The traditional model for building a successful F&I department has been the implementation of a plan covering the three "P’s": people, process and pay plans. Given the constant rollout of new products designed to protect a customer’s vehicle, you can add a fourth "P": product. Choosing which products to offer is as critical to F&I success as the pay plan that motivates you to sell them, and one of the fastest growing F&I products is road hazard protection.
To understand why road hazard protection has become a core product in the F&I office, all you need to do is look at the low-profile tires, run-flat tires and alloy wheels OEMs are opting for these days. And when your customer is made aware that today’s tire-and-wheel designs make them more susceptible to damage — as well as the high cost of replacement — it’ll be difficult for them not to see the value of the coverage. Let’s look at three steps you need to take to help them realize that need.
Step 1: Know Before You Close
There are two critical pieces of information you need to sell this product consistently: First, we must uncover why the customer sitting in front of us needs the product. Many have subscribed to the "herd theory" in F&I: If we can show the customer that a high percentage of others have chosen to buy this protection, it will make sense to them why they need to buy it as well. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
See, it really doesn’t matter to the customer how many others have purchased the product; they just want to know why it makes sense for them. And many customers are completely unaware they have a real need for the product. The best place to start making them aware is by including tires in your explanation of the factory warranty. This will allow you to make the customer aware that the factory warranty only covers defects in parts and workmanship, not damage due to a road hazard.
The real trick, however, is to identify each customer’s specific need. To do that, you need to use open-ended questions. Remember, you "ask" your way to the sale, you can’t "tell" your way there. Just remember that the questions we ask must be intentional. In other words, you must target their need for the product. That means we need to know who will be the primary driver, how the vehicle will be used and who will be in the car most often. Most of all, we must be prepared to use the needs we uncover to paint a picture of the crisis that an untimely flat tire would create for the customer.
Here’s a word-track you can use once you’ve gathered some information about your customer: "Mr. Jones, you said earlier that you pick up your children after work and rush them to softball and dance practice, correct? It must really be a dash against time. Let’s say on your way home you hit an obstruction in the road that leaves you, Alyson and Katelyn stranded. Not only is it unsafe to be broken down on the side of the road, but you’re now faced with the high cost of replacing a tire and maybe the wheel as well."
See how we painted an effective picture for the customer? Without it, all you have is another feature-benefit presentation your customers have probably heard and said "No" to numerous times. Remember, it is much harder to want to leave yourself and your family unprotected when faced with a real-world example of how the coverage would work for you.
Step 2: Know What You Sell
If your dealership sells a high percentage of vehicles with factory alloy wheels and low-profile tires, it’ll be easy to help the customer realize the need for your coverage. And this is where excellent product knowledge is critical to success.
To be successful at selling wheel-and-tire protection, you need to know the brand, model, size and type of tires on each vehicle. If you don’t have all that information at hand, simply ask the salesperson to note that information on each buyer’s order.
All the information you collect will serve as the basis for your presentation of the product. That’s why it’s also critical that you talk to the parts department about the cost of those factory alloy wheels your customer opted for, as well as those high-performance tires they may also request. Remember, you lose credibility if you can’t give your customer an accurate price for the tire and wheels they opted for. That’s why it’s better if you can tell the customer the tire costs $183 and the wheel is another $679. Doing so also tells the customer you know what you are talking about, which increases your chance of making a sale.
Also critical to your F&I presentation is knowing whether the vehicle the customer is buying or leasing has a full-size spare, a "doughnut," or no spare at all. Even if the vehicle comes with a full-size spare, it will most likely be mounted on a steel wheel rather than the alloy version that came with the vehicle. For the customer, that information helps make the true cost of owning the vehicle more apparent. And that’s why road hazard protection is such a terrific product, especially on leases, because the customer will have to replace a damaged wheel at lease end.
The movement toward run-flat tires in lieu of a spare presents another opportunity to show the value of tire-and-wheel protection. Not only is the cost to repair a run-flat tire significantly higher than a regular tire, repairing them is virtually impossible if the tire is punctured in the sidewall or at the edge of the tread.
Today’s oversize alloy wheels and low-profile tires are also much more susceptible to road hazards, especially since there is less sidewall to absorb the impact of an object or pothole. And unlike steel wheels, alloy wheels do not bend or flex; they either break, crack, or you take a chunk out of them when you hit something. In addition, alloy wheels — particularly factory alloy wheels — are much more expensive to replace.
Step 3: Make It Visual
Now that we’ve covered the many reasons your customer needs road hazard protection, we need to come up with ways to make the need visual. Repair orders showing the cost of factory alloy wheels and paid tire-and-wheel claims are incredibly effective. Offending objects gathered in the service department are also great visuals.
When working with a customer, simply hand over your evidence material and state the following: "You know what that is, right? It’s a rusty nail. Not only that, it’s a $683 nail. That’s the cost of the damage it caused to another customer’s tire and wheel, and that’s how much it could cost you. That’s why the tire-and-wheel coverage is critical, especially given that you expect to drive 20,000 miles each year."
Making that statement as your customers hold the nail in their hands will make it much harder for them to say "No," and much easier for them to say "Yes." And that’s what we’re after. Now that we’re selling the invisible coverage offered by road hazard protection in an intentional and visual way, it will make the product come alive and add an additional profit opportunity to your presentation.
Rick McCormick is the national account development manager for Reahard & Associates. E-mail him at [email protected]