NADA 2000 was all about the Internet and how dealers can use this emerging technology to their best advantage.

Discussion of the web has moved beyond examination of the lead-generating services to the broader forum of what else the Internet can do: sell service, foster better relations with customers, sell parts, and help dealers and car manufacturers work together more effectively.

There was agreement that although dealerships are receiving more hits on their websites, Internet-generated leads are not turning into more sales. In short, dealers are, willingly or otherwise, providing more information to consumers but not necessarily turning those contacts into customers.

Austin, TX, dealer Curt Johnson of Leif Johnson Ford, speaking at an Auto Team America roundtable discussion, had these specific recommendations about how dealers should use the Internet:

1. Create your own web page and get the address (URL) that you want before someone else gets it. Put the entire dealership on your website so that it becomes a truly virtual dealership.

2. Make the page highly interactive, inviting the visiting consumer to ask questions and input information. Make the site entertaining so as to keep the customer there. Make it useful by offering service programs and other customer incentives. Your web page should provide the easiest way for the consumer to do business with you.

3. Update inventory information everyday.

4. Link your web page to others sites, such as financing sources and vehicle pricing guides, but be wary of losing customer information to third-parties.

5. Staff the Internet department adequately so that responses can be made quickly. Responding within 24 hours will not do; would you let the telephone ring for 24 hours before answering it?

6. Put your best people in charge of your website. Make sure they are F&I trained, and make sure at least one of them is a good writer. This is, after all, written communication. Traditional selling skills do not automatically make for good Internet skills.

7. Sign up with as many lead-generating services as you wish, but do not sign any long-term contracts. Give each service 90 days to "audition" for you, then drop all but the most useful.

8. Respect the customer's anonymity rather than pressure that consumer to visit the dealership so you can show him/her what you have. People use the Internet because they don't want to have to visit the dealership - at least not right off. Use the web page to make them want to visit the dealership on their own.

9. Always target your competition on your website, showing the consumer how your dealership is better.

10. Advertise your web page address at every opportunity - in all your ads, on all printed matter coming from the dealership, including business cards and letterhead. You must actively market your website.