Last fall, Courtesy Chevrolet established an Internet sales department to handle an increasing number of on-line sales leads. The Phoenix, AZ dealer also brought in Robert Revere from a competitor to manage the newly created department.

Since then, Courtesy Chevrolet tripled the number of leads coming in from the Internet. In December, results really began to heat up. The department received 570 leads — 86 from Courtesy's own web site and 486 from various third-party referral sites.

Mr. Revere and his department turned 32 of those leads into sales, bringing $50,000 gross profit into the dealership.

“We normally average about 10% of the leads becoming actual sales,” Mr. Revere states. He adds, “Our goal, however, is 20%.”

His plan for continuing the growth includes aggressive advertising, relentless follow-up and use of the proper tools.

Ad Foresight Inc., the company that built and maintains the site, helped Mr. Revere re-design the home page and the new vehicles section. “We wanted to make Courtesy's web site more user friendly and give it a more esthetically pleasing appearance,” explains Mr. Revere.

The web site contains all of the standard fare customers usually search for — the used-car inventory, complete with photos; vehicle information requests; credit applications; service scheduling and parts ordering; employment opportunities and a background of the dealership.

Courtesy's web site also offers features not yet on many dealership web sites. One page walks the customer through the Internet sales process and provides contact information. Customers also can determine the value of their current vehicles either by accessing the Kelly Blue Book link, or by completing an on-line vehicle appraisal form.

On the service side, a popular feature is the mobile repair service. Customers can e-mail the service department to have a technician sent to the vehicle's location to perform light repair and recall work. In the “Ask the Mechanic” section, people can e-mail technical questions to the service department.

Courtesy Chevrolet also provides special Internet pricing on their credit application page. A “specials” link takes customers to the Arizona Republic newspaper site where they can see the weekly specials offered by the dealership.

Although he questions whether third-party referral sites will last, Mr. Revere says they will be useful until the manufacturers and dealers get up to speed. He's not happy with the site. He says, “They've talked a lot, but we haven't seen anything yet.”

Mr. Revere has placed his new-car inventory on several of the third-party referral sites because they are bringing in leads and give Courtesy Chevrolet exposure.

“I stress to the department, the importance of following up on our leads,” says Mr. Revere.

He thinks the phone is the most important tool in the process and dislikes the fact that many of the manufacturer web sites and third-party sites ask potential customers to provide only e-mail addresses and not phone numbers.

Every e-mail receives an immediate automated response. Within 24 hours, a phone call is made or a personal e-mail is sent. Follow up e-mails are sent three days, one week and 30 days after the initial contact.

Mr. Revere has implemented the Net Search Organizer, a system that allows the dealership to send mass e-mails to specific customers. For example, all of the customers who have expressed interest in the Cavalier will receive an e-mail whenever Courtesy Chevrolet runs a special on Cavaliers.

“Courtesy Chevrolet can expect to see its Internet sales continue to increase, if we make sure our web site is user friendly, and we are aggressive with staying in touch with potential customers,” Mr. Revere claims.