As I ponder how technology will bring change to the F&I office, there are several questions that come to mind. How will technology help you run your F&I department better? How will technology transform F&I? How can technology help you make your F&I department more profitable five years from now? Can technology improvements really help you sell your products better?

The flow of digital information has changed, and will continue to change the way we conduct business in the F&I department. The question is whether more technology means a more successful finance manager. That’s certainly what many F&I managers are asking as they choose whether or not to embrace today’s technology tools. Does an electronic menu make me more money? What about an electronic desking system? Does electronic contract submission increase F&I income? Will a custom reporting system make you more profitable? The answer is a resounding NO!

Technology tools don’t sell a customer anything. I can easily use a handwritten menu and be just as successful as I would if I was using an electronic menu, just as penciling the deal on our worksheets seems to be effective. The old way of sending in contracts to lenders still works and I have been using a paper F&I control log for a long time. But will this line of thinking help you get better? The answer again is NO!

I believe F&I will change more in the next five years than it has in the last 20. However, it is going to take much effort on all of our parts to get there. One of the biggest bottlenecks is the scarcity mentality of not allowing integration with the dealer management system (DMS).

Solutions Needed, But Not Required

Our economy continues to grow in spite of reasons why it shouldn’t. Why is that? I think one of the primary reasons is high productivity due to a free flow of information. The rest of the world is embracing a free flow of information while many in the automotive sector are slowing down the processes. There are many solutions that can help a dealer become and remain more profitable, but dealers choose not to use them because these solutions won’t properly integrate into their DMS. The integration problem will take care of itself eventually, as companies compete and dealers demand better sales solutions. For now, dealers will have to be content with the best possible solution, whether it integrates completely or not.

What is evident is that the F&I department of the future must embrace technological solutions if it expects to grow. There are many benefits in doing so, such as faster funding, increased cash flow, improved compliance, higher customer satisfaction and a sales team empowered by the free flow of information. All of these benefits equate to a more efficient finance department.

Still, the question remains: How do technology solutions help you sell more products?

The Move to Electronic Menus

Whether you use the menu as a presentation tool or prefer to show it to the customer at the end of the product presentation, it is a well-defined closing alternative that not only gives the customer choices but simplifies the closing process. Already, F&I profits have increased $100 per retail unit since menu selling went mainstream. It has also replaced the concept of step selling, or selling one product at a time before closing on each.

I often ask F&I managers how the menu works for them. I typically get the same reply every time: “It works well when I use it.” We usually have a nice chuckle over their answer once I repeat it back to them. The justification that they give me for not using it is they don’t always have time to prepare it. The other response I get is the menu becomes ineffective once something changes from the menu’s original setup. For example, the customer changes his or her mind about the amount of down payment here or she wants to make, making it simply impossible for the F&I manager to redo the menu while the customer is sitting in his or her office. The electronic menu solution eliminates this concern because it makes it easy to change the down payment and reprint a new one.

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Sometimes the justification for not using the menu is that it doesn’t pull the information from the DMS effectively. If it does pull, it won’t push back completely. Either way, it only takes about a minute and a half to type the customer’s information into the menu. Bottom line: You’ll save time using it as a closing tool rather than trying to step-sell your way through the process. When the customer has well-defined choices, the less time it takes him or her to make a product decision. It also defines the process for the F&I manager, cutting down on the time it takes to sell products.

Another common objection I hear about why they don’t use the menu is that every customer is different, which means the product mix isn’t always the same. I agree the best choices for a customer aren’t always the same. They can even change during the presentation. This is another feature that an electronic menu provides you. It gives you the ability to change the product mix on the fly and easily gives the customer more appropriate choices.

Empowering the Salesperson; the Customer

Electronic sales desking will help close more deals. When customers are given information to help with their decision, not only are they more likely to buy, but they’ll be more satisfied with the entire process.

We’ve all heard our friends complain about buying a vehicle, and how the dealership won’t give them straight answers. Electronic sales desking does just that, providing financing, leasing and cash options. The point here is if a customer is given a first pencil with down-payment options, along with average interest rates, he or she will be less fixated on a specific payment. That also means the customer will be more likely to buy finance and insurance products.

Less Re-Contracting Means More Profit

An enthusiastic finance manager will always sell more than an overwhelmed one. Since sales are simply a “transfer of enthusiasm,” being prepared and having a clear mind when presenting products to the customer will result in higher F&I profits.

Electronic contract submission provides the F&I person with the confidence that when he or she completes the transaction, the contract is correct and the dealer will be funded immediately. It does take a little more work to prepare for delivery, but it is time well spent to have a positive attitude when delivering the automobile and presenting the customer’s product options. Overcoming customer objections isn’t always easy when you’re in the right frame of mind, but trying to persuade is impossible when you are overwhelmed with funding problems.

Custom Reporting Keeps Our Focus on the Target

A sharp shooter could hit the bull’s eye 100 percent of the time from 50 yards away, but put a blindfold on him or her and he or she will likely miss the target entirely. An F&I department without clear-cut goals will get the same results. The trick here is to be able to monitor progress.

Electronic custom reporting keeps the F&I manager focused on his or her daily objectives. The possibility of success is much higher anytime we are able to focus on a goal.

Embrace Change

I said earlier that I believe F&I will change more in the next five years than it has in the past 20. Digital information will play the critical role. It will streamline the entire process from the time the customer walks in the door until the contract is funded. It will simplify the sales process, lending process and even the F&I sale. Some finance managers will procrastinate or resist the change to try new methods. Others have and will continue to embrace it and become better salespeople because of it.

Ron Martin is the president of the Vision of F&I. You can reach him at [email protected] or (260) 338-0670.

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