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AM PROMOTION Dealer insightBy Tim Smith, commercial director of GForces, web manage­ment and marketing specialists recent statistic highlights the importance of the internet in the modern car buying process. According to studies, 94% of people now undertake research online when buying a car. Consider this fact in conjunction with the on-going turmoil in the UK car market and it's clear that now - more than ever - is the time to get your web presence right. At the start of this New Year, and with the increasing prevalence of the web, car dealers are well advised to stop thinking of a website as a marketing or advertising solution, they should consider it a digital deal­ership - open to customers 24 hours-per-day. Dealer software is developing fast, with a number of new solutions enabling dealers to make the web more profitable. However, if your website isn't easily upgraded or adapted to new features, you could be losing out on sales of cars or services. Some platforms require a considerable capital investment and in order to remain up-to-date, must be upgraded regularly at extra cost. Increasingly, dealers are turning to Software as a Service (SaaS) solu­tions which are 100% internet-based. These can be automatically updated, integrating new technolo­gies and features quickly and simply allowing you to get the best out of your digital dealership. It also ensures that your online presence is always at the forefront of what is available, remaining on the curve of web design. An additional benefit is that these systems are quick to build and cost effective - being paid for on a monthly basis rather than requiring capital investment.Standard features of modern web-based platforms are increasing in scope. Dealers are far less bound by standard layouts and functions; rather they can help create a unique digital dealership with in-built tracking and marketing tools and optional additional technology. For instance, if a dealer wishes to inte­grate CAP data for their stock, they can specify this, or if they wish to provide finance or insurance calcu­lators, these can be included too. A well designed, content-rich digital dealership is a highly useful tool to customers, and they are more likely to create a lead if a deal­ership's website appeals to them.On a practical level, your digital dealership still needs to be easy to use and maintain, requiring minimal administration from staff in order to produce the maximum return on investment. Modern content management Don't let your website be the weak link in 2012systems (CMS) are designed - specifically for the sector - to be highly user-friendly, meaning that staff of any technological ability can administer it after basic training.Updating stock, for instance, is integrated with a selection of data­feeds such as Auto Trader and Port­folio etc, saving you time and hassle. The reliability of the best systems means that your site is highly unlikely to crash. Uptime of nearly 100% is now achievable.Effective marketing campaigns can help drive traffic to your digital dealership and subsequently lead to sales. Web-based systems can be devel­oped with organic search engine optimisation (SEO) built-in. Param­eters engineered into the software make SEO easy, rendering it effec­tive, but also simple to administer. As well as this, email marketing campaigns - derived from live stock updates - can be sent to customers as another lead-generating tool. Perhaps the biggest advantage of a web-based digital dealership plat­form is the way it can evolve over time as additional functionality comes available. Some of this comes in the form of simple improvements to the site's layout, user interface or operation, but more importantly when new 'bolt-on' software comes out, you will be able to integrate these with complete confidence in them providing slick usability.Dealerships are making the majority of their profits in aftersales and there is an increasing trend towards providing customers with the ability to buy parts and services online. Functions such as DMS-integrated service booking, service plans, parts shops or tyre sales software are becoming more common with deal­erships looking to create profit derived from the web.This trend is set to continue, so it is important to have a platform that allows this software to be added as it comes available in a cost-effective manner. Having the right web platform in 2012 is possibly more important than ever. Maximising your profits from all areas of the business will be key to thriving during this tough economic time. Make sure your website is creating leads, capturing data, being used to market your business and, ulti­mately, making money for you. If it fails to do so, it could cost you dear. In association withTim Smith is the commercial director for GForces Web Management, a leading provider of web software and services for automotive main dealers.He has an extensive knowledge of IT and its applications to business having worked in the industry for 20 years. Over the past seven years he has helped shape GForces to become the leading automotive digital agency in the UK.Through technology and marketing innovation GForces deliver the most effective digital strategies for market-leading dealer groups and manufacturers.ABOUT THE AUTHORDealers need to think of websites as digital dealerships - open 24 hours a dayA

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