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Mad Marv

F&I’s High-Wire Act

August 10, 2010

There is nothing more unsettling than a contract void of product. After getting five of these customers in a row, it’s easy to begin doubting your abilities. If your next three customers arrive with cashier’s checks, it might be time to get the straitjacket out. First off, calm down! It’s not as bad as you think.

I once went 12 contracts in a row with no product. I survived, and so can you. The big question here is: When does “No” actually mean “NO?” It’s a fair question and one that some F&I producers find difficult to answer.

First, let’s not forget the reason we’re in the F&I office. We are the best of the best! Selling intangible add-ons to someone after he or she just agreed to spend $30,000 requires skill. Customer resistance is a constant.

Many trainers will advise you to quit after the third “No.” While I agree that is practical advice, there is gold to be mined after the third “No.” However, you must tread carefully.

Consider the parallels of the high-wire artist and the F&I producer. The goal of the high-wire artist is to maintain balance while walking along a tensioned wire between two points. For obvious reasons, concentration is key. He or she must change his or her gait from a standard walk on the ground level to one that doesn’t rely on lateral support, as the wire represents his or her sole support and path. All of his or her body weight has a focal point, because even the slightest slip can be disastrous.

Sounds familiar, right? Every single day, we in the F&I office are called upon to do the near impossible with practically nothing to work with other than our ability to walk the wire. Everything we do in the finance office is scrutinized, analyzed and criticized.

The first “No” is usually a defensive posture used by the customer to set the tone of the sale. Having read all the consumer publications available to him, he knows if you are average or better he will have to defend his position a couple more times before you give up.

In most cases, the goal of the customer is not to drag your profit per retail unit down; he just wants to get his car and go! The only way to slow the customer down a bit is by truly getting to know him and his motivation for buying. Remember, he didn’t walk into your showroom with the intent of buying a vehicle service contract, GAP or any other product you’re offering. He came in to buy a vehicle.

It is an exciting time when the customer enters your office, so don’t ruin it with stodgy word-tracks. Find out what his motivation is. Thank him for selecting your dealership. Thank him for allowing you the opportunity to explain his options. Do not assume he wants anything. Discover his needs and execute your most professional, empathetic presentation. Like many of you, I own the products I offer my customers. In addition to broken parts and an evidence manual, I often recount personal experiences on how the product saved me a bundle. 

Now, most of us are familiar with the bell curve as it relates to sales. On one end of the curve, you have obstinate-minded customers that God himself could not close. On the other end of the curve, you find an equal number of customers who buy the platinum menu option every time. What remains are the customers who require spot-on selling skills. And, as we all know, needs assessment is not a 40-question exercise. A skilled F&I practitioner gleans helpful knowledge from applied conversation.

Understanding those customers who make up the middle of the curve and how close they are to the extremes of the other classes is vital to objection handling. Obviously, the closer your customer is to the obstinate-minded end, the deeper you must delve into their buying motives and the lighter you must tread for fear of offending them by pushing too hard. Unfortunately, if you approach these types too aggressively, gross will follow them out the door like a Jack Russell on a leash.

Walking the high-wire is not for the faint of heart and neither is pushing beyond the third “No.”  However, the rewards will mean lots of extra commission at month’s end, as well as a happy dealer.

Marv Eleazer is the finance manager at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. He can be reached at


  1. 1. Jim Dirks [ August 11, 2010 @ 06:04PM ]

    I can only agree Marv, 150%. As one who consistently goes to 5 No's before no means no; I have at times irritated some when I misread the best path on which to continue. We have to make that choice, roughly every 2 minutes at MOST, during our presentation. At the same time those 2 minutes are passing, we have to HEAR what that prospect is saying, understand it and determine how to transition their "why not" into a "why too" and do so without appearing pushy. "Mission Impossible" would seem an appropriate title, except too many of us have done it, too many times. :)

  2. 2. Cathy Aron [ August 12, 2010 @ 11:26AM ]

    What a great article! Your "applied conversation" principal is right on. We have to engage with our customers to learn more about them so we can describe to them the benefits that they can't see for themselves. Any objection that is overcome is a skillfull exercise of illustrating to a customer that they have needs they hadn't even considered. It's an education process that we label as "sales".

  3. 3. Mike Kuipers [ August 18, 2010 @ 08:45AM ]

    Very good comparison. Don't forget though, that asking just one more time at the end of your delivery, even after all contracts are signed, works very well also. Once the customer is settled and the defenses come down is a great time to again offer product. I can't tell you how many gap and svc contracts I have sold and had to GLADLY re-print and sign contracts.

  4. 4. Jerry Gay [ August 30, 2010 @ 09:28AM ]

    When they give me their first "no" after they hae seen the menu I say "OK" and start to do the paperwork. After a few minutes I can approach them again probing into what they viewed as most valuable. This has helped so many times. Mike is right. After the defenses come down and they think they have won, the path is a lot easier. I have also had them tell me "no" when they walk in before they have seen anything but when I show them the menu they choose a column. Crazy!

  5. 5. Marv Eleazer [ September 22, 2010 @ 05:38PM ]

    Mike & Jerry, EXCELLENT points! I agree 1000% Never miss an opportunity to revisit the prospect of them buying a product. I had it happen just today. Customer never buys a VSC and had turned me down for what I thought was the last time. I reprinted the menu without the VSC and as I was about to have him initial off he sold himself at the last moment. I hastily reprinted the contract and away he went happy he had made a good decision for himself.

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Author Bio

Marv Eleazer

Finance Director

Marv is no insider. He’s an actual F&I manager with more than 20 years of experience. Get his from-the-trenches take on the industry every month at

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