The all-electric Nissan Leaf had the potential to woo eco-conscious shoppers away from the Chevy Volt when it was launched last December. But from a customer service and sales perspective, the Japanese automaker was at a distinct disadvantage. Chevrolet consistently scored four stars on J.D. Power\u2019s five-star customer service and sales experience scales; Nissan earned just two.\n \n \u201cWe knew we were going to have a product where demand was going to outstrip supply,\u201d says David Mingle, senior director of Nissan North America\u2019s customer management office. \u201cThat provided us with opportunity to experiment and try new things.\u201d\n \n In the past, Nissan customers had inconsistent experiences across various customer touch points. Not all of their information traveled with them from one encounter to the next. Each brand and customer-facing division had its own processes and procured its own IT services. \u201cWe were not maximizing the enterprise value of customer contacts,\u201d explains Mingle. A potential customer could configure a car and submit a quote request online, but little of that data made it to lead management. A call about paying off a car loan\u2014a sign someone might be in the market for a new car\u2014never made it to sales.\n \n Scott Strickland joined the company in July of 2010 as director of information services to centralize the company\u2019s $70 million marketing and sales technology spend. The first order of business was to create a new digital marketing platform, using the Nissan Leaf as the test case. In three months, he and Mingle charted a road map for a 360-degree view of the customer, including a hosted CRM solution, email-management software, social media analytics, master customer data management and cloud-based infrastructure.\n \n On top of it all was the new website for the Leaf. A potential customer won\u2019t notice much difference from other model-specific websites. But behind the scenes, the site collects all the data from customer input and interaction, and the digital marketing platform analyzes it and\u2014most importantly\u2014makes sure the information stays with the customer throughout his interaction with the company.\n \n \u201cThe miracle is that we\u2019re able to justify the business case to generate funding in our current budget cycle,\u201d Strickland says. That\u2019s a testament to value of customer centricity, says Mingle. \u201cCompanies today realize that they key differentiator is going to be customer treatment.\u201d\n \n By mid-September, Nissan had sold nearly 6,000 Leafs in the United States, while GM moved less than 3,000 Volts. Although it\u2019s far too early to declare a winner, Strickland says the car\u2019s new marketing platform is already delivering lessons for a wider rollout, such as the importance of a flexible design phase to \u201callow the team time to test drive the proposed business processes\u201d and the value of tight deadlines that \u201cremove the luxury of exploring every alternative or ongoing debate.\u201d\n \n \u201cWe\u2019re trying to set up self-contained experiments\u2014placing a bunch of smaller bets instead of a couple of big ones. And the Leaf [digital marketing platform] is an example for that,\u201d says Strickland.