With the slowdown in store traffic, it’s time for auto dealerships across the nation to think and act differently than ever before. As a result of decreased sales, many stores have nearly shut off their ad budgets, other than short-term event efforts. Why? During these days of uncertainty, potential customers aren’t responding even to the best advertising efforts.

However, in spite of this economic slump, there are opportunities that are coming into our store that we are not maximizing efforts to convert. After all my years in the car business I propose that most stores are missing prospective customers every day. So, as a seller, how do you find the hidden buyers and what do you do with them?

First let us consider the internet lead. Every prospect has made a special effort to get to us. They’ve researched online to find a suitable automobile website. They’ve taken the time to narrow down their quest for the right vehicle. These people have probably scanned through several choices before making a final selection. Before receiving the necessary information, on the vehicle of their choice, they have supplied you with their name, email, phone, address and a make and model for consideration. My past auto business experience tells me to value this prospect. We have to do whatever it takes to connect with them to work toward the sale.

The challenge is that the behavior pattern of internet prospects has slowed down, and now it is may be five to six months versus the 60-day buy cycle we have been experiencing over the last five years. So how do we better manage these leads? This is where internet sales expertise pays off. Right now, everyone needs to alter his or her internet sales process. This is why I advocate database management of all leads. We need to be going back six months and rework all leads that are unsold.

In all my experience in dealership sales consultant work, I know that every internet sales department has untapped leads dating back six months. In fact, nearly one-third to at least one-half of all leads have never been talked to! In most store processes, these potential buyers are sitting in the CRM tool. Do I need to say anything else? It is time to rectify the process to make an all-out effort to reach every lead in some way or other. Perhaps the floor staff could come in (as opposed to sitting there with nothing to do) and join an all-out effort to make sure we are making every effort to work every lead and cultivate them toward a sale.

In addition, for the leads we have already talked to, more than half of them are still sitting in the CRM tool because the necessary follow-up process has not yet ended in an appointment. And I mean sitting there for months with no further follow-up action. Therefore, I’ve altered my management process to ensure that my internet staff reconnects with every contact they have talked to, weekly. New behaviors require process modification and certainly now is the time to modify.

So what about used-car phone ups from the likes of AutoTrader and Cars.com? My training method has closed 10 percent to 15 percent of these leads. But every time I scan the phone lists, I still see another 15 percent to 20 percent that, for whatever reason, weren’t talked to. My suggestion is to forward the after-hours calls to someone’s after-hours cellphone. At the least, the first thing in the morning, have someone else call back these phone numbers to see what can be done.

What do we do about the hesitant people we talk to from these used-car lead providers? The challenge is to get their email address for future follow-up. Most likely these calls get shuffled as a bad lead rather than take the time to gather more information from them and dig out a possible sale.

No doubt the internet has revealed the pent-up demand in the marketplace. But depending on your specific market, people are struggling with the question, “When is the right time to buy?” If their job status is shaky, obviously that is a serious issue. However, consider that if 10 percent are unemployed, that means 90 percent are employed. Maintain a positive attitude in the very face of a negative and fearful environment.

All voicemails should end on a positive note. Be sure to say, “This is a great time to buy a car!” All conversations need to be uplifting, helpful, encouraging and bring promise to work out everything during the upcoming in store appointment. We exist to help consumers find solutions to their car-buying needs.

My new-car internet staff is selling more used cars than ever. My philosophy is to make it happen no matter what it takes. Be prepared to offer alternatives. My internet staff is trained to serve and go the extra mile by making additional calls to make it happen.

Therefore, I advise all dealers and managers to take a constructive look at their internet departments. They should realize that there is more opportunity than one can imagine. Let’s inspire existing staff to work those leads. Talk to everybody. Keep calling until you get them in the store. This is not the time to cut third-party leads. In fact, I’d advise every dealership to buy more leads rather than spend money on other unproductive advertising.

The internet delivers opportunities, which sooner or later equals revenue. What more can a dealer ask for in this market?

This article reprinted with permission from Daryl Sanders.