Managing online leads for higher sales conversion rates

By Bob McCann

With nearly 90 percent of buyers researching products online, you are bound to receive email inquiries requesting more information. Every online lead matters. When a prospect enters your dealership, you have no idea how close he or she is to signing a check, or even if a sale is to be made, yet you put your best foot forward to make a positive first impression to the potential buyer in front of you. It’s like second nature at this point, isn’t it? You don’t even think about it. You just do it.

Online leads should be treated with the same dedication and professionalism. They probably deserve even more attention than other types of leads for two reasons. First, there is fierce online competition just a few clicks away. Second, you don’t have the added benefit of the face-to-face connection. If you ignore an email inquiry for hours, chances are you’re wasting your time responding at all. The prospect probably emailed other dealers; one of them was the first to respond and will most likely be the one making the sale down the road.

With that in mind, you should treat all online leads equally; respond promptly and on point; and follow up consistently with prospects until they are ready to commit, and with existing customers to drive more sales.

Response time; deal or no deal

A common misconception is that online leads have a lower perceived value when, in fact, they are as valuable as walk-in prospects. They express interest in your business, products and/or services. These inquiries are just another way of talking to customers and beginning to build a relationship. Start engaging as soon as possible without assuming anything. For example, a brochure request is not of less importance than questions about a specific model.

Online prospects expect immediate access to accurate and helpful information designed to eliminate options. In other words, they’re looking to choose what they perceive as the right product and dealership for them. The first expectation is a prompt, relevant response.

Despite the competition, you stand a very good chance to be noticed and chosen. In fact, ARI’s latest Mystery Shop results revealed that 40 percent of leads still go unanswered, so get the upper hand and you will convert more leads into sales over time.

Studies have shown that the sales conversion rate drops significantly after two hours. The most successful dealers begin their outreach within 30 to 60 minutes of receiving a lead. If you’re just getting started on improving response time, aim for 60 minutes on average, and implement a plan of action to reduce that number over time to 30 or less.

With the right lead management solution in place, you can reduce response time by quickly personalizing pre-written, branded emails to respond to an online inquiry. This way, you can juggle your many day-to-day responsibilities on the floor without missing out on the Web-generated sales opportunities in your inbox.

Read carefully; answer clearly

New email alert! A potential buyer has raised his or her hand for more information. Take a deep breath; this is just the beginning of a series of conversations that must be ongoing and meaningful to convince prospects to choose your dealership over many other options.

Take the time to read the email (lead) carefully: Understand what the customer is asking for or expecting, and answer questions clearly. They often reveal the needs that must be met. By doing so, you’re demonstrating your genuine interest in their inquiry, and your desire to facilitate their research process and help them make the right decision for them. Remember that your email responses should be visually consistent and branded with the dealership’s logo on the top left, so it’s the first item that the recipient sees. This way, you’re creating a recognizable, visual signature.

If the inquiry you receive includes a phone number, mention that you will call them shortly to answer any further questions they may have. If prospects don’t share their phone number, indicate your interest in calling them to further assist in their research, and offer your direct line as an alternative. You must do everything you can to get them on the phone, so you can create a connection and lead them to the next step in the buying process.


A simple interface that clearly outlines all key lead management activities and facilitates quick, ongoing updates makes it easy for your sales team to convert more leads into sales and lifelong customers.The power of follow-up

The journey to the dotted line can take a while, and the first inquiry often marks the beginning of the sales process rather than the sale per se. That’s why implementing a well-organized, follow-up process with all online leads and holding their hand throughout the buying cycle will result in more sales in the long run.

We suggest following up with new prospects weekly for the first 30 days, then scheduling 12 monthly touch points, for a total of 16 connections a year. Each contact should be designed to maintain an open, personalized dialogue, in order to remain at the forefront of their mind.

Advertise special offers which may sweeten the deal and entice both prospects and customers, including seasonal promotions, show specials and finance options. You can also send monthly emails packed with value-added information on maintenance tips, specials events and more. Take advantage of the holidays to thank prospects for their interest in your dealership and customers for choosing your business. This soft-sell approach will position you as a valuable partner deserving of their consideration.

Profitable businesses treat their online leads like gold. Every inquiry is a potential sale, and every sale counts. Responding promptly, answering questions clearly as opposed to rushing prospects into a commitment, and following up consistently will position you as the dealer of choice when the time is right.

To help you keep your ducks in a row and make sure that no inquiry falls through the cracks, you should seriously consider a lead management platform that features prospect categorization, template-driven email marketing, calendar management, reminders, and more. A centralized location for all your leads, with partial automation of the sales process, allows you to “be there” without ongoing maintenance on your part, and to keep prospects engaged until they’re ready to stop by. Keep up the good work, and you will reap the benefits with higher online lead conversion rates.




 Bob McCann, a 20-year sales education veteran, is the author of the nationally recognized e-business sales method known as TIPS (Traffic, Interactive Website, Process, Sales). As Director of Education at ARI, McCann has developed proven e-business sales processes to support the company’s growing list of dealer and manufacturer clients in the outdoor power equipment, powersports, marine and RV industries. McCann can be reached at (757) 217-3534 or


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