It’s a novel idea some big dealer groups are pushing these days: sales managers doubling as F&I practitioners. Please, somebody get me my scotch. I need a drink. In my opinion, turning over F&I responsibilities to this hybrid manager borders on the insane, but you don’t have to listen to me.
See, my friend George Angus handily struck down the ludicrous notion that this idea could be profitable in an article published in the March 2008 issue of this very magazine. Angus’ training firm provided tangible proof that overhauling the F&I process by combining it with sales is tantamount to Russian roulette, both in terms of profit and compliance.
Unfortunately, not even those findings have stopped dealers from thinking they can defy logic.
Somewhere along the way, some dealers started paying far too much attention to the ramblings of consumer advocates. They write countless articles about how uncomfortable customers feel in the “dungeon” that is the F&I office. What these articles and dealers fail to understand is that buying an automobile is simply a stressful endeavor. I don’t know of a single person who wakes up on a Tuesday and says, “I think I’ll go spend endless hours in a car dealership so I can get hassled by a salesman in order to get a good deal on a new ride.” If such a person exists, please enlighten me.
So, is this hybrid position all about making customers happy? Please. See, the theory behind this new push of this not-so-new concept isn’t about driving up CSI scores or product sales. Rather, this hybrid manager talk is nothing more than a coy attempt at reducing payroll and saving the dealer money. At least that’s what AutoNation’s Kevin Westfall imparted at last year’s F&I Conference when he talked about how some of his dealerships were experimenting with a hybrid manager.
If it’s about reducing payroll, why not just install electronic kiosks in the middle of the showroom? That way, NO one would ever be offended because of a personality conflict. And who could be mad at a machine for offering a service contract or GAP? Well, dealers know this would be disastrous. As Angus pointed out in his article, product sales would drop precipitously and customers would drive off the lot with very little security for their investment.
Let’s all be honest and face the facts: The strongest, most persuasive individuals in a car dealership are the F&I staffers. Why? Because they sell products customers can’t test drive. See, the products offered in the F&I office are designed to mitigate the costs associated with the risk of owning a vehicle, and few sales staffers are equipped with the objection-handling skills required to fully persuade the uncertain customer.
You also have to remember that sales staffers spend the bulk of their time explaining how great the vehicle they’re trying to sell is and how well it will meet the needs of the customer. In the hybrid sales/F&I position, we’re asking the salesperson or manager to turn off all that hype and try to recommend products the customer often thinks he or she doesn’t need.
I’ll concede that the F&I office isn’t a social hour for car buyers, but neither is a trip to the loan officer at the local bank. In both cases, the customer’s financial history is laid out and harsh realities are exposed. And remember, most finance sources offer their own service contracts, GAP and credit insurance products. So, what exactly are we aiming to fix here?
Look, it doesn’t matter where and how you ask a customer to fork over $30,000; they’re going to feel some level of discomfort. The fact is, all a customer wants is the feeling that he or she got the best value for his or her hard-earned dollar. To create an environment completely free of all discomfort means you have to compromise gross, and who wants to do that. Gross is why we come to work every single day, right?
And hey, the last time I checked, a perfect CSI report from the manufacturer didn’t come with a check made out to my mortgage company. So why are we trying to reinvent the wheel?
My message to dealers pondering this course is, “Check your cash reserves.” Unless your pockets reach all the way to the ground, my suggestion is to stick with what works and ignore the hybrid manager doctrine these big dealer groups are pushing these days. And just remember, these big companies can afford to experiment. The question is, can you?
Marv Eleazer is the finance manager at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. E-mail him at [email protected].