Everything is backwards when selling on the Internet. And that's why it is so difficult to do it well. This through-the-looking-glass, bizarro, Rod Serling world is difficult to accept and even harder to thrive in. Up is down, left is right, right is wrong and first is last.

The price is right:

Let's start with the sales process. The sales process on the Internet is all wrong...or so it seems.

On the showroom floor, we start with a meet and greet, and after six or eight well-orchestrated steps, we arrive at the price negotiation process.

In cyberspace, we start with price and then work backwards through the traditional sales process: price, product presentation, rapport building, qualifying, selling the store.

It's no wonder the Internet is causing so much confusion and consternation for dealership management. It's like trying to eat with the wrong end of a fork. Trying to adapt to a process that is so contradictory to the one we knew so well puts us deep into our "discomfort zone."

On the showroom floor we hope the consumer shows some emotion about a vehicle before logic sets in. In cold, flat cyberspace, logic rules. Emotion might creep into the process if we're lucky enough, or good enough, to get the customer to the showroom.

Control this: If turning the sales process around isn't enough to confound us, now let's make the relationship backwards, too.

You're not in control any more, the customer is. For years, trainers at dealerships have preached the gospel of "controlling the customer." That orthodoxy makes as much sense now as trying to convince people that the NASDAQ only goes up. Consumers are clearly in control.

I'm sure some managers reading this will see red. But let's face reality: consumers know your costs, they know the value of their trade-ins and they have access to a wide variety of finance options. They might even know as much or more about product and purchase options than your sales consultants.

The challenges for sales consultants in this backwards world are immense, but for sales managers they are earthshaking. The sales manager's job has always been to control the sales process. If the customer already controls that process, what role does the sales manager have now?

Power shifts: Historically, the sales manager has been the hub of power. The desk was the center of the dealership universe. Sales consultants tentatively approached this reservoir of power seeking direction and information like Dorothy in Oz. They would then return two or three times to receive a new "pencil figure" for the next foray with the consumer to close the deal.

But in this backwards, upside-down world, the manager moves from the top of the process, being in command and control, to being a supporting player. Supervising Internet sales dictates that the manager become a resource and provide support to the Internet sales consultant. Talk about a turnaround.

Traditional sales managers understandably see a threat in this power shift. Who wants to lose power? This is one of the primary reasons that most sales managers provide so little support for the idea of building an Internet sales department.

But now is the time to face reality. The genie is out of the bottle; and she ain't going back in. The shift in power to consumers affects far more than Internet sales. The information available on the Internet and the experience of Internet buyers is having a significant influence on customers who still come to your showroom.

Although they may not be in the strictest terms Internet buyers, they are at least "Internet-informed" buyers. Their perceptions, knowledge and expectations are much closer to those of Internet customers than traditional customers.

And don't be mislead by the shakeout currently underway among "dot commerce" companies. While individual dot-com companies may be in trouble, the Internet has changed irrevocably how many consumers shop. It's time for sales management not only to get used to the power shift, but learn how to take advantage of it.

The challenge of living in this backwards world is daunting. Sales managers must acquire new skill sets and adjust their attitudes to cope successfully with the realities of the Internet and the amount of information the Internet places in consumers' hands. Sales managers must unlearn how to control the sales process and learn how to coach sales consultants to work effectively with new, more powerful consumers. These are the first critical steps for success in cyberspace ... and beyond.

Keeping with the theme of everything being out of kilter, I'm signing off this column. I wish to express my sincere gratitude to my editor - Steve Finlay - and numerous loyal readers for the opportunity to share my views on an industry I love. If I may leave you with one final thought that has informed most of my columns it would be this: embrace change.

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

California is well-represented as 2000-2001 elected officers take their places on the Board of Managers for the Colorado-based Internet Auto Dealers Marketing Association (IADMA).

New officers are Chairman Tom Stall, Bob Stall Chevrolet, La Mesa, CA; Vice President Scott Marino, Huntington Automotive Group, Huntington Beach, CA; Secretary James Buerge, Buerge Automotive Group, Los Angeles; and Treasurer Ray Reilly, Larry Miller Group, Colorado Springs, CO.

"Their energy and experience in automotive retailing will be a real plus as we advance the association to the next level," says Rod Couts, IADMA's executive director.

In addition to managing the IADMA's strategic marketing and administrative functions, board officers will serve as liaisons among the association's more than 2,000 member-dealers, IADMA staff and DriveOff.com.

The nine-member board, comprised of six member-dealers from across the nation and three officers of Navidec Inc., serves as a sounding board for the association's partnership with DriveOff.com.

Additional IADMA board members are Tim Mort of Pinnacle Nissan/Infinity; Marc Soukup of Hempstead Lincoln-Mercury; and Ralph Armijo, Michael Kranitz and, Pat Mawhinney, all of Navidec Inc.

The IADMA, based in Greenwood Village, CO, is a dealer-controlled alliance formed to compete in Internet automobile sales and marketing.

The national association assists its member-dealers in taking greater control over their Internet endeavors.