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On the Point

Showroom Showdown

Every great Western had a great villain, but Da Man says not every dealership needs a Lee Van Cleef sitting in the finance office.

May 1, 2015

If it wasn’t obvious to you by now, I am an avid fan of old spaghetti Westerns. In fact, my love of Westerns and their good-vs.-evil themes has inspired many of my speeches, articles and campaigns. And every one of them stress the virtue of standing up for idealistic values.

We all know the good guys and admire what they stand for, but the good guys would be nothing without the bad guys bringing the fight to them. They were deceitful and despicable — evil personified, you could say.

And nobody did it better than Lee Van Cleef. He played a bit character in 109 Westerns and died in most of them. Gary Cooper killed him in “High Noon,” John Wayne pistol-whipped him in “Liberty Valance,” “The Rifleman” ran him out of town, and Clint killed him in “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Heck, even Rock Hudson outdrew and killed him.

Van Cleef did live through some of his movies, but he usually just had to die, mostly because he was pure evil.

Remember how proud you were when they promoted you to F&I manager? They sent you to F&I school and gave you an office. And with it came power and prestige, and all of your friends on the sales floor wished you well. Then, without warning, they turned on you like a pack of rabid dogs fighting over a pork chop.

That was your first real introduction to F&I. It was that moment that you realized you were now feared and distrusted by the very people you used to hang with. You might as well be Lee Van Cleef, with salespeople including this warning with every “T.O.” to finance: “Look, I really need this deal. Don’t blow these people out!”

Then you realized the salespeople are coaching customers on how to deal with you, or maybe they start quoting payments, interest rates and prices that can’t be done. Even the sales manager gets in on the action, treating you like his personal secretary and a second-rate clerical assistant instead of a highly trained professional.

Then it happens: You make the mistake of complaining about something a salesperson did. It’s a legitimate gripe, but the  sales manager defends his guy (or gal). That’s when you really start feeling like Van Cleef, but don’t even think about going to the dealer or general manager with your problem. Van Cleef was shot down dead in the street for much less than that.

So how do you gain the respect and authority your position demands? After all, you have more schools, skills and training than anybody in the dealership except the mechanics. Besides, a manager is supposed to have dignity, authority and respect.

First of all, don’t suck. If you do, then it’ll only get worse. Second, get with the general sales manager, GM or dealer and get them to approve performance spiffs for F&I production. Just be sure they are centered on product sales, not profits.

If your department pays salespeople on F&I production regardless of whether or not they do their job, then that pay plan is counter-productive. Remember, a pay plan becomes a job description. If a salesperson does anything that harms dealership profitability, they should be financially penalized.

It is important you are viewed as a manager, which means you should have a part in every sales meeting and every management meeting. A great F&I manager participates at the front of the room at meetings. He or she also holds occasional training meetings like a real manager.

If you are a hermit that hides out in your office and only sticks your head out when there’s a deal to deliver, then you really are the Van Cleef of your dealership. So make sure you hang around the sales office and become an integral part of the selling team. Take turnovers (customer introductions) there and help close deals. Submit the deals to the lender and perform credit interviews with customers to get more deals approved.

To be respected as a manager, you have to act like a manager. Nobody ever gave me authority when I was in your position. You want prestige, authority and respect? You have to take it. But you better perform and conduct yourself like a manager. Otherwise, you’re just Lee Van Cleef. One last thing: don’t suck.

Jim Ziegler is the president of Ziegler SuperSystems Inc. Email him at jim.ziegler@bobit.com.

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Author Bio

Jim Ziegler

President & CEO of Ziegler SuperSystems

Jim 'Da Man' Ziegler joined the magazine in 2011 to deliver his On-the-Point message about the car business to dealer principals and store managers. He'll offer strategy advice on everything from sales and F&I to marketing in the digital age. Catch him every month at www.fi-magazine.com.

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