Understanding the factors that influence a customer’s purchase decision is such a thorny issue that our industry devotes an entire conference focused solely on analytics and attribution. Dealerships continue to invest in tools that provide only a partial view of how and why a customer purchased a vehicle. To get a more complete picture of true purchase attribution, I suggest that dealerships take a closer look at a source that provides complete transparency: customer reviews.

The Limits of Attribution

Throughout my career, I’ve talked with a lot of dealers about the tools they use to attribute customer behavior. It’s no surprise that many listen solely to CRM data and whatever they can learn from Google Analytics. But we all know the limitations of these tools. They both provide a limited perspective, and CRM data is vulnerable to error (e.g., a salesperson inputs data incorrectly or incompletely). Tracking last-click attribution is especially challenging at a time when shoppers visit about 24 touchpoints as part of their decision-making process1 – and show up on the lot without even sending a lead on the phone, web, or otherwise.

Listen to Your Customers

Here’s what dealerships should be doing to create a more complete picture of shopper behavior: mine the data that customers share with you in the form of reviews. About eight out of 10 shoppers use online car reviews and car dealership reviews.2 Smart dealers solicit reviews, listen to them, and manage them like valuable assets – not only because reviews literally represent the voice of the customer, they also track customer behavior.

Think about it for a moment. Each time a customer takes time to talk about their experience with your salesperson, they’re providing valuable data on why they made a purchase. They’re giving you documented feedback on the performance of your dealership down to the level of the salesperson they’re interacting with. And since the purchase of a car still involves a handshake between a shopper and a salesperson, reviews are the purest and most valuable form of CRM data any dealer could hope to have.

Reviews also tell you something about the entire customer experience beyond the product they bought. A great product is merely the price of entry today. Customer experience is where relationships are created or lost. In fact, the ability to provide a great end-to-end experience is the single-biggest reason that customers write five-star reviews of dealerships.3

Your Lifeblood

Reviews are the lifeblood of every business ranging from home service to healthcare. Angie’s List and TripAdvisor have built entire businesses based on the value of customer reviews. Why? The answer goes beyond the fact that reviews provide feedback on the businesses that participate in those marketplaces. Reviews provide a snapshot of the behavior of each customer. For example:

  • What problem did the customer want to solve or need did they want to meet?
  • How and why did they choose the business they chose?
  • What was the outcome?

Customer reviews, when engineered correctly, answer all those questions and more.

If you are a dealership that really want to understand shopper behavior, I suggest that you:

  • Go beyond your CRM data to get a fuller picture of customer behavior.
  • Start thinking about success differently. Lead data matters. But overall business performance matters more. Focus on growth-related statistics and track indicators such as customer reviews accordingly. A lead represents a potential transaction. Happy customers are the building blocks of business growth.
  • Manage customer reviews. Have a program in place for soliciting, tracking, responding to, and learning from customer reviews. Use tools that facilitate the creation and management of reviews. Assign someone in your dealership the job of managing reviews year-round, and reward that position well.

The starting point for treating reviews like attribution data is to ask your customers to review you. When you ask consumers for information about themselves, they’ll become suspicious. But when you ask them to give their opinion, they will respond. So start asking. And start learning.


  1. 9Clouds, “From Clicks to Sales: How Auto Leads Move through the Digital Car Sales Funnel,” May 9, 2017.
  2. DealerRater Enhances Salesperson Connect, Features Employee Profiles on Cars.com,” March 21, 2018.
  3. DealerRater, “What Makes a Five-Star Dealership Review?” March 2018, based on a Cars.com/DealerRater analysis of 1.4 million customer reviews from 2017.