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Closing Requires Prospecting!

Closing Requires Prospecting!

Closing new business requires that you do your homework before ever setting foot in a prospective account. It requires that you be capable of clearly and concisely communicating the numerous benefits of doing business with your agency to every prospective dealer. How will doing business with you… help them?

It also requires that you organize your time and have a game plan. But as every successful agent knows, the main requirement for closing new business… is that you call on new accounts!

One of the most important aspects of closing new business is the development of qualified leads. Prospecting is necessary to build your list of prospects and to fill your pipeline with potential business. Prospecting can take several forms, but the two most effective are referrals and telephone prospecting. As an agent, there are numerous sources you can approach for a referral, including:

Current Dealers:

This source of prospects is by all means the most effective. Obviously, the only way a dealer will take his time and place his reputation on the line for you and your agency is if you have proven your ability to increase income within his or her dealership. You have to make sure your agency is seen as partner in the success of their F&I department.

Every current dealer is also a prospect for other products your agency offers. You need to be prepared to cross sell your other products in these accounts every time you’re in the dealership.

Current Relationships:

Most agents have numerous companies and product providers they work with, as well as other agents they know through those companies. Menu software companies, DMS and product providers regularly get inquiries regarding F&I products that could mean a referral to your agency.

They also have relationships with individual dealers that are part of a larger dealer group, as well as clients that are signed up but that are not actively selling their product. Helping them improve their performance with one product creates an opportunity to talk with them about your other products, and how your agency is different from their existing product provider.

Dealer Associations:

Dealer associations and 20 Groups can be an excellent source of referrals. Most dealers belong to their state or local dealer association or an NADA 20 group that meets regularly to discuss ways to improve their dealership’s performance and profits. Being active in your state and local dealer associations, and attending their meetings, is a tremendous opportunity for you to meet dealers in a market area.

A simple introduction by one of your dealers to another dealer at one of their meetings will often turn into a conversation that results in an invitation to come by the dealership and discuss what your agency has to offer.

F&I Managers:

F&I managers frequently leave one dealership and move to another dealership. Often, based upon your relationship with the F&I manager, he or she will gladly refer you into their new dealership. This is especially true if the F&I manager was formerly at a dealership that sold your products, you helped them obtain their position, or they were initially trained by one of your product providers.

Your F&I managers are also a good source of information about other dealerships whose F&I departments may be struggling, or dealerships that may be considering making a change.

Other dealer’s F&I managers will also occasionally refer you into their dealership if they are dissatisfied with their current carrier. Always use caution when, talking to F&I managers at dealerships that are not currently clients, as often the reason for the F&I manager’s dissatisfaction with their current carrier/management company is because of their own poor performance!

F&I managers are best utilized as a source of leads, NOT as a source of referrals!

Sales & Service Managers:

Sales managers and service managers at your existing accounts can also be a good source of referrals, especially when you have developed a good rapport with them. Any person working in the auto industry knows someone else in the industry. Networking with these people is essential to develop new leads and grow your prospect base.

Credit Unions, Local Lenders And Banks:

Local lending institutions that dealers use as finance sources can be a fair source of referrals, but only if they know you! Visit the local office and meet the branch manager, their paper buyers, the people that handle collections, as well as their field representatives.

Make sure that they know they can contact you personally if there is an issue with one of your products. Check with them on a regular basis to answer questions or assist in resolving any claim problems. Often, claim/refund/cancellation problems with other carriers may even prompt them to refer you into an account.

Telephone Prospecting

Properly used, the telephone can be an effective prospecting tool, both in terms of cost and time. Without a referral into the dealership, it enables you to gather enough information about the dealership to allow you to make a creditable contact.

Always speak to the receptionist first. The receptionist can give you the name and address of the dealership and the name of the manager you want to talk to.

Next, speak to the F&I manager, sales manager, general manager, or office manager – anyone except the dealer! At this point, you are merely attempting to gather information, so there is a reason for you to talk to the dealer. Some of the information you want to find out before you attempt to meet with the dealer includes:

  • The dealer or dealers’ name and title
  • Name and number of F&I managers / time at dealership / previous F&I training
  • Names of other managers at dealership / time at dealership
  • Current franchises and volumes, and how that compares to last year
  • Years in business and other dealerships and locations (if any)
  • Current F&I product providers / menu software provider / time with each
  • Does the dealer have his own re-insurance company?

Once you have gathered enough information about the account and you feel adequately informed about the dealership and its operations, then and only then, are you ready to call on the dealer! It’s critical you know how you can help that dealer, so you have a reason to see him, before you ever walk in the door!

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The Real Value of Ongoing Training

The Real Value of Ongoing Training

For any training program to truly be effective, it has to be an ongoing process and not a one-time event. Implementing and maintaining an ongoing F&I training program is the key to improving F&I performance and profits at your dealerships.

Building and maintaining an F&I department is like building and maintaining a house: A good design, the use of quality materials and outstanding craftsmanship translates into few problems, minor repairs and a great house! A bad design, cheap materials and poor construction means lots of problems, endless repairs and a lousy house.

In the F&I office, a thoroughly trained F&I professional who takes pride in his craft can deliver amazing results. On the other hand, someone with little or no training, poor processes and no ongoing training virtually guarantees you will have constant headaches, hassles … and lousy performance.

Just like it’s important to pick the right builder, every agent (and every dealer!) tries to pick the right products and the right training. As an agent entrepreneur, you need to evaluate the business philosophy of your training company, its reputation and the number of years it has been in business. How is your training company different from the rest? Is the focus on helping customers or making money? Can you take a virtual tour of the training? Check references and don’t just call your buddies. Call NADA, call AFIP and call some current clients. There is no “free” anything, and that includes F&I training.

When it comes to training, it’s important that you understand the F&I sales process that is being taught. Is it needs based or presentation based? Are they teaching menu selling or step selling? Is it real world or word tracks? Is the focus on helping customers or selling stuff? Is the training designed to meet your needs or their needs? Where is the class conducted? How often?

Whether you’re trying to build a house or an F&I department, changes are easy before you start pouring the concrete! As an agent, if possible, you need to attend the training so you know exactly what is being taught, and can reinforce the training once your F&I managers return from the class.

Is the F&I sales process how you would want your mother treated? I firmly believe if you’re not treating customers the way you’d want your mother treated, you’re doing something terribly wrong. It’s also important to know who is teaching the class. What is the instructor’s experience and background? We’ve all been to a training class where the person teaching the class has never done it and couldn’t do it if his life depended on it, but he’s going to teach you how to do it. Those trainers have zero credibility with an F&I professional.

Pour a Strong Foundation

Just as a good house starts with a good foundation, any ongoing training must be built on a strong foundation. For an ongoing training program to be successful, every F&I manager first must attend the initial training. You can’t build a house with blueprints for a different foundation, and you can’t build your ongoing training program on someone else’s sales process. Everybody has to work off the same set of plans. So pick a process you believe in and require that everybody follow it.

Even the best carpenter still has to anchor the walls to the foundation. Your ongoing training program must be anchored to a strong foundation. Whether you’re building a house or F&I performance, mistakes and change orders get expensive, so it’s critical everybody follows the blueprints and the same F&I process. For example, every customer sees the factory warranty drawing, a menu and at least two visual aids.

Let’s Build Something Great!

Once the F&I manager has attended the initial training class, it’s time to implement your ongoing training program. This is a critical period, whether you’re building a house or an F&I professional. The stud walls may be up, but the slightest wind will knock them over!

The first few days an F&I manager is back in the dealership will determine whether he builds confidence in his new F&I presentation and the non-confrontational sales process he learned in class. Either he will continue to improve his ability to consultatively sell his products, or he will revert to his former, more comfortable presentation the first time a customer refuses to buy anything.

This is also the time when an agent must demonstrate to everyone in the dealership that when it comes to F&I, it’s no longer business as usual. Ongoing training must be part of every F&I manager’s job description and compensation plan! What is the process once an F&I manager gets back from class?

This is when you must establish performance goals and expectations, with specific training assignments, role-play exercises, evaluation criteria and progress mile-markers. Training has to be like brushing your teeth: it’s something you do every day. In life, and in business, you’re either growing or dying. There is no in between. What are you doing today to improve your skills for tomorrow? You can’t expect F&I performance to improve without implementing a process to make it happen!

Ongoing training is what will enable F&I performance and income to soar to new heights at your dealerships, by keeping F&I managers firmly anchored to the fundamentals. One thing that will ensure that your manager’s skills continue to improve is if you create a monthly training calendar with daily training assignments. Training must become part of every manager’s daily routine. Not doing ongoing training is simply not an option! It’s critical, however, you don’t start something you can’t or won’t continue.

Using an online training program eliminates F&I manager excuses, it’s easy to monitor and you don’t have to create it. One-on-one training in the dealership and role-playing with your managers will allow you to determine they are using the techniques they learned in class. The reality is, everybody loves a shortcut, and pretty soon, F&I managers all find dozens of them.

Video recording and reviewing actual presentations allows you to see what’s really happening behind closed doors. You also need to conduct regular testing of every manager’s consultative selling skills. If you want performance to improve, you have to hold your F&I managers accountable, and track effort, not just results.

You may also want to begin talking with your dealers about getting their experienced managers into an advanced class. If it’s been more than three years since their manager has been through a training class, they need to go again. Chances are, they’ve added several new F&I products that they’re still trying to sell the same old way.

You Want Brick Walls or Vinyl Siding?

Whether you’re building a house or building a training program, you get what you pay for! There is no such thing as free training, no matter who is providing it! Any ongoing training program you implement needs to be S.M.A.R.T.E.R.

Specific – You have to provide specific daily training assignments.
Measurable – You need to track training activity, not just F&I performance.
Affordable – The great thing about F&I training, it’s very easy to measure your ROI.
Real world – It’s not about what worked yesterday, it’s about what works today.
Tenable – Realistically, can you sustain your ongoing training program month after month, year after year?
Embraced – Will it be viewed as something to improve skills, or punishment?
Rewarding – It always comes down to, what’s in it for me? There has to be consequences, either positive or negative, of doing/not doing the training.

Implementing an ongoing F&I training program prevents F&I managers from becoming complacent and ensures they continue to improve their consultative skills. If they don’t want to follow your ongoing training program, then what are they going to do to improve their skills? Doing nothing is not an option. An ongoing training program will ensure you have a proven process you can use to get new managers up to speed and productive immediately. More importantly, it will result in consistent process-driven results, so the bottom doesn’t fall out when you lose a top producer.

What Is the Real Value of Ongoing Training?

Implementing an ongoing training program that builds on your managers’ initial training will increase their product sales, F&I income and your income! When ongoing training is something that is both expected and tracked, F&I now becomes a career, not a job. Ongoing training also reduces turnover, and ensures no manager is irreplaceable. As we tell dealers all the time, if you think training F&I managers and having them leave is expensive, try not training them and having them stay!

The real value of implementing an ongoing training program in your dealerships is that it instills the expectation of continuous improvement. Performance doesn’t improve because you or the dealer demands it. Performance improves when you implement a process to ensure it happens. With an ongoing training program, goals now become achievable. Complacency is simply not acceptable. Continuous improvement is expected: “Here’s where you are, here’s where we need to be and here’s how we’re going to get there!”

With ongoing training, your dealers will see consistent results, constant improvement and everybody will make more money. More importantly, a SMARTER ongoing F&I training program brings real value to doing business with your agency, and demonstrates your commitment to your dealers. That commitment always gets noticed, continuously creating new business opportunities for you!

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13.3 Ways To Help Your Dealers Sell More Products

13.3 Ways To Help Your Dealers Sell More Products

The focus of every independent agent must be on helping their dealers improve overall F&I performance and profits, not just on getting that dealership to sell more of their products. Your agency must be perceived by your dealers as their F&I partner with the resources, expertise and commitment necessary to help them maximize F&I income.

As their F&I partner, the (#1) thing every agent must do to help their dealers build F&I product sales and profits is to back up the truck and pour some concrete. Just as a house requires astrongfoundation, every successful F&I department is built on a solid foundation. That requires a blueprint; written policies and procedures with regard to F&I and written job descriptions for both sales department and F&I department personnel. That foundation should also include the understanding that the F&I department, not the desk, is responsible to submit the deals to the lenders.

You also have to (#2) change the message. The message must be that the F&I department is there to be of service to the customer, and help them make informed decisions with regard to the options available in connection with their purchase. It is not there to sell customers products they don’t need, nor is it just a way for the dealership to make money on unsuspecting customers. The F&I department must be perceived by everyone in the dealership as there to help customers, not there to sell them products they don’t want and don’t think they need.

F&I managers must understand that (#3) speed makes you money; how fast do they want to go? Every minute an F&I manager makes the customer wait before allowing them to sit before the F&I god, customer satisfaction goes down and their ability to sell products goes down. F&I managers have to be capable of multi-tasking, and continuously discovering the customer’s needs as they begin preparing the customer’s documents. It speeds up the process, and now the customer interview is perceived as a conversation, not an interrogation.

As an agent, you need to help your F&I managers (#4) make the invisible … visible! That means teaching F&I managers how to use visual aids, such as a simple hand drawing, a component part or a nail to engage the customer and help them see the need for GAP, a VSA or tire & wheel road hazard protection. A simple hand drawing that engages the customer and allows them to self-discover the value of a product is much more effective than any brochure or computer infomercial.

You also have to (#5) give ’em some new tools. Every F&I manager should have a list of 30 questions they ask every customer that will help them discover the customer’s needs. Your F&I manager should have five needs-discovery questions they ask the customer on the showroom floor, on the purchase agreement, the credit application, the credit bureau, on the odometer statements and on the agreement to provide insurance. Your F&I managers must be trained to use a customer acknowledgement or “waiver” to create customer interest in knowing more about a product, and open the door after the customer has said “No.”

Most F&I managers also have to be constantly reminded that (#6) objections are a good thing! Objections are an opportunity to learn more about the customer’s wants, needs and concerns. Identify the objections your managers continue to struggle with, and then have them write out their response. One of the most important things you can do is role play how to overcome problematic objections with your managers every time you’re in the dealership, and record their response. Then play it back, and let them hear how they really sound. It’s often eye-opening, for them and you!

So, (#7) does anybody want to see a menu? It’s critical that you make sure your managers are menu selling, not just using a menu. It’s amazing how many managers still step-sell their products the same way we did 30 years ago, only now they use a menu to do it. You have to get your F&I managers to stop wasting their time (and the customer’s time!) customizing menus before they even get the customer. And they have to ask the customer to buy a package, as opposed to simply step-selling each product individually.

Okay, so let’s (#8) feed ’em some peanuts! F&I managers have to be capable of making the customer thirsty; in other words, making the customer to want to know what they know. After all, that’s what selling is, making the customer want what you have. And what an F&I professional has is the knowledge and expertise to help the customer make a better decision. When the customer says they don’t want or need a product, F&I managers have to make a statement that piques the customer’s curiosity, and makes them thirsty to know what they know. Now they’re responding to a customer’s request for information versus making a sales pitch.

Unfortunately, (#9) you don’t want to dance with me, do you? You have to teach your managers how to close! Closing is nothing more than asking a customer for a commitment. Too many F&I managers are afraid to ask the customer for a commitment, and when they do, they make it too easy for them to say no. Teach your F&I managers that whenever they respond to an objection and get a positive response, they’ve earned the right to ask a closing question. And they should always ask a closing question that will get a positive response.

As an agent, you have to (#10) become valuable to the dealer, the sales manager, the salespeople, the service manager and the F&I manager. Demand that your F&I managers set goals every month, and then require that they demonstrate how they are going to achieve them. Test them each month on their consultative skills; the number of open-ended questions they are asking to discover the customer’s needs, and the number of benefits they’re able to relate. Sit in and critique an actual deal, so you know what is really happening in that office with real customers. Teach them a new visual aid or new close, share an article, idea or sales tip every time you’re in the dealership.

Of course, (#11) you just gotta believe! As their F&I product provider, it’s imperative that you demonstrate your belief in your products daily, and expect your F&I managers to do the same. Too many F&I managers denigrate their own products or brag about how they “crushed” some customer and made $4,000 on them. Now the perception of every salesperson at the dealership is that F&I exists to rip people off, not help them make informed decisions about the options available in connection with their purchase. As an agent, you need to bring paid claims to the attention of everyone at the dealership, so they see that these products do pay off.

One of the most important things you can do to help your dealers sell more products is to (#12) instill the expectation of continuous improvement. Training cannot be an event; it has to be an ongoing process. Creating a monthly training calendar with daily training activities will help managers recognize that training is never over for the professional. You can’t expect anyone to achieve their goals without giving them a way to get there. You also must monitor your F&I managers’ training activities, not just their performance. If you want performance to improve, you have to monitor effort, not just results!

Of course, it still comes down to (#13), show me the money! You have to ensure that your dealers implement a performance-based pay plan that rewards (and reinforces) the dealership’s commitment to all F&I products. The F&I manager’s compensation percentage should increase based on either product index (the total of penetration percentages) or the PPRU, their products per retail unit. There should also be a CSI component, $PRU component and a training component!

Keep in mind, there’s always (.3) those three little questions every dealer, every sales manager, every sales person, every service manager and every F&I manager asks themselves about you:

  1. Can I trust you?
  2. Do you know what you are talking about?
  3. Do you really care about me as a person, or are you just trying to sell me something?

How they answer those three questions will ultimately determine how successful you, and your agency, become.

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Separating Your Agency from the Competition

Separating Your Agency from the Competition

“Don’t just think better: Think different!” – Harry Beckwith, Selling the Invisible

The continued growth and success of any agency depends on closing new business. Certainly, every agent entrepreneur must constantly focus on generating additional business through increased productivity and product sales within their existing accounts. However, the acquisition of new accounts through referrals, prospecting and making cold calls is the key to expanding your dealer base and increasing your agency’s bottom line.

Without the continued acquisition of new business, your dealer base and product sales volumes will eventually erode, along with your commissions.

As a professional general agent, there are five qualities and attributes you must develop to separate yourself from the competition, and ensure the continued growth of your agency.

1. Become Valuable To Your Dealers!

The key to success in any endeavor is to become valuable: the more valuable you become, the more money you make. Your ability to get dealers (and F&I managers!) to sell your products, and ultimately increase your income, is tied directly to your value to that dealer, the F&I department, the sales department, the service department, and more importantly, the dealer’s customers!

The question is, how do you become valuable? Certainly, you become valuable if you help that dealer make more money. However, dealers today need their F&I sales process to add value to the customer experience, not aggravation.

As an agent, you can greatly increase your value when you help implement an F&I sales process that also improves customer satisfaction, not just product sales and profits.

You also increase your value when you help protect the dealership by ensuring everyone is familiar with the laws and regulations regarding obtaining and using customer credit information, quoting payments and interest rates.

As an agent, not only must you be familiar with these laws and regulations, you increase your value to your dealers by continually training dealership personnel to protect the dealership from potential litigation.

Valuable agents also look at every situation from the dealer’s point of view. They are involved in helping their dealers find solutions, and they only promise what they can deliver.

Valuable agents use their influence with their product providers to solve problems and meet their clients’ needs, because they understand the privilege of doing business with any dealer must be continuously earned … never assumed.

2. Positive Attitude

Separating yourself from the competition is also dependent on a positive attitude. I have worked with scores of professional agents over the years, and those who think they will close new business, do close new business!

Agents who think they won’t close an account, don’t close the account. It’s never, “We don’t have that dealer’s business,” but rather “we don’t have his business … yet!”

A positive attitude is contagious. Your pride in the companies and products you represent, and the knowledge that your agency really does contribute to the success and profitability of every dealership you work with, must be evident in every interaction with dealership personnel. You have to be viewed as a positive force, not a negative influence, every time you set foot in a dealership. That means you never denigrate other products, or bad-mouth the competition.

A positive attitude in the face of adversity, and the ability to maintain that positive attitude despite repeated rejection, is what will separate you from the competition.

A professional keeps rejection in perspective, and never takes it personally. No matter what you’re selling, no matter how good the product or service, you will probably get more “no’s” than “yes’s”. A positive attitude is often the difference between closing an account and not closing an account. You must have a fervent belief that every dealer will benefit from doing business with you and your agency. If you don’t believe it, there is no way they will!

Enthusiasm sells; enthusiasm for our industry, enthusiasm for the products you offer, enthusiasm about the opportunity to help the dealer improve their performance and profits, and the confidence that you can do it. Your enthusiasm must be obvious and come through in your presentation. To be enthusiastic, you must first act enthusiastic!

3. Product Knowledge

Product knowledge is the foundation on which you build the sale of any product. To separate yourself from the competition, you must know the unique features of your products, your programs, their applications, and more importantly, how they differ from your competition.

Every other agency and product provider has strengths that you will need to overcome, and weaknesses that you can capitalize on to close the sale. To be successful, you must not only know your products and why they are unique, but also what the competition has to offer.

Keep in mind, your agency and the companies your represent also have strengths and weaknesses. Your ability to capitalize on your strengths, and overcome any weakness that your competition has found, is what will enable you to separate yourself from your competition.

Every sale or close is really comprised of a series of steps designed to move a dealer from uncertainty to positive action. A thorough understanding of what you have to offer, and how it will benefit that particular dealer, is the first step on the road to the sale.

4. Communication Skills

Separating yourself from the competition also requires that you become adept in the art of communication. The most important part of communication is listening! Your ability to listen and ask the right questions that uncover a dealer’s needs and hot-buttons is what will build his receptivity and allow you to review the benefits of your products and programs with him.

Selling anything to anybody requires discovering what a prospect is interested in and concerned about, and then talking in terms of his interests and concerns.

Until a dealer feels a need to make a change and wants to do business with you, he will not change from his existing provider(s).

Communication is a two way street. When you’re the one doing all the talking, you’re not communicating, you’re making a sales pitch! A dealer must “want” to hear what you have to say, because he “needs” what you have to sell!

Your willingness to listen must be established early in every conversation. From the outset, your approach must be an exchange of information, ideas and attitudes. The dealer must be urged and encouraged to talk. Unless the dealer is actively involved in the discussion, he is not going to be receptive to hearing what you have to say. Only after a dealer begins to ask questions, begins to express his concerns and reservations, and begins to elaborate on what is being discussed, will he be receptive to hearing what you have to offer.

Separating yourself from the competition requires that you become proficient at asking good questions, and listening! Anytime you interrupt another person’s comments or train of thought, you are conveying to them that you think what you have to say is more important than what they have to say. Asking a dealer open-ended questions and listening will help you avoid “jumping ahead” because you think you know where they are going.

5. Perseverance

As an independent agent entrepreneur, hard work and perseverance is the primary way you can separate yourself from the competition. And realistically, it’s also the only way you can expect to close new business. If you expect to grow your agency, you have to call on new accounts every month, not just the same ones month after month.

Perseverance requires that you continue to ask for an account’s business even after a “No,” or several “No’s,” and always have a reason to be there. Reasons to be there can include sharing an article you think might be helpful, providing product training, expediting a claim or passing along a new idea or sales technique that may prove beneficial.

Dealers have to know that you really want their business, and that you will not be here today, and gone tomorrow. They need to know you’re in it for the long haul.

Just as dogged perseverance is often required just to get in front of a dealer, it is always required to demonstrate your commitment to improving his F&I department’s performance and profitability. If you expect to earn his business and retain him as a client, a dealer has to see your perseverance, so he knows you will work harder on his behalf than any of the other agents or product providers that call on him every day.

Becoming valuable to your dealers, always having a positive attitude, knowledge of your products and your competition, honing your communication skills and continued perseverance is what will separate you, and your agency, from your competition.

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