Why Dealers Should Invest in More Training for Their F&I Staff – Adam Marburger & Paul Brown, Ascent Dealer Solutions (Part 2)


On today’s show, we continue our conversation with Adam Marburger and Paul Brown, the President and Vice President of Ascent Dealer Services, respectively. In part one of our interview, we talked about how F&I fits into the dealership’s digital retailing strategy. In this segment, we discussed how to motivate your F&I staff, and the benefits of investing in more training and coaching for the department. 

To watch part one of our conversation, click here.


Jim Fitzpatrick: Talk to us a little bit about how to motivate your F&I staff. Sometimes those men and women in there can get pretty beat up. I mean, they’re dealing with these buyers all day long. That could be demanding, and salespeople and so on, and they get just kind of wrung out. How do you keep them motivated?

Paul Brown: The best way to do that, and we talk about this in our training, Newton’s laws, objects in motion tend to stay in motion, objects at rest tend to stay at rest, so you got to get up. Don’t grow roots to your chair. Get up and move around and talk to people. Talk to customers. Sit with a salesperson for 15 minutes and just help develop a guy.

You will build accolades that will then help you with customers. They won’t do things like talk about rates and talk about the local credit unions and what they have going on. They want to be happily engaged with you, so you have to get out and develop somebody, and you’ll feel good because you’re passing along a little bit … I mean, we have all this knowledge. We’re the best closers in the store by far. Why are we holding onto this knowledge?

Sit down with a salesperson. Develop a guy a little bit and help him become a better version of himself, and that’s selfish for us too because now if that guy gets better, he’s going to sell more cars, give us more swings, but it gets you motivated so when you get that customer … I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a finance guy that when the store closes at six o’clock and a salesperson’s bringing them in a deal at 5:45, and it’s his first deal of the day, the finance manager’s going, “Oh man, I’m trying to leave. It’s late. What are you doing? Make an appointment to come back tomorrow.”

Jim Fitzpatrick:: There’s nothing worse.

Paul Brown: Because you’ve been doing nothing all day, so you’re just lazy. You just got to get up, and you got to be active. You have to be active.

Adam Marburger: And I do too, if you have the principal of servant leadership throughout your dealership, if you’re consistently serving your sales team, genuinely letting them know that you actually care … I mean, [inaudible] buy the guys lunch every now and then. Ask them about their family. Really dig into their psyche to figure out what they’re trying to accomplish. Help them grow as an individual and a professional every single day. When you do that, you see massive increase in productivity.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. I’m an old F&I guy myself, but how many times when you do that, somebody will say, “I love what you’re doing. You’re not out on the pavement. You don’t have to take these calls that we take. How do I get into F&I?” And maybe the mentoring can start there. It’s not to say that you got to give the guy an F&I closer job in the next 90 days, but you can kind of start to mentor that individual and sat, “Well, if F&I is your ultimate goal, then I’ll be more than happy to tell you what I know and kind of show you the ropes a little bit.”

Adam Marburger: And the one thing that’s true for Paul and I, Paul was my mentor well over a decade ago. I would love to say I’m the best F&I guy in the world. I believe it, but he says he’s the best F&I guy in the world, but he mentored me about a decade ago, and I’m blessed to be a business partner with him, but the reality is when you’re consistently loving on your team and you let people know there’s opportunities, this car business, this automotive business we’re in can change your life, and if you explain that to these people, your sales staff, there’s opportunity everywhere …

I mean, I tell people in the room when I give sales meetings, “There’s a few people in this room right now, you’re going to be a car dealer. You’re going to own a dealership. There’s a few people in this room that’s going to be a GM. There’s a few people in this room that you’re going to invest in real estate, and you’re going to become wealthy because you figure out how to run real estate because of this car business,” and the car business can teach you so much in life.

Jim Fitzpatrick: It really can. It really can. And so many people go on, even if they don’t stay in the auto industry and they go on, but they started in the car business, you’re right, they’ll come back and say, “Wow, I really learned such great basic training about sales and life from the retail automotive industry.”

Let’s talk about some of the trends that you see from your perspective that’s in F&I offices because they know what’s in their showroom right now. A lot of dealers as you know live with these blinders on because they’ll go to dealer 20 meetings, and that might be their exposure to other dealerships, but for the most part, they know their dealership and what’s happening, but from your perspective, what are some of the trends? What are some of the things around the corner?

Adam Marburger: Some of the trends that I’m seeing right now is there’s a lot of restructuring of pay plans for F&I managers. We’re restructuring as an industry for it to be more product-based, less reserve, more product, so right now as an industry, I’m seeing all over the country where dealers are trying to tighten in the pay plan, and we want to make it conducive to selling more products. That’s one area right now, and then here digital retailing. I mean, we always talk about it.

We were talking about it a few minutes ago. I would love to be able to fast forward. I wish I had a crystal ball right here so I could see what it is 10 years from now. Everybody talks about it, but nobody really has any real answers, so the trend right now is, what’s in the future? What’s it going to look like? How are we going to handle this? I mean, that’s one area right now.

Jim Fitzpatrick:: We see dealers that are changing the dynamics in the showroom, and a couple of dealerships have come out and said, “We’ll make it one hour, one person,” and I think that might even be part of their slogan, one hour, one person, so they’ll get you in and out in an hour if you want to, and it’s just one person. They don’t hand you off to a sales manager or an F&I manager. That salesperson is the F&I manager as well. What’s your take on that?

Paul Brown: That’s probably going to be a failed strategy. I mean, that’s just like saying the salesperson will be the salesperson, the finance manager, and then he’ll change your oil when you need to come in. You have to have somebody that’s highly focused on each individual area, but how do we do that?

You do that by, again, growing people from inside, and you have to hire good quality individuals. You have to spend some time with them. Like Adam was saying earlier, I think I’m one of the best trainers in the world. I mean, I think I could train any salesperson, finance manager, sales manager, anybody, but as a general manager and being an asset to have that knowledge at my store, I never trained because you know what happens every single day? The car business gets in the way.

I’ve got something that needs attention. I’ve got a bank rep in. I’ve got a customer that needs some love, so you get in the way of it, so you have to have somebody that’s focused on doing that, and we just don’t do that. We don’t pay enough attention to our people that are in the store. It’s crazy. We have these assets just running around in our store, and we’re not growing them, so we have to pay more attention to what’s going on inside our four walls.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Which is interesting because to your point, Paul, we’ll spend hundreds of thousands of dollars sometimes each month but certainly by the end of the year, a million, two million dollars in advertising to get more people in the front door so we can close them on more deals. Well, what if you just took some of that money, a small portion, and spent it on training, training the very people that you have to get each one of them to sell another two, three, four cars a month over and above what they’re currently doing?

You could throw away your ad budget and have well-trained people, great gross profits, and a great CSI score on your store, but all too often, we see dealers that will continue to just say, “We want to get a louder message out to the masses about the sales that we’re having,” and you go into that same showroom, and you find that the salespeople are really not that well-trained at all.

Paul Brown: And why do we do that to ourselves?

Jim Fitzpatrick: I don’t know.

Paul Brown: I mean, that’s the craziest thing because we’re putting the customer through it because we all know the car dealership is one of the highest anxiety places for a customer to ever go to. They’re not coming in there because last week they lost a friend and they’re looking to replace it. They didn’t come there because they want to be our friend.

They came there because they have a specific need, and what I always say is these customers walk in the door, and there’s something with their current car situation that they’re unhappy with, and a lot of times, they just need somebody to help them figure that out and then give-

Jim Fitzpatrick: That they can trust.

Paul Brown: Them a relevant answer, so when a customer lands on your lot and they walk out without a car that has your plate frame on it, that’s almost criminal. And so we do it to ourselves. We aggravate our customers because now they got to get right back into that grinder and go to another dealership and start the whole process over again. Where did we fail that customer when they landed?

Adam Marburger: Well, what’s happening though, it’s a massive, massive epidemic here in this industry, the lack of real coaching and real training is real. I mean, the reason why Paul and I are so busy right now is because we’ve got people reaching out all over us. They want our coaching. They want our mentoring because whether it’s their current F&I product provider not doing any training, we’re finding a lot of agents now that they’ll collect their commission checks on the product sales, but they’re not doing any training and development.

They’ve been sitting at 1000 bucks for 10 years, so what we say to a dealer is, “Take a good look at what you’re doing now, and if we don’t change something, that’s what you’re going to continue to get.” And that’s what we’re finding all over the country is massive lack of coaching.

Jim Fitzpatrick: In F&I.

Adam Marburger: In F&I and sales.

Paul Brown: Everywhere.

Jim Fitzpatrick: It’s pretty bad.

Paul Brown: Service.

Jim Fitzpatrick: And why do you think that is? Is it because business is so good that it’s like shooting fish in a barrel, that it’s like, “Oh, training. If I get 200 Toyotas, I’m going to sell 200 Toyotas”? We’re still floating around 17 million SAR for 2019, and dealers have a tendency to fall back to the good old days and not focus on some of these areas.

Paul Brown: And I mean, I touched on it earlier, it’s who has time to do it. It’s really hard to find that time to do it, so you need to get somebody like myself and Adam, our agency that can come in and do that, but the kind of crazy thing that we’ve found as we’ve started this journey with Ascent Dealer Services is that not a lot of these agencies know how to do it because none of them have ever actually been there.

They haven’t been in the trenches. They haven’t been a finance guy. They haven’t been a sales manager, so they don’t know what you’re going through. When we walk into a store, we can go, “Send your guys to lunch. We’ll sit down, and we’ll take deals, and we’ll menu. We’ll close. We won’t actually do the paperwork because we’ll mess that up six ways to Sunday – ”

Adam Marburger: You don’t want us [crosstalk 00:09:49]. If I don’t know your source paperwork, don’t let me do that.

Paul Brown: We’ll show you how to actually handle a customer and how to do a good customer-based needs analysis so that we know what the customer actually wants, but there’s very few that can do that, so they come in and say, “Hey, we’ll give you a product. We’ll do this and that, and we’ll come in, and we’ll give some sort of training once a month when we hand out checks to the finance guys,” but that’s a canned, “Here’s a word track. Give it a shot. See what happens.”

Jim Fitzpatrick: Talk to us about what dealers should focus on for the second half. We’re here. We just finished the first half of 2019. It seems like things are still going pretty good. We’re fluctuating somewhere around a 17 million SAR on new cars. Used cars still seems to be cranking along. Dealers seem to be happy. I mean, every dealer wants to make more money, but what in your opinion should they really hone in on and focus in on for the balance of 2019?

Adam Marburger: I would say first of all, first half of the year is over. Let’s look at the second half of the year. I always like to let’s take a look at what our goals were on the first half. Where did we fall short? Let’s take a really good look and have a real honest assessment of, where did we fall short? What did we do well, and what did we do not so well, all right? The things we did well on, we’ll just kind of circle those and just continue to do well, but the things we did not do so well on, let’s try to pick it up.

And I think a lot of us on an individual level, we can pick out the things that we lacked and just start working and drilling on. I think obviously my whole philosophy is servant leadership, so for my salespeople, my F&I managers, be more urgent to serve and not so much to sell. If we put our consumer first, and we do that always, we’re going to make more sales, and we’re going to make more profit, so I think we need to take a good, honest assessment of what we’ve done the first half of the year, and then what are we going to do to make the second half of the year better than the first half?

Jim Fitzpatrick: Adam Marburger and Paul Brown with Ascent Dealer Services, thank you so much for joining us on CBT News. It’s been great.

Paul Brown: Thanks for having us.

Adam Marburger: Thank you. We appreciate it.

Jim Fitzpatrick: Great.

CBT Automotive Network, the number one most-watched network in retail automotive. This has been a JBF Business Media production.