This is not a success story – unlike other stories in the Ward’s e-Dealer 100 package. Instead, this story is about failure – how one dealership’s dismal approach to the Internet cost it a vehicle sale and what would have been a valuable customer.

Looking for a minivan for my wife this year, I decided to conduct my search online. It gets cold in Detroit in January, and I didn’t fancy spending a lot of time and energy driving to several dealerships. Besides, I write about the Internet space, so I should know firsthand how it works.

After doing my research and narrowing down the brand and vehicle my wife wanted, I began to send out inquiries. I used all of the third-party lead generators and had good response. Each request received a quick response and some resulted in some phone calls and serious conversations.

I also sent leads to various dealerships both directly and through the OEM sites. This is where the experience took a turn.

Some dealerships responded quickly, but one particular dealership and its OEM failed miserably. One night I sent a lead to a dealership down the street, which had the type of vehicle I wanted.

e-Dealer 100
Lead Management Tools
WebControl (Autobytel) 25
Net Trak (Internet FX) 14
Reynolds Web Solutions 4
Cobalt 3
SalesCenter (Cars.com) 2
SalesPoint 2

In the e-mail, I explained what I wanted, said I would put half down on the van and would buy the extended service plan. I live close by and probably would service the van there. I explained that, if they had what I wanted, we could close the deal immediately.

I got an automatic response asking me for the same information I just had provided. I thought, “No problem. As soon as the Internet department comes in, they’ll see it and respond.”

I heard nothing for a couple of days. So I sent a lead through the OEM-sponsored lead generator. This time I received 12 dealerships’ automatic responses similar to the one I received from the dealership down the street.

The e-mails were so similar, they had the same Internet manager’s name on all of them. Now, I knew I wasn’t dealing with someone at the dealership.

Apparently, an outside company handles the automatic e-mail responses. The company services dealerships that consider the Internet an afterthought.

I was agitated. The dealership didn’t want to do business with me the way I wanted as an Internet customer. It wasn’t helping – instead, it was making it difficult for me.

I ended up buying a different brand from a dealership several miles away.

Dealerships that do a poor job of handling online prospects lose them to other stores. For me, it was like walking into the showroom and asking a question only to have everyone ignore me.

The Internet is more than another way to advertise. It’s a medium to communicate with prospective customers. Dealers on the Ward’s e-Dealer 100 understand that. That’s why they are on the list.

cbanks@primediabusiness.com