By Jennifer Suzuki, Ward’s Dealer Business

Today’s automotive retail industry is consumed with increasing the number of sales leads that come into the dealership. It’s a common topic at many internet-related conferences and a focus at most dealerships — get more leads!

Sure, it’s important for your store to get as many leads as possible (as long as they are quality leads). But it’s more important to make sure your internet team can close them.

Why continue to focus on increasing your leads if you’re not satisfied with the sales from the leads you already have? I’ve sold cars both in the showroom and as an internet manager, and I am convinced it is much more challenging to get internet prospects in the door. It requires a lot of strategy and an organized plan, as well as the mentality to make it happen every day.

I watch salespeople make call after call, only to skip vital steps when they get a live person on the phone. Each day requires a lot of phone calls, and when a prospect answers your phone call, your staff’s performance must be rock solid. How do you make that happen?

First, make sure they act professional. A true pro has an organized phone strategy and knows what to say, as well as an exciting and unique voicemail message to use if necessary. These things ensure a consistent message and allow the salesperson to get back on track when the conversation goes elsewhere. Remember, the goals are to get an appointment to show on time or to get a call back if leaving a message.

Salespeople today can get stuck spinning on the hamster wheel by doing and saying the same things day after day, and most of those things don’t work. Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. What’s the point of increasing leads if you’re mishandling the ones you have already?

Dealers ask if there‘s one single thing they can do to increase internet sales. My answer is always, yes! Make sure your internet teams are educated in the latest tried-and-true processes. You’re not dealing with the customer from 10 years ago; the buyer has changed and so must your sales approach.

A fresher, more modern approach eliminates the fears prospects have of auto retailers and understands why many vehicle shoppers are online in the first place. First, you need to address specific customer fears. Those include the fear of salespeople waiting to attack anyone that drives onto a dealership parking lot, customers getting pushed off to another salesperson or manager and the sometimes protracted length of time it can take to go through the sales process.

If you can take these fears away and develop solid selling processes to meet today’s buyer’s expectations, you’ll have something to sell on that phone call: quality customer treatment and service.

In many cases, internet salespeople immediately discuss the vehicle that was requested on the lead with the prospect. What happens next? “What is your best price?” and “Do you have this car?”

Those are two questions that will reduce your profit margin, increase noncommitment and tie up your salespeople’s time, only to possibly lose out in the end. Old-school selling tactics don’t work anymore, either. The prospects read about those on

It’s time for a change in how you conduct business and how you get prospects to like, trust and believe in you. If you’re using obsolete techniques from the past, your priorities must shift to producing a professional salesperson who has a chance to make this a career.

Instead of focusing so much on increasing leads, make 2008 the year you enhance the performance of your salespeople.

Reprinted with permission from Ward’s Dealer Business.