As consumers get more comfortable shopping for cars online, the role of the Internet sales manager becomes increasingly important to dealerships.
Orelien, a nine-year Internet sales veteran, says that about 30 percent of the leads generated through Greenway Ford's Web site result in sales — way above the industry average of 4 percent, according to the National Automobile Dealers Association.
Some stores may be losing sales, experts say, because their Internet sales departments are not trained properly.
Orelien says the days are over when consumers' e-mails to dealerships can be answered with automated replies and generic responses urging them to come on down.
"Your Internet customers are savvy," Orelien says. "The majority of them have done research."
By some estimates, at least 80 percent of new-car buyers hit the Internet before they hit the road to visit a dealership. The research that consumers do online involves learning not only about the car but also about pricing and local inventories.
Orelien says that to have any chance of closing a deal, the Internet staff has to be upfront with online shoppers about vehicles in stock, options, prices and finance rates.
"You want to be honest with them," Orelien says. "If you are not, what's going to happen is the customer will detect it and get turned off. These guys will tell you what every dealership in your local area has."
Honesty is important in e-mail exchanges, but so is the demeanor of Internet staffers and their ability to communicate professionally.
"Sticking someone in the Internet department who has no automotive experience or who doesn't know how to communicate with a customer is a bad idea," Orelien says. "A customer is turned off immediately. The e-mail is the first form of contact.
"Let's say words are misspelled and the verbiage is not correct. It turns the customer off. And guess what? You likely won't get a second or third e-mail, so your opportunity is gone at that point."
Steven Risso, a dealer management consultant for NADA, says the top goal of the Internet department is getting online shoppers into the store.
"After you convert to a lead, that's one victory," Risso says. "You've converted a looker or a shopper into someone who actually took action. From there we have various objectives. We'd like to establish an appointment, a show, and convert the lead to a sale."