If your Internet sales people are sitting behind a computer slamming out e-mail responses to purchase requests, it might be time for another strategy, says Shaun Kniffin, director-Internet sales for the Germain Motor Co. in Columbus, OH.

Several years ago, conventional wisdom said people shopping for vehicles online were doing so to avoid the dealership. The thinking was that if a shopper contacts the dealership using e-mail, then the dealership should respond with e-mail, until the shopper moves the conversation to the phone.

Some experts, such as Dennis Galbraith, executive director-digital marketing solutions for J.D. Power and Associates, still believe Internet managers should follow that policy.

Galbraith says dealerships should let the customer determine how long to continue with e-mail. Letting them maintain control often is seen as a customer satisfaction issue.

But is it the Internet salesperson's job to make customers feel warm and fuzzy, or is it to sell cars? And is e-mail vs. the phone even an issue with shoppers?

Today, more than 70% of car buyers conduct part of the shopping process online and most want information right away. Studies show closing ratios on Internet leads increase significantly when responded to in the first hour, whether by phone or e-mail.

Other studies indicate the faster dealerships get shoppers on the phone, the faster they turn into appointments, enhancing chances for a sale. The idea is to use the Internet to get shoppers to provide a phone number, then use the phone to get them into the store.

For dealers, there is value in making it a quick event.

“If the shopper provides a phone number, they're going to get a phone call,” Kniffin says. “Responding by e-mail just prolongs the process. I don't want my dedicated Internet managers sitting at a keyboard all day. I want to see them on the phone.”

He believes an Internet salesperson with strong phone skills likely will be able to overcome any objections from customers who prefer e-mail.

Successful Internet managers say it is not an either-or situation. Several dealerships respond to an initial e-mail request with an immediate auto responder e-mail that provides information the customer is asking for.

Additionally, many Internet managers like to say in the e-mail they will call the customer in a few minutes.