There was quite a division at the magazine’s annual conference: On one side, you had those who believe in the interview. On the other were those who do just fine without it. But I have to tell you, what chaps my butt is hearing people say the customer interview is essential to F&I success, because it’s not.

Consider this: If you’ve always interviewed customers, how can you be so certain you can’t be effective without it? Besides, I know a lot of F&I pros who are running great numbers without conducting interviews.

What has me confused is the fact that many of today’s trainers are pushing the interview. These are the same individuals who also preach the 300 percent rule? I guess it seems odd to me that they’d recommend that F&I managers trot out onto the sales floor to try and qualify customers for products they’re going to offer anyway. And besides, what other product — other than the vehicle service contract — actually benefits from the customer interview? I can’t think of any. Can you?

If the customer qualifies for credit insurance, then offer it. You don’t have to set them up for what will definitely be a sobering reality check when you present that product. They know what it is and what it does. The same goes for tire-and-wheel coverage, paint and fabric protection, GAP and any other product F&I managers must present to every single customer every single time. Grilling customers isn’t going to change that.  

Yet, like a sermon on Sunday, the same thing is preached: “Interview the customer and grab a couple of nuggets of information about him or her that can be used to present a needs-based menu or, just maybe, to overcome an objection.”

My contention with the interview is that it tends to create sales resistance. And let’s be serious; customers aren’t dumb. They know what’s coming when it’s time to enter the F&I office.

As for me, I’ve actually discovered my numbers are better when I don’t conduct an interview. I suppose the reason is that I can’t act like I’m sincere when I’m really not. And sincerity, in my opinion, is critical to making the interview work. I just can’t be conversational for the sake of gaining information from the customer that I’ll use against them when it comes time to present my product. You may be different, so bear this in mind while considering my take on the interview.

Now, I’m not the only person who has written for this magazine who thinks the way I do about the interview. My friend George Angus at TeamOne Research has written at length about the downside of the interview. In fact, here’s a quote from one of his articles: “What goes on in the customer’s mind during this question-and-answer period creates a tremendous amount of negative sales resistance. Customers have even expressed marked resentment.”

Again, I just think customers are smart enough to realize that we’re setting them up for the sale with each question we ask of them. I also think the interview is a waste of those precious four to seven minutes we have to impress upon our customers the need for our products. In fact, from my experience, you only have that amount of time to do your selling.

Look, qualifying a customer makes sense on the lot, but not in the F&I office. Trying to figure out how much the customer can afford is key for salespeople. You don’t want to waste the customer’s time trying to fit them in a car they can’t afford. That’s not the case in the F&I office.

Look at it from the customer’s perspective: One of the big claims about the interview is that it arms F&I managers with “You told me” facts. Apparently, some trainers think the “You told me” statement is the best way to overcome an objection. Really? I’m sorry, but nobody wants their own words used against them.

Listen, F&I isn’t about outsmarting customers; it’s about honestly offering them intelligent solutions to mitigate the risks of owning and financing an automobile. And I’m sorry, the F&I process doesn’t require a degree in psychology or the talents of a magician to be successful. A simple explanation of all the products for which they qualify is all that’s needed.

As for me, I just keep it simple. I look over the deal, talk to the salesperson and I go from there. Will this work for you? That’s for you to decide, which is my point. Do what works for you.

Marv Eleazer is the finance manager at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. E-mail him at [email protected].

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Marv Eleazer

Marv Eleazer

Finance Director

Marv Eleazer is the finance director for Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga.

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