Finding and hiring a true F&I professional is the goal of every dealer. Coincidentally, it’s the hope of customers, too. If you don’t have the right person in this key position, customer satisfaction, retail sales, F&I product sales and dealership net profit all suffer tremendously. Unfortunately, dealers often put the wrong person in the F&I office because they continue to use the same methodology and philosophy they used when they hired their last disaster, hoping somehow it’ll work out better this time.

Disaster often happens when a dealer fails to implement a process to select, hire and train people for this critical dealership position. Often using only a cursory interview or “gut feeling,” they pick someone who’s destined to fail because they lack the ability, experience or personality traits. Then, when they fail, we blame them, fire them and do it all over again.

A dealer cannot wait until he needs an F&I manager to start looking for one. If you want to find and hire “A” players, you must always be on the lookout for “A” players. There are three main areas to find a prospective F&I manager: your own sales department, sales or finance professionals outside the auto industry, and the competition.

Looking Within for Talent

Your own sales department is normally the first and best place to search for a potential candidate. Most dealerships prefer to promote from within. The natural choice would seem to be to promote the “best” sales professional. Unfortunately, the skill set for selling tangible products is completely different from the skill set necessary to sell intangible products. Selling a tangible product requires creating desire. Customers can fall in love with the car’s appearance, the leather interior, that new-car smell, the stereo system, color, etc. —all of which stimulate concrete senses.

Selling intangible products requires a completely different approach. Customers have to see a need for the product, or they won’t buy it.

It may seem difficult to determine if a salesperson has what it takes, but it really isn’t. Start by checking out a salesperson’s average gross profit. If two salespeople sell the same number of vehicles, but one consistently has higher grosses, that person is already good at selling an intangible product. That’s the reason he or she is able to maintain higher grosses.

Additionally, evaluate your salesperson’s paperwork. If he or she can’t or won’t properly complete his or her paperwork, it’s not going to improve simply because you moved them into the F&I office. You need to know if he or she can be coached and will listen to advice to improve in the profession.

Keeping an Eye on Outside Talent

Unfortunately, not every dealer has a qualified or interested F&I candidate on the sales floor. However, there are hundreds of potential candidates available outside the automobile industry who have the necessary attributes to succeed in the F&I office. An excellent place to look for potential F&I managers is in any type of intangible sales: insurance professionals, investment brokers or the ministry. Loan officers, finance company managers or anyone successful in direct sales is also a potential candidate.

The competition is also a great place to find an F&I professional. They may have an experienced F&I manager who is dissatisfied with his or her current situation. However, be wary when hiring an F&I manager from a competitor. While there are some very talented individuals you might be able to hire, it’s critical you determine why they’re looking to move. Often, talking with a few of their paper buyers can be a real eye opener.

On the other hand, they may want to change dealerships because their commute is 90 minutes each way, and your dealership happens to be within 10 minutes of their house. When hiring an experienced manager, also keep in mind that you might be inheriting existing habits and beliefs. It’s critical for that candidate to have a clear understanding of, and believe in, your dealership’s philosophy, F&I sales process and performance expectations.

Personality Tests and Managing Expectations

Determining if someone has the necessary attributes to be successful in F&I is arguably the hardest part of hiring a winner. When you have identified a few qualified candidates, it’s essential that you use a proven personality indicator to determine their strengths and weaknesses. Look for a testing service with a proven track record, references and, preferably, a company representative who has extensive experience in the auto industry.

Finally, regardless of where you locate your new F&I manager, it’s imperative to train him or her on the F&I process you want him or her to utilize, as well as on your dealership’s sales philosophy and performance expectations.

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Even the most talented people who receive excellent training cannot succeed in a vacuum. Continuous, ongoing, in-dealership training focused on improving consultative skills is crucial to any F&I manager’s success. While there are dozens of F&I training companies at your disposal, beware of those that promise huge profit increases overnight.

Make sure your training company has a full-disclosure policy, a proven track record and references. Find out if the trainer has ever been in F&I, and how long ago that was. Do they provide ongoing, in-dealership training and coaching? With any training class, you can expect a performance increase for 30 to 90 days — then what? Without continuous training, every F&I manager will begin to drift off course. Ongoing training is absolutely essential to ensuring an F&I manager continues to improve his or her skills.

Having a Plan to Retain Talent

Keeping an “A” player almost always comes down to his or her pay plan, because the pay plan is his or her job description. That’s why it’s vital to provide goals, performance objectives and direction that support your pay plan and vice-versa.

These goals should include:

l. Add value in the F&I office by helping customers see their need for F&I products.

2. Secure the sale, protect the front-end profit and obtain acceptable financing to ensure every vehicle sold gets delivered.

3. Generate F&I profits through the sale of all F&I products utilizing an ethical, honest and customer-focused presentation.

4. Manage the F&I department and protect the dealership.

One dealership had goals similar to the four I previously stated. Unfortunately, its pay plan had a provision which penalized the F&I manager for not covering the “leg” from the front desk. The dealership expected the F&I manager to be legal, moral and ethical, while its pay plan encouraged the desk to illegally quote “packed” payments, and then expected F&I managers to “cover the spread.” Sending mixed signals like this is a recipe for disaster.

Today’s F&I professional is responsible for more than just arranging financing and selling products. The F&I manager must also protect the dealership from potential litigation by ensuring compliance with laws and regulations. The F&I department is a crucial source of profit for dealerships. Dealerships with F&I winners are seeing F&I profits and customer satisfaction at all-time highs, and they’re not getting sued for deceptive sales practices.

If you want to find, hire and keep an F&I winner at your dealership, follow a selection process that helps eliminate subjectivity and provides ongoing direction and training. It’s also crucial that you implement a pay plan that reinforces your dealership’s goals and objectives.

Joe Jacobson is a senior training consultant with Reahard & Associates Inc. He is an AFIP-certified F&I professional, and has spent years providing F&I training in dealerships throughout the United States and Canada. Contact Jacobson at (866) REAHARD, or e-mail him at [email protected]

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