This article “Internet Lead Response Best Practices” is broken into two parts.

Part one includes the basics, simplified into 7 rules that you must follow (I’ve put them into a list at the end of the section that you can print out).

Part two includes the three things that can set your internet lead response apart.

If you like this content, consider checking out the e-book How to Sell Cars on The Internet, which expands on (and polishes) this content.

The basic stuff is going to seem simple, and that’s ok!

The basic principles for running a successful internet department at a dealership aren’t difficult to master, but they are difficult to do consistently.

If you combine the rules and ideas in this article with the processes in the car sales follow up script, you should be ready to master the internet sales universe!

The Reasons Why Customers Shop Online

You need to understand why a customer is shopping online.

I’ve asked customers why they buy online, and companies have done surveys. Here are the top three reasons:

  1. The internet is where I researched the different cars first, so it’s natural when I transition into buying mode that I start online
  2. It’s easier to view inventory from multiple dealers online than in person
  3. It’s less stressful to talk price than in person, would instead figure it out via email

So, customer concerns in mind, here are the basics of running a value-adding internet sales department:

#1 Respond Quickly

Let’s keep this short. Respond to your leads within 10 minutes. 

Why is this so dang important?

It’s easy to figure out. Picture this. I’m Mr. Car Buyer. Spending a few hours after work researching, reading online articles and watching youtube reviews and narrowing down what vehicle I want.

I want a new car -> I want a Sedan -> I want a BMW or Audi -> BMW 320i

Now, I’m excited. I need to tell Mrs. Car Buyer how much this new car is going to cost and get “buy-in” from her. I figure I’ll do some price shopping.

I jump on Truecar and Kelly Blue Book and do a bit of looking around. They give me some rough estimates immediately.

I show Mrs. Car Buyer, and she seems to be on the same page. Everything is moving fast!

Now, I jump on my local Audi and BMW dealership’s websites. I navigate through the site, it’s ugly, but I manage.

I find a car I want, I fill out my information, and I wait. Let’s say Mr. Car Buyer’s real name is “Alex Wu.” Let’s say he put in a lead at 3:53 pm.

What happens when I put in a car sales lead

The deluge begins!

It takes 16 minutes for the first response from dealer #1 and 22 minutes for the dealer #2.

Alex was expecting immediate gratification, just like he had experienced on all the other websites, but instead, he waited ~20 minutes.

So, to review, your online customer’s want to be contacted in 2-5 minutes. 10 minutes is ok. Anything more and it’s a bit embarrassing.

But how?

Easiest Solution: Autoresponder

I’m all about cost-effective and low manpower options. If a customer clicks on a car on your site, their lead will immediately populate in your CRM.

So, just set the CRM up to send them an email. Have the email be short and to the point, introducing your dealer, showing some small standard discount, and telling to expect a call shortly.

You know who does this well?

Picture of an auto email sent from

Immediate confirmation…

Then, within 10 minutes, have your BDC give them a call. Easy.

(If you want advice on setting up and running a successful BDC, I’ve written up two articles here and here)

Second Easiest: L.L.A. (Loud Lead Alerts)

If you don’t want to set up an autoresponder, or if you want to make sure the customer gets their call quickly, I recommend setting up LLA.

Most fully featured will have something that looks like this:

Lead alert option on CRM


Set that up for your BDC/Internet salespeople. Then, check the reports every week. If the response time is over 10 minutes, start managing.

#2 CMW: Clear Message Writing

So the acronym is unnecessary, but I’m trying to keep myself interested in writing out the basics.

Your first contact with the customer needs polish. No spelling errors, no grammatical errors. Also, it needs to be easy to read. Not too image heavy. Image heavy emails often get flagged as spam.

Here is an email that “Alex” got. The writing is decent, but the message format is a bit rough:

Internet lead response

Click to see full size… this is their first response in 2018

That is one full email. This below is the actual wall of text in that email:

Moonroof, Heated Seats. Black Sapphire Metallic exterior and Black SensaTec interior, 320i trim. FUEL EFFICIENT 35 MPG Hwy/24 MPG City! SEE MORE!KEY FEATURES INCLUDERear Air, Back-Up Camera, Turbocharged, iPod/MP3 Input, CD Player, Onboard Communications System, Keyless Start, Dual Zone A/C MP3 Player, Keyless Entry, Child Safety Locks, Steering Wheel Controls, Heated Mirrors.OPTION PACKAGESSPORT PACKAGE Storage Package, Auto-Dimming Rearview Mirror, Universal Garage-Door Opener, Auto-Dimming Interior & Driver Exterior Mirrors, Sport Seats, Anthracite Headliner, Wheels: 18 x 8 Fr & 18 x 8.5 Rr (Style 658) Light alloy V-spoke, Increased Top Speed Limiter, Tires: P225/45R18 Fr & P255/40R18 Rr Mixed Perf Non-runflat, M Sport Suspension, Moonroof, Power Front Seats, Sport Leather Steering Wheel, PARK DISTANCE CONTROL, FINELINE ANTHRACITE WOOD TRIM W/PEARL GLOSS CHROME, HEATED FRONT SEATS, SPLIT FOLD-DOWN-REAR SEAT, TRANSMISSION: 6-SPEED MANUAL. BMW 320i with Black Sapphire Metallic exterior and Black SensaTec interior features a 4 Cylinder Engine with 180 HP at 5000 RPM*.WHO WE AREWelcome to BMW of San Rafael. If you are searching for a new or used BMW in the San Rafael area, our friendly, professional staff is ready to provide you with all the help you need. Come in to BMW of San Rafael to test drive your new vehicle today!Horsepower calculations based on trim engine configuration. Fuel economy calculations based on original manufacturer data for trim engine configuration. Please confirm the accuracy of the included equipment by calling us prior to purchase.

That, to be fair, is pulled from the website that hosts their inventory. That said, as the Internet Director I would work with my team to get rid of that blurb. It’s ugly, non-formatted, and worst of all, useless.

It’s critical to know what your customer wants when they inquire online. If you want to give the customer a breakdown of everything on the car, fine, send them the actual window sticker. It’s madness to have that in your first response. Just advance the sale. Minimal clutter.

Say it with me! Advance the sale! Minimal Clutter!

Alright, that’s enough about on CMW.

#3 Confirm the Vehicles Availability

Confirming the vehicles availability is an easy one. Confirm (actually check) if the car is available. Make sure no deal is closed on the car, it’s not dealer traded, and it’s in stock. It’s here. Not at the body shop.

If you can link to photos, that’s great. Don’t do this:

Sending 20+ photos is not internet lead response best practices

A little ridiculous, although the camera guy is talented- Great lighting on these shots!

In response to one of my “Alex Wu” leads, I got this series of photos in the emailed first response.

Your car dealership is not a wedding photographer. The customer already has an idea how a new black BMW 320i looks. These photos, although very high quality, are way too much. They bloat the email’s size and steals attention away from your sales funnel. Photos should be linked, and only to advance the deal. Remember, minimal clutter.

#4 and #5: Pricing and “Why Buys”

In the first response email, share any potential savings. Customers expect some discount and unless there is a reason (limited edition etc.).

Should you give the house away the first email? No.

I’ve found much greater success with a nominal discount offered combined with a strong follow-up campaign.

Some customers shopping online are doing so not because they are “super grinds” but because they want an easy and fair process.

So put it in an email that you match or beat all competitors quotes if you want. Offer some discount. Just don’t get lazy and give the house away in the first email.

Now, to make this work, you need to have firmly in place some “why buys.” These are the reasons that the customer should act now.

Here are some great ideas to get you started (pick one or two per lead):

  1. The sale that ends soon (almost too cliche, but works)
  2. Limited stock car (what makes this car special)
  3. Vehicle specific incentive (this particular car has an additional $1000 incentive above and beyond all standard discounts!)
  4. Intense public interest (how many deals have been worked on this car recently?)

That should be enough to help you come up with your own. Just make sure you have a reason why today is special. Have your “why buys” in the first response email, and restate them in the first call/voicemail!

#6 Short and Sweet Intro

This one is even easier.

Introduce the salesperson responsible for the customer. Have all emails sent by this salesperson (even if they are sent by some reps over the weeks). Make sure the customer only needs to know one person’s name!

A small picture of the rep in the first email is a great idea.

When a customer comes into the dealer, they will most likely have this first response email pulled up on their phone. The customer will appreciate being able to recognize the salesperson when they walk in. It’s less stressful than asking around!

It’s a great idea to have some of the positive reviews or accolades of the salesperson listed in the email. Just one sentence that sets your service apart. I don’t think that you should brag about “10 years in the car business”. Instead, try to find something like “top rated in customer service from BMW of America” or “here is a link to my Yelp reviews.”

This method below is a great way that I’ve found to do this:

Step 1: Go to your store’s yelp page and search the name you want

Go to your store's yelp page and search the name you want

Let’s sort by “Joe”

Step 2: Grab the URL at the top of the page after searching

Grab the URL at the top of the page after searching

Here is “Joe’s” yelp

Step 3: Link that URL – Here is your example!

Using this trick you can link directly to your positive reviews.

#7 Invitation to Come at a Specific Time

If you receive a lead before 530pm, invite the customer in for a specific time that day:

Can you make it in today at 545pm? We have some time available then to show you the car.

If you receive the lead after 530pm, invited the customer in for a particular time the next day:

Can you make it in tomorrow at 1215pm? We have some time available then to show you the car.

Try to only offer times at 15 minutes past the hour or 15 minutes to the hour. These appointments are more likely to be kept.

When you make an appointment for 1 pm the customer feels flexibility. When you say 1:15pm, there is less of that feeling.

Don’t forget that regardless of what you do, some people are always late.

 Review of the Basics

The first response should have the following at a minimum:

  1. Quick response time
  2. CMW – clear message writing (advance the sale, minimal clutter)
  3. Confirmation of the specific vehicle’s availability (pictures are a plus)
  4. A fair price (Don’t make a mistake outlined in my previous article!)
  5. A reason for “why now” (Is there a sale ending? Special incentives? Lot’s of action on this car? Low inventory?)
  6. An introduction of the salesperson (short and sweet) concerning accomplishments/accolades
  7. Invitation to come down today at a specific time (or tomorrow if it’s too late)

There should be minimal clutter. Everything should be advancing the sales funnel!

Moving on to Advanced Tactics

Alright, so you think your hot stuff. Your lead response is top notch, and numbers 1 through 7 on the basics list are all in place. What next?

The fun stuff! Advanced tactics are where you stand out.

#1 Charisma

You should answer Internet Leads in a way that stands out. If you assume that your competitors are also taking care of the basics outlined above, then you need to show how you are different. It’s no secret that customers like to buy from people they like.

So how do you make people like you?

Do your job well and have some fun doing it.

Phone voice is an easy first. Charisma needs to come through the phone loud and clear. Your customer wants to trust you. They want to like you. You need to make that easy.

To work on this, I recommend checking out some of the videos from “Charisma on Command”:

“Charisma on Command” is a fantastic youtube channel that has tons of video content for you to watch and learn. He and his team break down the things that make people likable.

Charisma is an art that you can put your spin on.

Make sure that your phone warriors are using their brand of charisma when answering your store’s leads. Maybe your BDC is a 35-year-old mom with two loud sons. Let her work that into her calls. Let her be herself!

Note: If your BDC/Internet Managers are unhappy or overworked they aren’t going to sound good on the phone. Keep your people happy.

#2 Have Fun

Your emails will work fine if you follow the basics listed above. If you want to excel, you need to do a little extra.

Here is one my favorite emails I’ve ever received while secret shopping dealers:

Subject: My simple poem for you

Roses are red

Violets are blue

I can’t sell you a car

If I never hear from you

Please give me a call at ***-***-***** to talk about your Audi interest

That is genius. It’s not an email you would send in first response (it was part of an “aged unqualified” campaign), but it stands out.

If I were shopping, primarily if I hadn’t found someone I liked yet, I would respond to that email.

#3 Mastering Aesthetics

When you want to stand out, you have to look good. That’s not just for date night, that’s for your website and lead response too.

Let’s jump right to a comparison, sticking with the BMW 320i that “Alex” was looking at earlier. Let’s say that Alex decides he wants a used car.

Jumping into Alex’s mind, what do I want to see when browsing a dealer’s site looking at specific inventory?

  1. Price
  2. Odometer
  3. Options (Backup camera, Bluetooth, Navigation, Sports)
  4. Owners on Carfax and Accidents on Carfax?
  5. Warranty
  6. Pictures
  7. Some contact info

So this information is the “value” that the site can offer. Pretty much everything else is clutter.

So with that in mind, let’s see what an official BMW dealer site looks like:

How BMW San Rafael gets internet leads

Exhibit A – click to see full size

Now, let’s compare to a picture from, an automotive e-commerce site:

How generates internet leads

Exhibit B – click to see full size

See a difference? I do. Let’s point out in exhibit A what is clutter:

My edits to their lead response page

I’m an artist – click to see what I would remove!

Let’s break it down.

First, here are the informational value points that the site provides on the page:

  1. Price
  2. Odometer
  3. Options (Backup camera, Bluetooth, Navigation, Sports)
  4. Owners on Carfax and Accidents on Carfax?
  5. Warranty
  6. Pictures
  7. Some contact info

Next, here are the informational value points that the BMW dealership provides on their page:

  1. Price
  2. Odometer
  3. Options (Backup camera, Bluetooth, Navigation, Sports)
  4. Owners on Carfax and Accidents on Carfax?
  5. Warranty
  6. Pictures
  7. Some contact info

Sure, the customer can scroll down two pages worth of clutter to find the information that matters eventually.

Aesthetics and user interface design is critical to generating strong internet leads that buy cars. I can guarantee that there are thousands of dealership employees answering internet leads that are just asking simple questions!

Your website needs to provide you strong traffic. Traffic that has qualified itself using the information, the value, that you provided easily on your website.

Review: Internet Lead Response Best Practices

So that’s the basics and a few advanced tips to review. You might find while implementing some of the advanced tips that some people will give you some pushback.

Trying to improve? Consider reaching out for direct coaching, more information here:

Push back is ok. Your job is to master the basics and then start innovating. Setting yourself apart.

“In trying to please all, he had pleased none.”
― AesopAesop’s Fables