At Proctor Honda in Tallahassee, Fla., salespeople are expected to respond to Internet leads within 20 minutes.

Why? Because online shoppers are receptive for only a few minutes, says Alex Jefferson, e-commerce director for the three-store Proctor Dealerships group. “The closer you can reach them while they’re in the right mental state [to listen], the better your chances are of getting them to come in,” he says.

But, according to an Automotive News report, Proctor Honda’s quick replies are exceptional in an industry that has tolerated slow responses for years to Internet leads, in which shoppers leave e-mail addresses or phone numbers and request replies. Dealers respond on average in three to five hours to Internet leads, dealership consultants say.

Dealers chalk up slow responses to a variety of reasons: Salespeople are busy with other duties. Many leads that flow into dealerships are of dubious quality. And many salespeople believe customers eventually will come to the dealership regardless of how the Internet inquiries are handled.

But slow responses are unacceptable to shoppers conditioned by Google, Amazon and others to expect immediate answers to online queries, says Larry Bruce, president of consultant OnlineDrive and former dealer in the Houston area.

The consequences? Untold lost sales at dealerships that sit on leads.

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