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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Now that the spring market is upon us, it is important to be prepared to take advantage of your Internet sales opportunities. Here are three things dealers can do right now to get better results:

1. Take every online prospect seriously.

Even if the person doesn't want to buy now, he will buy eventually, and if we disregard them we will be the ones who lose out. A recent study by World Now revealed that in 2009 automotive buyers only visit in person 1.8 stores compared to 3.4 in 2006. That means that less than two dealers will ever see an online prospect in person. If you don't take them seriously, someone else will and they'll sell the vehicle you could have sold.

2. Chat, chat and then chat some more.

If you consider how many people visited your physical lot the last 20 years and just chatted (no presentation, no demo, no write up, etc.) and were treated in a nice, friendly manner which inspired them to come back again, you can better believe the same environment exists today online. Turn on chat and let your team become friends with the online shopper and earn their confidence so that when they decide to submit a lead they put your dealership at the top of the list.

3.  Review your online reputation and improve it with a daily focus.

Before you even finish this article go to a search engine and look for your brand dealership in your town and see what kind of reviews are posted for your dealership and your competitors. Consumers are using online reviews as a catalyst to selection of nearly every product and service and you cannot risk having a bad online reputation. A word of caution — if you have bad reviews and try to combat it by posting your own good reviews you will be found out, and please never respond in an angry way to a bad review — you have an online audience and you can't win. Be nice at all costs.

Should You Go Mobile?

Is it time for your dealership to go mobile with your Web site? It might be, and if you want to consider a mobile site it is sometimes as easy as contacting your Web service provider and asking them to provide one.

The cost is typically pretty reasonable, and there are many things you can try once you have a mobile site in place. For example if you want to develop your own dealership iPhone app, you'll want a mobile site in place to make it easy to use the app.

We have one client that has had an iPhone app downloaded more than 600 times and the dealer can promote coupons, specials, inventory and more very easily.

If you use Cars.com and you have an iPhone be sure to download the new Cars.com iPhone app. You'll have your complete listings in the palm of your hand in an instant.

Many dealership Web sites are already well-designed to show up well on smartphones, but if you notice your site is not well-designed you will want to talk to your Web site provider about the options. 

Have you asked your customers to give you feedback about your Web site lately?

Last week I was working with the team at Vic Canever Chevrolet in Fenton, Mich., and we were reviewing its Web site when we decided to ask one of the customers in their service waiting area to come in and review the Web site with us. It was eye-opening as we were able to see through the eyes of the customer what they look for while shopping online. The dealership has a nice Web site and it is designed well — or so we thought.

After the customer offered his opinion we filled up two pages of ideas on things that should be changed or considered.

If you consider your customers as the most important persons using your site, and you should, please ask them to sit with you and give them some tasks and ask them to talk out loud as they attempt to complete them. Examples would include searching for inventory, obtaining a trade value, scheduling service or ordering an accessory.

Try it. I think you'll appreciate the education they can provide.  

A Huge Thank-You to Randy Ortiz

Randy Ortiz, recently the general sales manager for the Ford and Lincoln Mercury brands for Ford, recently retired. Most Ford and Lincoln Mercury dealers can appreciate Ortiz for one reason or another as he was known as the consummate dealer guy. He did not have the industry profile of a Bob Lutz but he was steadfast in his belief that dealers should be in on every discussion involving Ford.

What a lot of people do not know is that without Ortiz there would not be a FordDirect.com. Ortiz is who the dealer founders of FordDirect.com interacted with daily during the 12 months of development.

I was responsible for working with Ortiz as he navigated our Ford Dealer Council subcommittee through the environs of Ford and he was consistently balanced on what was best for Ford and what was best for Ford dealers. He was charged with giving us the guidance and the resources necessary to get the company developed and launched and with protecting us from making bad decisions.

The fact that FordDirect.com will celebrate its 10th anniversary of success this year is a testament to how well Ortiz guided us dealers during those heady days when the automotive Internet was just a toddler.

Thanks Randy for all you did for us then and what you consistently did for the greater good of dealers everywhere. 

Need a Fresh Perspective?

Patrick Gill manages our Internet Process Performance Review Program. He analyzes the follow up, provides constructive advice and provides a format for improvement and it really helps to have a second set of eyes on your Internet Operation.

For more information just e-mail Gill at patrick@kainautomotive.com and mention the IPPR program.

Furthermore, if you are considering making a move into social networking, let Alicia Inman show you how.

The whole social networking landscape can be confusing even when you know what you are doing. Inman works with our clients to ensure they make the right decisions and know not only where you'll want to "socialize" but how to do it right.

If you'd like Inman to give you some insight on how she can help, dealers can send her a message at Alicia@kainautomotive.com.

Do Your Lead Providers See Your Monthly Scorecard?

It is important for you to track the results of all your service providers and offer them a monthly or quarterly report on how they are doing to drive your business results.

Oftentimes we hesitate to reverse the table and let the lead providers we write checks to know how they are doing and this is actually hurtful to them in the long run. We create a monthly Internet performance report each month that can give you just the tool you need, and it's free.

If you would like to sign up for your own free account to record your metrics and generate a clear and concise report on your Internet performance, ask Gill to set you up by sending a message to patrick@kainautomotive.com.

More Free Help for Your Internet and BDC Operations

We have three ways now that you can get some free advice online.

Our Idea Exchange 2.0 at www.kainautomotiveideaexchange.ning.com and our original Idea Exchange 1.0 that is "vendor free" at http://groups.google.com/group/kainautomotive. We'd be glad to have you and your team participate.

KainAutomotive.com clients can also access the KainToolkit at www.kaintoolkit.ning.com; just request access after you sign up and we'll get you in right away.