In a study of over 250 dealers, 6gear Inc. of San Francisco encountered these and other recurring questions about email marketing.

The following Q and A is based on that survey:

How does email marketing work?

Dealership customers "opt-in" to receive e-mail messages regarding their vehicle and their dealership. Historical DMS data is then used to identify groups of customers who will receive specific marketing messages. By sending media-rich, targeted and timed messages, dealers achieve response rates greater than 50% higher than with simple, untargeted text or direct mail messages. Behavior can be tracked, including areas of reader interest, responses to specific messages within a campaign, and the relationship between receiving dealer messages and revenues generated for the store.

How will this make money?

Dealers make money by prompting customers to act. Using well-timed e-mail messages targeted to specific groups can increase business. For instance, by targeting customers who own aging vehicles or valuable makes, some dealers have increased their trade-in revenues. A service offer can prompt lapsed customers to return to your store, lengthening a dealer’s relationship with customers who might otherwise leave. Customers also respond well to the convenience of online appointment or appraisal scheduling. Other ideas include promotion of a new shipment of vehicles, tire sale messages for customers with appropriately aged cars, customer-specific notifications of lease termination specials.

Do I have to change my current marketing or follow-up systems?

Most dealers use e-mail marketing in conjunction with other systems because they are still building their customer e-mail database. For example, many dealers have begun shifting their follow-up system to e-mail for customers with e-mail addresses. For the rest of their customers, they continue to use phone or mail follow-up.

How long does it take to get started if I don't have any email addresses?

You can start today with certain campaigns. Initiating a service follow-up via e-mail requires no e-mail addresses to start and can grow your e-mail database rapidly. Campaigns geared at new leads can also begin immediately.

What are real-life ways that dealers have used e-mail?

Dealers use e-mail marketing to achieve three main goals: to generate revenue, to cut costs and to keep customers loyal. E-newsletters, automated follow-up, lead follow-up, targeted promotions, service reminders and trade-in prompts are among the most popular ways that dealers are achieving these goals.

Here are three examples of dealers using e-mail campaigns:

1. E-newsletter. Another dealer regularly converts his print newsletter to an online, interactive piece delivered to customers' inboxes. By tracking where people click, the dealer knows which information is most popular (most people clicked to view Service Specials), and which information customers don't need (no one clicked on the "Same-day Service" offerings). In addition, with each e-Newsletter, many people volunteer to receive information on specific topics, such as "Used Vehicles," where they are likely to spend money.

2. Trade-in message. By sending a single trade-in message to his e-mail customers, one dealer got five hot trade-in leads delivered directly to his inbox within 56 hours.

3. Service message. One dealer sent an e-mail service message to a group of targeted customers. Consequently, 22% of the recipients came in for service, and spent over $62,000.