EVEN IF YOU DON'T SELL MANY VEHICLES OVER THE Internet, it's creating an additional challenge to your organization: how to satisfy the "Internet-informed" customer who comes to your showroom.

As my company began to address this challenge with our client-dealers, we uncovered an internal disconnect. As much as dealers want a successful strategy for satisfying this new type of consumer, sales managers aren't so sure they do.

A threat to prosperity We discovered that sales managers at all levels view technology as a threat to their position and income. They feel that they are rewarded primarily for their experience - what they know - and that they can leverage their knowledge to maintain and increase their value to the organization. As they see it, technology that gives more power and control to sales consultants decreases their own value. This belief is very real to them. It creates a powerful disincentive for them to support new technology.

The dilemma for a dealer is clear: the new, technologically sophisticated customer whom the dealer wants is a customer who nevertheless threatens the very existence of their sales managers.

Until your management team climbs aboard the technology train, you will have limited success in selling to and satisfying this new breed of buyers. The dollars you've invested in hardware and software systems will bring you little or no return.

The primary obstacle for winning the business of the new "Internet-informed" customers is the culture of the dealership. The only solution is a cultural overhaul - a shift in focus and emphasis. And to effect any real change, it must begin at the top. You can't realistically expect your followers to change and grow if you do not lead the way. The changes demanded of you revolve around three issues: attitude, behavior and rewards.

You don't have to hug 'em You can't lead your organization through technological change unless you change your behavior. That's not as scary as it sounds. It begins with simply embracing - instead of ignoring - the challenges of technology. You needn't become an expert systems administrator, but you do must understand the power of information technology and the outcomes it can create. Contact management systems, personal computers, customer-relationship management systems, and the Internet are only a few of the key tools that will help make your organization more productive, satisfy new customers and create additional sales.

Walk this way After the leader has made the first move to embracing technology, it then becomes okay for the followers to do so. You lead by example. That may mean your behavior has to change -no simple job. Behaviors that need to be changed probably include:

Replacing the focus on short term results with a long-term strategy for success.

Emphasizing new skills, not just a refinement of the old ones, as a way to get ahead and earn more income.

Moving from a strategy of control to one of empowerment.

Going from a low-tech "penciling" operation to one built on optimizing technology systems.

Above all, recognizing and accepting the reality that consumers are in control and that your mission is to be a resource to support their decision-making.

Begin with something as simple as the questions you ask. Your questions demonstrate your priorities and can demonstrate behavioral change. Rather than asking, "What have we delivered so far?" you could ask, "How well is that new system performing?" Instead of, "How come we took this deal?" how about, "What did you learn from yesterday's training program?"

Real time rewards Once you have demonstrated your priorities and your willingness to embrace technology, then you need to examine your reward system.

Does it provide incentives for the performance you want? Will the incentives motivate your management to overcome their "technophobia"? The key is to shift your focus from the outcome of work - the bottom-line - to the processes that create success. This new type of reward system incorporates everything from congratulating those who attend training classes to tying bonuses to the successful implementation of a new system.

Embracing technology, altering behavior, and creating a new reward system begins with you, but must then be pushed down to your sales managers.

The sales manager can no longer be the command and control center, but must become a source of information and support. As difficult as it may be for your managers that change, you'll do them a favor by pushing them into the new technological frontier and overhauling the culture which with they've become so comfortable. The only way they can overcome their fear, maintain their income and remain a valuable asset to your organization, is to acquire new skill sets.

The cultural overhaul required is a formidable challenge, but until it happens, you will not be able to generate an effective, sustainable process for dealing with the "Internet-informed" on your showroom floor. Your sales managers will see to that.

Adding technological tools is a waste of time and money unless it is accompanied by this "cultural overhaul." True cultural change will allow your organization to implement policies and procedures and to use technology to help you effectively deal with the "Internet-informed" consumer.

If you're serious about solving the problem, start creating a plan to change today.

Mark Rikess is president of The Rikess Group, an automotive training and consulting firm. To read his previous Ward's Dealer Business articles on-line go to www.rikesgroup.com