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March 05, 2001 17:04:27
Internet Anxiety

The other day a dealer told me that so far the Internet had been nothing but a pain in his posterior. He went on to say that he had coined the term IAS for "Internet Anxiety Syndrome" and that he and about half the dealers he knew wished they could play Rip Van Winkle and hibernate until all this Internet stuff was over.

He understood the Internet was going to change his dealership, he just had no concept of how. Unfortunately, at the rate the Internet is moving, no one can make any totally accurate predictions or give any guarantees. But his comment got me thinking about how to effectively combat "Internet Anxiety Syndrome."

The Internet in reality is just a super fast medium of communication. It's not for or against auto dealers, it's neutral. It's just a tool. The problem is that it has become a high speed information tool in the hands of potentially every consumer. This information has proven to be a tremendous catalyst for change.

Americans may be in love with the automobile, but they're not necessarily in love with the automobile sales process. Consumers were looking for something to change their relationship with automobile dealers. The Internet didn't trigger this dissatisfaction-it was there already. The Internet is the fulcrum of change; the consumers' dissatisfaction is the force behind the transformation.

So how can you begin to recover from "Internet Anxiety"? How can you use the power of the Internet to work to your benefit? The first step is to recognize that there are some aspects of the process we're going to just have to accept. There are certain "givens" we must accept.

The first "given" is that change is here to stay. Tom Peters wasn't joking in all those books and articles. We've fought a good battle to keep selling cars like horse trading for as long as we could. Now we're going to have to accept that change is here to stay for the foreseeable future. We can accept the idea of rapid change...or have it crush us.

The second "given" is that we must keep in mind that any crisis is an opportunity in disguise. The Chinese symbol for crisis is made up of two other characters-one is the character for danger and the other is opportunity. We need to be looking for the Internet's silver lining. You've been doing it as long as you've been in this business. Don't stop looking for the silver lining of opportunity now.

A third given is that change forces us to learn either proactively or by default. We often learn more from our failures than our successes. So even if you make false steps on the Internet road, you are going to learn. You are going to learn and develop certain skills that will be invaluable to your Internet dealings in the future. Your greatest ally in this endeavor is going to be education.

It would be nice if you could just bide your time. It would be nice if you could wait until the Internet is firmly established and then get a consultant to teach you what you have to learn (or for some of you, wait until it goes away, but the genie is out of the bottle). Unfortunately, the farther you fall behind and the faster the change, the more difficult and costly it will be to catch up. And there's always the danger that it will be impossible to effectively play catch up. You're far better off stumbling ahead than playing the ostrich game.

So now let's talk about taking the anxiety out of e-commerce.

Building a web-based business within your dealership is not just adding a new product line or starting another department. Building a web business is building a brand new business within your business-a business that needs its own life and infrastructure. Making it more difficult, your web business is probably alien to you because the rules and character of the Web are different. For example, imagine for a moment that you were going to start a restaurant in your dealership. It would take new skills and understandings to do it effectively, and you would hire people with different skills than were previously required by your dealership (cook, waitress, etc.). You would use your business knowledge, but it would be just as alien to you as your web business.

No new business comes into the world without growing pains. There are going to be fits and starts. Some of your best intentions will go belly up and some of your wild swings will connect. But you're going to have to have persistence. I commonly hear people use the term "quantum leap" as if a "quantum" was a huge chasm. A "quantum" is a term in physics for one of the smallest pieces of an atom. An infinitely small particle. In building your web business you will make infinitely small leaps forward. Many of them will be so slight that you will question if you moved the business at all.

Let's talk about what you need to start making the Internet work for you:

1. A computer.

2. A web site. And your web site philosophy must be that it is a work in progress. Through continual improvement, you will eventually have what you need and you will keep improving your site.

3. An Internet salesperson. They are not going to like trading car selling. They are going to view themselves as a facilitator. They're going to want to help people buy cars and make them feel at ease. They don't want to negotiate hard. You may already have them on your staff or you may have to find them. The key is that they understand the Web and what the Internet client wants.

4. Finally, you need a physical location in your dealership-an Internet niche.

This doesn't sound like much unless you've been playing musical web sites and you've invested thousands on equipping your dealership and you still have yet to sell a vehicle online. Under those circumstances you are probably overwhelmed and I'm sure it seems like you're throwing money into a black hole.

Let's face it, once we're overwhelmed we tend to shut down. But before you hibernate or do your ostrich imitation-or worse, dismiss the Internet as a passing fad-think again. It was reported in the May 31st issue of Forbes magazine that there are now 17,000 pure dot com enterprises (i.e., Ebay, Etrade, etc). Traffic on the Web is doubling every three months. About seventeen million homes in the U.S. already have two or more PC's. And it is now reasonable to project that half of the country's electric grid will be powering the digital-Internet economy within the next decade!

Lear Media Inc. is an all new company focused on implementing real solutions for dealership that want to embrace the web. Visit to learn more about fundamental techniques and strategies that you can implement at your dealership today to start getting results.



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