Want to save tens of thousands of dollars a year in service reminder mailings in this age of the Internet?
Simply collect e-mail addresses from customers at every point of contact, says Robert Knight, a trainer for Microsoft's CarPoint customer referral system.
He estimates that some stores can save more than $80,000 per year in service reminder mailings if they are done via e-mail.
He also advises that dealership advertising always should include the store's web site address. Then, dealers should make sure all dealership contact people are aware of the store's Internet strategy.
"There's nothing more frustrating to a web customer to have the phone answered by a receptionist that doesn't have any idea of what he's talking about when referring to information on the Internet," says Mr. Knight.
He offers such advice at CarPoint training session near Detroit for people representing dealerships in Michigan and Ohio.
"Because of the Internet, customers are coming into the dealership with a lot of data," says Mr. Knight, CarPoint's lead trainer. "Take the data and help them make sense of it. Be more of a consultant. If you help them understand the data they've accumulated, you'll sell more than your share."
The training session is one of about 250 similar sessions CarPoint has conducted over the last couple of years.
Attendees appear up for the challenge in the brave new world of on-line car shopping.
"I think the challenge for us is to get the process down," says Tom Lyons of Fred Lavery Company in Birmingham, MI
Diane Stark of Kisler Ford in Toledo, OH says her primary concern is separating the serious buyer from the non-serious buyer on the Internet.
"The biggest problem is finding the right person to handle this," explains Rick Neveu, business development center manager at Les Stanford Chevrolet in Dearborn, MI. "We've had a lot of success with Corvette, but we're looking for something more for our core products."
Mr. Knight says it's vital that Internet sales people have Internet access at their desks. "You need to know the car-company Internet sites like the back of your hand," he says. "Customers are getting information there and may need to have it explained."
More than 5,000 dealership employees have attended CarPoint seminars around the country. Some came to the sessions skeptical about the Internet while others were excited about the opportunities it presents.
"You get people with a wide variety knowledge and enthusiasm," explains Mr. Knight. "Others have been volunteered."
In addition to emphasizing that managers attend the seminars, Mr. Knight says he sends his students back to their dealerships with a homework assignment.
"We challenge them to find one or two things they can fix right away, get some victories and then they'll have the manager's ear."
Another challenge Mr. Knight's students face is getting managers to understand what needs to be done to improve Internet sales.
"Some of these people don't know how to make presentations to their managers," he says, adding that future CarPoint seminars will cover that, too.
Who runs the Internet sales department at your dealership?
Is it the salesperson who just happens to be the biggest computer geek? Is it the service writer who holds the state record in Duke Nukem?
Whomever that person is, if he or she is successful, he or she is hot property these days, says Stephanie Takai, senior director of electronic commerce at Reynolds & Reynolds.
"These people are getting kidnapped faster than salespeople," she says. "Cattle raiding is on the rise."
Ms. Takai says successful Internet sales people will continue to be coveted by competing dealerships until finding and training employees for this task becomes more scientific and standardized.
"We're trying to figure out how to identify the best people for Internet sales," she says.