MSN Carpoint, Isuzu Team for Online-Offline Auto Marketing Deal

Microsoft is quietly gaining traction for some of its on- and offline marketing tools, as evidenced by a deal announced Friday by the software giant’s MSN portal and American Isuzu Motors.

According to the agreement, MSN’s Carpoint site — one of the most popular automobile information sites on the Web — will license its DealerPoint customer relationship management software to Cerritos, Calif.-based Isuzu, for rollout to the manufacturer’s nationwide dealer network.

Under the terms of the deal — of which financial terms were not disclosed, — Redmond, Wash.-based MSN Carpoint will develop a private-label version of DealerPoint, tailored for Isuzu dealers. The software helps manage on- and offline leads, provides email marketing tools and sales force performance reporting — and is aimed at boosting dealers’ ability to handle a growing number of online queries and prospects.

DealerPoint includes a feature for dealers to import Internet leads from online car-buying services and information Web sites — especially Microsoft’s own MSN Carpoint — into one database, helping salespeople manage and respond to Internet customer leads more easily.

“Isuzu is in the business of selling vehicles,” said Gary Tucker, who is vice president of marketing at Isuzu. “We recognize the benefits of leveraging the Internet to drive customers into dealer showrooms, to accommodate the growing number of consumers using the Web to research and buy our cars. Carpoint’s DealerPoint service will enable our dealers to use the most advanced tool available to ensure that our customers are receiving the best car-buying experience, from start to finish.”

The software is also positioned as a way for auto manufacturers to negotiate the minefield of online automobile marketing: with established and vocal dealer bases, manufacturers like Isuzu are reluctant to risk alienating their salespeople by selling cars online — direct from the manufacturer.

Accordingly, the problem lies in figuring out how to connect Internet prospects with a local dealer, so the dealer can set prices and promote lot inventory. The issue is hampered by the fact that dealers are only now beginning to move their dealerships online in significant numbers.

Microsoft is banking that software like its DealerPoint, which also has clients in Honda, Acura and Ford, as a way to bridge that gap.

“Carpoint is excited to expand our relationship, which currently includes advertising and dealer referrals, with an industry leader like Isuzu to license our DealerPoint technology,” said Todd Weatherby, director of industry services for MSN Carpoint. “This agreement furthers our commitment to working with the automotive industry to deliver the tools and technology that enable more cars to be sold, more efficiently.”

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