For special finance dealers and BHPH dealers, the most important aspect of your dealership website is the online credit application. If you do not have one on your website, you are wasting your money and time online.

The sale of a vehicle is secondary to the fact that you are providing financing for the purchase. Listing your vehicle inventory , with all the pictures and long descriptions, is a waste of time if the customer can’t complete and submit an application.

It works. We receive over 400 completed credit applications a month in my three BHPH stores and do over 50 percent of our business on the Web. I have tested hundreds of variations of credit applications and layouts to get the best results and there are a few things that you can do to dramatically increase your chances of success. To allow customers the best opportunity and increase the likelihood of them submitting a complete application, follow these basic rules. These rules apply specifically to special finance customers.

1. The credit application must be secure. In addition to privacy and identity protection issues, if you are going to ask a customer to submit their personal financial information online, they need to know it is secure. The security insignia must be clear and obvious. This single aspect alone will double your response rate.

2. Your customer must be able to reach your credit application with one click from your home page. That means arrive at your home page, click once, and immediately begin putting in info. This is very difficult to do, and your web vendor will argue about it, but every additional click will cause customers to leave your site before completing the application.

3. Ask for the minimum information needed on the credit application and keep it on one page/screen with 10 input boxes or fewer. Did you know that over 70 percent of applications and purchases started online are never completed? I have seen dealer websites where 90 percent of the customers starting the online application do not complete it. I would venture to say that if you have an online application, you have no idea how many people start and fail to complete your application. It is simply too easy to hit the “back” button and exit your site unless you make the application extremely easy to complete.

4. After submission, send an automated thank-you e-mail. E-mail is one of the info boxes you need when you set up your application online. It acknowledges the receipt of the application by you and sets up the next step.

5. Have a trained, qualified, motivated person from your office call to make an appointment. Do not have a salesperson call. Salespeople will reduce your appointment rate in half! I could give you 10 reasons for this, but take my word on it; appointment-setting takes a different skill set and attitude.

I believe the future of special finance and BHPH is on the Web. If you are not heavily involved online with your business, you need to be. If you are very successful and feel you do not need the Web to maintain or grow your business, you are mistaken. In every market, your competitors take full advantage of this avenue to increase business, to your detriment.

Think Amazon crushing a complacent Borders book store chain before they could do anything about it. The smallest dealer in a market can use technology to dominate the long-term leaders. It can happen very quickly. Stop and think for one minute how the Internet has changed the entire world we live in, only in the last 10 years! Do you really believe that your business is insulated from this? I am consulting with a number of small dealers right now whom I have not even told what I believe their market potential is, as it would frighten them. The large, established dealers in their respective markets have no Internet strategy and no idea of the potential threat to their businesses. Do you?

The correct Internet strategy can allow you to cover a larger market area at greatly reduced cost, with fewer employees, fewer locations and much higher sales unit volume per location. It does, however, require a change in the way you think about your business and your customers. Start with the credit application hints above.