We often hear about deep budget cuts that end up hurting business. So here are things you can’t do without for online marketing.

A Lead-Handling Process

It’s useless to spend money to drive prospects to your business if your team does not have a lead-handling process to convert them to appointments and then sales.

This simplest of tasks is typically the most overlooked, yet it ensures that spending on leads provides the return on investment your dealership requires to thrive.

A process is the “science” of deciding what action (email, phone, text, postal mail, etc.) and at what time/day/frequency you will complete it. The “art” of the process is what you say in an email or phone conversation and how you use links, graphics, video and the like.

An Effective Lead Management/Customer Relationship Management System

It’s as important as your lead-handling process and should add to the productivity of your employees. Involving your team in the decision of which software to use will give them a sense of ownership.

An effective tool not only increases productivity, it improves morale, lowers costs and improves operating results. One caution: Don’t overspend. There are excellent choices available without breaking your budget.

An Engaging and Productive Website

There is not much mystery to this critical item. Your website is your online dealership. It should allow your customers and prospects to experience your overall operation with little effort and great enjoyment.

Unlike employees, your website can always be alert and engaging. When designed right, it anticipates your visitors’ needs.

Consider reading “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug, a book about making your site simple and productive. It’s convinced me that we overbuild sites, and the more we do, the less effective they become. Focus on the customer experience. Look outside the automotive industry to the most productive shopping sites for your models.

There are several cutting-edge features you can add to your website that are low cost, but high return:

• Search engine optimization (SEO).

• Interactive credit applications.

• Interactive service scheduling.

• Interactive trade appraisals.

• Live Chat, Click to Call and Text Messaging.

Online Classified Advertising for Pre-Owned Inventory

Unlike physical dealership locations that limit your inventory display area – you have no such limitations online. You absolutely must display your inventory anywhere and everywhere you can afford to do so. Start with the multiple free sites that are available to you.

Build your presence using effective SEO on these sites as well as your own. The free sites love your inventory because it brings traffic and increases their value in the eyes of the consumers.

Once you have effective placement on the free sites, consider expanding to the paid listing sites. Be sure to see if your manufacturer provides co-op funding for your certified pre-owned vehicles to drive down the costs.

Whether you use the free or the paid services, be sure you include the three must-have elements: quality photos, quality descriptions and on-the-market pricing.

Signing the agreement for the service and writing the checks is the easy part. It’s more difficult to ensure your listings generate the response needed to create an acceptable return on investment.

New-Vehicle Leads from 3rd Parties

Some manufacturers generate leads for their dealers at a reduced rate. Take advantage of these options. If your manufacturer isn’t one of these, select a provider that gives you the best-possible lead quality.

Be sure to hold your vendors to strict lead-quality standards – and communicate those standards to your vendor reps.

A good way to determine lead quality is using free lead-scoring services. They analytically gauge whether a prospect is hot, warm or cold. This does two things for you. It helps you line out more efficient processes and it helps determine if your lead sources are providing quality leads.