In a former life, I served as an assistant pastor and learned an awful lot about sermonizing. Study and forethought is critical when making a convincing presentation to an audience. My problem was that I tended to pack so much into my message that I’d often go overboard. Imagine that, right?
Once, after a particular Sunday service had concluded, my senior pastor called me aside. He complimented me on my sermon, and my chest and head began to swell with pride. He then proceeded to critique my aggressive style.
“You can preach hell so hot they can feel the flames burning their feet in the pews,” he said, “But unless you show them a way out, with salvation as a solution, you haven’t done your job. In short, leave them longing, not loathing.”
He had given me a verbal kiss before kicking me in the pants. It was a harsh lesson but a necessary one. I learned I needed to lighten up a bit and be more entertaining. People love to laugh and enjoy a speaker who makes a point without driving it into the ground.
The same goes in the F&I dungeon, where life isn’t always warm and fuzzy. Yes, we’re often called upon to do the near impossible with little to go on other than our personal skillsets and a pencil. And, as we all know, a slight slip of the tongue or showing up unprepared can be a real gross killer. Even worse, it can be a deal killer.
Preparation is key, as is understanding the customer’s needs and motivations for buying. All you pro-interview producers out there are probably chortling right now because I’m beginning to sound like you. Snicker away, I can take it. But my point is professionalism and credibility are our calling cards, and we look pretty bad if either is missing. I know, because I’ve come down with a case of foot-in-mouth disease on more than a few occasions.
Wrong Name on the Menu: Yes, I’ve presented a menu with the previous customer’s name on it. Not only was it real embarrassing, the customer scrutinized everything from that point on.
Presuming a couple is married: Yes, I’ve greeted a girlfriend as a spouse a few times in my career. I was quickly corrected each time. The most embarrassing incident involved a business owner who was buying a new car for his girlfriend, whom I addressed as Mrs. Smith. “Mrs. Smith is at home,” he told me. “This car is for my girlfriend.” I never did get the woman’s last name, but she did smile warmly.
Telling a customer “It’s good common sense” to purchase a service contract: I’ll never forget the customer who slammed his fist on the desk and yelled, “So, you think I’m stupid for not buying an extended warranty.” Out the door he went, leaving his crying wife behind. The couple did buy the VSC after she chased him down, but I never used that close again.
Telling a customer that choosing USAA is a “bad decision”: Never criticize a customer’s decision, because they will pay a higher rate just to prove their point. Trust me, I know.
Criticizing a customer’s trusted “third basemen”: You won’t win over a customer by being a smart aleck to his or her trusted advisor. I once said to the customer’s tagalong, “My comment was to the buyer, not you. Are you going to pay her repairs when the car breaks?” Yup, I said it, and, as you can imagine, I wasn’t the most popular guy that day with the sales department or the dealer when the couple stormed off.
Asking a woman if the payment range is okay with her husband: What’s worse is the husband’s name wasn’t even on the application. Grady the Badger would have been proud.
Quoting the wrong interest rate because I failed to proofread the approval: Good luck trying to reel the customer back in when that happens — especially if you have to recontract them at a higher rate. The best thing to do when that happens is to write the check to the lender for the rate buy down and call it a day.
Downplaying a $30 bump on a monthly payment: “If $330 a month is going to break the bank, then maybe that $300 is already too much.” I used that line for years with great success — that is, until a customer responded with this: “Son, I can afford anything on this lot. But if you mention the service contract one more time, the deal is off!” He said that as he was getting out of the chair.
The worst approach is to be sarcastic and judgmental. You may prove to be right, but you will blow your credibility by your lack of professionalism. Unfortunately, you’ll never learn that in F&I training class. These lessons are taught at the School of Hard Knocks, where I was valedictorian.
Marv Eleazer is a finance manager at Langdale Ford in Valdosta, Ga. E-mail him at [email protected].