Channel | F&I Success

That Crazy Columbo!

Agents who are looking for an F&I development edge should take a book from Lieutenant Columbo, a character whose specialty was catching other people off guard to get the answer he needed.
By: Rick McCormick

That Crazy Columbo!

Most of us have laughed at the crazy efforts of Lieutenant Columbo to lull criminal suspects into letting their guard down and then watched as he would get information that no one else could. An article in the American Bar Association Journal even reported that the best way to interrogate a suspect is to “Think Columbo.” I loved the TV show and what the character has taught us about human behavior. Here are two reasons why his efforts worked so well.

1. People Will Open Up Once They Feel the Interrogation Is Over.

Many times, a customer in a car dealership is subjected to a process that is nothing less than an interrogation. The value of a customer interview at the salesperson’s desk has long been debated; however, most customers feel they are being interrogated.

I have always advocated that we ask the questions needed once we make them comfortable in the F&I office. If a customer encounters the typical list of discovery questions, they know we are just like everyone else and that we are digging for something. One of the most valuable efforts an independent agent can provide to dealerships is to assure that the F&I process is a comfortable conversation, not an interrogation.

Everyone who has ever undergone an “interrogation” knows that the person asking the questions is trying to harm them, trap them, or move them to say or do something they don’t want to. In the F&I office, it comes across more like we are trying to sell them something, not help then make a good decision. Using a little creativity can gather the information you need and, more importantly, once they realize the interrogation they were expecting is not happening, they will open up and tell you more than you may even need to know!

2. Charisma, Great Salesmanship and High-Pressure Techniques Don’t Move Customers to Buy the Products They Need.

Columbo was known for his disheveled appearance, rumpled trench coat and a stumbling command of the English language. I am not advocating we dress shabbily and butcher the King’s English! However, I am advocating we stop trying to dazzle customers with what we are all about and focus more on what they are all about. It’s not the most charismatic person that moves customers to consistently buy. It is the skilled and practiced professional who knows how to build deep connections that lead to real discussions.

The person who uses the Columbo perspective from the start of their engagement with each customer experiences a much easier effort to move them from “No” to “Yes.” We don’t get paid to sell products. We get paid to guide customers through a process that makes “Yes” easy. And when they don’t see that “Yes” is the best answer, the effort of using their own words to enable them to see their need of the product you are discussing is effective and fun! That demands that we focus on urging the customer to do most of the talking, not listening to us.

When a customer says no to everything, simply state, “Absolutely! These are just options, and if you thought you were going to have problems with this vehicle, you would have bought something else, right?” Then have them sign the menu and put it away. Break eye contact and turn away to start the next task. They just got away with murder. They told you “No” and you dropped the subject! Their guard is down. So now re-engage them with a question that piques their interest. “I am a little confused. I think we might be missing something, especially after what you said earlier.”

If you have spent most of your time with the customer focused on getting their guard down and listening to them, your next statement is a response for more information. That’s a different and more productive discussion.

Crazy Columbo could discover things that no one else could find, and you will too — if the focus is on them, not on you. The truth is many of your customers need the products you offer and will buy them if they meet a skilled professional who knows how to make it comfortable to open up. It’s the Crazy Columbo characters that win in the end. Want more winners on your team? Teach, support and train your team to focus on getting customers to open up, so the closing is easy!

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!

This article was written by:

- has written 28 posts on Agent Entrepreneur.

Rick McCormick is the national account development manager for Reahard & Associates Inc, which provides customized F&I training for dealerships throughout the U.S. and Canada. He has more than 20 years of sales and F&I experience. You can reach him at rick@go-reahard.com.

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The views expressed by the authors and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Agent Entrepreneur or any employee thereof.

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