Reviewing and judging video submissions for the IAS-sponsored F&Idol contest last year has had me thinking about the role word-tracks play in the F&I office. I was impressed by the F&I skills on display as I watched and judged videos submitted by F&I pros from around the country. Yeah, I realized how much more there is for me to learn, but I also noticed a commonality among each entry.
See, missing from each video were canned speeches. Instead, the contestants appeared genuine, and you could tell their presentations were shaped by their own language and experience. I also thought it was cool how each F&I manager employed the perils of owning a vehicle in their particular regions in their pitches. GP Anderson was the runaway winner, and it’s easy to see why. Just watch his winning entry at fi-magazine.com.
GP appeared in the November issue, and there was a line in the profile that really sums up my take on word-tracks. It read: “Scripted word-tracks and objection-handling techniques are for ‘green peas’ who have yet to develop their style,’ [Anderson] says. Instead, he relies on the stories he’s collected over his more than 20-year career in the business to do his selling.”
So, why do F&I trainers send newbies into the trenches with canned word-tracks? It’s not because they think those word-tracks will result in a sale 100 percent of the time. The reason is that successful product presentations require a starting point, which word-tracks provide. They also provide a road map for novices to follow, and I think all of us can agree how critical that was when we started out in the business. That also is why a well-structured menu is so important: It opens up the critical dialogue we need to present our wares in an intelligent and informative manner.
But the training wheels eventually come off, right? As we grow in our career, we pick up new strategies and techniques along the way, and then something amazing happens: We begin to mesh what we learned with our personal style, which allows us to be more natural when interacting with customers.
It’s the personalization of those techniques that I believe to be critical to our development. I’ve met scores of F&I pros, and I’ve never met any two who are exactly alike and tackle objections with the same words or phrases. Yes, most of us have a background in auto sales or some sales-related field, so dealing with people face-to-face doesn’t present a problem. We also learned to speak in terms the customer can relate to and understand. We also learned how important it is to inject our own life experiences and personas into our pitch.
My point is this: Personalization is critical because everything we say in the F&I office needs to be genuine and believable to the customer. And contrary to what many consumer advocates suggest, car buyers don’t enter our offices with their guard up, fearing that we’ll put the screws to them. As a matter of fact, customers tend to trust that we will do the right thing unless we prove otherwise.
Do you disagree? Well, think about it for a moment: If customers were afraid of what was going to happen in the F&I office, why would they ever give us their personal information? Heck, why wouldn’t they just arrange their own financing? The fact is, finance penetration in most stores ranges between 50 and 80 percent, so I just don’t believe customers aren’t willing to listen to what we have to offer.
Just ask Terri Lewis, an F&I manager I hired a few years ago as an admin for the F&I office. I have watched with personal satisfaction as she worked her way up to F&I manager. When she started out, her office adjoined mine with a doorway between us, so I could hear most everything that went on in there. Her word-tracks and phrases were very much a mirror of my own, and she had good success. By the time another F&I office became available, she had developed her own style.
Today, Terri is very successful and excited about her work. We often replay the deals she handles and the closing techniques she uses, and I admit that I’ve picked up a few tips from her on occasion. I say all of this to remind you that it’s never too late to tweak and refine your presentation, or add an extra phrase. Remember, learning is forever.
Marv Eleazer is a finance manager at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. E-mail him at [email protected]