Tiger Woods became the No. 1 moneymaker on the PGA tour for the first time in 1999. That year, he was only a half-swing better than the No. 2, David Duval, but he won twice as much money. The difference between being good and being great can be subtle, but it can make a world of difference.

In F&I, selling products and printing paperwork can definitely get the job done, but moving to the top of the profession requires a “driving edge.” The bad news is developing that edge doesn’t come easy. The good news is once you’ve developed your skills, maintaining them won’t be nearly as tough as being mediocre. Here are 10 steps to separating yourself from the rest of the field on your way to the top.

1. Shoot for $1,000 PRU

Why is it that one person can make $1,000 per retail unit and another one can’t? Sometimes it comes down to personal expectations.

You probably have heard the story of Roger Bannister, the first person to run the mile in less than four minutes. The feat had been attempted for hundreds of years before Bannister accomplished it.

What most people don’t know is that 37 people broke the four-minute barrier the next year, and 300 more the following year. What Bannister did was make the achievement a realistic expectation. The key was he expected to do it and didn’t put limitations on himself.

I’m sure the mere mention of a $1,000 PRU turns people off. Unfortunately, those are the individuals who are convinced that anyone achieving that level of performance is doing something deceptive. Sure, there are F&I managers who destroy customer loyalty for short-term profits, but there are many others who do it the right way and enhance CSI. These are the Roger Bannisters of the world.

2. Learn From Others

Part of growing as a finance manager is growing as a dealership’s team member. Too many F&I managers come in at 8:30 a.m. and never leave their office, except to go to lunch. They get the reputation of a prima donna. Everyone from office personnel to salespeople sees them as an overpaid manipulator of customers.

Being an exceptional F&I manager is greatly enhanced when you learn what others in the dealership do. Take the time to not only be courteous with your office staff, but also get to know what their job responsibilities are. And make sure to ask how you can help make their jobs easier. I know some of you are thinking, “You don’t know our office personnel. They are impossible to deal with.” Remember this: The best way to knock a chip off someone’s shoulder is to get them to take a bow.

3. Cultivate Lender Relationships

With credit standards tightening, an F&I manager has to be better at working with lenders than ever before. And when a lender makes an exception to its loan policy, you want to make sure it’s for you and not your competitor. Having an edge with lenders and knowing which ones respond positively to certain applications can be a big help. The F&I manager who is a cut above the rest in this area pays careful attention to three key components:

• They think like lenders and sell like salesmen: You must understand what a lender looks for in making a loan decision. You should be able to read a credit bureau and dissect a score just as well as the lender. Sell your lenders with the same enthusiasm you use to sell your customers.

• They develop a personal relationship with a network of lenders: Take advantage of every opportunity to understand what makes a lender tick, both personally and professionally. Remember, it’s easier for a lender to approve a policy exception for a person they enjoy doing business with.

• They create leverage with as many lenders as possible: Make sure your lenders have something to lose if you were to stop doing business with them. It means giving them enough good quality paper to convince them to be liberal with their loan policy when you need them to be. I understand that this might be more difficult today, but the best F&I managers look for ways to succeed rather than complain.

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4. Embrace Periodic Training

Quality F&I managers are always trying to improve themselves professionally. They talk to their most successful peers and read motivational and sales-related material to come up with better ways to sell their products.

Average F&I managers don’t ask others what makes them successful. These are individuals who find every reason possible to avoid training. And when they’re forced to go, they close their minds instead of taking advantage of the experience. And when their performance doesn’t improve — and it won’t — they blame the training, not themselves.

F&I managers with the “driving edge” read industry-related material every day and remain receptive to new ideas. They know they will learn from new information and it will help them achieve their goals.

5. Manage Your Time Wisely

It’s easy to get caught up in our daily responsibilities, but don’t let them control you. I have met many F&I managers who were great salespeople, but left the business because they couldn’t keep up with the demands. Top F&I managers work at time management each day so the process doesn’t overwhelm them. Here are three principles to becoming a good time manager:

• Plan your work and work your plan: Take 10 minutes a day to schedule your activities for the day. This way you’ll accomplish the most important activities, and you’ll be less likely to forget things that need to be done.

• Keep priorities out in front: “To-do” lists help keep a written account of what you have to accomplish, but they don’t go far enough. If not used properly, they can confuse activity with results. Pick three tasks each day that have to be finished before you leave to help you focus on your top priorities.

• Make valuable use of your time: This is an important goal to keep in mind, as it helps make sure that you’re always productive.

6. Prepare an Effective Sales Meeting Presentation

The sales meeting is probably the best opportunity to communicate and train. If you want to reach the top in F&I and at your dealership, then be the person your sales team enjoys hearing from. The key is to ask yourself three questions: What do you want your audience to know, feel and do?

Here’s another tip: Remember the acronym, SUFFER, when presenting.

Start: Plan a good beginning since that will catch the audience’s attention.

Unlike: They will remember information that is unique or stands out in your presentation.

Finish: Prepare a strong finish so the sales staff wants more. This will keep them talking about your topic long after you are finished.

Frequent: Items that are mentioned several times during your presentation will be remembered.

Exclusive: Material should be presented so it is in the audience’s perspective. For example, customers need to be turned over to the F&I manager at the point of sale because it will improve the dealership’s customer satisfaction.

Remarkable: The salespeople will remember and therefore act upon information that stands out.

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7. Compile Your F&I Policies And Procedures

If you want others to know what the policies and procedures are for your department, write them down. Include things like a list of documents needed for a finance customer, a lender call backlog, descriptions of products sold in the F&I office, and a written explanation of how to properly turn over a customer to the F&I office.

8. Look for New Ideas

Top F&I managers are always looking for new ideas. You may not need them now, but you might in the future. The more people you talk to about your profession, the more educated you’ll become.

9. Read About Your Profession

The best F&I managers stay on the cutting edge of their profession. They read about the latest developments in their field and respond proactively to the changes that make sense.

You need to read daily about your profession. There are a variety of publications in our industry that are a good source of information. Reading 20 minutes a day will give you an edge on the competition. And don’t limit yourself to only industry-related information; there are plenty of other good sales books and publications that can also help.

10. Establish a Goal-Setting Plan

The superior F&I people set weekly, monthly, quarterly, and even yearly goals. The goals can range from one’s expectations for yearly income, dollars per retail unit, sales meetings per month, or any other task that will get you the results you are looking for.

I recommend brainstorming and coming up with a list of things you think are important to accomplishing your job as a F&I manager. Once you have the list, make a plan for each goal. Each goal should include a definition of your goal, an established timeframe, a way to measure progress, and a plan of action for each goal.

Remember, F&I managers with that driving edge are all looking for that subtle advantage, and they expect to be the best. I once heard Tiger Woods say that he shoots for “professional excellence.” I’ll take that every time.

Ron Martin is the president of Vision Menu Inc. and the Vision of F&I Inc. He provides F&I sales and compliance training, as well as electronic menu solutions to powersports dealers. He can be reached at [email protected].

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