Many times after a stellar review of a customer’s options on the menu, their response is often, “I don’t need any of that.” Sound familiar? Unfortunately, it happens far too frequently. You have presented all your products on the menu and the customer is saying “No thanks, I don’t want anything.” What’s in that “No”? The menu should have worked, but the last few customers haven’t selected anything. You attended that training class and you did everything by the book. Where do you go from here? What do you say? Why doesn’t it work?

Well, don’t give up. From a sales perspective the first “No” you get means absolutely nothing! That “No” is simply the customer’s automatic defense mechanism. Just like when you go into a store and the clerk asks, “Can I help you?” Your automatic response is, “No thanks, I’m just looking.” That’s not true, you’re there to buy. You just don’t want to deal with a pushy sales clerk.

That first “No” might simply be because the customer has never bought the product before. Nobody likes change. “I’ve never bought it before, why should I buy it now?” It may be the customer is not familiar with the product(s) being offered. Nobody likes being asked to make a decision without having all the facts. It may be they have yet to realize they need a particular product, or they feel like you’re trying to “sell” them something. There are many reasons why the customer’s initial response is “No.” It’s an F&I professional’s job to overcome that “No” by demonstrating how that product will help them.

What Does That “No” Mean?

The key to overcoming “No” is discovering why the customer needs your products before presenting those products on a menu. When few, if any needs-discovery questions are asked, and a customer declines one or more products, the typical F&I manager launches into a features-advantages-benefits presentation. (Usually the product the Finance Manager makes the most money on, not necessarily the one the customer actually needs!) If the customer still declines to purchase that product, the feature-advantages-benefits are repeated again, as if the customer must not have heard them the first time. (Also known as “they must be deaf or stupid” approach.)

If the F&I manager is still not successful getting a customer to agree to purchase after this repeated review of the benefits, it’s time to go to plan B — lower the price, or “throw in” a second product to build value. Often, this is where the tired old car sales technique of “If I could, would you?” begins. After the second “No,” many F&I managers begin to negotiate the price or payment, in a desperate effort to at least sell something. And if they’re only going to sell one product, it’s going to be the product they make the most money on, or have the most room to negotiate. Hopefully, after much discussion and negotiation, an agreement is finally reached and the customer agrees to buy. Ah, success!

Or is it?

Start Out on the Right Foot

Most customers today need several, if not all, F&I products. Reducing the price to get them to buy one, or throwing in a second product for free, is hardly a success. The biggest problem most F&I managers have is getting past that initial rejection. It all begins in the initial greeting of the customer. Within the first few minutes of meeting you, that customer will decide if they like you, and if they are going to buy from you. An enthusiastic greeting is critical. Always greet the customer at the sales consultant’s desk. After all, that’s where they feel the most comfortable. It’s also where they have spent most of their time while at the dealership. Have a smile on your face and a spring in your step.

The next key to selling any product is making the customer realize that this product is important to them. For the customer, the purchase of any product must provide an obvious benefit or the elimination of risk. The benefit or elimination of risk must exceed the price of the product. In order to know what risk the customer has in their particular situation, an F&I manager must discover their unique needs. Before a customer will buy anything, they have to “see” how that product will help them by eliminating risk, or have some tangible benefits, based on their situation.

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Tap Into the Customer’s Needs

Awareness of what a customer needs requires asking questions that will put you on a personal level with your customer. Only by demonstrating genuine interest in them can you earn their trust and confidence. If a customer feels that you really care about them and what is in their best interest, you greatly reduce sales resistance, because you’re offering products that they realize will fit their needs. In many cases, the customer will make a positive buying decision without any resistance.

It is easy to gather information and discover needs without involving the customer. Many times an F&I Manager cannot wait to open the deal jacket and get all the information needed to determine what products the customer needs and how they can be sold. The only problem with this approach is the customer doesn’t realize they need a product. You have to get to know your customer and help them begin thinking about the future.

When customers buy a vehicle, they are on an emotional high. Now that they have bought the car, they are not thinking about the future. They’re not thinking about problems they might have with their new purchase down the road. The role of an F&I professional is to bring them back to reality. The key is to bring them back gently and help them recognize the risk and uncertainties they face in the future.

In any selling situation, you must ask the right questions to get the customer thinking about the future. Ask open-ended questions, and lots of them. Customers love to talk about their family, their job and their hobbies. Needs discovery questions should begin the minute you greet the customer. “So, who’s getting the new car?” “What made you decide to purchase your new vehicle at ABC Motors?” “How long have you been shopping for a new car?” “What made you decide to trade in your current vehicle?” “What other vehicles do you own?” These are just a few questions that you can ask during the introduction period with your customer. The key is to demonstrate a genuine interest in them.

Ask the Right Questions

Just getting to know your customer is usually not enough to earn the sale. Ask product-specific questions. Begin by engaging the customer in thinking about your products before reviewing their options on the menu. A great tool to use is the credit application. You can utilize the credit application to gather additional information about the customer and begin planting seeds for your products.

While verifying the information on the credit application, take the opportunity to drill a bit deeper and get the customer thinking about their needs. “You live at 123 Jones Street for the last four years, is that correct?” “Will you be parking your new car in the garage or perhaps in the driveway or street?” “Your monthly income is $8,000. Has that gone up or down in the last five years?” “Really, what was it five years ago?” If married, “Do you rely on both incomes to meet your monthly obligations?”

“You have been employed at ABC Corporation for six years, is that correct? What all is involved in your job?” “What’s the most interesting thing that has ever happened at work?” “How many miles is your commute?” “What kind of hobbies do you enjoy?” “You have a checking and savings account at XYZ National Bank? What is your average balance in these accounts?” “What other investments do you have that are not listed?”

“How many children do you have?” “What are their names?” “How old are they?” “How often will they be driving this new vehicle?” “What about your relatives that you have listed, how often do you get a chance to visit them?” “How far of a drive is it?” The more a customer needs to think about the question before they answer, the better the question. Asking the right needs-discovery questions will help the customer see they need a product before you even offer it.

Overcoming That Objection

So, how do you get past the “No?” If you make a customer listen to you rattle off benefits to a product they just told you they don’t want to buy, you lose. You’re selling- and they’re not buying. However, if you take the time to establish a relationship with your customer and take the time to understand their situation, you now have credibility, because you know their needs, and getting past the “No” is much, much easier.

Until you get an objection, you cannot discover the true reason why the customer doesn’t feel there is any value in your product. Demonstrate you care about them, their family, and what happens to them in the future. Tell them you’re surprised they’re not interested in a couple of products, based on what they told you earlier in your conversation. For example, if they rely on both incomes to meet monthly obligations, and they decline everything on the menu, say, “I am a little surprised you’d say that, based on what you told me earlier.”

They want to know why you’re surprised. It may take a few seconds, so be patient. But they will ask. They have now given you permission to share your knowledge. At this point, when you talk about a vehicle service agreement, GAP or credit disability, you’re not selling, but rather consulting with the customer as to how a particular product will help them. Bring the benefits of that product to life by telling a story, so they can see how the product applies to their situation. Tell a story about what might happen in the future using information you learned by asking questions about their past.

Don’t expect a miracle just because you told a story. A story alone will seldom sell your product, unless the customer can see themselves in that same situation. As an F&I professional, you must demonstrate how each product will help this particular customer. They will either respond positively or have another objection. The customer may state, “I agree, but I just can’t afford it.” This is what every F&I professional needs…an objection! This is where the “true” selling begins. Because in most cases, that “No” means absolutely nothing.

Marty Lisk is a senior training consultant with Reahard & Associates Inc. Reahard & Associates provides customized in-dealership F&I training for dealerships throughout the U.S. and Canada. Marty has more than nine years of retail automotive experience in both sales and F&I, and has spent over 13 years providing F&I training to dealers and general agents. Contact Marty at 866-REAHARD, or e-mail him at [email protected]

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