Matt Nowicki.

Matt Nowicki.

Last month, Mad Marv wrote about his reluctance to embrace mobile F&I, and he raised some good questions.
I understand his skepticism. He’s been in “The Box” for many years and has seen any number of next-big-thing solutions come and go. Marv’s numbers are as strong as they come, so I understand why he’d question why anyone would suggest he change his approach.

What Marv issued was a challenge to companies like mine. Yes, I head up my company’s retail software division. But, like you, my paycheck is 100 percent based on F&I products being sold. So, I would never develop or advocate a solution that didn’t result in more products being sold. Remember, I work for a product company, not just a software company.

Now, few things have revolutionized F&I like the introduction of the menu decades ago. In fact, it is now estimated that more than 80 percent of all franchised dealerships use some form of menu selling in the F&I office. It has led to higher penetration rates, more gross per deal, and higher customer satisfaction.

As the lead architect of SmartMenu, I’ve spent the last decade working with agents and dealers to customize, legalize and perfect what is, in my not-so humble opinion, the finest menu program available. And you’d be hard pressed to find a dealer or F&I manager who doesn’t agree that menu selling works.

The IAS tablet-based application, which we call SmartPad, is a tool that shortens the F&I process and helps create sales opportunities by gathering information from the customer in real time as he or she waits to enter the F&I office. SmartPad can be used to provide CSI-styled surveys, but it also is designed to present and gather information in an engaging manner that has never been tried before. And our solution goes beyond the typical survey and interview: We use dynamic video and multimedia presentations to engage the customer in additional purchase opportunities that will be made available once they are turned over to F&I.

Now, while some tablet-based F&I technology may aim to convert a salesperson to a hybrid F&I manager, the SmartPad — and I want to make this clear — does not. We designed it to help streamline functions performed by F&I managers, namely the interview and product presentation process.

I do disagree with Marv that the F&I clock starts ticking the moment the tablet is handed to the customer, because if it’s used properly, the customer should remain in sales mode.

See, we recommend that sales representatives tailor the survey around specific information related to the vehicle being purchased. Once the customer answers those questions, a text message or e-mail report is sent to F&I so the menu can be customized specifically to the needs of each customer.

SmartPad is still in the early-adoption stage, but we are already seeing the benefits. There’s the dealer in Connecticut whose GAP penetration has jumped from 12 to 35 percent in his first month with SmartPad. But the real story here is not the numbers; it’s the impression the SmartPad has made on the dealer’s customers. It’s just difficult to quantify the “Wow” factor.

In our view, the only way menu selling can continue to work in the F&I office going forward is if we present it in a way that appeals to a broad range of consumers. And we think the SmartPad achieves that and more by streamlining the F&I process and delivering the “Wow” we need to deliver to our customers.

I also want to clear we’re not jumping on the Gen X and Y bandwagon with our solution. If you’ve ever looked closely at the thousands of people camped out at Apple and Best Buy stores to get the latest version of the iPad, you probably noticed the age range is broad. The one commonality among them is they want the latest and greatest tablet technology. My question to you is: Why should dealerships be any different?

Tablet-based technologies have taken off in virtually every vertical in every industry. And with so much of the population having adopted tablets for home or office use, they have become as familiar to auto buyers as their cell phone. That familiarity drives up their comfort level, and the more comfortable they are, the more they’ll buy.

The point is, technology is changing the way we do business, and we hope dealers will make an attempt to change as well.

Matt Nowicki serves as the vice president of retail software for Innovative Aftermarket Systems. E-mail him at [email protected].