Men are notorious for refusing to pull over and ask for directions. GPS navigation units have helped this road warrior avoid the issue altogether. But on the road to the sale, I ask for directions from every customer I meet. If I didn’t, I’d never reach my destination.

In my training sessions, I stress developing a sales process specific to special finance and sticking to it. This includes completing the qualifying stage up front. When a customer walks in and says “I have a few issues with my credit,” my response is always the same: “Great! Let me get some information from you so I can give you some options for financing.” At this point, I’ll have two pieces of paper on my desk: A credit application and my needs analysis checklist. My goal is to find the unit that fits the customer’s needs and comes as close to their wants as possible.

For instance, let’s say a loyal Ford driver walks in and you’ve got an Expedition, an Explorer and a Taurus on the lot. The customer wants the Expedition but you know she can’t afford it. You stand to make the most out of the deal by selling her the Taurus, but, for $500 less in gross, you could put her in the Explorer. To me, it’s a no-brainer. For $500, you can get that customer a heck of a lot closer to the vehicle she wanted. That creates a happier customer, more referrals and, if she pays her note, a stronger relationship with the lender.

With that said, let’s take a look at the needs analysis checklist I’ve developed along with a brief explanation of why each group of questions is important.

1. Are you a full-time or part-time employee?

2. Are you a W-2 or a 1099-MISC employee?

3. What was your date of hire for your current job?

4. Do you have any job gaps in the past three years?

Let’s find out up front if the customer is self-employed or part-time. There is no point to working on a deal for three hours only to find out at the end that the customer’s employment status will limit his financing options.

5. What is your total monthly income?

6. What is your total household income?

If a customer’s monthly income is $2,500 but his household income is $4,500, you can reasonably assume that there may be a relative or friend available to boost the income, improve the customer’s credit picture or add a second vehicle. It’s a subtle way to ask for a co-signer without offending your customer.


7. Do you have any garnishments on your check stub?

8. If so, how much comes out each month?

It took me getting bitten in the butt a couple of times to add these questions. Wage garnishments can be sizable and you need to know about them up front.

9. Have you ever filed for bankruptcy?

10. If so, was it discharged?

11. Have you ever had a vehicle repossessed?

12. If so, by whom?

This is another great example of how a special finance manager often has to wear a counselor’s hat to get deals done. Let your customers know you accept the fact that there may be derogatory issues in their past. But to go into the trenches with the banks, you need the right ammunition.

13. Do you have a trade-in?

14. If so, do you owe money on it?

15. How much of a down payment can you afford?

Now we’re getting to the nuts and bolts. The customer’s equity — or lack thereof — on the trade-in is almost as important as the down payment. More importantly, a big positive in either column can make a bad deal look good. Many managers who pull a bureau with three repos will politely ask the customer to leave the premises. But if they had conducted a needs analysis that revealed $5,000 worth of down payment or trade, they might think twice.

16. Is this vehicle primarily for family or business?

17. Do you want a car, van, truck or SUV?

Find out what your customer has in mind without getting too specific. I once worked with a dealer who was using a needs analysis checklist that included questions about sunroofs and leather interiors. I crumbled it up and threw it away. Unless you’re determined to create objections for the customer to throw back at you later in the process, questions like that are useless.

18. What kind of payment can you afford?

I consider this last question to be optional. It’s easier in some regions than others to “bump” customers up to a higher payment. In such cases, I’ve seen managers get too wrapped up in the scheduled payment amount and wind up leaving money on the table or missing deals. In other regions, customers are simply harder to bump. In colder states, for instance, seasonal expenses such as heating bills don’t show up on a credit report. In those cases, previous car payments are a better benchmark.

If you conduct this analysis on every deal, you and your customers will be heading in the right direction from the outset. Where a customer’s needs meet his or her wants, lasting relationships are formed — and referrals are sure to follow.

Rob Hagen is the founder of Special, a Houston-based consulting firm specializing in department setup and growth. He can be reached at [email protected].