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F&I Is Not About Menus

F&I Is Not About Menus

Everyone in our industry has their own vision of what our new, hyperconnected world, tomorrow’s vehicles and the F&I department of the future might look like. It seems every manufacturer, DMS provider and F&I menu software company has their own high-tech version of what the sales and F&I process needs to become. In this geekoid future of Snapchats, Instagrams, and Tweets, we’ll discover a glorious new world filled with cars that drive themselves and products that sell themselves, which are then delivered right to our doorstep via Amazon drones.

The ultimate fiction of this shiny new techie-world of virtual reality goggles, wall-size touchscreens and chat-bots is that somehow computers and menu software will soon be able to discover and fill customer needs, create customer interest, overcome objections and entice people to buy more stuff. And they’ll be able to pay for it all with digital money that rains down from a virtual cloud. Yeehaw!

Now I certainly don’t profess to know what the future holds. However, I do know that, while technology, computers and software can do a lot, there’s one thing they can’t do and won’t ever be able to do: care. Only a human being can care about another human being.

The Easy Button

Dealers, F&I managers and agents (and F&I trainers!) are always looking for an “easy” button — that new product, word-track or “close” that will magically get customers to buy F&I products with little or no effort. Whether it’s menu-selling software, a new closing technique or a video product pitch using a spokesmodel, hope springs eternal that someone has found a quick, easy and foolproof way for an F&I manager to sell more F&I products and make more money in less time with less work.

The latest easy buttons are the high-tech electronic F&I menus that have more bells and whistles than a $35,000 Tesla. The only difference being they’re actually available, and you don’t have to stand in line to buy ‘em. Some of these menu software companies now offer desktop or large tablet touchscreens or their menu on an iPad. Some even include computer-generated graphics and video product presentations. Most allow the customer or F&I manager to easily move products around to see how adding or removing them will change their payment.

Some of these menu software programs are truly impressive. They have the ability to combine previous purchase information and new customer data to determine which products they’re most likely to buy. These menu software programs mine the dealership’s own data to see what F&I products the customer bought last time, as well as the odds the customer will purchase a specific F&I product this time.

Even I have to admit this is a huge improvement. In prehistoric times, we actually had to get off our butts and walk down to the accounting office and pull the customer file out of the file cabinet to see what F&I products they bought for their last vehicle.

Many of these software programs include self-serving “customer surveys” that are designed to eliminate the needs discovery process. I put the term in quotes because these brief surveys include a few questions designed to replace the antiquated idea of having an actual conversation with a customer. Most software designers aren’t too keen on human conversation, so the assumption is that most consumers would prefer little or no conversation.

Once the customer completes the survey, the F&I software operator knows which products they should offer the customer. Apparently, knowing the answer to only six or eight questions allows a computer to know all of the products a customer is likely to buy. Here’s what the computer says you need, here’s what it covers and here’s your new payment. Now talk yourself into it.

All of these menu software programs can structure the deal and create a menu designed to ensure maximum profit. And all are promoted as a surefire way to increase F&I product sales and profits. On the surface, they are certainly pretty slick. And this futuristic dream of software that sells F&I products continues to be updated, upgraded and improved upon every year in an effort to move us all toward what they really desire, which is to get agents and dealers to buy their software.

But is a high-tech menu on a big screen what the customer wants?

Do you really believe most human beings desire less human interaction and more preprogrammed, premeditated, computer-generated digital sales presentations based on odds, algorithms and logic traps? Do you really think self-serving software created specifically to benefit the user, not the customer, is the way anyone wants to buy anything? No one who has ever been trapped in an automated phone system loop, those automated torture devices that misunderstand what you say or require an endless series of button pushes to complete even a simple task, wants to envision a future with more of that.

That’s not progress. That’s hell on earth!

Putting Technology in Its Place

We have cameras in hundreds of F&I offices and record thousands of F&I transactions every month, and I have yet to hear a customer request a better menu, complain because the options were offered on a paper menu or demand to see a touchscreen version. In reality, most customers couldn’t care less how F&I products are offered. While one generation may prefer viewing a menu on a computer screen to a paper version, they certainly aren’t going to buy any F&I products because of a pretty menu.

All a customer wants to do is get their paperwork completed as quickly as possible so they can take delivery of their new vehicle. The fact is, most customers do not walk into an F&I office wanting to buy additional products. Nor do they want to be forced to wait while an F&I manager creates a custom menu with those products. If customers are being forced to wait while a menu is being prepared, we’re wasting their time. Can you imagine a restaurant forcing every customer to wait while a custom menu is created just for them? That restaurant wouldn’t last a month.

What a customer is really buying is the F&I person presenting those products. Customers appreciate having someone take time to review the options, answer their questions and help them make an informed decision. They resent having to listen to a sales pitch. It doesn’t matter whether that sales pitch is made using a brochure, a paper menu or a 60-inch flat-screen monitor. It’s still a sales pitch.

Every customer asks themselves this question: “Is this person trying help me, or is this person trying to sell me?” How they answer that question in their own mind will determine whether or not we’re able to sell them. If they think that F&I person is trying to help them, they’re going to be very interested in what they have to say. If they think that F&I person is trying to sell them, they couldn’t care less what that person has to say.

Helping customers demands that an F&I professional seek out, with eagerness, reasons why the customer needs each and every one of their products, and helping them see how that product will benefit them. If a customer trusts that person, believes they know what they’re talking about, and feels like they’re genuinely trying to help them, they will value that individual’s knowledge, expertise and input. It doesn’t matter whether those products were offered on a high-tech menu or a bar napkin.

F&I is not about menus. It’s about helping customers make an informed decision about the options available in connection with their purchase. Customers don’t buy F&I products because they understand every nuance of the coverage. They buy them because they feel someone understands their unique situation and is trying to help them make the right decision for them and their family — in other words, an F&I professional.

In the F&I office, we have a responsibility to offer every customer every product every time. You don’t need a custom menu to do that. We don’t need F&I software operators spending more time customizing menus. We need F&I Professionals who are genuinely interested in helping customers, and care about people. Because customers don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. And no menu can do that.

Posted in F&I2 Comments

TRAINING, SIR!

TRAINING, SIR!

The most successful agents are seldom the cheapest product provider, but they are always the best at helping their dealers grow their business. They get results. Today, your agency has to be in the results business. And that requires training, sir!

Today’s F&I professionals face unprecedented challenges with regard to their dealership’s sales and F&I processes on a daily basis. In most dealerships, salespeople take the credit application or it’s submitted online. The sales desk then pulls the credit bureau report and submits the deal to a lender. Often, the financing is approved before the customer even talks to the F&I manager. As a result, customers do not perceive the F&I department as adding any value to their purchase experience.

With the instant access to unlimited amounts of information on their cell phones, customers don’t take someone’s word on anything anymore. They can do their research right on their phone while they’re sitting in an F&I manager’s office. We’ve gone from a need to “know” information to a need to “go to” information. Customers now want to obtain online confirmation, or at least validation, of every decision they are asked to make… before they make the decision. Because when it is their research, it’s always right!

It used to be dealers had to worry about a customer leaving the dealership, and driving down the street to a competitor to check out their inventory, compare vehicles, prices and their trade-in allowance. Not anymore. Now they do it right on the dealers own showroom. Showrooming is the term for when a consumer is comparison shopping a dealership using their smart phone while they’re still sitting in that dealer’s showroom.

That doesn’t change when it comes to the F&I office. After those customers agree to buy the car, every minute they’re waiting on an F&I manager to prepare their paperwork, they’re no longer showrooming, they’re celling F&I products. Celling F&I products is the customer texting her mother, his father, or their buddy Bubba to ask if they should buy an “extended warranty,” GAP protection, or other F&I products. If you leave a customer alone for even one or two minutes, chances are you’ll return to find them sitting quietly, head bowed, worshiping the god of Google.

Today’s F&I manager has to be able to take customers to websites that provide positive, not negative information about our products. As their agent, as someone involved in this industry, we all have a responsibility to help them provide customers with positive information about our products. As an agency, you have to help your F&I managers address the challenges they face on a daily basis, and give them the skills, the knowledge, and the access to information they need to be successful. Here are nine things you can do to help your dealers, their F&I managers, and your agency become more successful.

First, develop your agency’s own blueprint for F&I success. As Benjamin Franklin famously said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Your agency should assist in developing and implementing written job descriptions for the dealer’s F&I managers that includes ongoing training as part of their responsibility. Managers should be expected to set monthly goals and report their progress every week. When you monitor performance, performance increases.

Your blueprint should also be based on the idea that everybody at that dealership attends the same F&I class, and that the training managers receive matches your (and the dealer’s) philosophy! It’s critical everyone there is following the same process. Plus, it’s difficult to build your training on someone else’s foundation. You should always try to be at the dealership when that F&I manager returns from class to reinforce the training, and help them practice and implement what they learned.

As their agent, you have to instill the expectation of continuous improvement. Whatever they did last month is not good enough this month. Whenever an F&I manager reaches a new level of performance, that now becomes the new norm. You can’t expect performance to improve without implementing a process to make it happen. Here’s where we are, here’s where we’re going, and here’s how we’re going to get there. Ongoing training has to be like brushing their teeth: something they do every day.

Second, acquire top-down expectations and dealer commitment. It doesn’t matter how committed you are to your blueprint for training, if the dealer isn’t committed. Based on the dealer’s expectations, what is Job 1? Job 2? Job 3? Is it increasing dollars per retail unit or products per retail unit? Is it ensuring compliance, reducing chargebacks, or improving the dealership’s CSI? Or is it finding or replacing personnel, improving their processes, or obtaining additional finance sources?

Next, what are the barriers to achieving the desired results? Is it the dealership’s retail sales process, the F&I sales process, or the F&I personnel? Are they properly motivated, or are their efforts misdirected by their compensation plan? What are each manager’s strengths, weaknesses, and performance obstacles?

Finally, you have to come to an agreement with the dealer on the desired results, confirm his expectations, and develop a plan to achieve them. Then you must obtain the dealer’s buy-in and commitment to the plan, next steps, and how you will measure its effectiveness. Without dealer buy-in and constant reinforcement, even the best training plan will fall apart. It’s also critical that the dealer communicate his or her commitment to the training plan to the F&I managers. While you might be totally committed to the training, those F&I people don’t work for you!

Third, implement your plan! Success happens not by chance, but because you were given a chance, and then took advantage of it. Training must be consistent, continuous, and constantly reinforced. The fundamental principal of every successful business is to help customers. Make sure your training is sending the right message! Make the focus more on growth and progress rather than goals.

Never let the desired results dictate the actual process. You have to align your vision and values with dealer expectations. “I don’t care how you get there, just get there!” is a recipe for disaster … and deceptive sales practices. Implementing a written Code of Conduct can help spell out very clearly what is expected, and what will not be tolerated.

Performance improves not because you demand it, but because you put in place a plan to ensure it happens. Let everyone know what the plan is! Then analyze the results. Determine what’s working, what’s not working, and make whatever changes are necessary to achieve the desired results.

Forth, whatever your plan, you gotta’ own it! Commit to it, implement it, follow it, use it, do it! This is who you are, this is what your agency does! Training is the foundation you build on. Leaders lead by example. That means you need to go through the same training class you send your F&I managers through. How can you or your reps fully embrace and reinforce any training if you’ve never experienced it?

Just as there are lots of ways to train an army, there are lots of ways to do F&I. Whether you do training by design or by accident, new employees learn by watching the veterans. Your plan for training, and those F&I manager’s commitment to it, all starts with you! Dealers and F&I managers take their cues from you. Ongoing training is not optional at this dealership, it’s expected. It’s what professionals do. And it’s what your agency does. As a former Navy Seal once said, “Under pressure, you don’t rise to the occasion. You sink to the level of your training. That’s why we train so hard.”

Fifth, make it sticky. Whatever training you decide to provide, choose a curriculum with content that works, and stick to it. That requires that you get all the F&I managers on board. How? Identify your bell cow. A bell cow is the lead cow of a herd. Determine who the other F&I managers listen to, and let him or her know that when it comes to training, you and the dealer see them as a leader, and you expect them to step up and lead.

It also requires that you become a valuable resource to your F&I managers. Have something new every time you come in the dealership. Bring an article, a new close or a new visual aid. Help them find solutions and answers they need. Personalize the training to what will help them improve their skills. Record F&I transactions, and watch them with the F&I manager, to help them see what they’re doing! Bring something new to the table every time; a new idea or a new resource, such as www.autoconsumerinfo.com, where F&I managers and customers can get answers to their questions about F&I products.

Remove any obstacles and excuses to improved performance.  Give ‘em some new tools, like the ability to get additional help with the objections they struggle with.  Use your cell phone, or theirs, to shoot a brief video with whatever question or issue they’d like help with, and then upload it to www.hightail.com/u/REAHARD.  Feel free to submit as many video questions from as many of your F&I managers as you want.  Each month, one or two questions will be selected and featured in “So Here’s The Deal” in F&I and Showroom magazine.  If your F&I manager’s video question or problematic objection is selected for a response, they will not only get an answer, they will also receive a free pass to the industry summit in Las Vegas!

Sixth, utilize a training calendar. Make a business case for ongoing training. Just because you win the game, you don’t stop practicing. Professionals practice. That’s what separates them from amateurs. As their coach, you have to emphasize the importance of continuous learning. Have a training agenda every time you walk in their office. You’re here today to work on overcoming this objection, or share something that’s working for another manager, or evaluate their presentation to see how you can help them improve.

Create and customize your training calendar based on what you feel will help them the most. Challenge them to turn their weaknesses into their strengths. Help your F&I managers focus on the BIG picture. Where do you want to be 5, 10, 15 years from now? The only way you can achieve that long-term goal is to be the best you can possibly be, at what you’re doing right now. And that requires you continue your training on a regular basis.

Seventh, keep throwing the ball! Redefine your role. You’re their coach, not their critic; a resource, not a vendor. Tell the F&I Manager what is in it for them. Make training FUN! Be different. Sponsor seminars or workshops by outside trainers or industry experts. Hold a contest for a trip, to drive a race car, or have an annual golf outing for your managers.

Continually test their product knowledge and consultative selling skills. See how many open-ended, needs-discovery questions they can ask in 60 seconds. Help them learn more about cars, about the aspect ratio of a tire, about metal memory and thermoset enamel. Role-play, role-play, role-play!

Every F&I transaction you can witness becomes another learning opportunity. On the spot debriefs after they finish a deal are a great way to help your managers improve their skills. Become their go-to person, their mentor, their champion, their ally, their advocate, their confidant, their coach … not their rep.

Eighth, Show ‘Em The Money! Help your F&I people see how ongoing training will provide them additional career opportunities. Continued training will accelerate their growth as a professional, increase their income, and provide new career opportunities. If you were a dealer, who would you promote? The person who is always trying to improve, or the one who doesn’t think they need to improve?

Track their performance before and after training, so they can “see” their improvement. You have to eliminate complacency. Good enough is the enemy of best, close enough is best friends with failure, and “let’s be realistic” is the first step on the road to mediocrity. Recognize their accomplishments with a Certificate. It’s amazing what a framed “Business Manager of the Month” award will do. Celebrate their successes.

Focus on the execution after the training. Too often the training being provided is disconnected from the F&I manager’s daily routine and processes. For training to be a priority, it must be part of their job description … their pay plan!

Ninth, Evaluate & Document The Effectiveness Of Your Training! Documentation is like quality control. Recording and reviewing actual F&I transactions is one of the best ways to see and document what’s really happening in the F&I office. Want to see an immediate improvement in F&I performance, customer satisfaction, and ensure compliance at your dealership? Start recording actual F&I transactions. It’s amazing how a person’s actions change for the better when they know someone is watching.

Develop a culture of learning. Track effort, not just results. If the effort is there, the results will follow! What are they going to learn today, to help them become better tomorrow? If it’s a dealer group, conduct a monthly or at least quarterly F&I meeting to review everyone’s progress. If no one meets with them regularly to congratulate them on their progress or call them out on their lack of effort, then the entire process is viewed as optional. Inspect what you expect. Let them see their improvement! And finally, let them evaluate YOU, and your training!

When it comes to developing your own training program, the most important thing is to take that first step. Do something, anything. Do it consistently. Almost any training, if done consistently, is better than no training. Training should be one of the main benefits a dealer receives for doing business with your agency. It’s what can help separate you from your competition. And it’s why the training your agency provides matters.

The fact is, every business exists to help customers. To be successful, your agency must help your dealers increase their product sales and profits. While that certainly requires great products, it also requires training, sir!

Posted in F&I, Training Articles0 Comments

The Road to Mediocrity

The Road to Mediocrity

F&I professionals are not born that way. F&I superstars are not “discovered” on F&I Idol, and they do not achieve exceptional performance, profits and CSI by accident. Every F&I professional I’ve ever encountered has been well trained. And every top producer also continues to improve his or her skills. And finally, they’re always highly motivated – either by themselves, a great dealer or a great coach – like an agent entrepreneur.

Becoming an F&I professional is not easy. Neither is becoming a successful agent. It’s hard work. Doors get slammed in your face. You confirm an appointment for the next day, drive four hours, only to get stood up. Dealers negotiate your commission down to nothing, then expect you to train their F&I managers – who don’t want training – for free. I mean, let’s be realistic, if the dealer and F&I managers are not committed to ongoing training, there is no way you’re going to make it happen, right?

“Let’s be realistic,” is the first step on the road to mediocrity. And it’s a nice, smooth, straight, wide road with several lanes. Unfortunately, the road to success is a winding mountain road with lots of steep inclines, sharp turns and potholes. It’s narrow, it’s rough, it’s not well marked and if you don’t maintain your focus, it’s easy to go over the edge.

Every F&I development company tracks results. In my experience, the key to improving F&I performance at any dealership is also to track effort. For a training program to be truly effective, training has to be an ongoing process, not a one-time event. That means creating, implementing, maintaining and monitoring an ongoing F&I training program is absolutely essential to improving your dealers’ F&I performance and profits.

As a training company, we constantly evaluate dealers’ F&I people, their knowledge, their skills and their processes to identify opportunities to improve performance and provide the resources and training they need to improve. Unfortunately, in far too many dealerships, once that F&I person returns from their initial training class, there are no organized ongoing training activities. The F&I manager is left to twist in the wind, with the dealer and the agent both hoping they will get better on their own.

A major reason many F&I people fail to achieve their full potential is because inaction and re-action is almost always easier than action and being pro-active. What keeps most people from becoming truly successful is that inner voice that is constantly asking, “Why should I bother?” That inner voice has a thousand reasons why something won’t work, they can’t do it and they don’t have the time to do it.

Unfortunately, whenever someone stops learning, exercising or practicing, over time their skills and performance begin to regress. For the long-term, it is simply not possible for an F&I manager to maintain their current level of performance. Unless they are continuously improving their skills, their performance will begin to go downhill. A professional strives to continually find ways to grow in their work, otherwise any job eventually becomes boring, routine and a waste of time.

I don’t know any dealer, agent or F&I manager who doesn’t want to make more money. Most are very receptive to any “tips” you can give them that will help them to sell more products, because every F&I manager wants that magic bullet to overcome any objection and close every sale. The problem with an ongoing training program is it actually requires work on their part. Unfortunately, success is never easy.

Many people spend their whole life on the road to mediocrity because they prefer to be comfortable. It’s up to you to make your F&I managers uncomfortable. How? First, you have to instill the expectation of continuous improvement. You can’t expect F&I performance to improve without implementing a process to make it happen! You must establish performance goals and expectations, with specific training assignments, role-play exercises, evaluation criteria and mile-markers indicating their progress.

Ongoing training has to be like brushing your teeth; something F&I managers are expected to do every day. What are your F&I managers doing today to improve their skills for tomorrow? Whenever an F&I manager reaches a new level of performance, that should automatically become the new norm. It doesn’t matter what they did last month, that isn’t good enough this month.

Second, ongoing training must be part of every F&I manager’s job description and compensation plan. We all know your pay plan is your job description. If you want an F&I manager to be concerned about Income Per Retail Unit, you base part of their compensation on $PRU. If you want them to focus on Products Per Retail Unit or customer satisfaction, you base part of their compensation on PPRU and CSI. And if you want them to do their training assignments, you must make training part of their compensation plan. There have to be consequences, either positive or negative, of doing or not doing training.

Third, to ensure your manager’s skills continue to improve, creating a monthly training calendar with a weekly training assignment is a great way to ensure they continue to improve their skills. If you want someone to practice, you have to give them something to practice. It’s important, however, that you don’t start something you can’t or won’t continue.

So start small, with one training assignment a week, which should require no more than fifteen to twenty minutes for them to complete. Some typical training assignments might be:

  • List two parts covered by your service agreement, what the part is, what it does, what happens when it fails, where it is on the vehicle, and how much it costs to fix;
  • List five open-ended needs discovery questions for GAP; and
  • List three common objections for tire & wheel road hazard protection and write out a customer-focused response.

It’s critical you actually review their training assignments and provide them with feedback, as well as track whether or not they have been completed. If you want performance to improve, you have to track effort, not just results.

Finally, video recording and reviewing actual F&I presentations is a great training tool, because it allows you to see what’s really happening behind closed doors. We find this is one of the greatest training aides we have. As an agent, it’s also a great way to bring additional value to your dealers, because they know someone is actually monitoring what’s happening in the F&I office.

Videos of every F&I manager’s presentation can easily be accessed and viewed by authorized users via the Internet for training, customer satisfaction and compliance purposes. You also need to conduct regular testing of every manager’s consultative selling skills.

Avoiding the road to mediocrity requires implementing an ongoing F&I training program in every dealership. Ongoing training will prevent your F&I managers from becoming complacent, and ensures they continue to improve their consultative skills. Continuous improvement should be expected; complacency is unacceptable. Here’s where you are, here’s where we need to be and here’s how we’re going to get there! While the road to mediocrity may be easier, the road to success is a lot more profitable.

Posted in F&I, Training Articles0 Comments

Asking the Tough Questions

Asking the Tough Questions

In many dealerships, the F&I process is based on what worked 10 or 15 years ago. It’s not an enjoyable experience for the customer, nor is it perceived by them as helpful, educational, informational or necessary.

As independent agents, you have the opportunity to help. I’d like to lay out nine things we as an industry need to do to ensure the F&I process is viewed by every customer as a valuable part of the purchase experience. Read through them and determine for yourself whether your dealer clients are meeting the standards of today’s F&I office.

1. Start With ‘Why?’
Simon Sinek, a professor at Columbia University, found that all the great, inspiring, and successful companies think, act, and communicate who they are and what they do “from the inside out.” By that, he means, you must determine your purpose, your cause, your belief, your reason for being.

That’s what I believe we all have to do with regard to the F&I department and F&I products. Profit cannot be the primary reason why dealers have an F&I department, or why they sell F&I products. Profit is merely the result of having a professional help customers make good decisions with regard to the options available in connection with their purchase. We have to continually reinforce the idea that we offer F&I products because they help customers and provide real value, not just because they make us money.

2. Establish Parameters for the Desk

Today, the desk should help educate customers, not attempt to outsmart them. If the desk is allowed to quote payments, the dealer must establish parameters, including using an average interest rate prior to obtaining a credit bureau report, and predetermined rate from rate grid after obtaining a credit bureau report. The customer’s actual interest rate is not determined until the financing has been approved by a lender.

We have to increase, not reduce, the F&I department’s value to customers, to lenders, and to the dealership. At the very least, the F&I manager must be the person who communicates lender terms, APR and exact payment to the customer!

3. F&I Must Be Involved in Arranging the Financing

The customer needs to see that the F&I manager is helping to arrange their financing. The F&I manager should be the customer’s advocate with the lender. He or she should personally review the credit application and credit bureau report with the customer prior to submission to a lender.

The customer has to perceive the F&I manager as helping them obtain favorable financing terms, not just someone who is trying to sell them something. If the F&I manager is not seen by the customer as an advocate, then their time in the finance office lends no value to their purchase experience; it’s just added aggravation.

4. F&I Has to Expedite The Delivery Process, Not Extend It

F&I managers should meet the customer in the salesperson’s office and then bring them back to the F&I office as soon as possible. We have to stop forcing customers to answer a series of questions on the showroom floor designed to benefit us, not them, and then make them wait while an F&I manager tries to create the perfect menu.

F&I managers have be capable of asking needs-discovery questions while they prepare the customer’s paperwork. The F&I process must be totally transparent. The customer needs to see the F&I manager preparing their paperwork and doing everything possible to help them take delivery of their new vehicle as quickly as possible.

5. F&I Has to Be Easy to Do Business With

It ought to be fun to buy a car. F&I managers should have fun with customers, and treat customers the way they would want their mother treated. We have to change the emphasis from selling products to helping customers. F&I managers have to stop making product presentations and have conversations instead. We need to help each customer based on their agenda rather than the dealership’s agenda. We also have to be capable of selling customers the way they want to buy, whether that’s online, on the phone or in their home.

6. Prevent Menu Madness

Attempting to create the perfect menu with the right products and packages before even presenting it to the customer is a waste of time. The customer needs to actually see the F&I manager at work. It’s better to customize the menu when they’re sitting across the desk than making them wait in the salesperson’s office. It’s not the time they spend in the F&I office that drives customers crazy. It’s the time they spend waiting to get in the F&I office!

7. Turn the Internet Into an Ally, Not an Adversary

Just like customers, F&I managers have to do their research. They have to know what consumer reports and other websites are saying about service contracts, GAP and environmental protection. Keeping links to websites with favorable information on our products adds third-party credibility. Access to favorable information can help offset and negative information they may have found elsewhere.

Some great sites you might want to put shortcuts to on your F&I manager’s computer desktop include Edmunds.com, MyFICO.com, NICB.org , EPA.gov, CCIAonline.com, ConsumerAutomotiveResearch.com, Motortrend.com, KBB.com and JDPower.com

8. Make the Invisible Visible

An F&I professional should use visual aids to help customers “see” the need for F&I products and keep them engaged in the process. A simple hand drawing makes it easy for a customer to see the need for GAP, tire & wheel, or a service contract. So rather than telling the customer when they’re going to be out of factory warranty, we have to let them see when they’re going to be out of warranty.

The best F&I managers have learned to stop lecturing customers on the value of F&I products and start asking the questions that allow them to discover it for themselves. “Let me ask you a question” is more likely to keep the customer engaged than “Let me show you something.”

9. Implement an F&I Wellness Program

For F&I to remain a viable department, you have to implement an ongoing F&I training program. Training has to be a process, not an event. You can’t send someone through a three-day class and then leave them twisting in the wind. Track each manager’s training activity. If you want performance to improve, you can’t just track results. You have to track effort!

Pay plans are another key factor. If you expect an F&I manager to embrace an ongoing training program, it has to be part of their compensation. F&I managers don’t get better because you tell them to, they get better because you put in place a process to ensure it happens.

As an independent agent, staying competitive requires staying hungry, embracing change, and bringing value to your business relationships. Your agency must be perceived by your dealers as their F&I partner with the expertise and commitment necessary to help them maximize F&I income. For the F&I department to not just survive, but thrive, we need to remember the fundamental purpose of every successful business — and department — is to help customers.

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10 More Ways To Help Your Dealers Sell More Products!

10 More Ways To Help Your Dealers Sell More Products!

“He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” – Benjamin Franklin

There are three types of F&I managers: those who make good, those who make trouble, and those who make excuses. When asked, most F&I managers can provide you with a laundry list of excuses why they’re not doing better. In reality, excuses are the tools of the lazy that are used to build a monument to mediocrity.

For many F&I managers, a good excuse is actually better than good performance. Because no matter how great their performance is this month, it leaves them having to prove themselves again next month, and the month after that. Whereas, one good excuse can last for years.

In a previous article, we discussed 13.3 Ways To Help Your Dealers Sell More Products. Here are 10 more ways you can help your dealers and F&I managers turn obstacles and excuses into more product sales.

1. Don’t Buy In
As an agent, you hear lots of excuses. You have to listen. You need to show empathy. But you can’t buy in. Any agent who accepts an F&I manager’s excuses is investing in, and guaranteeing, poor performance. Top performers don’t make excuses, they make it happen. The fact is, performance only improves when the pressure to get it done exceeds the pain of actually doing it. As an independent agent, your focus must be on removing obstacles and eliminating excuses for your F&I managers. Your agency must be perceived by your dealers as having the resources, expertise, and commitment necessary to help them improvise, adapt, and overcome those countless excuses and endless obstacles in order to maximize F&I income, month in and month out.

2. Remember, Happiness Is A Good Deal
Utilize odd prices for every F&I product… $2,832 for that service contract, not $2,795. Odd prices add credibility and legitimacy to F&I product pricing, and reduce the customer’s perception that they need to negotiate the price of those products. Help your F&I managers establish a set price for each product, and then encourage them to stick to it. Any reduction in price must always require reciprocity- a reduction in coverage. The first time they ask a customer “If I could, would you…” their credibility goes in the toilet. They might as well go to work at the carnival. The same holds true for interest rates. Whenever possible, use odd interest rates– 5.41%, not 5.25%. Everyone needs to feel like they got a good deal!

3. What’s Old Is New
Obtain an old Owner’s Manual from the late 80’s or early 90’s for the brand of vehicle the dealership sells, and have the F&I manager keep it on the customer’s side of the desk. Chances are they have a box of old Owner’s Manuals in their storeroom, or get one on eBay for $10-$15. If it’s a Ford dealer, get one from a Ford Galaxie or an F150. If it’s a Nissan dealer, get one from a Datsun B210. Back then, the entire manual was maybe 3/8” of an inch thick. Today, with the radio and navigation system, they’re 4 inches thick, and printed on tissue paper. Keeping one on the F&I desk is a great way to engage the customer, and clearly illustrates in a very tangible way how much more technology there is in today’s vehicles, and why a vehicle service contract is more important than ever.

4. Reorganize Their Desk
In many dealerships today, there is a trend toward having the sales desk assume a number of the duties that historically have been the responsibility of the F&I department. Taking credit applications, pulling credit bureaus, submitting deals to lenders, and quoting payments and interest rates are often done before the F&I department is even involved in the sale. Every dealership, and every department in that dealership, needs a check and balance system.

It is absolutely essential that an F&I manager interview the customer prior to submitting the deal to a lender. He or she has to confirm the information is correct, as well as learn the details and circumstances surrounding any adverse information, to provide a paper buyer with sufficient reasons to justify an approval. Properly used in the customer interview, the credit application and credit bureau report can significantly increase the chance of obtaining an approval. More importantly, it provides the foundation for a needs-based product presentation in the F&I office.

5. Get Real!
Recording and reviewing actual F&I presentations is one of the best ways to see what’s really happening behind closed doors. Want to see an immediate improvement in F&I performance, profits and product sales at one of your dealerships? Start recording actual F&I transactions.

The camera doesn’t lie. How many needs discovery questions did the F&I manager ask? How many visual aids did she use? Did he use the information he learned about the customer as the reason they needed the product? Did she engage the customer in the process? How many times did he ask the customer to buy before giving up? If you want performance to improve, you have to hold your F&I managers accountable to following a proven process, and then use actual game film to help them improve their skills.

6. Discover, Recognize And Share!
Every F&I manager at every one of your dealerships has come up with a better way to do something. Whether it’s a visual aid, a way to engage the customer, or a new response to a problematic objection, the best ideas come from the people in the trenches. You have to discover, recognize and share those creative solutions to problems, with all your other F&I managers.

Successful agents are continuously on the lookout for new ideas, processes, and sales techniques. They also recognize the efforts of their F&I managers, and make them feel important. Whether it’s a simple weekly email, a monthly or quarterly newsletter, or $100 for the “Best Idea of the Month,” you have to continuously seek to discover new ideas and processes, recognize and reward those individuals who have come up with better ways to do something, and then share it with your other dealers.

7. Become Indispensable
I can always tell when an agent is indispensable. People are constantly wanting their input and expertise, because their primary goal in every interaction is to help the other person, not just themselves. As an agent, the more people you’re able to help on a daily basis, the more indispensable you become!

Obviously, you increase your value when you help your dealers make more money. But you become indispensable when you are perceived as a true partner in their success, not just a product provider. You have to become your dealers’ “go to” guy. One way to do that is to always get a prompt answer to their question, provide them with accurate information, and do the research they don’t have time to do. You become indispensable when you help your dealers find the right product provider, the right personnel, the best training, and help protect them by being AFIP Certified so you’re familiar with the laws and regulations their people have to comply with on a daily basis.

8. Practice Reality F&I
Not only do you need to ensure your managers set goals each month, you need to get them to show you how they’re going to achieve that goal. It’s easy to set a goal of $1200 per retail unit, but it’s virtually impossible to get there when you’re only averaging $500 profit per service contract and 25 percent penetration. You can’t possibly reach $1200PRU when you’re only averaging $125PRU in service contract income. It’s amazing how many F&I managers don’t establish written goals each month. And those that do set goals have no game plan of how they’re going to achieve their goals each month. As an agent, you have to help your F&I managers set realistic goals, help them see what it will take to achieve them, and monitor their performance vs. their objective.

9. If You Build It, They Will Come
Whether you call it “MultiShield,” “Titanium Protection,” or the “Pot Metal Plan,” grouping individual F&I products into a package, and then offering a discounted package price, increases the sale of all F&I products. There is nothing illegal, immoral or deceptive about incentivizing customers to buy multiple products. Package pricing makes it easier for a customer to decide on a group of products as opposed to evaluating each product separately. Too many choices, requires too many decisions, which results in too many “No’s.” You can’t possibly sell one customer seven products, but a customer can buy seven products, if they’re grouped properly, and you give them an incentive to buy a package.

10. Let’s Party!
As an agent, you have to continuously motivate F&I managers to sell your products. On a regular basis, you should have a contest, bring in a guest speaker, or have an annual golf outing for your F&I people. You need to build a team of F&I professionals who feel part of something bigger than themselves. If you create loyalty to you and your agency, those F&I managers will strive to sell more of your products. At least once a year, have an event that gets your F&I people out of the dealership to build camaraderie, allows them to interact with their peers, and recognizes them for their hard work. A guest speaker in the morning, followed by a golf outing in the afternoon, is a great way to combine business with pleasure. Or have a contest where the winner gets an all-expense paid trip for two to the F&I Conference in Las Vegas. They’ll have a good time, get some great training, and sell more of your products!

As an agent, you can’t buy-in to your F&I managers’ excuses. You have to help them get real, become indispensable to your dealers, and train and equip your F&I people for success. And more importantly, you have to continuously motivate them to succeed. Only by helping your dealers and F&I managers sell more products, will your agency sell more products.

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“What Business Are You In?”

“What Business Are You In?”

“You are not paid to work hard. In fact, you are not paid for effort at all. You are paid for results. It’s not what you do; it’s what you get done.” – Larry Winget

As a successful agent entrepreneur, you can never forget what your dealers are paying you for. They’re not paying you for supplying them with the latest and greatest F&I products. Your products really aren’t all that different from your competitors, and there are dozens of other providers out there with similar products that are priced less than yours.

The dealers are not paying you for your time. They don’t care how many hours it took you to drive to their dealership, how long you spent training their F&I people last month, or how many hours you spent preparing this month’s arts & charts highlighting their dealership’s F&I performance. They’re not paying you for your years of experience, your vast knowledge, your engaging personality, or your positive attitude. They’re paying you for one thing… results!

To be a successful general agent, you had better be in the results business because that’s what every one of your dealers, and potential dealers, expects. Most dealers aren’t really all that concerned with who provides their F&I training, the specific F&I sales process used in the F&I office, the menu software being used, or the F&I products being offered. What dealers are concerned about, and what ensures they remain a long-term client of your agency, is just one thing- are you helping them achieve the results they want?

The key to any long-term business relationship is to identify the results the dealer expects you to help him or her achieve, and their relative priority with that dealer. What results are the dealer looking for? What is his or her primary objective? What is Job 1, Job 2, Job 3, etc.? Is it all about the money, or is improving their customer satisfaction rating and reducing chargebacks what they want to achieve?

When it comes to their F&I department, every dealer has different areas that are their hot button. What they want and need is for someone to help them improve or excel in those areas. For one dealer, it might be improving their CSI, because it’s a qualifier for many of today’s manufacturer’s incentive programs. (And they missed out on the last one by two tenths of one percent, which cost them thousands of dollars!) Or it might be being number one in their 20 Group in $PRU, or at least beating their buddy down the street.

To another dealer, it might be compliance, because they’ve had a compliance issue, or someone filed a complaint with the AG’s office. The fact that you can help his F&I managers become AFIP Certified, not only increases your value to that dealer, it helps him achieve the desired results… a compliant F&I process with F&I managers who know the laws and regulations they have to comply with on a daily basis.

Other areas a dealer may need your help with is incomplete/incorrect paperwork in the F&I office, reducing contracts in transit, achieving consistent F&I performance, and finding or retaining good F&I managers. They may need help improving their F&I accountability and reporting, reducing chargebacks, improving lender relations or implementing a more effective compensation program.

A thorough understanding of each dealer’s expectations is the foundation on which you will build your relationship with that dealer, and must always be used as the starting point for a discussion concerning any facet of the dealer’s F&I products and processes.

Like any good salesperson, top agents with long-term clients have mastered the ability of interest questioning to discover their dealers’ motives, priorities and objectives. When talking with any dealer, whether it’s the 1st time or the 101st time, it’s critical you show genuine interest in that dealer’s business, and engage him or her in a dialogue, not merely pitch them on your product or service.

When you demonstrate genuine interest in improving the dealer’s business and helping them achieve their goals and objectives, they become genuinely interested in learning more about your products and services. The most important practice to follow while interest questioning, is to listen.

When discussing any F&I product or service you want to provide a new or existing dealer, your questions should always be based upon gaining a clear understanding of the following: As Is; Should Be; Barriers; and Results.

As Is – Determine the current situation; i.e. existing vendor relationships, program structures, penetrations, production volumes, products per retail, dollars per retail, individual product sales volumes, F&I processes, manager accountability, menu software used, customer satisfaction levels, F&I personnel, initial training, ongoing training, etc.

Should Be – Determine the desired situation; i.e. the dealer’s vision, expectations, long-term and short-term goals, what is the “perfect picture,” how it should look; what should be happening, if he or she could make any changes in F&I, what would it look like in a perfect world (i.e., the ability to retire in ten years).

Barriers – Identify the obstacles preventing the desired (Should Be) situation from happening; i.e. regulations, relationships, personnel, insufficient or ineffective training, no accountability, another decision maker, indifference, complacency, the wrong products, or lender issues.

Results – This is where you demonstrate and paint a picture of the rewards and benefits the dealer will receive by achieving the desired (Should Be) situation; i.e. increased $PRU, no worries about talking to lawyers, happy customers and employees, the ability to buyout his partner, becoming the top dealer in his 20 Group, a reinsurance company providing that retirement nest egg, additional back-end profits, etc.

As you attempt to discern a potential or existing dealer’s As Is, Should Be, and Barriers, three categories of needs-discovery questions that you will want to ask include:

General Questions – Often closed-ended, these questions enable you to get basic dealership information and history; who works where, what products are being sold, who reports to who, etc.

Elaborative Questions – Usually open-ended, these questions require the dealer to elaborate on a general probe question or to explain his reasoning, philosophy, procedures, vision, and are typically who, what, when, where, how and why questions.

Quantifying Questions – Usually closed-ended, these questions enable you to obtain current $PRU, PPRU objectives, goals, production numbers, sales volumes and penetrations. (For 90+ examples of General, Elaborative, and Quantifying Questions, please contact Ron at email hidden; JavaScript is required)

If you want to be in the results business, you have to first have a thorough understanding of that dealer’s As Is, and determine where he or she feels their F&I department Should Be. Once you determine the obstacles preventing the desired Should Be from happening, you can help remove the Barriers, and implement a solution that gets Results. Because if you want that dealer selling your products tomorrow, you had better be in the results business today!

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