes of their predecessors and replace their early agility with typical silos in marketing, sales, and service. The result: fragmented customer experiences and an incoherent view of the customer due to inconsistent data flow. So why not leverage the agile strengths that a young company brings?

Unclear responsibilities in lead management

When it comes to realizing lead management, not only established OEMs are disappointing but also almost all young automotive companies. The question of who is responsible for lead management (marketing vs. sales vs. customer service vs. after-sales) should not be a “binary decision”. This way of thinking fosters silo-building so that many opportunities in lead conversion get lost or remain untapped. Instead, lead management should be the responsibility of all parties, with a clear definition of who is responsible for lead generation and lead processing. In addition, it must be clarified under which criteria a lead is handed over within the organization. This is how lead management can be optimized and the basis for effective revenue growth can be established.

When and how should the CRM be optimized?

  • When: The clear answer is “NOW”. System landscapes are still lean and the spread of customer data is limited to a few systems. The growth of companies seems to be slower at the moment. This allows young automotive companies to focus on optimizing CRM.
  • How: To serve customers to their best satisfaction, it is essential to offer them individual care, personalized communication across all channels, and a superior level of convenience throughout the entire customer journey. From the customer’s point of view, it is irrelevant with which internal department they are in contact. They look at the brand and the customer experience as a whole. It is therefore even more important that a unified view of the customer is achieved throughout the company.

Several CRM providers, such as Salesforce or Microsoft, offer software solutions that make it possible to achieve this target picture by using a modern, future-oriented platform. These solutions have the advantage that young automotive companies can access proven best practices and new functionalities right from the start. In addition, they can configure the CRM system specifically to individual needs.

CRM from a business perspective means: Giving more than taking!

The customer experience can be influenced by just a few CRM functionalities. For example, in addition to the customer, the respective vehicle with its details and features can also be stored in the CRM system. This provides valuable insights that help to create tailored service offers and improve customer communication. This can even be extended to household members’ vehicles to provide personalized service at the household level. In addition, fully integrated data-driven solutions can be used to generate “next best actions”, such as when is the best time to send a message to the customer regarding a potential new purchase. Salesforce provides these valuable capabilities with its Automotive Cloud, demonstrating how a variety of smart mobility solutions specifically for the automotive industry can be combined on one platform.

Finally, it should be noted that the correct use of the CRM system alone is not enough to be successful in the long term. In addition to process optimization and the introduction of the latest features, organizational processes must also be future-oriented. In this case “process-follows-system”! For young automotive companies, this means retaining the agility from their “early days” and aligning CRM with a uniform view of the customer throughout the company.

Together, we can put the customer back at the center, align CRM with the future, and thus ensure sustainable growth.

Get the future you want!

If you are a young automotive company and want to set up your CRM system in a scalable way or if you are an established company and want to benefit from our automotive-specific Salesforce experience, please contact us for more information.

Many thanks to the co-authors Florian Fuchs and Louis Fischer.


Alican Sahan

Senior Manager, CRM for Automotive at Capgemini Invent
Alican is a Senior Manager at Capgemini Invent and leads CRM projects at leading global automotive companies. His expertise includes the use of Salesforce in the areas of Marketing, Sales, Service and Customer Care in the automotive industry.