“Just follow the process” is great advice for F&I teams, but sometimes producers can take that advice too far. Take this F&I manager I recently helped while on a routine store visit. The F&I director said the producer wasn’t performing at the same level as the rest of the department and he wanted me to get him over the hump.

This particular store used video/audio recording, which meant I could watch exactly what was going on. And after four separate transactions, it became clear this F&I manager’s problem was he wasn’t connecting with customers. The following are five lessons I imparted on this F&I manager, recommendations from which all finance professional can learn.

Lesson 1: Dress for the Part

Salespeople have two to three hours to build rapport with customers. If they make a mistake or misread their customer, they have time to recover. That’s not the case for F&I managers, who have 35 to 45 seconds to make a good impression. The manager I worked with wore a polo shirt just like every salesperson on the show floor, so nothing set him apart physically.

I understand that suits are not as comfortable as polo shirts, but they make all the difference in the customer’s mind when it comes to credibility. If you don’t believe me, try wearing a polo shirt one week and a suit the next. Then track your PVR and see which outfit your customers and your paycheck like better.    

Lesson 2: Personalize Your Office

The F&I manager I helped also had a sterile and characterless office. From my experience, the best F&I managers have something in their office that personalizes it for the customer. They know customers need to view them as consultants who have their best interest in mind.

The best finance office I’ve ever seen belonged to a retired first lieutenant in the Marine Corps. The Marine Corps flag, a ceramic Marine Corps bulldog and all of the medals he had been awarded were on display. Not everyone has a military background, but there are other items that can help you break the ice with customers.

Lesson 3: People Buy From People They Like

Building rapport also happens when we listen. Yes, this producer followed the lessons he learned in F&I school, but it was obvious no one was having a good time in his office. Establishing a connection is far more important than nailing a canned script, so take it and make it your own. 

Lesson 4: Sell to the Customer’s Paradigm

Every experience a customer has had contributes to his or her view, or paradigm, of the world. In the case of the struggling producer, he was hitting areas that would convince him to buy, but not his customer.
Think about it: Selling to an accountant is much different than selling to someone in sales. Accountants are detail-oriented and require more facts when making a decision. That’s where an evidence manual can help.

Lesson 5: Throw Away a Product

In one of the producer’s customer interactions, he presented GAP, as he should, to a customer who was putting 30 percent down. Problem was he tried to overcome an objection when the customer declined the protection.

A better approach would have been to tell the customer that most customers need GAP, but in his case it might not make sense. That would have increased the producer’s credibility. 

Lesson 6: Use Service to Sell Service Contracts

Most people will be shocked at the volume of service a dealership’s service department performs in a month. What you need to impart on customers is the number of daily, weekly and monthly repair orders. You also need to inform them of the average cost of these ROs.

I followed up a few weeks later. The F&I manager’s PRU jumped $259 and the seven CSI surveys submitted after my visit were all perfect scores. He went from being a salesperson to a finance manager.

John Lovin is the national training manager for Warrantech, an administer and marketer of service contracts and other aftermarket F&I products. E-mail him at [email protected]