We've all seen the reports of trouble in the auto industry—sales plummeting, credit tightening, consumers looking for fuel-efficient cars that are in short supply. So how are lead generators reacting?

Same as dealers: They either adapt to the new realities or face being overcome by them.

Take, for instance, InterActive Financial Marketing Group (IFMG), a longtime staple in the special finance industry. Having been a leader in the subprime arena for almost 20 years and having weathered the ups and downs of changing credit climates, IFMG’s ability to adapt and overcome the challenges of evolving markets remains one of its strongest attributes.

“We pride ourselves on the development of tools that allow us to continually increase our quality,” said Matt O’Brien, IFMG’s director of sales. “Additionally, we’re not afraid to change the rules of the game. One of the ways we are able to offer something unique to our dealers is to be the only company licensed to offer true pre-qualified leads in real time.”
“The old Ford slogan is the absolute truth—quality is job number one,” O’Brien said. “Our customers depend on us for quality leads to drive their business, and they have confidence that if a discrepancy does arise, the dealership has the ability to notify IFMG through the Quality Assurance Program located in Dollar, our [Internet lead management] system, which removes and replaces fraudulent applicants.”

But you don’t have to be a business school professor to know it’s better to get it right the first time. And so IFMG went to work.

InterActive had to refine the process of obtaining its leads, prospects generated through its powerful family of brands which is the nation’s most-trafficked network of individual car loan Web sites, and partnerships with high-traffic automotive portals.

Additionally, rather than follow in the footsteps of other lead providers and look for answers at the depths of the lead barrel, IFMG decided to pursue partnerships with industry heavyweights such as Yahoo! Autos, NADA Guides and LowerMyBills.com.

“We constantly monitor and look to improve lead quality; in fact, all of our leads are run through our proprietary filtering process known as Intelli-Lead,” O’Brien said. “Dealers know that lead outfits pop up, promise the world, start dumping junk, get a bad rep, and then resurface under a new name. We’re very proud of our history of staying on top of things, but let’s face it, the current tough market has led to a higher percentage of bad actors.”

While quality leads are the bedrock of a special finance lead company, you need more than just prospects to survive in a brutal marketplace. “Internet leads are more cost effective than any other form of conventional auto dealer advertising or marketing,” O’Brien said. “But dealers need more than a name and a phone number. That's why we offer a free ILM system to manage, track and report on the leads, and that’s why we pay so much attention to where the customer is in the buying cycle.”

Covering a long-term buying cycle is what prompted IFMG to launch its FUEL (Follow Up Every Lead) program a little over a year ago. “It’s another example of our constant monitoring and adjusting to improve results,” O’Brien said. “The number of appointments we set for our dealers continues to go up month after month despite a really tough retail environment.”

“In tough times, dealers know who they can count on,” O’Brien said. “In fact, we have a dealer in the Midwest who refers to us as their lifeline due to the fact that they sold 30 percent of their total monthly retail volume from Carloan.com leads.” Dealers may be looking at IFMG now as a way of surviving tough times, but they believe in long-term partnerships. And when this market turns around, the focus will move from holding your ground to pushing forward with wild success.

Special Finance Insider Vol. 2, Issue 4