When questioning F&I managers about practice, many times the response I hear is “What do you mean?”
The dictionary defines practice as “to perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.”
When you consider the definition, it implies that practice is necessary just to maintain proficiency, and that even more practice is required to improve proficiency. Malcom Gladwell’s book, Outliers: The Story of Success, highlights the conclusion that to become an expert or master performer in any given field it takes 10,000 hours of practice. That’s a lot of practice!
Considering the average F&I manager works 10 hours a day and approximately 262 days a year, it would take you about four years to reach the 10,000-hour mark. Does that mean that every F&I manager that has been working in F&I for more than four years is a master or expert in F&I? Unfortunately, no.
Ask any professional athlete and they will tell you that practice and the game are quite different. Practice is focused on improvement and optimizing performance. It is designed to prepare the athlete to perform at the highest level when it matters most, during the game. I have heard it said this way; amateurs practice until they get it right, professionals practice until they can’t get it wrong.
The good news is, most F&I managers practice, the bad news is that they tend to practice on their customers. They end up practicing during the game, and that is the most expensive practice there is.
Some F&I managers take a different approach to practice. First, they are willing to practice and understand it. They are more intentional about separating practice from actual performance. So, what do these professionals do to be more intentional in their practice? First, they have a coach of some kind. They know that they need help to identify strengths and areas for growth. It takes objectivity to do this well, and many of us struggle with objective self-evaluation.
Even if you are very good at tracking and analyzing your results, asking an objective, qualified individual for a second look at your performance metrics can provide insights you may have missed. Having someone to check your processes can also provide opportunities. They can help you objectively identify what you are doing well and reenforce it. In turn, they can also help to identify opportunities for improvement such as behaviors, tendencies, or the process gaps that you may not be aware of. Objectivity also helps take away the excuses, or the satisfaction with the status quo that can keep many F&I managers perpetually in the good category, with great being unrealized. Fear of change can also keep someone in the good category because they fear any changes could affect an already above average result. John D. Rockefeller said it best: “Good is the enemy of great.” Old JD was a pretty smart guy.
Having someone to help you prioritize your practice and limit the scope to working on one thing at time until you can’t get it wrong is essential.
Where do you look to find this person? Your product provider is a good place to begin. The company your dealership works with made a promise when they won the business to increase your bottom line, citing development as a major contributor in keeping that promise. If they have not established themselves as your coach, let them know what you are looking for. Hopefully, they have the depth and experience to qualify themselves in a coaching role. Keep in mind, they don’t need to have been the best F&I manager to ever sit in the chair to be the right coach for you. They do need the skills of a coach and teacher and real-world F&I experience to be sure. However, it is also important to understand your motivations, to be organized and consistent, understand the F&I process in your dealership, know your professional goals, and be willing to hold you accountable to achieve them.
If that person isn’t right for the job find someone else who could be — maybe an F&I director, GSM with F&I experience, or GM. The point is, having a F&I coach can shave a lot of time off those 10,000 hours.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John Tabar serves as executive director of training for Brown & Brown Dealer Services.