In one inbox sits a generic email thanking a car shopper for “the chance to earn your business.” In the other inbox sits a personalized email that provides specific information about the car the person is considering, suggests used or certified alternatives he or she may want to mull over and mentions the store’s business philosophy and reputation. Both responses took only a few moments to complete—approximately the same amount of time required for the first recipient to know to look elsewhere and for the second recipient to start planning a purchase. Let’s take a look at how to create email templates that help sell cars—at your store, not a competitor’s.

Like other businesses, dealerships use email templates to help ensure their customers receive a prompt and consistent response—and to maximize the time their salespeople spend selling. Not only is it important to supply the requested information, but it’s essential to create a good impression in the process. Spelling counts—as does the message’s “look and feel.” In other words, is it “professional”?

Many of today’s popular CRM systems let you design several customizable templates that you can use as the situation merits. Is the prospect shopping new or used? Is the lead sender a long-time customer or someone who lives on your competitor’s side of town? Have you been working with the customer for a week or a month? Language that you craft around these areas is then automatically inserted in the message, along with fields you’ll need to complete to create the most effective email in the least amount of time. You’ll also want to mystery-shop your competitors to see if they’re using a template that is similar to or the same as the one you’re using.

Personalize the Message
Once you’ve answered the prospect’s question about pricing and availability, look for opportunities to build a relationship that can lead to a sale. Shoppers’ email addresses can tell you about their hobbies (e.g., offroader@gmail.com) or their work (e.g., stayathomedad@yahoo.com). Perhaps you share a common interest that helps the prospect identify with you. Maybe this insight allows you to suggest other cars in your inventory. In the case of “offroader,” maybe he or she sent a lead on a minivan but you know of a special incentive package for a sport-utility vehicle with ample seating and excellent off-road capabilities. Bringing relevant alternatives to shoppers’ attention builds trust. It also helps to position you as a consultant genuinely interested in matching people with the right car for them instead of a disinterested order taker looking for the quick sale.

Include a Call to Action
Rather than close with “Please call me at your earliest convenience to schedule a test drive,” ask the customer gently probing questions that they are encouraged to answer with a follow-up email or phone call. For example: “You requested information on a 2007 [make, model]. Do you have a color preference? We have a red and a gray model in stock. We also have several certified models available in a wider array of colors. Would you be interested in a used car if you could save money?”

On a related note, be sure to configure your templates to include your store’s hours and address, your name and phone number and information about upcoming events or promotions. However, keep everything short and simple—don’t overwhelm the shopper with too many details. Always spell-check the emails, even if you use a template.

Follow Your Sales Process
For consistency, your follow-up process with an email customer should include the same steps you’d take with a phone-up or a walk-in. It should establish a timeline for how long you keep a prospect in your “active” file and when you should call or email at various points in the buying cycle: day 1, day 3, day 5, day 7. Week 2, week 3, week 4, etc. The last thing you want to do is to reward your competitor with a sale for failing to stay in touch and letting your customers think you’ve forgotten them.

Email today is so commonly used that it’s frequently used casually. You’re busy. You have more requests than time and, by the way, a quota to meet. Properly developed email templates bring balance back to your day. They allow you to engage the customer in a meaningful way that gets you back out on the floor so you can focus on selling. They also give you a competitive advantage against the dealer whose email seems locked on “auto respond.”