Dina Wilson knows a thing or two about selling F&I products, and not just because she’s the 2012 recipient of the Innovative Aftermarket Systems-sponsored F&Idol contest. A career saleswoman who spent 20 years selling industrial scales to the auto industry, Wilson says each sale comes down to one thing: “If people don’t like me, they’re not going to trust me.”
She builds that trust with direct eye contact and a well-rehearsed pitch that mixes in a few jokes as she reviews the factory warranty and the features of her service contract. That’s what the contest’s eight judges saw when they awarded her the highest score out of this year’s five category winners, giving her top marks for objection handling and flow.
“I have a knack for getting people to feel comfortable,” says Wilson, who walked away with a total cash prize of $3,500 after winning the contest’s service-contract category and the overall award. “A lot of people come into my office, and they know what’s going to happen. So, the key is to not let them become so uptight.”
Wilson lives in the relatively small community of Cumberland, Md., a sliver of a town situated in the southern section of the Appalachian Mountains. That means Wilson and her F&I team have very little room for error, as not a lot goes unnoticed in a town that claims a population of 21,518.
“I don’t want to have to hide when I go to the grocery store,” Wilson says. “That’s the philosophy of the owners of our company, to walk around town with our heads held high and know we haven’t disrespected anyone.”
Wilson serves as F&I director for three of Timbrook Automotive’s five dealerships. Most of those stores are located on Cumberland’s Motor City Drive. Wilson spends her days in the box at the group’s used-car outlet, where the average credit score is 582. But her customers are more than just credit scores; they’re people Wilson sees regularly. “I go to church and see people who I know have bad credit, and they know I’m not going to say anything,” she says, noting that jobs are scarce since many large employers have left town over the years.
That’s why even the group’s new-car stores employ the same process Wilson uses for the credit-challenged clientele at her used-car lot. Producers are trained to never act like they’re above their customers. The goal is to simply make them feel comfortable.
“That 500 score deserves the same respect as that 800 score walking in, and I think that’s what has helped us along the way, just treating people very nicely,” she says. “They may already feel like the scum of the earth, but we make sure they don’t feel that way when they reach our office.”
Wilson, who averages two products per deal, doesn’t personally subscribe to the customer interview, but she does train her F&I producers on the practice. She says she doesn’t do the interview because she can get what she needs by looking at the customers’ trade-in and credit report.
What she does preach is meeting and greeting customers in the showroom. It helps her find common ground with buyers, she says. More importantly, it makes her customers feel more at ease.
“We don’t make it scripted or drill the customer. We keep it conversational,” she explains. “You may go off on a tangent about something you have in common, but while you’re doing that, you’re finding out how long they keep their vehicle, how many miles a year they drive, details for titling purposes and insurance information.”
The Little Things
Wilson’s office offers another lesson in salesmanship. Instead of the usual fluorescent lighting, she uses lamps to give her office more of a living room feel. She also has photos of her children around the office, which sometimes elicit a comment from customers. Her favorite desk decoration is the “Easy” button she purchased from Staples. It’s not just a conversation starter; it’s how she tries to conduct business.
“I say, ‘Go ahead and hit it. It’s going to be easy. I make everything easy,’” she says.
There are other subtleties to Wilson’s technique as well, with every smile and chuckle her approach garners serving as an indicator that she’s on the right track. Her go-to routine kicks in as customers are about to sign their vehicle registration forms. Before the pen hits the paper, she’ll hand them a gas card and her business card.
“I’ll say, ‘This is your current registration, and this is my business card. If you get pulled over, you need to give them your registration. Don’t give them my business card, because I’ve never seen you a day before in my life,’” she says. The line usually gets a laugh, which is her cue to dive into her product presentation.
“I try to have fun in my office,” she says. “It’s a business transaction, but you’ve got to find that common ground.”
But not every customer is won over with kindness alone. Wilson knows that 15 to 20 percent of customers will never purchase any products. She also knows that an equal percentage of her customers always will, which is why she focuses on preparing for the 60 to 75 percent who haven’t made up their minds.
But given her 55 percent acceptance rate on service contracts and her $1,058 profit average per used vehicle retailed, it’s clear Wilson doesn’t hear “No” very often. When she does, she has no problem overcoming her customers’ objections — that is, until she hears the third “No.” But she’ll make that objection the focus of her team’s role-playing exercises during her twice-a-week F&I meetings.
Wilson doesn’t take all the credit for her sales acumen. In fact, she’s quick to acknowledge Resource Automotive’s Fred Nesta and Colvill Omanwa for guiding her career and her F&I team. They taught Wilson the importance of role-playing, as well as the importance of getting customers to relax.
“Their training has probably been the best I’ve had in my life, and I’ve spent my entire life in sales,” Wilson says. “I’ve basically taken that training and kept it going, because it is very successful.”
Making a Career
Wilson’s career in the car business began eight years ago, but her development as a salesperson began long before that. In high school, she was hired to work at a dress shop. It was there that she learned the importance of meeting the needs of her customers. Likeability, she found, was just as important.
Those sales fundamentals held true when her sales career took her into the industrial scale business. She spent 20 years in that industry selling to distributors and vehicle manufacturers, and she quickly realized that there really is no difference between a customer buying a dress or a $225,000 scale. That realization was what convinced her to enter the car business.
“I sold industrial equipment, so I thought, ‘I can sell a car.’ Why not?” Wilson says.
Timbrook wasn’t her first destination, but the dealership who gave Wilson her start was immediately impressed with her accounting background. She had acted as a bookkeeper for her husband’s repair shop. “They told me ‘You’d be perfect for F&I.’ I said, ‘F and what?’” Wilson recalls. And those skills are the ones that landed her a job with Timbrook Automotive three years later.
The dealer group, however, was more interested in Wilson’s sales background than her F&I skills, and put her in charge of the sales team at its Keyser, W.V., Chevrolet store. Her role as sales manager would eventually evolve into general manager, but the 25-mile daily commute was simply too much. At the time, she was caring for her sick mother. The dealer asked if she could take an F&I director role at a store closer to home. That was back in 2009. Her mother has since passed, but the move turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
“I knew I was good in F&I, even if I was filling in for our F&I manager when I was the general manager at Timbrook Chevrolet,” she said. “I started in F&I in the car business, and I was passionate about it. I do a very good job at it, so why not stay?”