Author Archives | Rick

Hooked on a Feeling

Hooked on a Feeling

I’m revealing my age when I recount “Hooked on a Feeling,” the 1969 hit by BJ Thomas. This song intimates the importance of an emotional connection. Emotionally connected customers buy more of your products and services, exhibit less price sensitivity, open up and talk more, and are more likely to recommend your dealer clients to their friends and family. Facts can help eventually get a customer to take action; however, that only happens after they have become emotionally attached to the product or what it will do for them.

The attempt to outsmart customers, back them in a corner with facts or overwhelm them with ‘knowledge’ went out with eight-track tape players. (Anyone under 50 is excused from knowing what that is!) There are several reasons why the endeavor to emotionally connect with customers is a trait shared by the most successful companies and individuals. Let’s review just a few.

Customers Remember the Way They Are Treated.

Customers don’t necessarily remember what you do for them as much as they remember how you made them feel. Emotionally connected customers are convinced that “This person gets me.”

Customers are not focused on understanding what their F&I managers have to offer. They are focused on finding someone who understands them. Many times, our effort and training to reach higher levels of profit is concentrated on techniques that will help customers understand our products more deeply. That effort should be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself!

When we ask genuine questions to learn more about our customer, they naturally will do more of the talking. When a customer talks 70% of the time, and their F&I manager is intentionally listening, they feel they are understood.

Emotional Connections Make Customers Feel Special.

Emotionally connected customers feel the process is uniquely built upon their needs, not a scripted presentation. Questions uncover unique information about each customer. That leads to a personalized discussion based on what the F&I manager has learned.

The connection must go beyond the surface and focus on getting the customer to open up and talk about themselves. A connected customer will share things they never planned to because they never thought they would feel as comfortable as they do when a connected conversation takes place.

You Can’t Fake Listening.

To prescribe a product or solution before you have diagnosed why this particular customer needs the product being offered is F&I malpractice.

I was privy to a customer interaction involving an NFL player. He expected the conversation to turn to football. However, when the F&I manager discovered the customer had a twin brother who also played in the NFL, the conversation became more comfortable. An emotional connection took place resulting in laughter and in-depth insight into the needs of this customer.

Connection leads to comfort which leads to the result we are looking for: customer buy-in. Your training should focus less on getting buy-in and more on creating comfortable conversations.

General agents are well-versed in making great connections with dealers and dealership personnel. The same skills that have forged those relationships should be utilized to encourage the F&I team to focus on the strength of consistently connecting with customers on a deep level. Once the connection has been made, the F&I manager’s knowledge of the products will help seal the deal. The customer feels they have found a great place to buy a car and the dealership can count on their returned business. Everyone is “hooked on a feeling” That’s a win for everyone!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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Change Is a-Coming!

Change Is a-Coming!

The year 1886 is regarded as the birth year of the modern car. In that year, German inventor Karl Benz built the Benz Patent-Motorwagen. Cars did not become widely available until the early 20th century. One of the first cars accessible to the masses was the 1908 Ford Model T, and the transportation industry was forever changed.

I remember the story told to me by a dear friend, Della Weeks, who was born in 1901 and lived to be 102, about her first ride in a Model T. The top speed was no more than 45 miles per hour, and she thought she would surely die! Her father, driving for the first time, couldn’t remember how to stop the car, and he ran directly into a tree!

You would think everyone would be ecstatic about the dramatic change in transportation. Not at all. There are two things about change they learned in the days of the Model T and that we should remember:

1. Change Is Hard and Usually Slowly Embraced.

Nearly 250,000 blacksmiths made their living fitting shoes for horses. Another 100,000 or so built and repaired carriages. Some of these accepted changes and looked for new and better opportunities. Some resisted the change and made efforts to help everyone see the harm these new ideas would bring. Great craftsmen and sales skills would still be a premium even in a new phase of the transportation industry, and they were great at both!

Regardless of which side you fell on this issue, one statement could be assured of its accuracy, “Change is a-coming and you’d better get ready!” True in 1908 and true in 2017.

We have dramatic change happening in the automotive business. The manner in which customers gather information about vehicles, how they arrange financing and decide about products to protect the newly purchased vehicle has all gone online to some degree. This challenges us to decide which side of the change will we put our energy.

Some will go to one extreme and decide technology will fix everything wrong in the car business. However, we must realize that technology is a facilitator, not a fixer. Others will overreact and push back against the change. Neither effort will stop the change that is happening and gaining even more momentum.

2. Embracing Change Accelerates Production.

Embracing change assures the days ahead will be much more productive than the days behind! Every forward-looking change, painful as it may be, will launch us further down the path of development as individuals and an industry.

I have attended two conferences in the last three months. At both, there were calls for change that just makes sense and will make for a better customer experience. There were also calls that appeared to be asking for change for change’s sake and should be viewed with caution and, at times, rejected.

The wisdom to know the difference is a greater need than many of the changes themselves. At times, I felt that the discussion at the conferences was more thinking out loud and looking for direction. And we only have to look inward to find the wisdom we need to navigate through it.

Our business needs forward-thinking champions with the wisdom to know what to embrace and what to reject. We must all admit that we’re not sure what this business will look like five years from now. The vehicles and the processes we use to sell them will continue to evolve. However, if those that are forward-thinking and wise lead us, we will embrace the changes ahead and ways to utilize those changes to make our industry more customer-centric and more helpful to them will be developed. That is a recipe for a great future.

The strong partnerships between automotive dealerships and general agents will prove to be one of the keys to chart the path ahead. For general agents and dealers alike, it’s the most exciting time ever to be in this business — and the speed of change is faster than ever. It’s going to be fun, because “change is a-coming and we’d better get ready!”.

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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The Seat Behind You!

The Seat Behind You!

Mohamed Sanu is a wide receiver for the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons and one of their most celebrated stars. After sitting in coach during a recent airline flight, he was handed a note as he was departing the plane. The family sitting behind him had recognized him but did not bother him for autographs or a story to share with their friends. They just watched! Here is what the handwritten note said, as posted on his Twitter page:

“Hi, you don’t know us, but we wanted to thank you. Our son sat behind you on this flight and watched you. He saw you studying your plays, watched you make healthy choices with your snacks, food and drink. He watched how polite you were to everyone. He is only 10, but just made an elite hockey team and we are on our way to training in [Connecticut]. You are an inspiration to children and for that you should be proud! Thank you and best of luck.”

You Never Know Who Is Watching!

It is always refreshing to hear such a heartwarming story about a public figure, particularly in light of the current political climate. Being in the car business, I too have witnessed some behavior from my “back seat.” I have traveled the country for over a decade, working in dealerships and working hand-in-hand with independent agents to grow the skills and income levels of their F&I departments. On many occasions, I have become privy to supposedly “secret” actions, which in reality are a regular part of how they do business.

Independent agents are called on regularly to do things that have nothing to do directly with making a profit for your agencies. I have known of many agents who have driven hours out of their way in an attempt to help a small dealership, which will never be able to provide much profit to them personally, simply because a dealer asked them to help a friend. More times than I can count, I have watched them become an HR consultant when someone needs a job or someone needs an employee. I have seen significant financial contributions made to charities that an employee is personally connected to with the caveat that the donation remain anonymous.

Succeed by Making a Difference!

I know every independent agent reading this is in business to make a profit and to enhance their financial situation. However, having worked with many of you, it is obvious that the driving force behind your long days is to make a difference! The financial benefits are the reward you receive for helping as many people as you can as often as you can. It is no mistake that those who focus on making a difference are usually the most financially successful.

I have been sitting in the “seat behind you,” watching your efforts, and it has created in me the highest respect for many that fill this role in the automotive business. This is my note to you to say “Thank you!” The note that Mohamed Sanu received that day accomplished one thing: It made him more determined to continue the behavior that was secretly observed because it is simply who he is. So continue your efforts and know that many are watching and noticing your efforts, even if you don’t see them.

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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The Great Equalizer!

The Great Equalizer!

In the second half of the 19th century, the new frontier west of the Mississippi was affectionately called “The Wild West.” During this time, most referred to a six-shooter as the “great equalizer.” It enabled a small man to chop a much larger one down to size.

With all of the fast-paced changes and challenges we face daily in our business, we also have a great equalizer: It’s called “desire.” Desire drives many to seek and attain what others deem impossible, unattainable or beyond reasonable expectation. Those that are driven by a strong desire to perform at levels not previously seen have brought us some of the most profitable and life-changing products and performances of our day. Let’s look at two principles of desire that can move us to create that level of performance as well.

1. Remove the Word ‘Impossible’ from Your Vocabulary!

Henry Ford, who had little formal education, was not a financial success until after he was 40 years old. Once the assembly line marvel had set the entire industry ablaze, Henry called all of his engineers together and said, “Build me a V-8 engine.” These brilliant men with degrees in physics and mathematics knew this was “impossible.” But they humored him and gave it a shot.

On three different occasions, they came back with the same conclusion: This is impossible. After multiple attempts, Ford demanded one more time, “Gentlemen, I must have a V-8 engine and you’re going to build it for me. Now go do it.” And the age of the V-8 engine was born.

If you’re not trying to do the impossible, you’re simply not trying hard enough.

Desire moves us to strive for levels of production and customer satisfaction that have yet to be attained. As independent agents, you must not only demand this of yourselves, you must be an agent of the impossible to the dealerships you serve. This enables us to turn F&I “caretakers” into F&I “risk takers,” and the results border on the impossible.

2. Obstacles are the Stepping Stones to Progress, Not Roadblocks to Success.

An insatiable desire for success will cause you to look at obstacles differently than others. Elvis was told he couldn’t sing, Michael Jordan was told he was not good enough for his high school basketball team, and Steve Jobs was told the iPhone was impossible. The fact that each of these renowned individuals faced obstacles is not the issue. It’s how they viewed the obstacles. They saw them as a distortion of the truth and a stepping stone to get to their destination. And they did get there!

We have all heard the many reasons for failure and, at times, said them ourselves. I know I have! It’s the economy, the weather or others around me holding me back. And the trump card of them all: My customers are different!

All of these may truly be factors that challenge the ability to succeed. However, those that have the “great equalizer” see them as intruders on their journey and fight through them. This enables those who may have less education, talent, charisma and opportunity to far outproduce those with more natural skills and seemingly endless opportunities. Don’t always bet on the most talented to win. Bet on the one with the most desire. It plays out every day in F&I offices around the country. I have seen it many times and it is fun to watch!

I look forward to seeing you on my next post! Visit www.go-reahard.com to learn more about how we can help you help more customers. Also feel free to contact me. Exchanging ideas with agents and F&I professionals is my passion!

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What the Grateful Dead Taught Me About Customer Service

What the Grateful Dead Taught Me About Customer Service

In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked the Grateful Dead No. 57 on their list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.” The Grateful Dead were considered the greatest touring band in history. They performed more than 2,300 concerts. In their early career, the band also dedicated their time and talents to their community, the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco, making available free food, lodging, music, and health care to all. It has been said the band performed “more free concerts than any band in the history of music.”

While the multitudes followed them mainly for their music, two other characteristics endeared their fans to them. Duplicating their principles will enable us to create relationships that will be just as enduring.

1. They Focused on Giving Their Customers What They Needed and Wanted.

All the technology being developed today to enhance the F&I process in dealerships will only be effective if it enables us to give customers more of what they want. Surveys galore tell us they want a process that respects their time and provides valuable information in an interactive format, uniquely tailored to their needs.

As general agents, we must provide great products as well as a great process to our dealer partners. Customers want an F&I manager who listens more than they have to, smiles more than they have to and cares more about their needs than they have to. They usually reward us by listening to us more than they planned to, buying more than they planned to and most importantly leaving the dealership happier and more “grateful” that they ever planned to. That will create some fans that will never buy anywhere else!

When an agent’s time spent working in a dealership or an F&I Managers time spent with a customer produces memorable moments, it is no coincidence that they usually turn into profitable efforts.

2. They Never Played the Same Concert Twice.

The Grateful Dead only knew the first song they were going to play before going onstage, and then let the energy of the audience and the flow of the show take it from there. Every dealer (the agent’s customer) and every car buyer (the F&I manager’s customer) has unique needs and situations. Our time spent with them allows us the opportunity to learn about them.

That requires the conversation be about them, not us. Discovering each person’s needs is a means to an end. The result is we must be able to recommend and customize a solution to the potential problems we discovered through our conversation.

Every time you offer a customized solution to a customer, it demonstrates you care about them. Fans of the Grateful Dead knew every time they were with the band it was going to be a great experience. What would make customers look forward to the interaction in a dealership instead of dreading parts of the negotiation? Simply, we must change the customer experience. Do our actions say we do the same thing with every one of our customers or do they communicate a desire to match what we do and offer based on what we have learned about them? Words such as “You told me earlier” or “Based on what we have learned together” make customers aware it is all about them. Almost makes you feel like you are at a Grateful Dead concert getting what you want — not what the band (F&I manager) wants!

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Stealing … From Yourself!

Stealing … From Yourself!

Emmanuel Ninger was arrested for counterfeiting in 1887 after he handed a clerk, whose hands were wet, a $20 bill and the ink started smearing. A search of his attic found that he was hand-painting each bill! They also found three paintings he had created which, after his arrest, were sold at auction for a total of $16,000.

Amazingly, it took Ninger almost the same amount of time to create a fake $20 bill as a $5,000 portrait. He was a thief, but the person he stole most from was himself. Let’s look at two thieves we need to uncover and banish from our selling efforts.

1. The Talent Thief

I believe the most prevalent thief today steals our perception of the level of abilities we are capable of developing and the natural gifts we were born with, enabling us to reach our full potential.

I rarely see a top performer who is operating solely on natural talent. Top performers regularly practice their skills with coworkers; embrace any learning opportunity and research what has made others successful. Their mantra is every time I learn something new it reminds me I still have more to learn.

I have discovered many professionals who have let a thief into their “professional house.” They play small, hide behind excuses and act like a victim of their circumstances. This leads to judgments that only make things worse. Thoughts like, “Why should I spend time working on my skills? In this economy and with the way deals are worked here, it’s not going to make any difference.”

The end result is a professional that has stopped working on their skills and no longer are growing but stagnant. There’s a thief in the house!

2. The Impostor

Selling a product by building value and showing how it will solve a problem or prevent a future one is the real thing. Using pressure, incorrect or exaggerated information or anything close to a noncompliant process is counterfeit.

Counterfeit selling is evidence of a much deeper problem. That individual believes taking shortcuts to get the sale is the best place to invest their focus and energy. This person will exert more energy to reach a desired result in a less acceptable way than it would take to develop a more acceptable manner that would get even better results. We have ample examples in the automotive world. Volkswagen’s diesel emissions issue led to dealerships on either coast cited for unacceptable selling practices. They not only stole from customers, they stole from themselves.

Wherever you place your focus is where all of your energy and creativity goes. Individuals that succumb to the idea of selling in any other way than a customer-focused value building process have let another thief in. It takes determination and commitment to consistently develop a process that builds value and creates a win-win for everyone involved.

The rewards are customers more satisfied with the process and more likely to return to buy again in the future. Selling any other way will lead to customers that feel they were mistreated or, even worse, a personal exposure of counterfeit efforts. Do the right thing, the right way and the results and rewards will come.

General agents are on the front lines of selling. Providing training opportunities to create value building sales efforts in the dealerships we work in is a critical part of our offering. Challenging individuals to consistently grow their skills using a customer focused process will help eliminate counterfeit selling. Your efforts on the front line are helping us shape our industry to be more compliant and more appreciated by our customers. Thank you and sell on!

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