Like anthropologists in the field, Tom Mohr and his small staff spent 18 months at a California dealership studying the ways of Internet sales staffers, examining what they did and how they did it.

“We had a small conference room at Toyota of Sunnyvale and wanted to ‘live’ at the dealership to see what was going on,” he says. “Adam Simms, the dealer principal and a friend, was interested in improving lead-response times.”

Mohr and his team discovered the prospects of a vehicle sale are enhanced not just when a salesperson replies quickly to a shopper's email but also when the responses contain valuable information.

That's what led him to launch Responselogix, a firm that aims to help dealers turn Internet leads into sales by automatically providing fast and information-rich email responses to customer vehicle-shopping inquiries.

So-called digital-response management is an emerging category for dealership operations, Mohr says. “The speed and quality of an email response to a customer are vital. When you respond to emails within 10 minutes, it doubles the chances of closing the sale.”

It's easy enough for sales people to send a quick “call-me” e-reply, even though 32% of leads don't get answered and of those that do, the average response time is five hours, Mohr says.

But in addition to speed, the responses should provide customers with an array of information to help with the buying decision. That's the goal of Responselogix's Smart Quote. Taking 10 minutes to process, here's how it works:

A dealership's Internet leads are routed to Responselogix. To build a quote, the firm enters the make, model and trim level of the vehicle in which a shopper expressed an interest. That's done manually. The rest is automated.

Utilizing the dealership's established pricing guidelines and its customer-relationship management software, the lead is assigned a salesperson.

The shopper then automatically gets a personalized email with different price points on vehicles that are conservatively equipped, comfortably equipped and generously equipped.

Also included is rebate information as well as a list of comparable used vehicles, because about 40% of people sending Internet leads about new cars end up buying used vehicles, Mohr says.

Enhancing the data-rich email replies are vehicle photos, sales people's contact information and a map of the dealership.

“The Internet has triggered a shift for the dealership world,” Mohr says. “In the old world, you would try to reel customers into the dealership, and not provide a lot of information until then.

“The customer came in ill-informed. Now, the Internet has armed them with information. If the dealer can quickly provide them with relevant information and become a chief consultant, it enhances the chances of a customer going to that dealership.”

Responselogix now employs 50 people. Its other products are SmartFollow, which follows up on cold leads, and SmartFacts, which does monthly analytics on Internet sales performances.