For decades, car buyers have walked into the F&I office with a sense of dread and many would rather have a root canal than have to deal with the fast-talking guy ‘in the box’. F&I managers were always viewed with a wary eye and unfortunately, the reputation was well deserved.

Yes, times have changed. Regulatory compliance, layers of new paperwork, audits, and lawsuits have forced most F&I managers to clean up their collective act. But for the dealers that may still have some ‘bad apples’ on staff or are about to open a new store with new staff, how do you make sure you F&I manager defies the stereotype and becomes a trusted and honest professional? And how do you, the dealer, help change the stereotype in the eyes of your customers?

F&IIt’s simpler than you think. Here are some easy to implement strategies that will cast a new light on your F&I team –

Mandate Proper Training – Gone are the days of just shadowing other F&I managers and picking up all of their bad habits. F&I ‘schools’ are all over the country now and can be an invaluable source of training for both product selling and compliance. If your F&I managers are well versed in the latest professional sales techniques and have a true grasp of buyer behavior, their presentation will result in higher sales.

And it also goes beyond compliance and learning all the state and federal rules. Solid sales techniques and understanding the value of products as they relate to that specific customer will help close a higher backend gross. It shows your staff is not just ‘winging it’ and that they value following a process in making their presentation.

Follow the Rules – Ok, this SHOULD be obvious. However, if you want to erase the stereotype of the crooked, sleazy F&I manager, then simply execute an honest deal. Don’t stuff payments. Don’t hide product or misrepresent the value of a warranty. Disclose everything that needs to be disclosed. Answer questions from your customers honestly. Be transparent. Customer demand it now.

It’s sad that in 2018 it even needs to be said but every few months in the automotive news magazines there is usually some story of a dealer getting sued because a someone at a dealership engaged in fraudulent activity either on the sales floor or in the F&I office. Just do the right thing and follow the rules. Profits will follow.

Make a Connection – A proper customer introduction and interview are essential parts of the onboarding process for F&I and usually is aided in part by a strong sales staff. But there is one additional step that can make a big difference in how your F&I manager is viewed. Simple and effective conversation.

Encourage your F&I managers to engage in a little small talk to get to know the customers. This helps the customer let their guard down and relax enough to help give some important insights for the F&I manager to zero-in on to help sell them the RIGHT product. Old school F&I managers would skip all that, move to the selling phase right away, and move them out of the office as quick as they could. That’s doesn’t work anymore. Connect with your customers and they will not only buy from you, but your CSI will increase as well.

Treat F&I like Professionals – The most successful dealerships with the highest PRU and CSI have F&I managers that are treated like true professionals, not just another ‘salesperson’. They are involved in training with sales staff and they are expected to carry themselves as any other manager would, with authority and integrity.

Anyone with even a passing knowledge of human behavior would tell you that if you treat a someone with indifference, you will get the same in return. Treat your F&I managers as the valued professionals you want them to be and they will rise to that expectation. Too many dealers forget this step when building an F&I department.

The era of the sleazy F&I manager is over, and today’s buyers are expecting a more professional and honest process. Shedding this stereotype should be a top priority for every dealer. Your customers will thank you.

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Kristine Cain is a freelance writer who loves the car business, hiking long trails, and the Steelers (not necessarily in that order). After finishing a degree in psychology at George Mason University in Virginia, she got her first taste of the dealer world working in the service department of a high volume Honda store. Warned early on that the car business would ‘get in her blood’, it did and Kristine made the leap into F&I departments at several stores around the Washington DC area and later to an automotive information company in dealer sales. A veteran of over 20 years in B2B sales to dealers, she leverages that knowledge to help write within the dealer market. Kristine lives in Holly Springs, NC with her husband and family.

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