Special Report

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e-Dealer 100

The role of managing the Internet has outgrown most Internet departments as dealerships find Web-based sales becoming more prevalent. Ten years ago when a dealer wished to sell cars online it was a simple model: Assign a salesperson to the job, buy a computer, buy some leads, make some appointments and sell some cars. This model persisted for the next several years and meant the marketing actions necessary to compete online in the local market were manageable within an Internet department.

When the first dealer and third-party web sites came along that allowed dealers to post “live inventory,” it changed the dynamic. Automotive shoppers soon realized they could shop outside their local market with greater ease. It was always difficult for auto shoppers to go outside their market to purchase when their best option was to “call around” and ask what a dealer had in stock.

Posting of inventory opened the market and put the consumer in the driver's seat. No longer did the sales persons' script “come on in and we'll get on our locator and find it for you” apply. The Internet provided auto shoppers with their own locator, and the shopping and buying dynamics have not been the same since.

Internet departments have evolved and with online sales of new and used vehicles, parts and service increasing every year it has caused a lot of stress and strain on the conventional Internet department model.

Initially the role of the Internet manager was to sell cars, but more of their time today is spent solving IT issues, supervising, working with lead management and CRM tools, updating web sites, developing and managing online marketing actions, running reports and meeting with representatives of various Internet product and service providers.

To maintain a competitive position in the crowded Internet market, a dealer must participate in a variety of online marketing actions:

  • Dealership web sites (both their own and manufacturer-sourced sites)
  • Inventory management (pictures, descriptions and pricing)
  • LiveChat
  • eNegotiating
  • eNewsletters
  • Search engine optimization
  • Search engine marketing
  • Manufacturer-sourced leads
  • Third- party sourced-New and-used leads
  • Online classified
  • Inventory management (pictures, descriptions and pricing)
  • Online auctions
  • Community bulletin boards.

Not many dealers have the time or the experience to effectively study each of these marketing actions and understand how they can help them grow their business. As a result, they have to depend on Internet managers to keep them competitive by studying these products and services and offering recommendations on what the dealership truly needs in play to stay at the front of the pack. This puts a great deal of pressure on the Internet manager.

Distributing the Internet load is going to be a key challenge for dealers and general managers the next few years.

Some dealerships have solved this issue by dividing the responsibilities and creating the role of an Internet sales manager, who directs the online sales team, and an Internet marketing manager, who handles all of the marketing.

These are complimentary roles and require coordination by both managers to operate smoothly. Dealerships also have to develop the right compensation plan to allow both roles to be affordable.

Another method is to distribute the workload by shifting the Internet marketing responsibility to the GM and Internet sales to the Internet manager, which does not add to the headcount.

These growing pains are a part of any normal business operation and the better you plan for them today the more likely your dealership will keep pace with the sales and profit growth opportunities the Internet can provide.

David Kain is president of Kain Automotive Inc. He can be reached at david@kainautomotive.com 859-533-2626.