An Ocala, Fla., firm has developed a Web site manual for car dealers that is helping dealerships reduce the cost of Internet marketing.
Many of the techniques described by Target Marketing Group Inc. in 'Automotive Retailing on the Internet' are free or inexpensive.
'The book has some good ideas,' said Brad Sloan, operations manager for Beck Chrysler-Pontiac-Dodge-Jeep-Nissan in Palatka, Fla.
For example, the manual shows dealers a way to respond instantly to customer inquiries sent to their Web sites, without having an army of customer service representatives.
All it takes is an 'autoresponder,' an automatic follow-up message program that typically is offered by Internet service providers. Dealers generally can negotiate a few autoresponder messages for no extra cost as part of their Internet service agreement, said Todd Smith, CEO of Target Marketing Group Inc. and author of the manual.
Autoresponders are form letters dealers can set up to communicate with prospects and customers at regular intervals. For example, a dealer can send an instant thank you note when a customer requests a price quote for a new vehicle.
'This gives people the feeling we have seen their message,' said Sloan, who set up autoresponders with his Internet service provider after reading about the technique in the manual. 'A lot of times customers can e-mail a dealership and not know if it got the message or if they have the right address.'
200 PAGES OF TIPS
The autoresponder program is just one of many marketing strategies suggested in the 200-page manual, which costs $197. Here are a few more:
Establish marketing partnerships with noncompeting local businesses. Smith calls these partnerships an 'associates program.' Ask businesses that have Web sites for exposure on their sites, then agree to pay them a flat fee for every lead that comes from their sites.
'These associates in effect become online salespeople for you,' said Smith.
Some of the best partners are local classified advertising sites and local news groups such as car enthusiast sites. Other high-traffic sites dealers might want to consider as partners include body shops (if the dealership does not have a body shop), travel agencies and real estate brokers.
To locate Internet addresses for neighboring businesses, search the directories available on major search engines. For example, Yahoo.com has a 'city search' option that allows online surfers to search a locale for business addresses.
Smith also suggests contacting associateprograms.com, which is a Web site that helps businesses set up marketing partnerships.
Advertise to news groups. News groups are sites set up as online forums for discussion groups interested in a wide variety of topics. There are news groups for specific hobbies, demographic groups, industries and professions. Some online services set up news groups - including America Online, Usenet and Switchboard.com. The dealer sends an e-mail message targeting the interests of the news groups. For example, a dealer could send a 'parents' news group a special discount on minivans. There is little or no charge for sending a message to a news group, Smith said.
Keep tabs on competitors' Web sites. There are businesses that will keep track of competitors' online promotions. By using these services, a dealer potentially could match or top special offers made by rivals. Marketwatch.com, Reference.com, Ewatch.com and Switchboard.com help businesses keep track of competitors by searching the Web for e-mail addresses specified by their clients, said Smith.
He explained: 'If a competing dealer puts an ad on a news group Web site, I can have Reference.com notify me and I can respond (with a similar or better offer).'