Never before have consumers been bombarded with so many messages that, on average, communicate so little. For car dealers hoping to cut through the clutter and build relationships with car buyers that drive sales, now is the time to stand out by first listening to your customers, tailoring the response to address their needs and delivering genuine service.

When people bring in their mail, for example, they look for two things: 1) personal correspondence from friends and family and 2) bills or information from the companies with which they are doing business. The rest, they toss into the trash. The same is true of email. We try to screen out the spam to get to what is truly meaningful. Similarly, TV viewers videotape their favorite shows so they can forward past commercials, and music lovers replace portable radios with CD and MP3 players. The point is that most of us make a serious effort—and even pay money—to get communications that are chosen, desirable and relevant.

If shoppers are rejecting more and more mass-market communications in the form of interruption advertising, just imagine how upset they get when they reach out for information about a vehicle only to be greeted by a canned, impersonal response.

All this begs the question, “Do your electronic communications read and sound like personal responses or just another marketing/salesperson reaching into the shopper’s time?” If shoppers think you don’t respect their time, they are sure to think you don’t respect their wallet.

A personal response refers to all of the shopper’s questions and answers them as directly as possible. The best answers also include additional, relevant information. If the shopper wants to know about price, give them the price and give them an opportunity to talk to you about payment information. If they want to know if they can have the vehicle for $1,000 less, answer the question and let them know what similar vehicles you have available in that price range.

What holds many people back from executing personalized responses and promotions is knowing how to personalize the message. Fortunately, that is easier to do today than ever before. Your customer relationship management (CRM) system will help with after-sales information.

Don’t get hung up on the fact that you don’t know much about the person calling you or sending you an email. At this point, the shopper has given you an idea about what kind of vehicle they are looking for and that is a start. If a customer is asking about a 2000 Ford Mustang, you should respond with all the information he or she requested. Then invite the customer to schedule an appointment to see the vehicle or offer to send the shopper even more information and/or photos. Include a list of similar vehicles at your store. Also be sure to tell prospects about your business (e.g., number of years in operation), and give them reasons to do business with you (e.g., reputation for selling reliable, competitively priced used cars).

Once the customer is warmed up, you can ask some softly probing questions: Are you considering any other models? What appeals to you about this vehicle? Can you tell me a little more about what you will be using the vehicle for so I can provide you with all the relevant information? Asking softly probing questions is a way of personalizing your communication, provided you are dedicated to listening to the answers. Asking shoppers for their Social Security number or annual income is not softly probing. Asking them if they are still open to considering other types of vans or sport-utility vehicles is fine. Asking them if they have ever owned a vehicle of this type is fine. The answers will help professional salespeople know what else they need to present to the shopper.

Once the shopper has agreed to take a test drive, there are a number of things you can do to personalize the experience. When you make an appointment, ask the shoppers to describe what they look like and offer a description of yourself, so you can greet them when they arrive at the store. This approach is much better than telling the car buyer to “just ask for Bob.” Ask about other vehicles that might also be of interest so you can have them ready for a test drive.

If customers know that you are pulling the vehicle out in anticipation of their test drive and that you will be there waiting for them with key in hand, there is often a sense of obligation on the customer’s part to keep the appointment. With this point in mind, ask car buyers for their cellphone or office number so that you can contact them in advance of the appointment should you be delayed in meeting them or have new information to share. Provide your cellphone or direct number and ask that they return the favor.

Personal contact does not mean that you should tell them all about yourself or your vehicle likes and dislikes. Customers don’t necessarily want to know about you, but they do want to know that you care about them. Ask softly probing questions and let them know why you are asking, because you care about them.

Communicating with people one-on-one is expensive and time consuming, but advertising does not sell cars, people do. If the customer is responding to an advertisement, reaching out to you, then that prospect is worth the investment of personal contact.