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Being Brilliant at the Basics

June 2009, F&I and Showroom - Feature

by Rick McCormick - Also by this author

When Vince Lombardi took over the Green Bay Packers in 1958, one of the first questions the local press asked him was, “What are you going to change to turn this team around after a string of failures and losing seasons?” His reply provides a window into a well-developed process of how to be successful when faced with a challenging situation.

Lombardi’s response was: “I am not going to change anything. We will use the same players, the same plays and the same training system. But we will concentrate on becoming brilliant at the basics.” In nine seasons his Green Bay Packers won five NFL Championships and two Super Bowls.

The goal of the F&I professional is the same as it has always been. Sell products at high penetration and profit levels. The manner in which we’ve tried to accomplish this has varied over the years. In times past, F&I schools taught how to sell products to customers without them knowing that they bought them. Managers also learned how to overpower the customer with benefits so they felt foolish for not buying. In today’s market, with a well-informed consumer and a demand for transparency in the car-buying process, such tactics need to be eliminated. Their continued use will lead to an increase in charge-backs, bad CSI scores, and worse, litigation.

We are in uncharted waters in the automotive business. Dealerships today are selling fewer vehicles at much lower profit. The need for the F&I department to produce a high level of profitability is critical to every dealer’s bottom line. So, do we reinvent our process or become more evasive to our customer’s demand for transparency? Or, like Lombardi did with his team, do we become brilliant at the basics?

Putting the Customer at Ease

During challenging times, the one skill that’s often skipped is developing an effective customer introduction. Remember, a customer will form an opinion about you in the first seven seconds of your meeting, and will make a decision on whether or not to buy from you in the first four minutes. People will not buy from you until they like you, trust you and are convinced that you are acting in their best interest.

Go out to the salesperson’s office and greet customers where they are most comfortable and willing to share information with you. At the very least, you can get them to reveal their particular need for your products. Remember, customers expect to be sold on something when they’re brought to your office. That’s why we need to do what they don’t expect.

In many cases, the customer introduction is the first and only opportunity for you to build the rapport and trust necessary for a customer to be in a positive buying decision. Skipping this step is equivalent to a football team running the ball without blocking. To become brilliant at putting the customer at ease demands practice, such as role playing with salespeople to develop a good way to greet a customer. Salespeople should also be told why it’s important for you to meet the customer in their office rather than having him or her brought to yours. Remember, how we start the process with a customer has a huge impact on how it finishes.


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