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The Real Value of Ongoing Training

By: Ronald Reahard

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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This article was written by:

- has written 10 posts on Agent Entrepreneur.

Ron Reahard is president of Reahard & Associates, Inc., an F&I training company providing F&I classes, as well as in-dealership and online training. Ron conducted the workshop "F&I in an X & Y World" at the 2008 NADA Convention and "Closes That Always Get A 'Yes!'" at the 2009 F&I Conference & Expo. He can be contacted at 866-REAHARD or [email protected]

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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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