DrivingSales CEO Jared Hamilton, a car dealer's son, tells of a recent hotel front-desk experience to illustrate a point about the importance of consistent pricing in the Internet age.

Facing a flight cancellation, he went online and found an airport hotel offering accommodations for $169 a night. But when he got there, a desk clerk quoted a rate of $289.

A bemused Hamilton pointed out the price discrepancy. The clerk replied: “That's the Internet price, sir. But you are at the front desk, and the front-desk rate is $289.”

Hamilton says he took a seat in the hotel lobby, booked a room online at the lower rate and “trashed the hotel on a rating site.” Then he checked in.

He applies an analogy to auto dealerships that engage in risky behavior by treating online and in-store customers differently, including quoting different prices for the same vehicle.

“There shouldn't be two different processes at dealerships,” Hamilton says. “It's time for transparency. You don't want to be the ‘That's the Internet, this is the front desk’ dealer.”

The dealer-oriented DrivingSales Executive Summit presented with WardsAuto focuses on digital-age ways to sell cars and interact with customers. It sometimes is tough for established, traditional dealerships to adjust to this brave new world.

“We're in a mature industry, Hamilton says. “Change can wreak havoc on mature industries. Marketing is changing at 100 mph. We've got to reinvent the structure, to a certain degree. A start-up dealership could do it so much easier because of no preconceived notions.”

He urges dealers to step up their systematic tracking of emails and phone calls, as well as customer time spent on dealership websites and online inventory searches.

Dealers who invest in customer-relationship management software but don't use it, or use it ineffectively, are wasting their money, he says. “CRM is a tool. If you don't execute it well, don't write the check. It's not so much about technology as what you do with it.”