With all of the information available on the Internet, many dealers find it difficult to know exactly from where they're getting their Internet leads, and more importantly, their Internet deliveries.

We recently received a call from a dealer who wanted us to review his Internet sales process. He was getting some conflicting information about how well he was doing with Internet leads.

His general sales manager claimed 10-15 Internet sales every month, yet his factory rep reported he was closing less than 1% of his online leads.

The sales manager was adamant his numbers. He provided us with his sales logs that detailed all of his deliveries by source.

When we couldn't find any of the delivered customers he sourced as Internet on any of the lists of Internet leads that had been received, we contacted those customers by phone and interviewed them about how they had come into the dealership.

We discovered virtually all of these sold customers that the sales manager sourced as “Internet,” had actually never contacted the dealership online via a website form or email. However, they all indicated that they had looked at a vehicle on either the factory's website or the dealership's website. To the manager, these were Internet leads.

We met with the dealer and the manager and explained to them that their factory rep was right: they received approximately 60 new vehicle leads a month from the auto maker's sources, and only sold about one every other month.

Initially, the manager was defensive; he felt he was being unfairly criticized by the factory for abysmal Internet sales. We explained to him that he had confused “Internet-influenced” leads with “Internet-generated” leads.

Customers who come into your dealership after looking something up online without contacting you online or sending you an email are Internet-influenced. It's misleading to notch them up as Internet sales.

They need to be viewed totally separate from Internet-generated customers who contact the dealership via email or a website contact form.

Sales-training programs that focus on responding properly and quickly to Internet-generated leads can increase closing ratios to a benchmark of 15%.

Yet, I still talk to dealers who seem convinced their Internet sales efforts are everything they need to be, when, in fact, they aren't.

Their dealership-management system sends an automatic email response (which hadn't been updated in two years, and still had the name and personal email address of a salesperson who no longer works there), and that was it. No personal contact, no phone calls, no follow-up.

With the aforementioned dealer's permission, we contacted the store's Internet prospects, and even I was surprised by the results:

  • 70% of them had already purchased a vehicle elsewhere.
  • Only 10% of them had visited the dealership.
  • Of the 70% who purchased a vehicle, 70% voiced specific dissatisfaction with our client dealership for not responding to their Internet inquiry and 90% questioned whether they would continue to do future business with the store.

Dealers need to be aware that if they ignore their Internet-generated prospects, they do so at their peril. These people buy cars, and it won't be from dealerships with salespersons failing to seize these opportunities.

In this case, the general sales manager didn't want to confront the issue. He was happy with how things were, and convinced himself he was doing a good job.

Working with dealership Internet sales departments has taught me that this isn't an exception; it's far too often the rule.

Ignoring people who shop for cars online cuts out an entire market. Refusing to understand that turns a blind eye to the future of the automotive marketplace.

Al Amersdorfer is president and CEO of Automotive Internet Technologies.

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