The vast majority of customers who walk into an F&I office have purchased a car before. They expect the F&I process to be similar to the one they experienced the last time. As an F&I professional, you can choose to meet or exceed those expectations through the power of your words and actions.

I have visited dealerships in 40 states, and I have watched talented F&I managers put customers at ease quickly by utilizing a customer-focused process that includes open-ended questions to learn about the customer and his or her particular situation. Then, like a skilled surgeon, they walk their customers through a process that provides the kind of up-to-date and insightful information that enables customers to see their need for a product. When a customer who originally said “No” to all products offered changes his or her mind due to an informative and value-filled process, it is a work of art and just plain fun to watch.

On the other hand, I have observed F&I managers belittle the opinions of their customers, exaggerate information and use pressure as their main weapon to persuade customers to buy. I also have witnessed firsthand the practice of packing payments, which is not only illegal but a sign of weakness — no matter the producer’s level of production.

I once reviewed a transaction in which an F&I manager told his customer that one tire and wheel on a compact car would cost her more than $1,000 to replace. Obviously, he was too busy — or too lazy — to research the true cost. On another occasion, I witnessed a customer endure a repeated, relentless scolding for wanting to finance with her credit union, regardless of the fact that her uncle was that CU’s president.

Those exchanges were difficult to watch and offensive to both me and the customer. Once the deception and exaggeration begins, an F&I manager becomes “just like everybody else” the customer has encountered in an F&I office — and that is more of a roadblock to sales success than any deficiency of skill.

Caring Is Sharing
Today’s car buyers demand a different process, one that is transparent and focused on them. The F&I professionals who differentiate themselves from those who rely on high-pressure and deceptive tactics — whether real or perceived — will find a more receptive customer and be more productive. Successful F&I professionals seek to be different, not just “better,” because they know that being different will make them better in the long run.

To ensure every customer enjoys a process that is refreshingly different, the F&I professional must intentionally provide an environment that doesn’t attempt to “sell” products. Instead, they simply make it easy to buy. Let’s take a look at three ways you can do that today:

1. Build Trust With Genuine Concern: If I had to choose the one sales skill that has the most effect on production, it would be the ability to communicate genuine care for the customer. Having a great understanding of the intricacies of the sales process might rate high for some, but there are plenty of business managers who have unique sales intelligence and still can’t generate trust with customers. The problem is they come off sounding like they’re more concerned about what’s best for them instead of what is best for the customer.

Being resourceful and creative in terms of helping customers see their need for products could rate above genuinely caring for your customer. After all, being creative is essential. However, caring is what tells your customer that you are looking out for their best interest, not yours or the dealership’s.

I would love to put “determination” above caring, because you aren’t going to succeed without it. But the motivation to never give up on a customer must be driven by the fact that you care enough to keep pursuing products that he or she genuinely need. Attempting to overcome an objection to a product for the fourth time because your numbers are suffering will almost always come across as pressure. However, if it is done out of genuine care and concern for the customer’s situation, he or she will know you are trying to help rather than sell. The old adage, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” is declaring that genuine care for the customer is the most important contributor to success — and it’s true.

2. Focus on the Customer: The F&I professional’s focus and emphasis should be on doing what is best for the customer. To provide an effective response to an objection, anything you say must be connected to — or followed by — the reason it is relevant to that particular person. That demands that you ditch the pitch. It also means that you stop sharing that long list of benefits to move a customer to buy. Instead,  help customers see why your products are critical for their particular situation.

It really doesn’t matter to the customer whether the last 20 customers did or did not buy the product. They just want to know why it is important to them. If they don’t get that information, they simply will not buy. Recently, I observed an 81-year-old customer who was writing a check for a vehicle say “No” to all the products offered on the menu. The F&I manager skillfully reminded him that he planned to give the car to his granddaughter in a couple of years. He immediately saw value in the service contract because the F&I manager reminded him of what he knew he wanted most: protection for his granddaughter. He ended up buying four products.

3. Know Your Stuff: The third element of this trifecta is an unmatched knowledge of the products you offer, how they work and how they protect the customer. This requires a consistent commitment to growing your knowledge and expertise. Learning about two new parts on a vehicle each month — what they do, what happens when they fail and how much they cost to replace — will ensure you have fresh information to share with your customers. In fact, a copy of a recent repair order will do more to build trust than any sales technique you can employ.

I once observed a “rookie” F&I manager at a Lexus dealership tell his customer how “even the oil filter” on a vehicle has changed. Then he described the anti-drain back valve and the bypass valve installed on the customer’s new vehicle. It helped illustrate how the car was totally different than the one the customer was trading in, and the knowledge he shared created interest in the service contract. As a result, the customer, a cash buyer, wrote an additional check for extended coverage on his vehicle.

The importance of providing an F&I process that communicates genuine care for the customer, is focused on their needs and provides a high level of knowledge and expertise in a transparent fashion cannot be underestimated. It will make the difference between a record year of production and just more of the same. If you want a different level of production this year, make sure your process is intentionally different than what the customer expects. They will experience a process they were not expecting and you will experience a level of production you have been working to reach. Everybody wins!

Rick McCormick is a national account development manager for Reahard & Associates Inc., an F&I training company providing classes, workshops, in-dealership and online training. Email him at [email protected]