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Mad Marv

Progress or Pipe Dream?

The magazine’s frontline columnist doesn’t dislike the mobile menu. He just wants proof it won’t be another failed attempt at updating the F&I process.

March 12, 2012

Forgive me if I’m a little pessimistic about the prospect of the F&I menu going mobile. I have been in the box long enough to have seen numerous failed attempts at updating the F&I process, and I can’t help but question the motivations of software companies. The biggest question I have for these vendors is this: Are you sure this new way of delivering our message to customers won’t backfire?

I guess I wonder what the software junkies are seeing. I mean, are their efforts to bring the Apple mentality to the doorsteps of dealerships driven by research or simple assumptions? If there is no field testing taking place to support the benefits they tout, how can they say the iPad will positively change the car-buying experience?

Look, I get it. This mobile drive is directed at Gen Y and X. Everyone is trying to figure out how to better connect with this demographic, which has made it clear that they don’t like the way we currently conduct business. So, on face value, the iPad seems to be a device that can ease some of that angst — at least in the F&I office. If this conclusion is based on proven results, I’m all ears, and I’m not alone.

As I’ve written before, the paper menu is critical to what we do because it provides a starting point to present our wares to customers. Yes, menu providers have tinkered with the look and feel of the menu through the years, but the real magic of the paper menu remains the same: It’s easy for customers to follow and it can be customized on the fly.

But let’s not forget that the paper menu was initially created to keep the F&I process short and simple. We know customers have short attention spans, especially by the time they get to the F&I office. That’s why long presentations have proven to be ineffective. In the customer’s mind, the clock is ticking the second they enter the box.

This makes our job easy: Make a short informative presentation that doesn’t evoke negative sales resistance and let the customer decide. Advertisers understand that dynamic, too. They know their audience can digest content quickly, so they spend millions on 15- to 60-second television pitches that get straight to the point. By the way, those assertions are based on actual studies with real results.

My question is: Do software geeks understand how precious time is? As I’ve said before, we in the F&I office have about four to seven minutes to make our presentation. The more time we add to it, the more we increase the likelihood of getting a “No.” So, are vendors really trying to streamline the process, or are they just going for the “Wow” factor? If it’s the latter, I would advise them to remember that speed will always win.

Now, most current attempts at mobilizing the dealership experience have been directed at that window of time before the customer is turned over to the F&I office. While customers wait to see the F&I manager, software makers want the salesperson to hand them an iPad so they can watch videos and answer pre-interview questions. The thinking is that the F&I office can gain insights using this no-pressure approach, but will this really shave minutes off the F&I process?

Personally, I think it will do the opposite, as I believe the F&I clock will start ticking in the customers’ minds once they’re handed the iPad.

As for mobilizing the F&I menu, I can’t help but wonder how it will work in the real world. Will we pass the iPad back and forth across the desk? Should we position ourselves on the same side as the customer so we can both view the screen? Are we both going to hold the device until I can’t overcome the customer’s objection?

Look, I’m not saying the mobile menu won’t work. Personally, I think these gadgets are cool; they dazzle and delight the senses. But are they better than the tried-and-true paper menu, because I’m going to need proof that they are before I make such a major change to my process.

But as we all know, it doesn’t matter what we think. The customer’s opinion is what counts. I’m interested in seeing the results of a survey that asks F&I managers whether iPads sell more products. I want to know whether customers think they’re a timesaver or a distraction. Until then, I will remain skeptical.

Now, if you’re an F&I manager who is having success with the iPad, I’d like to hear from you. Hey, I’m all for change. If we don’t, we risk becoming obsolete. So, if these devices can be proven to be the next thing in F&I, I’m all for it.

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

Comments

  1. 1. Rick Danos [ March 15, 2012 @ 01:03PM ]

    I AGREE 100%, After 20 + years in the box. If it is not broke don't fix it. With a paper menu I have more control and I can react to the customers comments or objections with the stroke of a pen without having to hit the back space key. Without control and a proper presentation you will cost your dealer income and your customer the protection of the products that you sell.

  2. 2. Chris Bonilla [ March 16, 2012 @ 04:25PM ]

    As always, well said Marv! You hit this topic on the head from every angle. I'm sure I speak for many of us when I say, I feel exactly the same way. This would be a great topic to cover at the Industry Summit this year. Perhaps we could have some kind of input/data by then from Mr. George Angus and his team... Hmmm?

  3. 3. Mad Marv [ March 16, 2012 @ 04:52PM ]

    The subject matter is already in the works. There will likely be a friendly discussion between the internet/iPad versus paper menus panel at the conference. I actually look forward to it for all the right reasons. To coin an oft used phrase by my adopted mentor, George Angus, 'If it works, it works-if it doesn't then it doesn't. ' The market will determine which mindset and theory is most acceptable-not mere opinion. I truly lament ruffling any feathers but must stand true to my convictions. This is an important time in the world of F&I. Our processes are under scrutiny and maybe even attack. Interviews, iPads, electronic menus and internet communication with customers seem to be the wave of the future and things to come. Champions, such as yourself, will rise to the occasion and lead us through this morass of confusion and when the dust settles will help us old timers determine which of these avenues best communicate our message to customers. I welcome all opinions and humbly accept your compliments.

  4. 4. Nick [ March 23, 2012 @ 01:00PM ]

    I've seen iPad and mobile menu's work in the correct environment. Like anything else, dealer process will dictate the long term success of any F&I process. This reminds me of the debate around the interview, for some, it's an amazing tool that gathers data, for others it tips them off that a sales pitch is coming and hurts the numbers. It really depends on your dealer and customer culture and how you choose to adapt or change to fit that culture.

  5. 5. Mad Marv [ March 23, 2012 @ 05:45PM ]

    Great perspective, Nick! No singular process works in all environments and it's up to us all to correctly analyze our particular markets to determine what works best. When we come to that conclusion then we should aggressively implement that process and voraciously defend it while always being open minded to tweaking it.

  6. 6. Carlos Arciniegas [ April 07, 2012 @ 08:54AM ]

    Pipe dream Marv! thank you...

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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 fi-magazine.com.

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