If you’re a dealer principal or general manager of a dealership, I can pretty much guarantee that you have heard the following from a handful of people over the years, “Your website IS your dealership!”For the longest time, it seems, many dealership owners and staff were hesitant to embrace websites. It made sense; this was a shift in how business was done in the automotive world. Instead of customers coming into the dealership to shop and ask questions, these websites were making it so the customer had the power. Websites allowed customers to browse without the aid of a sales consultant.It took drastic measures to convince owners and management to accept websites and make the most of them. So, some clever marketing-type person thought of the term, “Your website is your dealership” and repeated it so many times that it eventually caught on. For at least the last five years I have heard this echoed throughout the industry - in every showroom, every industry event, every marketing-related conference call.The Hard TruthHere’s the thing though, your website isn’t your dealership. Your website is much, much, much more important.“Blasphemy!” many will shriek. It’s understandable that dealer principals see their brick-and-mortar dealership as the most important piece of their empire. The crown jewel. We’re talking about multi-million rand buildings that keep important things like staff, vehicles, computers, service equipment and everything else safe and sound.While all of that is true, it’s also right to say that the average customer doesn’t care. Walk-in traffic seems harder and harder to come by. There is a pretty good chance the customer in question won’t step foot into your dealership until the day they buy/lease the vehicle from you. After all, nine out of 10 of your customers go online to do research before purchasing a vehicle - some may even know MORE than your sales team. Those same customers, in many cases, will have spent more time on your website than they ever will in your dealership - depending on the speed of your delivery process.Perception is EverythingWhile you may see your business primarily as a physical place, your customer judges you by your website first. It’s all about perception, and your dealership has a serious flaw: it actually exists. It can never be as perfect or as accessible as your website.Because they are big, physical buildings, dealerships are affected by things like weather, power outages and other “acts of god”. Your business can’t function without a staff and a staff needs time off. Websites don’t. Websites are available even on stat holidays. Websites are available when a guy can’t sleep and shops for a sports car at 3 a.m.On a heavy stormy day, at most dealerships, it’s all hands on deck to cleanup so potential walk-in customers and appointments are impressed by the condition of the dealership. Sadly, the same care is rarely taken on dealership websites even though many more people are visiting the website than driving by the dealership - especially on a stormy day. If you’re busy while your website’s vehicle inventory is missing photos and descriptions, it’s time to reassess your priorities.If you perceive your dealership in the same way your customers do (website first), you can provide them with all the information and resources they need on your website and then know exactly what to expect when that online shopper does come in for an appointment.