Sales and Internet staffers should inform customers that the F&I manager will be contacting them to gather information needed to complete the paperwork.

Sales and Internet staffers should inform customers that the F&I manager will be contacting them to gather information needed to complete the paperwork.

Most dealers strive to turn over 100 percent of their customers to the F&I department. For the most part, they get it. The one thing that often goes overlooked is the quality of the “TO.” See, to be effective, your sales and finance staff must work together to ensure customers are properly prepared to meet with their F&I manager.

One of the most reliable ways to disappoint a customer is to fail to meet his or her expectations. When the customer says he or she wants to buy the car, the clock starts ticking. And there are a number of questions that go through a customer’s mind once they make that decision. The most prominent is, “When can I begin enjoying my new vehicle?”

All customers want after committing to a purchase is instant gratification. They want to drive now! Old-school wisdom tells us that a car is sold once the customer takes possession, or, as we in the business describe it, “when we see taillights,” or “when the car hits the curb.” One could argue, however, that the sale happens much sooner than that, at least in the eyes of consumers.

Reaching Agreements

My take is consumers believe the sale occurs once they reach three specific agreements. The first agreement is on the vehicle itself. The second agreement is on the price or payment. The third and most significant agreement is when they agree to take delivery, regardless of the date or time.

It really doesn’t matter where they make those three specific decisions. They could be at home, on the Internet, on the phone or at the dealership. What you need to keep in mind is customers are typically in a very positive state of mind once they make that decision to buy. We just have to make sure we don’t do anything to disturb those good feelings.

The quickest way to kill that good mood is to misinform them, or leave them unattended or clueless as to what’s next. If you leave your customers in the dark at any point, they could feel you simply don’t care enough to take immediate action. Bottom line, setting expectations as quickly as possible following the customer’s decision to purchase is an essential component to relieving the tension often associated with the F&I process.

With that in mind, I offer the “Three-Point F&I Introduction.” It starts with the sales consultant endorsing the F&I process. The sales consultant then transfers the trust he or she obtained during the sales process before allowing the F&I manager to set the customer’s expectations for the F&I process.

Before we get to the details, I want you to consider the way folks buy cars today. The days of Mr. and Mrs. Smith heading out to “Automobile Row” to kick some tires and test drive a few cars on their way to making a purchase decision are all but gone. It’s not uncommon today for a vehicle sale to start online before getting more serious over the phone. And if the Internet department or business development center does its job right, we land the customer in the dealership.

So what does that have to do with the three-point F&I introduction? Nothing, if your entire staff already works hand-in-hand to capture the full front- and back-end profit potential of every type of deal, regardless of the traffic source. In my experience, however, not too many dealerships have mastered that collaborative effort.

As for F&I managers, they must meet with the customer as quickly as possible and in an appropriate manner following his or her agreement to purchase. This will provide customers with a better understanding of the F&I manager’s intentions. They’ll also be less anxious and much more receptive to what’s available during the F&I process. If you want to secure more deals and reach the full F&I profit potential on each of them, the three-point F&I introduction is the best way to set the tone for a quality turnover in every selling situation.[PAGEBREAK]

1. Endorse the F&I Process

Tell the customer what’s going to happen next in a manner that demonstrates teamwork. Immediately following an agreement to purchase, the sales consultant should inform an F&I manager that the customer is ready for an introduction. The salesperson should then personally escort the F&I manager to the customer to introduce him or her. Here’s an appropriate word-track you can use:

Sales consultant: “Next, I need to introduce our business manager. He will  complete the paperwork necessary to put your car on the road. I’ll be right back.”

If the deal was made outside the dealership, try this: “Next, I need to have our business manager contact you so he (or she) can gather the information necessary and have the paperwork ready for you when you come in to take delivery. When is a good time for him (or her) to call you?”

2. Transfer Trust

The customer made a decision to purchase based upon the rapport and trust built by the sales consultant and the dealership’s process. The goal now is for the sales consultant to transfer that trust to the F&I manager.

At this stage, it is important that you display teamwork. After the introduction, the sales consultant should assert that something is going to take place while the customer is in the F&I office — and it should be to the customer’s benefit.

Sales consultant: “Mr. & Mrs. Jones, this is Bob, our business manager. I have reviewed the particulars with him and he is ready to complete the paperwork. While you’re with Bob, I’m going to get your vehicle ready.”

If you want to be more specific, tell the truth: You’re going to verify their insurance, make a final check on their vehicle and fill the tank. Now, when making an introduction on a deal made outside of the dealership, use this word-track:

F&I manager: “Mr. & Mrs. Jones, I’m calling from UDS Motors. My name is Bob Smith, the business manager. Tom, your sales consultant, asked me to contact you so we can have everything ready for the delivery. Do you have a few minutes so I may review the information regarding your new vehicle?”

3. Set Expectations

All too often, the sales consultant sets unrealistic expectations with the customer, particularly when it comes to what’s going to happen next. And telling customers the F&I manager will be right with them or in a few minutes might seem harmless, but it isn’t helpful. Neither is telling customers that the F&I manager is going to show them some ­options.

To lower the customer’s resistance to the F&I process, the F&I manager must be allowed to set expectations and realistic timelines. Here’s an example:

Sales consultant: “Bob, how long will you be?”

F&I manager: “Tom, it should take about 20 to 25 minutes or so. While I’m with Mr. and Mrs. Jones, why don’t you get their vehicle cleaned and ready for delivery?”

What we’re doing with that word-track is letting the F&I manager set the tone for the next stage. This lets customers know the time they spend in the F&I office won’t be wasted.

Many F&I managers contend that their greatest challenge lies in the unreliable and inconsistent manner in which the sales department turns customers over to them. Unreliable because the sales staff fails to offer a proper endorsement of F&I or sets unrealistic timelines. Inconsistent because F&I managers are unaware of the deal taking place until the customer arrives at the store and are unwilling or unable to get involved sooner.

The three-point F&I introduction is designed to diminish those shortfalls and eliminate the negative consequences created by a bogged-down process. Train the entire sales and finance staff on the word-tracks I listed in this article and reap the rewards. Now go get ’em!

Gerry Gould is director of training at United Development Systems Inc. (UDS) in Clearwater, Fla. Contact him at [email protected]