How important are those first few seconds in meeting a customer who is apprehensive about the next hurdle in the buying process and expecting the worst to happen?

The first few seconds set the stage for all that will follow. You have only the first few seconds to allay suspicions, defuse defensiveness, and put the customer at ease with you and the F&I process.

It isn't hard to imagine why a customer might be "on guard." Put yourself in the place of the customer who knows that somewhere in the dealership someone other than the person who sold the vehicle is busy crunching numbers that will make or break this deal. Meanwhile, the sales consultant who was so attentive a little while ago is now struggling to make small talk and seems anxious to be somewhere else.

If this scene seems familiar, you are missing a prime opportunity to create a positive atmosphere for your customer. All you need to do is leave your office, go out to the salesperson's workstation, and take the initiative to meet your customer.

Minding Your Manners

Physical and verbal mannerisms matter. Make sure your body language and gestures model your words in four key actions:

1) Make physical contact. Extend your right hand in a friendly manner, offering to shake everyone's hand. After all you are very glad they chose your store to purchase their vehicle.

2) Establish eye contact. The eyes are indeed the windows to our souls. You want to communicate a soul full of openness and sincerity. Look each person directly in the eyes as you shake hands — and smile!

3) Repeat the customer's name three times. The loveliest word in any language is the sound of one's own name. If you say the customer's name three times in the first two minutes, you will enhance your ability to remember it and use it. Your customer will feel like they matter and you will have set the stage for making inquiries about personal financial matters seem less intrusive.

4) Get the customer to say your name once during the first two minutes. Present your business card and ask the customer to write next to your name: "For questions, call __________." Then ask the customer to place your card in their wallet. You will be the last person they see, and the first one they remember if they want to talk to someone about the vehicle. Make sure they get your name right!

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WWWWWHO Are You?

Some dealerships now use signage like Financial Center, Business Office, and even Escrow (!) Office in an attempt to make their customers feel less intimidated by the F&I process.

However, you will find that taking a few moments while you are still in the sales consultant's workstation to introduce yourself and your role in the sales process is far more important than what the sign says.

Meeting of the Minds

While customers understand that paperwork usually follows every vehicle sale and the paperwork needs to be completed somewhere, few things create anxiety more than being left behind to wait. Minutes seem like hours, and each one that passes diminishes the CSI.

When customers are involved in the process hours seem like minutes. The challenge is to create a friendly, participative process from the start. And that means you need to get out of your office to meet the customer and get them involved.

Introduce yourself to customers at the sales consultant's work area with the sales consultant present. Identify your role at the dealership and describe the process that is about to take place. Review the sales figures. Your customers will appreciate knowing that a change of face does not mean a change in the numbers. And it will set the stage for full disclosure.

Remember, no one will want to do business with you until they believe you care about what is important to them, and we will address the critical action of Building Rapport in the next installement of "12 Steps to F&I Succe$$". Until then, make your meetings matter!

SIDEBAR: Sample Introduction

Hello. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am ___________, one of the business managers here at the dealership. Congratulations on your purchase. Thank you for choosing us.

Together, you and I will be completing the title work and finalizing all the funding details for your new vehicle.

Before I verify the computer entries, I would like to review the sales figures with you. According to my instructions, both you and the sales manager have agreed upon a sales price of $________ [use small numbers and avoid the word 'thousands'], and we are paying $_____ [use large numbers such as one thousand five hundred dollars] for the trade-in vehicle. I will be collecting $_______ [use small numbers] as an initial payment, and we have an estimated pay off of $_________ for the trade-in vehicle. You spoke about finance terms of ______ months at _______ APR which is $______ per month. Of course all terms are dependent upon final lender approval.

As I mentioned earlier, I need to verify the computer information and would like to invite you into my office while I complete the data entry. It should only take a few minutes. My office is [down the hall/around the corner/up the stairs, etc].

Jan Kelly, president of Kelly Enterprises, is a sales trainer and consultant, convention speaker and frequent contributor to industry publications. For additional information about training opportunities, call (800) 336-4275 or visit www.JLKelly.com.

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