THE INTERNET IS GROWING, OFFERING OPPORTUNITIES for those in the know, and creating confusion, all at the same time. To help you pick your way through the minefield of misinformation in the .com landscape, I humbly present some suggestions.

1. LEADS GROW EXPONENTIALLY. One Internet sales rep can effectively handle 60 "quality leads" a month at most. Some simple math demonstrates the challenge. Let's say you've got an Internet superstar. She closes 15 of 60 leads. Another 15 buy somewhere else. That leaves 30 outstanding prospects to work with in month two.

These are people for whom she has accurate telephone and e-mail information, and, because she's good, she's already established some rapport with them. But, she also gets 60 fresh leads in month two. Now she has 90 prospects to pursue - and to be successful, you have to assume they are all still "quality leads."

As you can see, the leads are growing exponentially. By the third month, her workload has more than doubled. If you give your average sales reps more than 60 leads a month you're just causing "brain damage" for them, your dealership and your customers. Your sales star has now become little more than a "quote machine" with no time to sell - exactly what you want to avoid.

2. IT TAKES THREE TO TANGO. I know this is going to seem hard to believe, but the overhead for operating an Internet department of one sales rep, is somewhere near $20,000 per month. To arrive at this number add the compensation for your sales representative and at least a small percentage for a supervising manager, Web site design and maintenance, marketing and training dollars, and throw in a bit for space and equipment. Yes, that's the overhead you hear growing. The average Internet sales rep is selling around eight units per month, leaving you with a small departmental loss. By adding a second rep, you are making a few bucks if you're good. Real returns on your Internet investment don't begin until you add a third person.

3. EVERY SALE IS INCREMENTAL. For the investment of resources required to become moderately successful on the Internet, you must view every sale as plus business. Even if you sell a vehicle to someone who lives only two blocks away, odds are you wouldn't have made that transaction had you not been Internet-worthy. This also means that to maximize sales, you must market aggressively outside of your normal trade area. This advice flies in the face of staid automotive retailers who put little or no value on customers from whom they can't capture service dollars. The good news is, once you begin to establish yourself as the "digital dealer of choice" in your region, Internet shoppers will seek you out due to "word of mouse" from your cyber clients. The competitive advantage is now yours.

4. DON'T FISH FOR TEST DRIVES. Most Internet training is focused on "hooking" prospects for an in-dealership appointment. After all, isn't the real goal when interacting with on-line prospects to get them to the store? Wrong. The goal should be to build confidence in your organization by providing all the information necessary for the prospect to make an informed decision. Unfortunately, a test drive is still the bait of choice when attempting to set an appointment. The problem is, Internet shoppers almost always begin their process by test-driving vehicles. The old dodge for withholding information, "You really need to come in and drive the vehicle before we go any further," doesn't fly with this type of prospect.

The key to winning the sale is to allow them to "peek behind the curtain" and receive all the information, including fixed prices and reliable estimates on trade-ins, to make an informed decision.

5. FIX YOUR PROCESSES, NOT YOUR PRICES. Most dealership managers view the Internet consumer as a bargain hunter - an individual from whom it's almost impossible to get a reasonable price. That's because most dealerships don't have a consistent sales strategy that delivers optimum value with each step of the sale. Until you consistently deliver your sales process with every Internet lead, you won't be able to determine the appropriate gross profit to charge for your vehicles. I like the old adage, "when you add value to a transaction you can charge more."

Rapid response, open sharing of information and dealership offerings like money-back guarantees are just a few necessities for establishing your dealership's Internet IQ. Once you have value-added processes in place, you can reach your gross-profit goals.

6. PERFECTION SUCKS. You can't study, analyze and "fiddle-faddle" when it comes to making Internet-related decisions. There are no operation manuals or tried and true formulas to follow, only a growing body of experience of what does or does not work for specific dealerships. What that experience tells us is that the Internet is about speed. When it takes you too long to make decisions about specific questions, you will almost always be caught in a trap; the answers will have changed by the time you make up your mind. My suggestion: ready, fire, aim.

If you have any laws, theories or other stuff you would like to ad to this list, please don't hesitate to e-mail me at mrikess@earthlink.net.

Mark Rikess is president of The Rikess Group, an automotive training and consulting firm. To read his previous Ward's Dealer Business articles on-line go to www.rikessgroup.com