It has been well-established that the importance of selling F&I products is currently at an all-time high. From helping to further boost profits and offsetting floor-planning cost erosion, to solidifying higher customer satisfaction through better protection of investments, F&I is a cornerstone of any retailer’s success.
It’s certainly important to have the right F&I product options that best fit your vehicle inventory. F&I products are not a one-size-fits-all menu, so it’s pivotal to have a menu lineup that will address the needs of each buyer.
Aside from the products themselves, more retailers are taking a closer look at the process of selling F&I products when customers are closing the transaction – most likely still in the showroom. Yes, online research and digital retailing are growing, but many of today’s final transactions still take place inside the showroom walls.
Online F&I Is Still a Work in Progress
Part of the reason can be attributed to the fact that the online F&I research and selection process is still a work in progress. Either the product options aren’t readily available online, or the pricing is unavailable or inaccurate, which frustrates car shoppers.
Furthermore, experts are confident F&I product sales growth would occur, and F&I time would be preserved, if retailers displayed accurate payment calculations online. Sixty-nine percent of dealerships said recently that online payment estimation tools provide shoppers an inaccurate or unrealistic perspective more than half the time1. Thus, a majority of F&I consultations and sales still take place at the dealership.
Selling F&I products and vehicle maintenance can be challenging, and this difficulty is frequently caused by the design and management of dealerships. Auto retailers frequently, albeit unintentionally, create siloed business practices by defining boundaries among professionals in sales, service and F&I. Since departmental cooperation is crucial to a dealership's overall success, it's imperative to promote a cooperative culture and avoid isolating important business segments. Nevertheless, how can well-established dealerships consider a more unified selling framework?
Empowering Sales Staff Is Key to F&I Success
Establishing a more consistent customer experience between departments is one way more dealers can develop a successful F&I ecosystem. Instead of potentially frustrating customers at the point of purchase, a growing number of dealers are allowing and encouraging salespeople to grow their understanding of F&I products. By communicating the value of auto financing and insurance earlier in the conversation, dealerships can make a stronger case for the value of these supplemental offerings.
In addition to establishing stronger education and value earlier in the sales process, the customer begins to view F&I products in a different light. Because the salesperson has done a good job building trust with the customer, he or she is then presenting F&I options as a benefit that can help protect the investment. When customers are handed off to a different person at the end of the transaction, trust needs to be re-established, and the customer may feel like the additional options are nothing more than a way for the dealer to make a few extra dollars.
Sure, F&I products boost a dealer’s profit-per-vehicle, and most customers realize this. But when they’re offered and presented by a salesperson who has gained a customer’s trust, the shopper is more inclined to look at it through a different lens.
Training Makes All the Difference
Offering sales personnel many opportunities for training and skill development is one of the best ways to enhance interdepartmental collaboration and position dealerships to promote from within. For example, allowing sales representatives to shadow the F&I department can provide a fresh perspective on protection products and enable them to carry over the trust and goodwill they have developed with customers to the later stages of the purchasing process, along with providing sales an additional career path. On the other hand, giving members of an F&I department the chance to collaborate with sales representatives in person can give them useful time on the sales floor and a more accurate understanding of today's consumers and their preferences.
F&I provider partners also now offer a bevy of in-person and web- or video-based tutorials to help sales staff understand and sharpen their skill sets and knowledge of F&I and protection products. These are extremely critical because they can often cover product details in an elevated way that are sometimes overlooked by simply shadowing an employee at the dealership.
Enabling sales staff to also present F&I products isn’t necessarily a new strategy for auto retailers. However, in this era of profit preservation, every little detail may offer a dealer a competitive edge.
Tim Blochowiak is vice president of dealer sales for Protective Asset Protection.