In the day-to-day business of selling more new cars, it’s easy to focus on acquiring leads at the expense of promoting all the vehicles on your lot. In the numbers game of selling cars, purchasing more leads typically equates to more sales, assuming you have adequate staff and the right processes in place. The most successful dealers, though, tell us that purchasing leads represents just one part of their internet strategy.

By listing their full new- and used-car inventory with an automotive shopping site such as Cars.com, they reach more prospects and realize more value from their online advertising spend. Not only do they receive email and phone prospects from their listings, they also drive walk-in traffic and facilitate clicks to their website. This approach further allows dealers to begin the sales process online by demonstrating how their cars meet the shopper’s needs and selling the value of buying from their store. Try doing all that with a lead.

Keep the Lead in Context
As important as these prospects are, they only represent a portion of all car buyers who are going online to do their research. In fact, a recent study showed that while many consumers go online to make purchase decisions such as what and where to buy, more will walk into the dealership as their next course of action than will contact a dealer in the form of a quote request. While email and phone prospects are an important way to capture in-market shoppers who are raising their hand and asking for a quote, the majority of all the traffic your store receives instead stems from your internet listings and other advertising.

Merchandise Your Whole Store
Promoting your listings online allows you to market your entire new- and used-car inventory to prospects. It also allows you to direct them to third-party research on the vehicles they’re considering and provide them with tools to calculate payments and determine financing options. Because car shoppers often purchase a vehicle other than the one for which they submitted the lead, or cross-shop between new and used vehicles, your chance of winning their business improves with the number of appropriate options you can offer. For example, thirty-eight percent of Cars.com visitors arrived at our site, with the intention of buying a used car but instead drove home in a new car. If you’re not advertising your inventory online, the likelihood of winning this business shifts to your competitors.

Online advertising excels at making the most of these opportunities. Unlike other forms of advertising, the internet is uniquely able to “listen” to what the customer wants, match-make with appropriate products and offer demonstrations in the form of pictures, video and descriptive sell copy. Combined with a committed sales staff, it’s an effective 1-2-3 punch. A recent Experian Automotive analysis of Cars.com visitors, for example, found that 61 percent of those visitors who contacted a seller went on to buy a vehicle. Among those prospects, 79 percent completed the purchase within 90 days.

The Greatest Lead of All
We frequently hear from dealers that leads from their websites close at a higher rate than the ones they purchase. One way to obtain more of these leads is to advertise your new- and used-car listings on an automotive shopping site rather than experimenting with search engine marketing/optimization. In fact, 83 percent of dealers responding to a recent Cars.com survey told us that the value of clicks to their websites from sites like Cars.com exceeded the value of clicks from search engine results pages.

Measure the Return on Investment
Advertising online uniquely allows you to determine the effectiveness of your online advertising. Unlike other mediums, the internet provides you with the ability to track the source of your traffic. For example, you can tell how many phone or email leads a specific listing generated and how many times a shopper printed directions to your store or clicked over to your store’s website after viewing this listing. By taking into account these factors, you get a better sense of how your advertising affects leads and traffic. When prospects tell you they were “just driving past,” chances are good that explanation is true, sort of. After all, they didn’t call or email first to schedule an appointment; then again, they’re not going to toss aside their perceived negotiating position by showing you the print-out of the ad that brought them into the neighborhood.

Build Your Business
An added value of advertising online is the ability to capture real-time intelligence that you can leverage to make informed inventory and pricing decisions. Third-party sites such as Cars.com monitor current market conditions and share this data with you through reports on what vehicles are in high demand but low supply, and how much your competitors are charging for them. Armed with this information, you can stock your store with vehicles that turn quickly and sell for a higher gross.

While getting leads plays an important role in your overall sales, it is only one part of the equation. A successful internet strategy also includes driving traffic to your store by promoting your new- and used-car inventory with an automotive shopping site such as Cars.com. This integrated approach allows you to reach the most in-market shoppers and effectively market all of your listings. Increasing the options you make available to car buyers in turn increases the likelihood of a sale.