Few innovations have had a bigger impact on the finance office than menu selling. The advent of the menu offered F&I managers the opportunity to move beyond step selling to a less obtrusive method of introducing customers to the products that help protect their vehicle purchase. Along the way, the menu has come to serve as an indispensable compliance tool as well. But the reality is, the menu simply represents a tool to deliver our message. In other words, it can’t do the selling for you.

Today’s consumer has been bombarded with articles and advice designed to prepare them for the car-buying experience. They know what’s coming when they finish the paperwork up front. Many of them even know what the menu is for, and they’re often determined to say “No” to whatever it has to offer.

So, is it time for a new way to deliver our message? Not unless you can come up with a delivery mechanism that also works to satisfy compliance requirements and is recognizable to state and federal regulators. See, what really needs to change is our message, not the way in which we deliver it.

Don’t Fear the Internet Shopper

Yes, the Internet shopper knows a little bit more than yesterday’s car buyer. Most consumer surveys point to a shopper that spends hours upon hours researching their next vehicle purchase and the price they’ll pay to own it. What they’re looking for is the best deal they can get, which means today’s F&I managers will have to deliver new information to get this well-researched shopper to listen.

So, how does an F&I manager deliver substance? Well, let’s review what we know about today’s buyers. First, we know that the finance buyer is after a deal they believe they can afford monthly. The cash buyer bases his or her purchase on a price they know they can afford with the money they have available. What these two types of customers don’t factor in is the true cost of ownership, which is what our new message needs to center on. Let’s take a look at seven cost variables on which you can center your message:

Insurance: Like the car payment, insurance represents a fixed cost to most consumers. However, it can be a variable to consumers if they didn’t check pricing first, so make sure to find out if they did.

Gas: Many consumers have an idea of what it will cost to drive their new vehicle, but nobody knows when and by how much gas prices will increase. And as we’ve seen recently, a jump in gas prices can happen anytime.

Maintenance: The cost of regularly scheduled oil changes, tire rotations and alignments can add up quickly over time. Car buyers know they have to have these services performed to keep their vehicles in good working condition, but they rarely budget for it at the time of purchase.

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Vehicle Repairs: Most manufacturers will warranty a vehicle for three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first. These warranties typically cover defects in materials and workmanship. Most consumers are content in allowing this temporary and limited blanket coverage protect them against unforeseen circumstances, and very rarely calculate their exposure once the warranty runs out.

Tires: Most consumers aren’t aware that the tires their new vehicle rolled off the assembly line with aren’t covered by the factory warranty. The tire manufacturer warranties the tires, and those warranties only cover defects for up to a year. Also keep in mind that state and local governments are cutting back on road repairs because of budget shortfalls, which leaves tires even more exposed. And if a pothole damages the rim, your customer is looking at paying 10 times as much as he or she would to replace a tire. Again, this is something consumers rarely budget for.

Paint Protection: Most consumers are unaware that most manufacturers don’t offer a paint warranty. And most consumers don’t calculate the cost of repairing paint damage until the paint starts to flake or when it comes time to trade in the vehicle. And remember, appearance is key to a vehicle’s trade-in value.

GAP, Windshield and Key Replacement: No car buyer budgets for a stolen or totaled vehicle, and GAP coverage is their best shot at getting into another new vehicle if the worst should happen. The high cost of replacement keys will surprise any customer who hasn’t purchased a new car in the last several years. And as we in the business know, replacing a windshield isn’t cheap either.

The New Message

Car buyers know what’s coming when they make what salespeople refer to as the “walk of death” to the F&I office. That’s why many trainers recommend having F&I managers conduct customer interviews at the salesman’s desk, as the showroom interview represents an opportunity for the F&I manager to convey the message that F&I is there to help customers control the cost of owning a vehicle.

But remember, the questions asked during the interview must be designed to build trust. In other words, leave out the hidden sales pitches for now. Instead, view this time with the customer as an opportunity to deliver new information.

Two great sources for relaying your cost-of-ownership message are Edmunds.com and AAA. Presenting information from a third-party source builds credibility with customers, and those two sites in particular include the cost of a vehicle service contract when calculating the cost of ownership.

Articles on how states are reducing road repairs and construction also are great demonstration tools, as are articles on GAP. And don’t forget the owner’s manual, which you can use to point out the limitations in the factory warranty.

So, stop pitching and start educating your customer on the costs associated with owning a vehicle. They might know what’s coming when they see the menu, but it’s highly likely they know less than they realize about the true cost of owning a vehicle.

George Berkholder serves as the president of Income Development Strategies. He can be reached at [email protected]

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