In today’s fast-paced business environment, dealers’ expectations and views are constantly evolving. Prompted by past economic fears, consumer concerns and, at times, peer pressure, there is an increased demand for superior compliance, improved efficiency and greater productivity. This is particularly true in the F&I department.
The role of the F&I manager has become very diverse. In today’s ever-changing climate, it is important to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to F&I and, yes, your dealership’s sales processes. You need knowledge, familiarity and advanced skills to really make a difference today. I’m not referring to the kind of knowledge, familiarity and skill that come with experience, because the most successful F&I managers don’t rely solely on the training they received in the past. They seek ongoing education and familiarize themselves with the latest developments and industry trends to enhance their skill sets.
Bottom line, continuing to do it the way it has always been done and justifying your actions by saying “That’s how it’s done in the car business” is irrational, especially when you consider the amount of information available to us and the ease of obtaining it. Yes, your idea of F&I success may be different from those of other producers, but there are five key ingredients that make up the recipe for a prosperous career in F&I. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
1. Industry Knowledge
F&I managers are responsible for more than simply making additional profit on deals. Regardless of your role in putting deals together, you are ultimately responsible for delivering the vehicle. You are also expected to have contracts cashed and money in the bank as quickly as possible and in a manner that does not put the deal or your dealership in jeopardy. As if that weren’t enough, you also must maintain a high level of customer and employee satisfaction.
To succeed in all these areas, you need to stay abreast of cutting-edge techniques and procedures, seek out critical details when the situation demands it and be aware of changes to the rules and regulations that govern our business. When it comes to compliance, you have to ask yourself, is it a “knowing” problem or a “doing” problem? The answer, of course, is it doesn’t matter. Once you know it, you have to do it. There is simply no excuse for ignorance.
There’s also the issue of “old school” vs. “new school.” I visit a lot of dealerships, and sometimes I feel like I’ve gone back in time. You wouldn’t believe some of the outdated tactics and techniques I still see in sales and F&I departments around the country. Most of those stores still sell vehicles in spite of themselves, but they don’t come close to reaching their potential.
If we don’t keep up with the news and trends, we can miss key opportunities and be caught unaware of what we really should be doing. That’s why it’s so important to keep up with industry news. Read the magazines, attend the conferences and connect with other F&I producers online and on social media. Use the information you find to recognize additional opportunities, minimize threats and make better decisions.
2. Product Knowledge
Product knowledge is the foundation of F&I sales success. Understanding your products’ features allows you to present their benefits accurately and persuasively. Customers respond favorably to F&I managers who are enthusiastic and passionate about their products and are eager to share their benefits. Put simply, customers are more likely to trust an F&I manager who shows confidence in himself and what he is selling.
But product knowledge doesn’t just stop with the protections you offer. See, if you’re losing customers to local credit unions, insurance companies and direct-to-consumer product providers, a thorough understanding of their products will open the door to better resolutions to your customers’ questions and concerns.
Lastly, listening to your rep’s product review or flipping through your provider’s brochure simply won’t cut it. Here are four suggestions for gaining firsthand knowledge of the products you offer:
- Review product contracts and brochures and make notes or highlight the most significant features and benefits of the product.
- Acquire your competitors’ product contracts and compare them to yours.
- Obtain as much feedback about your products from your customers as possible.
- Find different opinions and points of view from trade and industry publications as well as online resources.
- Attend product provider workshops.
Knowledge is power and power breeds confidence. And confidence breeds enthusiasm, and enthusiasm sells. To be enthusiastic, you need to be confident in what you’re presenting and even more confident when you’re attempting to get a “Yes” from your customer. Your genuine enthusiasm for the product or service will remove the customer’s uncertainty and drive them over the finish line.
Commitment is the critical element to long-term success. No relationship can succeed until both people are committed, and you can’t break a bad habit or get into shape without a full commitment. The same is true in business. It’s easy to say you’re committed, but living it is the true test.
So how committed are you? Do you bring energy and creativity to work every day? Do you really care about your dealership and the people you work with? Do you arrive to work on time, attend meetings when expected and follow policies, procedures and processes without fail?
Even those who are truly committed can occasionally be derailed by the daily obstacles that come with being an F&I manager. You take on a lot of responsibility, and you are held accountable for completing a long list of tasks and meeting an even longer list of expectations. You may get discouraged on your way to F&I excellence, but one thing is certain: Without a true and full commitment, you will fall short of your potential.
Commit yourself to grow in the business. Commit to becoming more knowledgeable and confident by seeking out industry and product knowledge. Gain clarity by committing to do business in a truly transparent, honest and ethical manner. Commit yourself to great customer and employee satisfaction. Commit to bringing energy and creativity to the dealership every day and you will reap the rewards!
Finally, remember the words of Hall of Fame NFL coach Vince Lombardi: “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.”
Can you imagine one of Coach Lombardi’s Packers teams entering a game unprepared? Would a lawyer try a big case without reviewing all the pertinent documents? Would an actor arrive on the set without reading the script? That’s just absurd, right? Well, the same holds true when it comes to the F&I menu and option-disclosure presentation.
See, the most successful F&I managers present options to their customers the same way every time. They have prepared a word-track that they effortlessly communicate to each and every customer each and every time, and they have prepared themselves to handle questions and concerns in a manner that is clear, precise, to the point and without hesitation.
The result of their practice, preparation and repetition projects confidence and enthusiasm. With all the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities that fall on your shoulders, the easiest and least stressful part of your day should be giving a presentation to your customers and asking them to buy. After all, preparation allows you to stay cool under pressure.
You’ve heard it before, but I will say it again: Successful people do what unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do. In my experience, the problem with unsuccessful people is not that they are unable; it’s that they are unwilling. Successful people know that their good intentions don’t add up to a hill of beans. It’s their actions that make a difference.
The self-discipline of personal development begins with your ability to eliminate distractions and not let excuses get in the way of your success. You have to be willing to seek out industry knowledge. Commit to visiting industry websites and subscribing to industry magazines. Take the time to read each and every product contract and highlight the most prominent features of the product so you can present them with confidence and enthusiasm. Commit to building a word-track you can use on a consistent basis. Look for relevant features and present them in a quick and clear-cut manner.
Finally, commit time each week to improve yourself through reading, studying or attending a workshop or webinar. You have to invest both time and money to improve the only real asset you will ever have: you. Take your daily vitamin S (for “self-discipline”) and stay on course to F&I greatness.
Gerry Gould is director of training for United Development Systems and host of F&I and Showroom’s “Tip of the Week” series. Email him at [email protected]