The wave that is the Internet is definitely rising all around us. Anyone running a business that is not riding that wave, in all likelihood, could drown. And yes, that most definitely includes BHPH dealers.

In 1984, there were a mere 1,000 Internet devices. In 1992, that number jumped to 1 million. At the end of 2008, there were 1 billion Internet devices. It is reported that 70 percent of four-year-olds have a computer. So the days of thinking that the BHPH customer doesn’t have access to the Web are long gone. They are out there shopping and paying their bills, and the successful BHPH dealer will have a Web site that both caters to their needs, but will also take full advantage of what the Internet has to offer.

An effective BHPH Web site should have two primary goals: 1) to generate leads in the form of credit applications and/or contact information and 2) to collect money. Trying to do or be more will be counterproductive. Research has shown that today’s surfers have a tendency to exit sites that are too busy with graphics, video and audio, so in most cases, less is more. To help ensure that the primary goals of a BHPH Web site are achieved, keep a few basic things in mind when developing or updating the site:

The Web address should be displayed everywhere possible. It should be prominent in any and all advertising, signage, license plates, dealer stickers and even payment receipts. There is no such thing as an overexposed Web site.

The Web address should be easy to remember and relevant to the business name. This will be dependent on availability, of course, and dot-com’s are preferred. Also, you should obtain as many spelling variations as possible.

The Web site should be easy to navigate. Regardless of what page you are on, you should be no more than one click away from where you would want to go.

The Web site should also contain “FAQ” and “About Us” sections. These are perfect opportunities to build customer confidence and distinguish you from the competition.

Online applications should be secure and to the point. Most of today’s surfers won’t take the time to fill out a lengthy application. The goal is to gather the basic information necessary to contact the customer and get them into the dealership. And, there should be some sort of an immediate automated message thanking them and letting them know they have been tentatively approved or will be contacted in the near future.

Online payments, for obvious reasons, should be secure as well. The site should be able to accept not only debit and credit cards, but offer the option to directly draft from a checking or savings account. The days of thinking that most BHPH customers don’t have a bank account are ending as well.

As far as inventory, there are varying schools of thought. Some believe that current inventory should be displayed and updated regularly with as much information as possible. Some believe that only a sample of inventory should appear with little or no specific information, and some believe that no inventory at all should be displayed. All have proven to be successful.

And lastly, you have to track and monitor the site. Knowing who, when, how and why surfers are going to the site is paramount to its overall effectiveness. It also provides the ability to track the effecrtiveness of changes made or new things added.

Having a Web site is only one advantage of the Internet. It has become the number-one research resource. There are 31.7 billion searches performed each month on Google alone. The Internet offers a perfect and cost-effective way to stay up-to-date on state and federal regulations for the BHPH industry, look for inventory, post job openings, and keep an eye on your competition., Quite a few online resources are available for free.

But in this Internet age, the biggest benefit for the BHPH industry has been on the collections and underwriting side. With over 200 million registered users and an estimated 70,000 more registering each day, MySpace and Facebook have become the most popular skip-tracing sites on the Web. Additionally, there is an increasing number of sites offering various types of skip tracing and verification services. Some are free, some are not. Most will offer at least a free trial. To test their effectiveness, try skip tracing yourself. If the site doesn’t have current information on you, chances are they will not have it on your customers either.

The Web has provided all of us the ability to be more productive. Where it used to take numerous calls to locate a customer, verify a credit application, find the right inventory, find the right part, or hire a quality person, all are now just a click away. And having a Web site has become a necessity for longstanding success in any business, as long as it accomplishes the goals.

Surf’s up. Hopefully you are riding the wave.

Vol. 6, Issue 5