FordDirect is offering a referral service designed to help Ford dealers sell more vehicles. And it's free for the 3,100 Ford dealers who participate in FordDirect's New Vehicle Marketing Services.

Price requests submitted through FordDirect.com are sent to the appropriate dealer and to E-Leads CRM. FordDirect chose the Georgia-based business-development vendor E-Leads to manage the program after trying out several vendors last year.

E-Leads contacts the customer within a couple of hours and sets appointments for the dealers. Dealers receive immediate notification of customers deemed a “hot lead.”

Dealers also have the option of contacting the customer. “The Referral Contact Service will occur in parallel to the dealership's existing efforts and will not impact the current referral delivery process,” says FordDirect President and COO Steve St. Andre. “We want to help the salespeople more efficiently prioritize their contact lists and be even more successful with the Internet referrals we provide through our New Vehicle Marketing Services.”

Essentially, FordDirect is trying to help dealers manage their leads more effectively, by providing a back up to make sure leads are responded to.

During a 90-day national trial period, the Referral Contact Service saw a sales increase of two percentage points in the fourth quarter of 2006.

Sales from FordDirect's New Vehicle Marketing Services already account for more than 15 percent of Ford Division retail sales. And in 2006, dealers sold more than 270,000 vehicles to customers who started their vehicle purchase process by submitting an Internet referral through FordDirect.

According to Bill Keith, a Ford dealer in New Jersey and current chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Assn.'s information technology committee, FordDirect is one of the few successful examples of an organization developed by dealers and the manufacturer together.

In addition to providing leads and follow-up services, FordDirect also builds the corporate web sites for Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealers.