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From the Trenches - The Decline of Email Leads

Question:  What does an Internet Representative do?  

Answer:  They answer email leads and make appointments.

Question:  What if email leads decline?

Answer:  They make less appointments.

These are questions you are now or will soon be asking yourselves.

Some official figures say that email leads are down 2% over the last 5 years.  My analytics say they are down 25% over the last year.  Whatever the correct number is, there is a TREND.

  • Does it mean Internet sales are down? No. 
  • Does it mean we are returning to the past when customers came in unannounced to buy a car?  Yes.
  • Is it a return to our (paradise) past? No.

Here is a year over year website example:


June 2014 vs June 2013



-       Up 10%

Phone Calls

-       Up  20%

Email Leads

-  Down  25%


-  Down  33%

Map Views - H & D

-       Up  38%

Total Prospects

-       Up  12%

Prospects Logged

-  Down   12%


-       Up  18%

What is happening here?

40% of all website visits are now on smartphones. Ask yourself, as a consumer, would you rather click a button to call, or fill out a form with all your information? Most will click to call.

"Is that price real and do you have the car?"

Customers are now visiting an average of 1.4 dealerships before they buy a car. Compare that to 6 dealerships a few years ago.

How is that possible?

Customers are being pre-sold online.  When dealers began putting "Sale Prices" on new vehicles online, the result was predetermined.  Customers can see a dealers entire inventory and pricing online and decide where they want to go to buy a car.

Why would a customer go to a dealer that doesn't have the lowest price online?  They also consider the following:

  • Inventory - vehicle availability
  • Location - distance
  • Reputation - online reviews

Today's customer is buying before they even meet you. 

Why are customers going to 1.4 dealers instead of just one?

A customer expects that their dealership experience will meet or exceed their online experience with a particular dealership.

Transparency doesn't just mean putting a price online with fine print explaining that the customer may not qualify for this price.  It means: 

This is what we say; this is what we do!


  1. Customers will increasingly turn to whatever communication type results in instant gratification.
  2. They will expect and demand honesty in what they are told online.
  3. Reputation and word-of-mouth marketing will lead all other marketing efforts.
  4. Digital Marketing will be the determining factor in 90% of all sales.

Disagree?  Let's hear it!  I love to agree to disagree!


Written by
 Tom Gorham

Editor, From The Trenches

Automotive Digital Marketing

Professional Community

Views: 1695

Tags: Digital, Email, Internet, Leads, Marketing, Mobile, Reputation, Sales, Transparency, Trends, More…Website


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Comment by Alexander Lau on March 4, 2016 at 12:21pm

What's not included here is next generation channels / apps on Smart TV platforms like Roku.

Automotive Smart TV Leads

Comment by Tom Gorham on April 6, 2015 at 4:45pm

In looking back at this post I wrote in July, I am satisfied with my prediction.  However one response to this post by @Tim Martell has continued to nag my mind."

"To put it bluntly, the unscrupulous and horribly poor quality of product being put forth by the majority of website vendors in the auto retail space, combined with a general attitude by OEM's to force this extremely low grade product on dealers as well as the efforts of lead aggregators and other 3rd party businesses to capture consumer interest have turned the virtue of online shopping in to a landfill of spam and harassment for the consumer. Let that sink in a moment.

Now where is this "better way to buy a car" they've been hearing about for years?"

I believe Tim hit the nail on the head in a spot we don't want to receive it.  Consumers turned to the Internet to find an easier, less stressful way to buy a car.  Yet with all of our processes and persistence, we have brought that dealership stress into their very homes and phones.

So where does the consumer go now?  A quick phone call to see if the car or deal is still there and then a visit.  But the real work is being done anonymously online.  In this case, it validates the assertions I made in this article last year. 

  1. Customers will increasingly turn to whatever communication type results in instant gratification.
  2. They will expect and demand honesty in what they are told online.
  3. Reputation and word-of-mouth marketing will lead all other marketing efforts.
  4. Digital Marketing will be the determining factor in 90% of all sales.
Comment by Tom Gorham on April 6, 2015 at 4:18pm

LOL Steve!  Yes I do!

Comment by Steve Davern on April 6, 2015 at 8:38am

Great post Tom. Lets face it, you make great decisions when it comes to choosing vendors who deliver phone calls to your dealership! 



Comment by Alexander Lau on December 18, 2014 at 1:25pm

Tom, good stuff, this is why I'm developing an applications using pre-established user data for lead forms, on a new platform.

Let's face it, there are lazy and uninformed individuals (fail to understand how to preload their credentials on forms, etc.) out there. The application will shoot BDCs / CRMs a lead from one click of a button on a model. I believe the usability is better on a system built like this.

I'll not let this idea loose now, can't get everyone in the chain to sign an NDA, but E-mail me if you're interested. I've loaded over 7000,000 pieces of inventory into it already and it works.


Comment by Tom Gorham on July 29, 2014 at 4:39pm

Steve and Mike, thank you.  You both get the thrust of this article. I don't believe the decline of email leads is a bad thing, but it is a trend that requires consideration as to where and how we focus our efforts and communications with prospects and customers.

Comment by Mike Maggs on July 29, 2014 at 4:27pm

I agree with you Steve.  Now imagine if that customer clicked a button on the dealer's inventory page and received a text quote with all the vehicle's details, including images, sent directly to their phone in seconds.  In addition, the dealer gets that lead sent to their CRM in minutes.  This outperforms emails and the dealer gets a valid phone number and a hot lead.

Comment by Steve Davern on July 29, 2014 at 3:54pm

Great article Tom. If I'm a dealer and my email leads are down and my phone calls are up, I like it. Just short of a buyer walking into the dealership, I want him to call. If he calls, he is way more serious than someone who sent an email. 

Comment by Tom Gorham on July 27, 2014 at 9:59am

Thomas Ieracitano, I believe you are right about change and leaders must watch for and initiate change.  Jared Hamilton says leadership requires vision and the ability to inspire and initiate change that then must be translated into management.  This trend is surely a logical one base on the adoption of smart phone and soon wearable computers.  And as Ralph Paglia said below, it is being advanced by increasingly effective spam filtering and another trend of messaging through social media.  Thank you for commenting.

Comment by thomas ieracitano on July 27, 2014 at 9:45am
Could be another trend, as always the only thing consistent in the Automobile Industry is CHANGE!

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