The Evolution of Internet Sales Leads

The Evolution of Internet Sales Leads

Best I can remember it was late ’99 or early 2000 when I got serious about my former Atlanta-based dealerships having an online presence. Although none of my competitors had one of those website things, I had been convinced by a friend that it would be a must-have in the near future (yeah right, what do friends know?).

So I set out to have a website built by paying a private individual to build our company site. Six months and several thousand dollars later, I realized we were in way over our heads. It was at this point that I was contacted by a startup company that claimed to specialize in websites for the powersports industry. I still remember that initial meeting and my reluctant agreement to move forward. Turns out, my expectations were exceeded. My initial perception of the value of our website was to basically have an online brochure of our dealership with contact information and researching tools. Perhaps it could eventually evolve into a means to sell parts and accessories. But then we started getting these things called "quote requests," and I must admit at first I didn’t fully understand or appreciate their value. At that time, I certainly wasn’t considering how much money had been spent to acquire these quote requests.

In a short amount of time, Internet leads were immediately assumed to be an unrealistic hard-baller from three states away. When I would distribute Internet leads, the sales team was less than excited and often ran the other way. After pressing the issue, I would hear moaning that web leads were customers simply shopping for the best price or my favorite, "it was a 12-year-old kid."

All I knew at the time was that I had a marketing tool, but I wasn’t really sure how to leverage it. Although it was generating sales leads out of thin air, it was just another responsibility, and we weren’t sure how we should manage it. It seems like common sense to follow up with sales leads, but following through was far too infrequent. I didn’t know if I needed to delegate leads individually or hire a full-blown Internet manager or if the leads were simply too unqualified to take seriously.

Early attempts to hire a full-time Internet manager were unsuccessful for several reasons. We could have hired a computer literate kid with zero sales or marketing experience to put in the position, but technical savvy with no understanding of sales is a sure recipe for failure. Furthermore, my dealerships weren’t experiencing enough Internet volume to justify a dedicated specialist yet. Most full-time employees were spread too thin to juggle another ball without risk of fumbling more important responsibilities.

This is a quagmire that many dealers still face regarding the handling of web leads, but the landscape of the Internet lead has changed drastically. Let’s do a little comparison with the past and present.

Back in 2000, many people didn’t have computers, dial-up was slow and clumsy, and high-speed connections were sparse and costly. Today’s consumers have the ability to stay connected to the Internet through their cell phones and can request a quote from your dealership while eating a hamburger on their lunch break.

If your Internet lead sales process is the same as it was 10 years ago, it’s outdated and you’re losing sales. Yes, that’s right, I said process. Just as you must have a process in place to handle phone ups and showroom guests, you must also have a web lead sales process. To define a successful web lead sales process, you must first comprehend and accept some key concepts that apply to your dealership. First, you must recognize your website and online classifieds are not just static marketing, they are rich media just as if you were advertising on TV or radio. In fact, your vehicle display pages can be viewed by interested prospects more times in a single day than a traditional newspaper ad might be in a week.

Second, you must view your web leads as red hot sales prospects that are ready to buy right now, and that means you better strike while the iron is hot, as the dealer who follows up on web leads the fastest is often the one mostly likely to make the sale. All of this has to be put into your overall dealership selling system to become both scalable and quantifiable.

The above-mentioned is just the beginning, but hopefully enough to get you thinking about your web lead follow-up sales process. When was the last time you inspected what you expect with regards to the handling your Internet sales leads?

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