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Virtual DealershipOne of the toughest "sells" to make to Owners, General Managers, and even Internet Managers is that they should treat their Internet Marketing the same way they treat their conventional marketing.  Having a website domain and putting a website on it is nearly the same as having a few acres of land and building a dealership on it.  It's the 21st century.  People enjoy getting their shopping information from the comfort of their home or office.

Your website, vertical search marketing, purchased leads, automotive microsites and landing pages,  email campaigns - all of them have their direct "mirror" in the real world.  In nearly all cases, the total ROI is much better on the Internet version than in real life.  In some cases, the actual resulting sales can be higher than in the "real world".

The real crux of the matter is that the sooner that a dealer realizes the correlation and starts treating the Internet as a microcosm of their actual dealership, the easier it will be for their Internet department to start converting contacts into leads and leads into sales.

Dealership Website is Your Physical Dealership Online

All dealerships have an inventory.  They display this inventory online.

Most dealerships have a service and parts department.  They should have a section of their website dedicated to service and parts.

Most dealerships have a finance department.  There should be a high-quality tool on their website that allows visitors to apply for car credit.

You get the picture.

The primary dealership website should be treated in the same way that the physical dealership is treated.  Customers who come to a lot are considered ups and are normally greeted with a process set up by the dealership for handling them.  Using the same mentality, a lead or phone-pop that comes from the website should be treated in the same fashion.  They are ups.  The goal is normally to take these "virtual ups" that we call leads and get them to come to the dealership.

This way works.  I would never deny it.  BUT, the way that leads are converted into kept-appointments has changed recently.  People want as much information as possible during this initial contact.  The dealership that offers them the selection and prices online have the opportunity to secure the most possible kept-appointments as long as the internet representatives treat them properly and get them the information that they need.

The days of "just come in and we'll talk" are behind us.

Vertical Search Marketing is Your Classified Advertising Online

Dealers are often faced with higher prices on their online classified advertising.  Sites like Cars.com, Autotrader.com, and AutoMart.com are realizing their value and taking advantage of it.  This can be expected.  Still, dealers are often reluctant to spend more money with these sites.  More importantly, they need to use these sites to direct traffic to their own websites.

As long as a potential customer is on a classified site, they have access to a huge inventory.  Any time you can take a visitor to these sites and bring them to your own site, you are taking the competition out of the equation.  Throughout your listings, you should include references to your own site.

"This Accord and 13 more are all available at www.yourdealerwebsite.com."

Yes, the prices are going up, but don't give up.  Think of how much money you spend on traditional classified advertising before considering pulling away from these other sites.

Purchasing Leads, Microsites, and Landing Pages are Your TV and Radio Ads

Sometimes, television ads can be effective.  Early on in the buying cycle, people are starting to pay attention to the deals, ratings, and incentives, and because they are passive at this stage (3-6 months before purchase) they are simply taking in the information.

The third party lead providers offer one avenue to grab these customers.  Because they offer best pricing from a wide variety of dealers, people are often willing to submit leads to these sites just to get a feel for the market.

Microsites and landing pages work in the same way.  The difference is that the leads are exclusive to your dealership and their is no middle-man taking a cut.  When people are mildly interested in learning about a vehicle, they will prefer these types of sites over dealer sites.  They aren't ready (in their own mind) to buy, so they are just doing research.

Getting your foot in the door at this stage can lead to sales down the road.  More importantly, many of the leads can be converted to sales more quickly than the customer imagined.  If you capture the lead, your team will have a chance to make a sale.  The key is getting it as inexpensively as possible.  Microsites and landing pages are the key.

Start Now

The market is compeitive.  Having a plan in place will help you now and in the future.  Build a website that presents all of your dealership's profit centers in their own separate venues.  Market your website through every channel available, especially online classified sites.  Finally, start looking into putting up some microsites and landing pages to capture the leads before they become someone else's.

It just makes sense.

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