Tag Archive | "technology"

Is Technology Eliminating The F&I Manager?

As a research and process development company, we are constantly looking for new ideas, products, or anything that would be of value to our F&I professionals. There are always plenty of new products, software programs or someone touting the “next big thing” in the F&I world for us to evaluate and share those results with our clients.

In this decade, all the talk is about technology taking over the F&I process in the future. With advent of electronic menus and different versions of software that are designed to do the selling of the F&I products, one might assume it’s just a matter of time before we eliminate the need for those pesky, highly paid, F&I managers. This idea catches the attention of dealers who wonder if they pay those F&I people too much, F&I product providers who would love to be able to control how their product is presented and especially software vendors, (think of how much could they could charge a dealer for that, if it worked).

And so, you hear a lot of talk about it. We are currently working with several software providers to develop their F&I selling tools and tools for service and other related functions. And we have been successful with some ideas of how to use these devices to assist in the F&I process. But before we accept the idea that this technology can replace the F&I manager’s job, we should take a closer look at what this new technology will have to accomplish.

You see, the thing that seems to be missed in these discussions about the future of F&I, and what technology can do for the process, is an in-depth understanding of what the F&I Manager’s job really entails. So, what does the F&I manager have to accomplish? Protect the dealership. And the ways they do that are:

  • Legally. There are a lot of laws and regulations dealers need to be concerned with, and F&I managers cover the dealer’s rear end every day. Ask any F&I manager – they’ll tell you. The dealer needs the F&I managers to watch this stuff, unless, of course, they are confident enough to rely on the absolute honesty, good will and attention to detail of every member of their sales force to do it, on every deal, every time, because it only takes one mistake in this area to cause giant problems.
  • Cash Flow. These contracts are 20-40 thousand dollars each. If they get a few of those contracts rejected because they weren’t done properly, they’ve got a cash flow problem. And there are a constantly-changing set of rules and “stips” that have to be chased down every day by the F&I manager. (If you don’t know what “stips” are, again, ask any F&I manager. They’re probably trying to track down one or two of them right now).
  • Customer Satisfaction Scoring. A good case has been made that the F&I manager has a huge influence on Sales Satisfaction scoring. Many times they can correct a bad customer impression and smooth over a customer that wasn’t too happy with the sales process. Ask any F&I manager that, as well. They’ll tell you story after story of customers they smoothed over and even deals they saved by making the F&I process comfortable and professional.
  • Help Make The Sale. One of the emerging talents of top F&I managers in the current economy is their ability to know where, and how, to get deals approved. Getting financing for the wide range of credit scores and income levels we are dealing with today has become a real art form that depends on personal interaction with many lenders. It has become a moving target in today’s marketplace. F&I managers are getting very good at it, and that skill helps deliver deals the dealer would have otherwise missed.
  • Control Chargebacks. Chargebacks can have a detrimental effect on income, but also tend to have a negative effect on CSI scores. Controlling cancellations is usually the direct result of the interaction between the customer and the F&I manager. Top F&I managers have mastered this skill, and it shows in their numbers.
  • Full Disclosure. Now, one may think that simply getting a signature from a customer is proof of a full disclosure. Not so, according to the FTC and the Attorneys General around the country. Full disclosure is the result of a professional F&I manager going over the terms of the transaction, making sure the customer clearly knows all of the terms and charges and answering any questions the customer might have. And customers have questions that need to be answered. That is full disclosure. And our top F&I managers are honest, professional people that make that happen with every customer that passes through their dealership.
  • And Finally… Make Money. After the F&I manager accomplishes all of the tasks above, as an added bonus, they also have to provide a significant portion of the dealership’s income. The F&I department is the highest net profit department in the dealership, and with the advent of Internet sales and declining gross profit averages, many dealers are relying on the F&I department to make up for that lost income. F&I managers live on commission. Because of that, they are inspired to perform at their best. We have yet to test or observe any software or technology that comes anywhere close to matching the income per unit of even an average F&I manager.

F&I managers accomplish all of those functions, every day. Now, if there is a machine or software program that can do all of that, we haven’t seen it yet. And field testing of the current, available, forms of technology in real dealership environments has not shown any indication that it will happen anytime soon, if ever.

You see, this is still a people business, as it always has been. We sell cars to people. And, so far, it takes people to run it efficiently and accomplish all of the duties, above.

So it looks like that F&I manager will be around for just a while longer.

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Brag About Objections

In sales, especially in vehicle sales, it’s critical to understand that the buyer’s perception is everything. Our cars, trucks and vans are not just modes of transportation. They are status symbols. They tell the world who we are and what we care about.

Some care most about fuel efficiency and small environmental footprints. Others are more concerned about safety. Some people want their vehicles to be second homes and are primarily concerned with how many people and how much stuff they can haul with them. Still others care more about style. Different people choose a vehicle for very different reasons. The salesperson’s job is to learn what their reasons are, then help them find a good fit.

Many of today’s buyers are being drawn to vehicles with highly technological advancements. They want driving their cars to be as convenient and comfortable as using their smartphones. While manufacturers are intelligent to follow this trend, the majority of buyers with technological experience are likely to have certain fears about that technology.

We’ve all experienced situations where technology failed us. Perhaps our mobile phone service cuts out in certain parts of the country. Maybe we’ve had our computers lock up or even crash. Software challenges may have decreased our efficiency or even cause us to miss a promised deadline. Even more common are situations where the user simply doesn’t quite use the technology correctly. This is known as user or operator error. That type of challenge can be the most frustrating because it can be hard to admit you did something wrong or that you simply don’t understand something that you thought you did.

So the excitement for the technological advancements in vehicles is tempered by a certain level of doubt about its reliability. Because of the volume of information available online, and not just what’s posted by the manufacturer’s marketing department, potential buyers may approach you with information from blogs or friends about the challenges they’ve had with your vehicles.

They’re actually walking in the door with a handful of objections and practically daring you to tell them they’re wrong. Many salespeople cower internally (and some do it externally) when faced with buyers who say they’re interested in a vehicle you know has had some bad press. But that’s not the way to handle it.

When you know there is or has been a challenge with any aspect of your product, it’s your job to know how it is or has been resolved. Knowledge is power when properly applied. The application of this knowledge is not to be reserved until after you have presented the benefits of the vehicle. It’s during the presentation. Don’t anxiously await the buyer’s objection about the challenge. Bring it up yourself.

This may seem counterintuitive but it works quite well. By bringing up and bragging about a known objection before the client does, you are proactively dealing with an objection that could stall the sale later. You, in effect, take away the objection.

Let’s say that the vehicles you sell have touch screens and that there have been some challenges with those screens not working as well as anticipated. It doesn’t matter if the challenge was technological or operator error, the challenge is out there and your buyer has possibly read reviews about it. Don’t ask if they have read about it because that will likely take you and the buyer off on what could be a lengthy side discourse on the challenge. You just want to bring it up, brag about how the manufacturer is handling it or did handle it, and get back on track with the forward movement of the sale.

It might sound something like this:

“Mike and Sara, I see how interested you are in the touch screen navigation. It’s a great feature of this vehicle. As with much new technology, there were some issues with it in the beginning. I’m sure you’re familiar with upgrades and fixes with your computers and phones. Manufacturers have handled vehicle technology issues the same way. They are constantly working to make the technological aspects of their vehicles more user-friendly and more reliable. If you’ve heard some negative press about our touch screen navigation system, don’t let it keep you from enjoying all the benefits of this vehicle. The manufacturer has already made great improvements based on consumer feedback and will continue to do so.”

See how nice that is? You haven’t committed to anything specific. But you addressed an objection they may have been waiting to spring on you when they feel motivated to make the purchase. They may be thinking it’ll be a negotiating point to help lower the investment for the vehicle. Not anymore. You’re one step ahead of them and have just eliminated what could have been a powerful reason for them to say no to the purchase. You’ve bragged about the objection, handled it, and are now prepared to keep the sale moving forward.

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Drag, Drop and Sell

Even if you don’t own an iPhone, iPod or iPad, odds are that you know someone who does. Their popularity is no accident: They’re intuitive, interactive and always entertaining.

If everyone is having fun with the applications on these Apple products, why not make menu systems for the F&I department more fun and customizable? Enter Shawn McCool, founder of iTapMenu, which runs exclusively on the iPad, is a new, interactive way to present products to customers — and an opportunity for agents to keep their dealer clients on the cutting edge.

Old vs. New

McCool and his team set out to reinvent the four-column F&I menu by making it more interactive than traditional paper and electronic menus. “That style of menu is an obvious sales pitch, and customers aren’t going to be trusting of marking through this [menu], handwriting in a new payment and then asking them to initial next to the new payment,” he says. “If I were to visit a dealership that uses a four-column menu and pull their last 20 menus, I would bet 15 of them have handwritten changes through them. That tells me there could be a better way.”

iTapMenu provides an entirely different structure. Sitting side-by-side with the customer, the F&I manager starts with a “Recommended” column of products and then uses iTaps exclusive drag-and-drop feature to build a second “Customer Selections” column. The system then recalculates the monthly payment based on the new lineup.

“The philosophy of iTap is extreme, ridiculous transparency,” says McCool. “It doesn’t and shouldn’t feel like you’re getting sold. It should feel educational and consultive.”

If a customer has questions about any product, the F&I manager taps on the product icon to launch a window that includes statistics related to the product as well as a 10-to-15-second educational video. From there, they can tap a price icon to reveal other price and payment information.

Back on the product screen, the customer is able to see the retail price of each product as well as the monthly or daily cost. McCool believes the customer should see every change, good or bad, so no questions are left unanswered and the value is made clear. “As an example, if you need to increase the term to lower the payment and the lender requires a rate increase for the change in term, go ahead and increase it right on the iPad in front of the customer. It is what it is.”

Focus on Interaction

The process requires F&I managers to put the iPad down and sit next to the customer throughout the presentation, but McCool encourages them to allow the customer to interact with the software at some point. He believes that, the more they do that, the more involved in the process they’ll feel and more trust that is instantly created.

“I would not recommend giving the iPad to the customer. But, if the customer wants to drag a product icon into a column to see the change in payment, I think that can only create positives. Imagine the customer’s reaction to having just a little control. They will start to buy products when you stop trying to sell them. That’s what iTap is about.”

Once the products are decided upon, the F&I manager takes the customer to an integrated “Accept/Decline” screen and a form populates with spaces available for signatures. This screen shows all the products that were agreed upon as well as those that were declined. This page is also interactive and can be used as a last-chance selling opportunity.

Once the customer agrees, they sign directly on the iPad. McCool notes that this electronic signature meets all relevant compliance standards. Every product that was agreed upon and declined is listed, the final term, rate and payment are listed, the legalese is there and their digital signature is stored in “the cloud.” This form can be printed out or emailed to the client for their records.

Agents and iTap

“We want to work with agents,” McCool says. “That is one of our primary distribution models. We understand the value they bring to dealerships. We have several relationships in place and want to grow that.”

McCool says it’s important for agents who rep iTap to be on board with the company’s philosophy: Everything that is done on the iTap is transparent, the customer knows exactly what they’re buying, and there is no “gray area” in the F&I experience.

“The agent has to agree with the philosophies of iTapMenu,” he says. “Believe that transparency is king, that this menu structure has advantages over a four-column menu, and that an iPad-based system has some benefits over a printed four-column menu because of the ability to customize on the fly.”

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RouteOne Enhances Mobile App Tool

FARMINGTON HILLS – RouteOne announced the availability of additional enhancements to its free Android(TM) app, including the ability to forward ‘sent’ applications to a new finance source, securely text message with supporting finance sources, get payoff quotes, and capture leads into the Lead Manager within RouteOne.

The additions, which will be available for the iPhone in the coming months, enhance the base functionality of the app, which is designed to allows users to view and manage RouteOne deals and leads, as well as request and view credit scores instantly.

“This new functionality will allow our dealers to utilize RouteOne in an even more robust way than before,” said Mike Jurecki, RouteOne CEO. “Dealers can communicate more efficiently with their finance sources, allowing them to expedite the deal process. Our full set of mobile tools provides dealers the flexibility they require in servicing their customers, whenever and wherever they need to do so.”

The RouteOne app will be automatically updated for users who turn on the automatic update feature in their Android phone. Others will need to update it manually (dealers should look for the new RouteOne app on their update notification list).

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Theft Protection and Recovery Through Microdots

The new weapons against theft are the black light and a microscope. Law enforcement can now use a black light for quick identification of stolen vehicles or automotive components and a microscope to determine the property’s owner. DataDot Dealer Services (DDS) offers, a theft deterrent system that utilizes a unique microdot identifier that is fitted to 60-80 components of a vehicle.

The Product

DataDots are tiny microscopic discs (microdots), which contain unique information that links property and owners. As small as a grain of sand, DataDots are recognized as being one of the most effective ways of preventing theft, and play a crucial role in the recovery and return of stolen goods.

Single inscribed “microdots” were originally developed by the U.S. military in the 1940s to covertly identify items. It became obvious the tiny plastic discs would be useful for espionage as the grain size message carriers were very easy to conceal and transport. It was not until the early 1990s that microdots became a commercially feasible product. A U.S. engineer, Brent McLaws, was the first to develop a low cost process to inscribe information onto thousands of microdots.

Ounce of Prevention – Pound of Cure

Encoded on polyester substrate, Automotive DataDots can be installed on a production line or in a dealership. Either way, they provide undeniable proof of ownership. The adhesive used to apply the DataDots contain an ultraviolet tracing agent that fluoresces under an ultraviolet or black light, allowing dots to be easily read with a magnifier, but are difficult to detect with the naked eye. Water-based adhesive is clear when it dries and can be applied to any surface. When the adhesive is dry, it is resistant to solvents, road salts and cleaners. A typical vehicle offers many points of application, including the chassis, engine, drive train, exhaust, suspension system and after-market parts, where DataDots can be installed.

Click to Enlarge
Point of application

All DataDot Automotive Kits sold in the USA are registered on the DataDot International Database with the contact information of the purchaser and the unique PIN of the dots in the kit purchased. In addition, PINs are registered with the Insurance Services Office (ISO) – the most widely recognized database for patrol officers in North America. If a vehicle or part marked by DataDots is stolen, law enforcement can access these databases to affirm an owner and return recovered property.

Thieves are ever changing their approach and instead of stealing an entire car, they steal parts of the car. Catalytic converter theft has risen significantly due to the rising cost of the rare metals. Rental car companies have parts removed by renters and replaced with defective parts of the renter’s personal vehicles with no way to prove otherwise.

OEMs have struggled with warranty fraud for years. DataDots on vehicle parts proves if the part is OEM or not, eliminating warranty fraud from the substitution of expired warranty vehicles. Also, OEMs no longer have to compete against stolen parts and can increase their genuine parts sales.

DataDot USA Inc., currently is the only manufacturer that can manufacture VIN microdots for just-in-time delivery to OEMs anywhere in the world with five manufacturing facilities: Spokane, Washington; Taiwan; Sydney, Australia; South Africa (two plants) and the United Kingdom. The DDS automotive product comes with one to five years of warranty (dealer selected) and has a benefit of $500-$5000 (dealer selected).

Distribution, Sales and Support

In 2004, DataDot Technology (DDT) approached T. Rick Hughes, founder of DDS, to market the product in the U.S. as the exclusive distributor for the automotive industry. As a former employee of Pat Ryan and Associates, Rick had the training, the contacts and the vision to crack the U.S. marketplace. There are now over 100 million microdots on vehicles in the U.S. and the number grows annually.

Enlarged DataDot

Internationally, DDS operates as Capital International Holding, Inc. Capital International is currently developing markets in Europe, Canada, China and South America. Within three to five years, they expect to be operating in 53 countries protecting millions of consumers from automotive theft.

DDS distributes the product to distributors, agents and major dealer groups. Major distributors are JM&A, EFG, Ethos Group, Ally Financial Services, Resource Automotive, IAS and others. In Canada, Leader Automotive Resources is their primary partner serving over a thousand dealerships.

All distributors are required under contract to provide an A-rated insurer if they choose to underwrite the limited warranty benefit (available for production levels of 15,000 monthly or greater). Assurant Solutions is the current A-rated carrier.

A partnership with IAS, using the SmartPad application, is the most recent addition to the marketing and sales presentation. E-Rating and e-Contracting are offered and there is full menu integration with over 19 menu systems and contracting in English and French, with Portugese, German and Spanish soon to follow is the result of the partnership DDS has with F&I Administrators.

Future Technology

The physical product used by DDS is either a polyester substrate or metal for higher heat applications. New stainless steel microdots are being delivered to a limited number of test sites and DDS expects to manufacture ceramic microdots for extreme heat applications beyond the automotive industry.

As more OEMs mark vehicles as they are produced for sale in the U.S. market, the move to a theft deductible waiver from the OEM and a VSC upgrade or combination will become available.

Today, DataDot Technology (DDT:ASX) is a publically traded company that manufacturers the microdots under the trade name DataDotDNA®.

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An Interview with Mark Mishler

Interstate National Corporation recently appointed Mark Mishler as CEO. Mark took time to share with Agent Entrepreneur an overview of Interstate and what lies ahead.

Tell us about your company and the products that you offer.

Interstate National Corporation is a holding company that owns Interstate National Dealers Services, National Warranty Corporation, Payment Insured Plan Inc., Proivida Group, MBAC, RpmOne and INDS Canada. While we offer traditional products like vehicle service contracts and ancillary products for, autos, RV’s and powersport vehicles, what we really offer is quality service, expert administration and flexible programs.

How does your product offering differ from other providers?

Our product offering focuses on providing quality service while delivering flexible programs that are tailored to our clients’ needs.

What are the top three areas of quality service that Interstate focuses on?

Agent and dealer development and training, claims administration and responsive to new product development and implementation.

Who are your target markets and what message would you like to give them?

At Interstate, we have multiple markets ranging from the consumer, dealer, agents, direct marketers, manufacturers, and strategic partners and my message to them is we have a tremendous opportunity to provide the consumer the ultimate buying and service experience through our partnerships as well as future opportunities through multi media outlets.

Tell us about yourself and how you became CEO of Interstate.

I have been in the insurance business my entire career spending the first 15 years in the property and casualty business and the past 14 plus years on the warranty/extended service contract business. Many people may know that I spent nine years with The Warranty Group, Inc., with my last position being that of President and COO. In addition, I was also CEO of Resource Automotive and President of Virginia Surety, Company, Inc.

I believe my experience, knowledge of the business and profitable track record is what the Board of Directors of Interstate National and owners were looking for in a new Chief Executive.

Looking back over the past five years, how has the industry changed and how do you see it changing in the future?

As everyone knows the world changed in 2008 and we still have not fully recovered as a nation or the economy from the effects of that turmoil. Credit is still tight, retail sales are still below the 2008 levels, and the general feeling of the consumer is things are getting worse, not better.

Based on less retail sales, dealerships throughout our country had to relook at their business model. This resulted in a refocus on the customer experience/retention while at the same time increasing profit opportunities in all aspects of the dealer’s operations.

What products do you believe will drive your future success?

There will always be a need for traditional products however I believe that superior service, program flexibility and product innovation will drive future success. I also believe that a multi-dimensional delivery system will also enhance success.

What technology or services do you believe will drive your future success?

Technology is ever evolving both in dealership and multi media. A combination of front to back end application development in dealerships as well as social networks, mobile apps, and other internet strategies will drive future business not only for Interstate but the industry as a whole.

Is Interstate currently using social networks and mobile apps in moving their company forward?

Not currently.

Tell us a little more about yourself. What do you like to do to relax and what outside interests and hobbies do you have?

I am married with two daughters and I enjoy attending their sporting events and cheering them on. Golf and running are my passions and – am a 20-year retired military officer.

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