Tag Archive | "Reahard & Associates"

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!

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Your Competitive Advantage


During a recent (and rare) vacation along Florida’s Gulf Coast, I watched more evening TV than I have in quite some time. I was amazed by how many dealership commercials I experienced. It appeared that everyone was trying to gain a competitive edge with the cleverest marketing ideas and the guaranteed lowest price.

With today’s customer it is not marketing, price or product that will cause you to lose to the competition, it is the customer experience! The F&I experience is the one that customers remember the most, and since it is the last step in the car-buying process, it has a tremendous impact on overall satisfaction and the likelihood of repeat visits. If we want to change customer behavior, we must change the experience.

There are three specific demands that customers are making concerning the F&I experience. That represents three opportunities to gain a competitive advantage!

1. Value My Time!

Customers value their time almost as much as they value their money. The one thing we all find frustrating in all our retail purchase efforts is the time we must wait. If we find ourselves waiting in line at a fast food counter, airport travel desk, supermarket checkout or gas pump, we become very frustrated. Should we expect anything less from a customer who has just purchased a $35,000-plus vehicle? And if a customer is frustrated when they finally enter the F&I office, profits suffer.

Eliminating the wait for the F&I process produces a customer who is still excited about the purchase of their vehicle, and that is a definite competitive advantage.

2. Meet Me Early!

When the customer meets the F&I manager for the first time at the end of the buying process, they are defensive and filled with questions. They want to know who this person is, what are they going to do, and how long this is going to take. The F&I manager should meet the customer early in the process and, if they are financing, offer to take their information and submit it to the lender. Then the customer sees the F&I manager is working for them and trying to help them get the vehicle they want at a payment they can afford.

Once the customer reaches the F&I office the F&I manager has already had an opportunity to make a connection with them, get excited with them about their purchase and assure that they are perceived as someone they can be comfortable working with to complete their purchase. That’s another competitive advantage.

3. Help Me, Don’t Sell Me!

The process we use to build value in F&I products will determine if we are perceived as trying to help them make good decisions in connection with their purchase or if we are just trying to sell them something. If the F&I manager provides a lot of the two “L”s: laughter and listening, the process is comfortable and one in which the customer feels at ease asking for the knowledge and expertise of this helpful person.

We should never forget that money follows service everywhere it goes. Want to produce more profits and income? Help more customers! Providing a comfortable and helpful experience will do more to move customers to buy than any sales technique we can employ. And you guessed it: That’s another competitive advantage.

Customers’ frustration with the F&I portion of the sale is not a resistance to the products themselves but rather the experience. Great companies such as the Ritz-Carlton, Apple and Disney have all become leaders in their markets due to a focus on providing a great customer experience. And the profits seemed to take care of themselves. Their competitive advantage was the experience they provided and it is the same for the F&I office.

When it comes to providing a great experience for every customer in your dealer clients’ F&I offices, demand it, support it, train to it and compensate effectively to those that do it well. Hopefully I can go back to the beach and do some more research on this and get back to you!

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

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Hooked on a Feeling


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

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

Customers Remember the Way They Are Treated.

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

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

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

Emotional Connections Make Customers Feel Special.

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

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

You Can’t Fake Listening.

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

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

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

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

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

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Change Is a-Coming!


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

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

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

1. Change Is Hard and Usually Slowly Embraced.

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

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

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

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

2. Embracing Change Accelerates Production.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Seat Behind You!


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

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

You Never Know Who Is Watching!

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

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

Succeed by Making a Difference!

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

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

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

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The Great Equalizer!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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