After nine years of traveling and working with F&I managers from coast to coast, I have discovered that top performers share a common characteristic. And it’s not charisma, personality, talent or people skills that set them apart.

The answer actually has to do with what motivates top performs to continue selling, even after the customer utters “No” several times. See, they committed to a core principle on which they operate, one that affects how and, more importantly, why they do their job. It’s what determines their level of success.

In the F&I office, there are only two options: profits or a defined purpose to genuinely help customers. Yes, everyone wants to increase profits and grow their income. However, the driving force behind how and why we do it dramatically affects our level of success in three distinct areas. Let’s review each one.

1. Perception
Your customer has spent, on average, two to three hours with a salesperson. The last thing they need is to meet another salesperson when they reach the F&I office. In fact, they’ll decide in the first two to three minutes if they like you and trust you, which is why how you start your process has such a huge impact on how it ends. And the quickest way to tip your customers off that a sales pitch is coming is to open you process by handing them a pen to sign forms and then peppering them with targeted questions.

The questions you ask and the statements you make tell customers what is foremost on your mind. If you focus on learning more about them and show genuine interest in them, they perceive the process as being about them, as it should be.

I recently witnessed a delivery involving an 84-year-old gentleman. When the producer asked about the military pen on his hat, the customer spent the next 15 minutes sharing his experience as a pilot in the Strategic Air Command, which was responsible for dropping the first hydrogen bomb. He also talked about how he coached Jimmy Stewart when the actor played one of his flying buddies in an award-winning film.

The process was extremely comfortable and the customer genuinely enjoyed talking about himself. They all do! The best part is there was enough information learned to allow the customer to self-discover why he needed several of the products offered. And he ended up buying every one of them.  

Top performers know they not only have to present their products with conviction, they understand that success depends on how they treat their customers. And to them, each individual they meet represents another opportunity to help a customer make a great buying decision. What they don’t do is view their customers as a chance to make money.

2. Process
Making everything you do in the F&I office about helping customers dramatically affects the process you utilize with each customer. And one of the traits I see in top performers is they operate with a well-developed and intentional effort that puts customers at ease early in the process. They do that by making the conversation about the customer, which feeds their ability to discover the customer’s need for their products.

Top performers also prove to their customers that they are genuinely interested in their well-being by listening 70% of the time. See, they don’t focus all of their energy and creativity on closing customers. Instead, they focus on getting the customer to open up, which builds trust and credibility. That tells the customer you are different than the last person he or she faced in the F&I office.

Another characteristic is making the process fun. When you get customers to laugh in the first few minutes they’re in your office, you essentially let the pressure out of the room. And when you convince yourself that helping customers leads to higher profits, you take the pressure off of yourself. That allows everyone to relax, which allows you to simply find out what is best for that particular customer. This skill may seem elusive and invisible; however, it is amazing to watch when employed.

3. Production
This is where you’ll determine if shifting to this new F&I paradigm really makes a difference in profits and income. And, as you’ll see, the answer will be a resounding “Yes!” You can’t have trust if you and the customer perceive the F&I process as a selling game. And customers will not buy from someone they don’t like or trust. It makes them feel like they are being sold something they don’t need.

Once you commit to helping customers, all of your energy and creativity will be directed toward creating an environment that makes buying easy. And in order to make the discussion about their story and their situation, you need to be talking only 30% of the time. You also need to use open-ended questions to delve deeper into your customers’ stories so you can learn more about them.

And when you do all that, you’ll be able to use what you discover when the customer says “No” and offer up multiple reasons why they need to say “Yes.” See, when the process is all about the customer, they know you are trying to help them, not sell them. And that is a buying environment that no amount of selling can create.

While observing deliveries during F&I training sessions, I have met a lot of uniquely interesting people, with each encounter being amazing. In fact, recently, I met an individual who, in the early 1970s, wrote a hit song, “Me and You and a Dog Name Bo.” His stage name was Lobo and he listed off other hit songs he wrote that I remember from that era. But no one would have known about his background unless a “helping” environment had been created.

Every unique story I have about a person I met in the F&I office is the result of an F&I professional focusing on helping the customer. And each of these customers purchased multiple products. So, yes, there is an undeniable connection. Look, if you’re all about profits, you will sell products. However, your sales will never reach the level they could if you don’t make your approach about helping customers. So make the shift and enjoy the interesting customers you will uncover.

Rick McCormick serves as national account development manager for Reahard & Associates Inc., an F&I training company that provides F&I classes, workshops, in-dealership and online training for dealerships throughout the United States and Canada. Email him at [email protected]