8 Steps to Success in F&I
8 Steps to Success in F&I

What separates successful F&I people from mediocre ones? How can you get the most from your F&I managers? Is it an effective sales presentation? Is it a unique menu software package? Is it the objection word tracks? Yes, it’s some of each. But what many times separates the highly successful F&I managers from the mediocre ones is the subtleties. Things like organization, processes, time management and communication to the sales staff.

Your success many times as an agent comes down to getting the best out of an individual who the dealer placed in a job. It might even be their brother, sister, son or daughter. Before you can even begin to get results from your process, you need to motivate them or help them create a positive attitude. When the dealer throws you out of the account in favor of a fresh face it is never about them or the person they put in the job, it’s about the results you didn’t get.

The following are eight steps to enhance the training and development that an agent does. These steps focus on some key areas that every good F&I manager should heed.

Step 1: Shoot for the Top: Is it $1,000 Per Retail Unit?

Why can one person do $1,000 per retail unit and another one can’t?

You probably have heard the story about Roger Bannister. He was the first human to run the mile in less than four minutes. People had tried for hundreds of years and couldn’t do it, until one day Roger Bannister did.

What most people don’t know is that the next year 37 people broke the 4-minute barrier and the following year 300 people did it. Once Roger Bannister showed them it could be done it wasn’t an unrealistic expectation.

The real message of the story is that Roger Bannister expected to do it. He didn’t put the limitation on himself that kept him from it.

I’m sure there are a large percentage of people reading this article who were turned off when I even mentioned $1,000 per retail unit. They are convinced that anyone accomplishing that level of performance or better is doing something deceptive to get to that point, and their customer satisfaction is suffering.

Sure, there are F&I managers who are destroying customer loyalty just for short-term F&I profits, but there are many others who are doing it the right way and enhancing CSI.

The latter are the Roger Bannisters of the world, and they expect to win.

Step 2: Learn from What Others Do in Your Dealership

Take a look at things from someone else’s perspective.

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

Being an exceptional F&I manager is greatly enhanced when they learn what others in the dealership do. Take the time to not only be courteous with office staff, but also get to know what their job responsibilities are. An effective finance manager asks them how they can help make it easier for the office staff to do their jobs.

I know some of your F&I managers say, “You don’t know our office personnel. They are impossible to deal with.” Tell them: the best way to knock a chip off someone’s shoulder is to get them to take a bow.

Step 3: Cultivate Lender Relationships

Today’s F&I manager has to be better at working with lenders than ever before. With the tightening of credit standards, it’s important to make sure that when a lender makes an exception to their loan policy it’s for them and not their competitor. Having an edge with the lender and knowing which lenders respond positively to each application can help them in their goal to be the best. For example, some lenders don’t place as much emphasis on debt-to-income as another might.

The F&I manager who is a cut above the rest in this area pays careful attention to three key components:

  • They can think like a lender and sell like a salesperson. This means they understand what a lender looks for in making a loan decision. They should be able to read a credit bureau as well as the lender, and understand what makes up a credit score. The top F&I people also sell to their lenders with the same enthusiasm as they do their customers.
  • They develop a personal relationship with a network of lenders. It is much easier to say yes to an exception to their loan policy to a person they enjoy doing business with rather than someone who is difficult to deal with. The good F&I manager takes advantage of each opportunity they have to understand what makes a lender tick, both personally and professionally.
  • They create leverage with as many lenders as possible. What I mean by leverage is making sure that your lenders have something to lose if you were to stop doing business with them. It means giving them enough good quality paper that they will be liberal with their loan policy when you need them to be.

Step 4: Embrace Periodic Training: Don’t Run from It

Quality F&I managers are always trying to improve themselves professionally. They talk to the most successful F&I managers about what works for them. They read motivational and sales-related material to formulate better ways to sell their products.

The average F&I person doesn’t ask others what makes them successful. When they are confronted to attend formal training they will always find a reason why they can’t. If they are forced to go, instead of taking advantage of the learning experience, they close their mind and don’t pay attention. They return to the dealership and tell the dealer, “It was OK, but I really didn’t learn anything.” This way when their performance doesn’t improve, and it won’t, it’s the training, not them.

The successful F&I manager reads something from the profession every day and is open to new ideas. This is because they know they will not only learn from new information, but it will help them achieve their goals.

Step 5: Managing Time Wisely

The responsibilities and interruptions that an F&I manager encounters every day are never ending. If they’re not delivering vehicles, they’re answering phone calls, working deals, trying to get loans approved or other tasks that come up. It’s very easy to get caught up in all of it, but an effective F&I manager shouldn’t let these interruptions control them. I have met many F&I managers who were great salespeople, but had to leave the business because they couldn’t keep up with the many demands.

The top F&I managers work at time management each day, so the process doesn’t overwhelm them. Those who don’t always seem to be stressed and running behind. As a result, they don’t have the energy to sell their products with enthusiasm and cope with the adversity they are certain to encounter.

Here are three principles to keep in mind to become a good manager of time:

  • Keep priorities out in front. “To Do” lists are great to keep a written account of what you have to accomplish, but they don’t go far enough. If not used properly they will confuse activity with results. Pick three tasks each day that absolutely have to be finished before you leave that day. This way you are certain to get the priorities finished.
  • “What is the most valuable use of my time right now?” This is the most important questions you can ask yourself when it is time to move on to the next task. This way you make sure that you’re always being productive.
  • Plan your work and work your plan. Take 10 minutes a day and schedule your activities for the day. This way you’ll accomplish activities that are the most important, and you won’t forget doing something that needs to be done that day.

Step 6: Become the Best Sales Meeting Presenter in the Dealership

Many salespeople tell me that the typical dealership sales meeting is a waste of time. Do you know why they say that? Because most of them are!

The sales meeting is probably the best opportunity we have to communicate and train. Our sales meetings need to consist of positive, motivational information that will equip us with the information to become better sales people.

The universal maxim asks, “What kind of company would my company be if everyone in it was just like me?” If the F&I manager wants to go to the top in F&I, and to the top of their dealership, they need to be the one who people enjoy hearing from because they have something positive and informative to offer the sales team.

First, they need to prepare themselves. Every good sales meeting begins with excellent preparation. The presenter should ask themselves three questions:

  1. What do you want your audience to know?
  2. What do you want your audience to feel?
  3. What do you want your audience to do?

Remember the following acronym when presenting. Since an effective sales meeting is measured through the audience, don’t let them SUFFER through it.

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 point of sale because it will improve the dealership customer satisfaction. Remarkable: The sales people will remember, therefore, they will act upon information that stands out.

Step 7: Read About the Profession

Professional athletes these days make a tremendous amount of money. Some say they do this strictly on their natural ability. If you talked to the best of them, I’m sure they would tell you they update their skills every day. Yet, we in the F&I business think we can go in and wing it.

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

They read daily about their profession. There are a variety of publications in our industry that are a good source of information.

Reading 20 minutes a day will give an F&I manager an edge on the competition. And winners shouldn’t limit themselves only to information about the automotive profession. There are plenty of other good sales books and publications that will help someone go to the top in F&I.

Step 8: Establish a Goal Setting Plan

The superior F&I people set weekly, monthly, quarterly and even yearly goals. The goals can be everything from their yearly income, dollars per retail unit, sales meetings per month or any other task that will get them the results they’re looking for.

I recommend brainstorming with your F&I managers and coming up with a list of the things that are important to accomplishing their job. Once they have the list, make a plan for each goal. Each goal should include the following:

  • Definition of the goal
  • Established time frame
  • Goals must be measurable
  • They must be written down
  • Make sure they are flexible
  • Developed plan of action for each goal

Conclusion

Most people think all there is to F&I is selling the products, printing the paperwork and signing the customer up. Sure, if an F&I manager doesn’t want to go to the top, they can get away with just that and probably even make a living.

The F&I managers with that reach for the top are all looking for the subtle advantage that comes from the heart. They expect to be the best, and they set out to accomplish it. The average manager puts limits on him or herself; after all, it seems to them to be much easier to make excuses for their performance than to challenge themselves.

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