The Industry's Leading Source For F&I, Sales And Technology

Mad Marv

Debating the Interview

The magazine’s frontline columnist is a little fed up with all the talk about the customer interview. Here’s his take on why dealers and trainers need to be careful about imposing it on F&I producers.

October 31, 2011

There was quite a division at the magazine’s annual conference: On one side, you had those who believe in the interview. On the other were those who do just fine without it. But I have to tell you, what chaps my butt is hearing people say the customer interview is essential to F&I success, because it’s not.

Consider this: If you’ve always interviewed customers, how can you be so certain you can’t be effective without it? Besides, I know a lot of F&I pros who are running great numbers without conducting interviews.

What has me confused is the fact that many of today’s trainers are pushing the interview. These are the same individuals who also preach the 300 percent rule? I guess it seems odd to me that they’d recommend that F&I managers trot out onto the sales floor to try and qualify customers for products they’re going to offer anyway. And besides, what other product — other than the vehicle service contract — actually benefits from the customer interview? I can’t think of any. Can you?

If the customer qualifies for credit insurance, then offer it. You don’t have to set them up for what will definitely be a sobering reality check when you present that product. They know what it is and what it does. The same goes for tire-and-wheel coverage, paint and fabric protection, GAP and any other product F&I managers must present to every single customer every single time. Grilling customers isn’t going to change that.  

Yet, like a sermon on Sunday, the same thing is preached: “Interview the customer and grab a couple of nuggets of information about him or her that can be used to present a needs-based menu or, just maybe, to overcome an objection.”

My contention with the interview is that it tends to create sales resistance. And let’s be serious; customers aren’t dumb. They know what’s coming when it’s time to enter the F&I office.

As for me, I’ve actually discovered my numbers are better when I don’t conduct an interview. I suppose the reason is that I can’t act like I’m sincere when I’m really not. And sincerity, in my opinion, is critical to making the interview work. I just can’t be conversational for the sake of gaining information from the customer that I’ll use against them when it comes time to present my product. You may be different, so bear this in mind while considering my take on the interview.

Now, I’m not the only person who has written for this magazine who thinks the way I do about the interview. My friend George Angus at TeamOne Research has written at length about the downside of the interview. In fact, here’s a quote from one of his articles: “What goes on in the customer’s mind during this question-and-answer period creates a tremendous amount of negative sales resistance. Customers have even expressed marked resentment.”

Again, I just think customers are smart enough to realize that we’re setting them up for the sale with each question we ask of them. I also think the interview is a waste of those precious four to seven minutes we have to impress upon our customers the need for our products. In fact, from my experience, you only have that amount of time to do your selling.

Look, qualifying a customer makes sense on the lot, but not in the F&I office. Trying to figure out how much the customer can afford is key for salespeople. You don’t want to waste the customer’s time trying to fit them in a car they can’t afford. That’s not the case in the F&I office.

Look at it from the customer’s perspective: One of the big claims about the interview is that it arms F&I managers with “You told me” facts. Apparently, some trainers think the “You told me” statement is the best way to overcome an objection. Really? I’m sorry, but nobody wants their own words used against them.

Listen, F&I isn’t about outsmarting customers; it’s about honestly offering them intelligent solutions to mitigate the risks of owning and financing an automobile. And I’m sorry, the F&I process doesn’t require a degree in psychology or the talents of a magician to be successful. A simple explanation of all the products for which they qualify is all that’s needed.

As for me, I just keep it simple. I look over the deal, talk to the salesperson and I go from there. Will this work for you? That’s for you to decide, which is my point. Do what works for you.

Marv Eleazer is the finance manager at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. E-mail him at marv.eleazer@bobit.com.

Comments

  1. 1. Matthew Lee [ November 01, 2011 @ 10:47AM ]

    My product penetrations soared when I STOPPED doing the interview. I realized that no matter how the customer answered the interview questions, I was still going to offer them every single product. The difference was, after the interview, I was set up with preconcieved notions about what they did and didnt need. Without those preconcieved notions I decided that every customer needed EVERY product. Not just the ones they told me they needed in a round about way during the interiew. Since I stopped doing the interview, my numbers went from averaging barely 1 product per deal, to over 2. That is a HUGE difference. Ill never go back.

  2. 2. David Larrieu [ November 01, 2011 @ 12:47PM ]

    I belive that the interview is the most important step in the F&I process! Offering all the products is something that you are supposed to do anyway, but it is how they are presented and in which order that is going to help you sell more products and that is based on the interview. After I interview a customer I already know what the minimum profit is going to be on that deal and if I sell more it only makes me happier. I work at a Kia dealership and we offer a 10yr 100,000 powertrain and a 5/60 comprehensive. If the customer drives 25k miles per year i'm going to offer a 4yr/100,000 mile wrap, but I wouldn't know to do that without the interview. I guarantee that if you compare PVR to the F&I who do the interview rather that those who don't there will be a huge increase in the ones who do. I will put my #'s up against any other F&I manager in the country and show you that the interview works. Now if your running an average of over 60% ESC and more than $1500 PVR at a Kia store in a state with the nations highest credit scores than maybe i'd be willing to listen.

  3. 3. Matthew Lee [ November 01, 2011 @ 01:19PM ]

    I notice that ESC and PVR are the only numbers you mentioned. Just like Marv says in the article, the only product that benefits from the interview is the ESC. Im not not so sure that you cant get the same results from asking the question in the finance office. But, there are more products than ESC. And I sell more of those products.. along with ESC.... by not doing the Interview.

  4. 4. Brian Kimble [ November 01, 2011 @ 08:32PM ]

    A few examples of other products that can benefit from a customer interview. 1. Maintenance products - asking a customer how often they have their oil changed, where they have it changed and if maintenance will give a F&I Manager information that they would otherwise not have. 2. GAP - For products with an option to pay the customer's deductible, asking the customer how much their deductible is when reviewing their insurance information can be very useful in presenting GAP in a presentation that is designed for THIS customer. Finally, both Credit Life and Credit Disability can be presented in a personal presentation based on a few questions asked when F&I reviews the customer's credit application/statements. "Who will receive your title in the event of an untimely death?" and "if you were unable to work due to an illness or injury how would the payments be made without causing a financial hardship?" Again, these are just examples, however, with an effective "interview," information that can be used to personalize a customer's presentation. As a note, I do dislike the term "interview" due to the connotations many people have with job interviews. It should be more of a conversation with your customer's before the F&I presentations begin. I, from my experiences only, have found that having this information before your product presentations allows me to be more prepared with product terms, mileage and coverage without having a customer wait for me to "prepare" more "paperwork." I can offer all products and their benefits with specific emphasis on the benefits that fit the customer I am presenting. A very thought provoking article. Thanks.

  5. 5. Matthew Lee [ November 01, 2011 @ 08:39PM ]

    Or.. You could just look at the paperwork. And if someone asked me what I was going to do with the car when I'm dead I would say.. What business is that of yours? And I certainly wouldn't want to be discussing my death plans in the middle of a dealership showroom

  6. 6. Jeremy Addis [ November 02, 2011 @ 08:38AM ]

    We tried interviews at our stores and they didnt work for us, but we did learn that getting off our butts and getting out on the sales floor helped alot. We still go out and introduce ourselves to every customer say who we are and how we will be helping them, and about how long it will be till we are with them. This lets them meet us before the "sale" takes place and they become more comfortable with us, yet we are not acting like salesmen during this time trying to set them up for products.

  7. 7. Tony D [ November 02, 2011 @ 09:11AM ]

    I will debate anyone on the benefits to the Business Manager of an effective interview at the 2012 F&I Conference. Any takers?

    Tony D

  8. 8. David Larrieu [ November 02, 2011 @ 10:06AM ]

    Sorry Matthew, I did fail to mention the other products based on my yearly average. If it gives you a warm and cozy feeling inside. ESC 66%, GAP 49%, Car Care 41%, RHT 20%, Excess Wear 92%.

  9. 9. Marty Heacock [ November 02, 2011 @ 12:59PM ]

    As we can see by these comments a interview or menu presentation is not for everyone. I do both & I feel a quick (non-confrontational) interview really helps me set up my menu before I go back & invite the customer into my office. The interview also allows me to verify the spelling of the customers name & correct address. I'm sure that I'm not the only F&I Manager to have to correct paperwork after the salesman made a mistake.

  10. 10. Mark Drews [ November 04, 2011 @ 09:34AM ]

    I have worked with Dave for many years now and doing an interview I feel is the only way to go. If you go out and only ask "the questions" then you are going about it the wrong way. We train to start conversations , like "Where is your first road trip going to be ?" Just as an example. And other questions like that. Make it personable and not an interview, build rapport with your customer. Think of it as more of a meet and greet. Oh ya and Whats up Brian Kimball? long time no talk?

  11. 11. Jason Broeckel [ November 05, 2011 @ 08:24AM ]

    The "interview" resets the clock for the customer, The extra four minutes per customer is worth your time. It’s worth doing it right every time. Informing early who you are and what your responsiblities are for them are; this non-confrontational, downstream approach also works wonders for your dealership’s customer satisfaction index. Customers feel relaxed and in control, and they will more likely have a positive first impression of you. It's an essential step in the F&I process, no different then the steps in the sales process to bring down the walls of resistance that people have. And an additional primary purpose is it creates need awareness in the customers mind (read- Neuro linguistic programming Understanding Behavior in sales). This provides in the customer mind the need and sets up later for the customer to buy (since we all love to buy, but don't want to be sold). By not conducting a proper interview, transition, menu presentation you are selling and telling, vs allowing the customer to buy. Empirical evidence shows that PRU and penetrations dramatically increase with the use of the PROPER interview, transition, menu, overcoming objection, closing - F&I Process.

  12. 12. Jason Broeckel [ November 05, 2011 @ 08:37AM ]

    Be open & receptive to (the interview process) change - If none of us were open to change and new ways, and there were no "First Timers or Innovators "we would still be using the old filmed-paper fax machine to send our deals to lenders for review and wait for approvals! (I can be contacted on Linkedin).

  13. 13. Marv Eleazer [ November 05, 2011 @ 11:14AM ]

    I think we would all be interested in the "Empirical" studies you're referring to Jason.

  14. 14. Matthew Lee [ November 07, 2011 @ 09:55AM ]

    In my dealership, I am involved in the process from beginning to end. Many times I have introduced myself to the customer before they are even closed.. so the whole "resetting the clock thing doesnt really apply" And I can establish need in my office. Why do I have to do it on the showroom floor?

  15. 15. Brian Kimble [ November 09, 2011 @ 09:25PM ]

    Matthew, as many have pointed out, the interview may not be for everyone. However, I have witnessed many F&I Managers improve their production by taking 2-3 minutes to talk with their customers. As Jeremy Addis pointed out, it is not about selling anything to the customer. As far as reviewing the paperwork, have you ever had a sale consulktant make a mistake? Is your customer changing their driving habits (common since 2009) or is the car for a child, spouse or themself? Is this a short term or long term purchase? These are just examples of types of questions that the paperwork does not answer. The questions and statements I usually hear at this point are "Customers know what we are trying to do when asking these questions" and "I run $1,200 (example) my way so why do I want/need to change what works?" As a F&I Professional, we should all be able to have a conversations and get answers to these type questions without being "forward" and "obvious." If this is an area that the F&I professional has issues I have concerns if they are "packing" their presentation or "presenting" options to their cuatomers. And to the question I get regarding $1200 PVR. I simply make the point that a $1100 PVR made honestly with small chargebacks and high CSI builds careers, $1200 PVR's wth high chargebacks and low CSI builds revolving doors. I appreciate your feedback Matthew, it is always good to have civil conversations and even disagreements. It shows how far F&I has come from 15 years ago. (Finally, Mark and Jason, is this some sort of reunion I was not aware of? Dont be strangers, I have the same number as I have for the last 5 years!)

  16. 16. FINANCE DIRECTOR [ November 18, 2011 @ 06:03PM ]

    "Constant and Consitant improvement" is what any proficient F&I professional should strive for because our ability to adapt and grow is what will determine whether we become "superstars" or "has beens" and i assure you as a Extremely successful Director i have interviewed and NOT hired many of the latter over the years because they always become "dead weight" and either myself or others end up picking up the pieces.

  17. 17. Marv [ November 19, 2011 @ 03:53PM ]

    Well, I can see we have a long way to go before we all agree on this volatile subject. I appreciate the honest and forthright comments. Opinions, based on actual experiences, like yours cause us all to mentally stretch and grow to become better at this profession we love so much. One of the more important points I tried to make here was that trainers should more analytically apply their methods and be open minded when coaching their audiences. One size or method does not fit all. It's obvious that many people are doing great with and without an interview whether it be casual or formal. Results are really the ONLY thing that matters and trying new things can't always be a bad thing.

  18. 18. Steve [ November 22, 2011 @ 12:52PM ]

    I love to hear F&I guys talk about PRU and compare their numbers to everybody in the country. Usually the same guys that ask, "how long you been in the box" or "been hangin paper". These same guys don't want you checkin their numbers from the dealers doc. The best F&I guys I know make a fair profit, have low charge-backs and high CSI. I've been in the same store for 18 years and my dealer is interested in my after charge-back profits and my CSI. George Angus and the guys at TeamOne have done the research....take a look.

  19. 19. Jeff Shelton [ November 22, 2011 @ 12:55PM ]

    I think the only people that should skip the interview process are those who are inexperienced and lack the skills to create report with a customer. If your interview sounds rehearsed and "forced" the customers will resist you more and skipping the interview may be helpful. My question would be, if your F and I department is not able to make the interview an enjoyable experience that sounds sincere and natural, why would you want them to in your F and I office? I feel there may be times when you can gauge that the customer is in a hurry or irritated in some manner where in might be benefitial to skip the interview but as a whole I would never suggest to eliminate it as a company policy.

Comment On This Story

Name:  
Email: (Email will not be displayed.)  
Comment: (Maximum 2000 characters)  
Leave this field empty:
* Please note that comments may be moderated.

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 fi-magazine.com.

» More