We can all agree that the way customers react to various selling techniques, presentations and the overall F&I process has changed since F&I became part of dealership operations more than 40 years ago. And we’re constantly changing our approach as a result. Sometimes, however, the claims made about these new approaches and miracle gadgets border on the ridiculous.
If you don’t believe me, just run a Google search on F&I tips and recommendations. What you’ll find is an unprecedented number of software tools fighting to be the next big thing.
These vendors will also populate their websites with testimonials like this: “We saw an increase of $700-$800 per unit using this software!” or “Double your F&I income by overcoming objections our way!” or “Show the customer our video while they are waiting and they’ll be ready to buy!”
But those claims don’t measure up when you look at actual results. In fact, you’ll find that most of these miracle tools and techniques work for only a small percentage of the individuals who try them. The danger of making such claims is they can kill an F&I manager’s confidence when he or she doesn’t realize the results vendors say their tool can deliver.
The ‘Clown Suit’ Close
A few years ago, I visited one of our research dealerships. It was a Saturday and the store was holding a customer appreciation day that was focused on children of the dealership’s customer base. It was a pretty clever idea, as the parents could walk the lot looking at cars while their kids took part in various activities.
Playing a key role during the event was one of the dealership’s F&I managers, who apparently learned how to make balloon animals at some point in his life. He volunteered to dress up as a clown and entertain the kids with his balloon skills. I’m still not sure why this guy owned his own clown suit, but he was hit with the kids.
Now, the F&I manager did have to process car deals that day while dressed as a clown. And low and behold, his per-copy average was $600 more than his typical average. At the end of the day, he said, “Maybe I should wear a clown suit every Saturday.”
So maybe that’s the trick: dressing up as a clown. Heck, if word gets out, we may even see clown-suit makers advertising their suits in F&I and Showroom magazine. And they’d have that F&I manager’s performance to back their claim that their suits can drive up per-deal income by $600. I can see their pitch now: “If you aren’t using our clown suits, you are missing the boat and falling behind the times,” or “Today’s customer expects you to entertain them.”
I’m sure those clown-suit makers will get a few bites, at least for a while. Hey, unsubstantiated claims or anecdotal evidence works on some people.
Of course, what would probably happen is the vast majority of F&I managers wearing those clown suits would end up looking like clowns. And of course, when a dealer asks why those expensive clown suits aren’t working on his customers, the clown suit people would respond with, “It worked for that guy. Your people must be weak.”
The 90-10 Rule
I am always circumspect when it comes to expressing an opinion about what might work best for someone. Hey, even some of the least effective ideas might work for somebody, somewhere. But trying new ideas is at the core of process development, and trial and error and measuring results are how progress is achieved. But as part of that development, we have to be realistic and prepared to accept that some ideas just don’t work.
In fact, since introducing the F&I menu concept in the early 1990s, we have tested and retested just about every idea or technique you can think of. And I am often asked why our process is so different from the conventional training in the marketplace today. The reason is simple: We’ve spent the last 20 years testing ideas and developing our process with hundreds of F&I departments around the country. And what all that testing has taught us is that we need to be focused on proven results from a broad base of real F&I offices.
So, again, we don’t measure theories or opinions. We measure results. And one of the philosophies on which we operate is that any approach, technique or idea we come up with must produce consistent results for more than 90% of a broad, closely monitored base of F&I professionals. We call this approach the 90-10 Rule.
See, there are plenty of ideas or techniques that will work for a small percentage of the people who try them. But the true test of a tool’s effectiveness is if it works for more than 90% of the individuals who use it. But that’s a tough measurement to produce, because it takes time, testing, and trial and error to develop.
So why do some ideas work for some people and not for others? Well, we have found some core principles that are common in successful processes. And those principles can be quantified and measured. Our research and development process has also shown that for any process to produce sustainable top F&I performance for 90% of F&I professionals, these three elements need to be present:
- Easy: You know you won’t stick with a process if it isn’t easy, right? And if it’s easy for you, it is easy for the customer as well.
- Simple: Yes, the process needs to make it simple for the customer to absorb and understand what’s being disclosed.
- Fast: Customers don’t want to sit through long, drawn-out sales pitches and time-consuming processes. They want to know their options, choose what they want and be on their way. And as you know, the biggest complaint among consumers and even sales departments is that the F&I process takes too long.
Testing New Ideas
We can all agree that customers today are more sales resistant than ever. And the more they resist being sold, the less effective some of our tried-and-true tools and techniques become. The problem is these tools and techniques now give car buyers the impression that F&I is just a continuation of the sales process. So customers stay in negotiation mode and react to our sales pitches with heightened resistance.
And that’s why the F&I process must be perceived by the customer as separate from the sales process. It must be positive and focused on the two key buying motivators: security and convenience. And the only way to accomplish all of that is with a systematic process and sequence of techniques.
I never discourage F&I professionals from trying something new. As a matter of fact, if they want to try a new gadget or idea, I ask that they measure the results and share them with my firm. But I do caution F&I professionals not to be disappointed if a new idea or tool doesn’t work for them.
So, if there is a new idea or tool out there that’s working, we want to know about it. Just remember that it needs to work for 90% of the F&I professionals who try it before the technique can be called the next big thing. Otherwise, it will probably end up in the closet right next to the clown suit.
George Angus is the training director for Team One Research and Training, a company specializing in scientific, research-based program development and training. Email him at [email protected]