The root of the word “credibility” is credo, which means “I believe” in Latin. Credibility is the feeling of trust and respect that you inspire in others. In the F&I office, it takes a combination of things to establish it.
I first learned the importance of building rapport and credibility when I began my career as a car guy. I learned to sell cars back in the late ’70s. We used the 10-point selling system, which still appears in various forms at dealerships nationwide. Here are the 10 points as I learned them:
- Give the customer a friendly greeting.
- Develop a rapport with your customer.
- Gather the information necessary to enable you to help them select the right vehicle.
- Take the customer on a tour of the lot and land them on a vehicle.
- Complete a walkaround of the vehicle they select.
- Take the customer on a test drive.
- Take the customer through the service department.
- Take the customer to your office and write them up.
- If you can’t close the customer, bring in a manager.
- Get the vehicle cleaned and gassed up for delivery.
While I was getting accustomed to the 10-point system, my managers made it clear that Step Two was the only one that really mattered. “People buy from people they like,” they would say. That old cliché was drilled into my head on a daily basis.
And it was true! I worked hard at building rapport, sold a lot of cars and made a lot of friends. Then I got my chance to be an F&I manager. During my first days in the box, I was dependent on the success I had on the sales floor. I just adjusted the 10-point system to sell F&I products.
It wasn’t long before I realized that selling cars and F&I were not the same. It became clear to me that credibility was more important than rapport. Sure, people buy from people they like, but getting them to like me in F&I — especially when they were resistant to the F&I process — became a chore. I realized that all the customer wanted was to drive off in their new car. And the only thing standing in their way was me, the F&I manager.
Give Them What They Want
It wasn’t long before I realized that starting off the F&I portion of the transaction by building rapport and trying to establish common ground was wearing my customers down. In fact, the quicker I got down to business, the more receptive they became. “Give them what they want” became my motto. I learned to match my style with theirs. I paid attention to how each customer preferred to communicate and got in step.
If you are struggling to connect with customers in F&I, I advise you to get right down to business and engage in small talk only when they initiate it. Rapport is just a bonus. It is more important to be convincing and believable than to make every customer fall in love with you.
So why is rapport so important in the showroom? I believe it’s because the vehicle itself is a tangible product the customer can touch, feel, smell and experience. So you should make it fun. I’m not saying you can’t have fun selling F&I products, but we’re asking our customers to make sensible, pragmatic decisions. That’s why credibility is, without any doubt, the most essential ingredient to F&I success.
As a trainer, the two questions I am most often asked are, “How can I sell more products?” and “What can I do to reduce my customers’ resistance to the F&I process?” The answer to both questions is the same: You need to sell from your customer’s point of view. To do that, you have to be aware of exactly what his or her point of view is.
See, it takes credibility to open the door to awareness. Your customers will not open up to you unless they trust you. They have to believe you’re looking out for their best interests. With that in mind, here are five ways you can increase your credibility — and rapport — with your customers:
1. Look the Part
First impressions are strong and very difficult to change. Think about how quickly you make judgments about the people you meet. That doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit, but it does mean you need to be well-groomed. Make sure your clothes are all clean and pressed, your shoes are polished and your hair is neat.
If you do not take the time to fix up and look sharp, you will look unprepared. And neither your customers nor your peers will assume you are an expert. And the last thing you want is your appearance to distract people from your message. So dress for success.
2. Build Trust
Trust builds rapport. Your customers will trust you if you do what you say. Starting every F&I introduction by setting realistic expectations and sticking to them is the foundation to building trust. Tell your customers what’s going to take place and how long you anticipate it will take. Stop selling too early and allow your customer to get comfortable with the process. Demonstrate that you are interested in their well-being beyond your own personal gain.
If all you’re thinking about is making the sale, your customers will pick up on that and respond negatively. That doesn’t mean you should never think about the sale. But you need to focus on your customer’s likes and dislikes first and foremost. Get them talking by asking them questions relevant to the paperwork being completed, as well as questions pertaining to their driving habits.
Finally, demonstrate a sense of urgency to get things done. The more interested you appear to your customers, the more relaxed they’re likely to be. They may even share past experiences that will lead to more sales.
3. Be Transparent
People can smell you-know-what from a mile away, so don’t fake it. If you were trained to use smoke and mirrors to sell F&I products, forget it. Just be upfront, honest and ethical, and you will reap the rewards. Remember, you can’t just act transparent. You have to be transparent.
Transparency in the F&I office means you are willing to communicate openly without hesitation. Inspect your current menu/option disclosure presentation and be sure it sends a clear and precise description of each product. Know the ins and outs of each of your products so you can answer each customer’s questions in a matter-of-fact way.
While we’re on the subject of transparency, I can’t overstress the need to keep up with regulatory changes at the federal, state and local levels. You have to stay ahead of the curve and keep yourself and your dealership out of harm’s way. Because when it comes to ethics and compliance, ignorance is not an excuse.
Just remember, you can’t act transparent. You have to be transparent. When you do, your customers won’t have to guess what your motives or intentions are. And that usually leads to more products sold.
4. Be Confident
I once read a customer survey that described one of my trainees thusly: “She described the product and what it would do for me with such confidence that I believed her completely.” I couldn’t have been more proud. Credibility and confidence go hand in hand.
Want to build your confidence? Feed it with industry and product knowledge and watch it grow. Become confident in what you offer and believe that it will serve your customers well. Confidence breeds enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is contagious. The F&I manager who spreads it to his customers will find that their resistance crumbles as they become enthusiastic too.
Try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes and see things through their eyes. Empathy builds trust and trust breeds credibility. Take the time to really listen to and understand your customers’ potential problems before offering a solution.
Once you have established credibility with your customer and they are willing to be open and upfront, ask them why they chose not to take advantage of a product. Listen closely to their reply, then think about a similar situation you’ve been in. How would you feel? How would you react? Using your own imagination will allow you to be in their shoes for as long as you need to in order to help them. Don’t underestimate the power of empathy in this regard.
You establish credibility when you inspire trust in others. The ability to do both is critical to your success as an F&I manager. Continue to build your credibility by demonstrating honesty and integrity in everything you do.
Gerry Gould is director of training for United Development Systems (UDS) and host of F&I and Showroom’s “Tip of the Week” series. Email him at [email protected].