Dictionary.com defines “Best Practice” as: a technique or methodology that, through experience and research, has reliably led to a desired or optimum result. On September 27, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion at the Industry Summit in Las Vegas entitled, “The Idea Exchange: Trainer’s Best Practices for Sales and F&I.” The event, which was organized by the folks at F&I and Showroom Magazine, was planned to be a resource for dealers, agents and other industry professionals. Panelists for our discussion were:
- Joe Amendola of Resource Automotive
- Bart Carpenter of Gulf States Financial Services
- Tony Dupaquier of American Financial & Automotive Services, Inc.
- Luis Garcia of Safe-Guard Products LLC
- Heather Haynes of JM&A-Performance Development Center and
- Ronald J. Reahard of Reahard and Associates, Inc.
As you can see the group was a cross section of dealership support organizations representing a number of areas within our industry.
The discussion began with a focus on the F&I department and its ability to function effectively in a world where technology has become such an important part of doing business. The panel agreed that in order to be successful, F&I must at least embrace the new technology and at best get out in front of it, meaning, explore additional means of utilizing technology that may not be readily apparent.
One example of embracing existing technology is to make use of one of the many electronic menu software programs. Today, these systems not only allow for an efficient presentation of every product to every customer in every encounter, the better menu software packages include tools that explain the products while building value, assisting in the close and ensuring compliance. They also offer robust reporting functionality that will undoubtedly allow the management team to hold F&I producers accountable for their performance.
Modernization of existing IT systems within the dealerships was also an area that the panel felt deserved some attention. The cost of building and operating an efficient, robust computer network in the typical dealership has come down to the point where there are no more excuses for the lack of processing speed and functionality.
The fact of the matter is that if dealerships want to become more successful getting through to their customers they must first recognize that the three primary learning styles (auditory, visual and kinesthetic) have been augmented with a fourth style – digital – and then incorporate that style into their presentations and negotiations.
Digital learners operate in a manner that is completely different than the other three styles. Why is this important in the dealership? It is important because one role of the sales person and F&I manager is to educate the customer as to the content and value of the vehicle and ancillary products that are offered in the dealership. This way of thinking could offer many opportunities to best utilize the technology that is available today.
The panel then discussed the need for a more effective means of training employees. The task of educating dealership employees is usually divided amongst a number of providers and the O.E.M. In the new millennium the need to get the various departments on the same page is a priority. This does not mean that the F&I provider will now teach vehicle product knowledge. It does mean, however, that a more holistic approach involving the sales, service and F&I departments should be taken when designing and facilitating training.
The sales department must be taught how to “plant seeds” which lead to the sale of F&I products while making sure to leave the details to F&I. The service writers must learn the specific provisions of the extended service contracts so that when a sale is made and the customer comes into the service drive for a repair, there is no confusion as to the level of coverage, rental car benefits etc. This can be accomplished by setting clear goals and expectations and making sure that inter-departmental communication is a priority.
In addition, a distinction should be made between formal training and coaching. Coaching can be impromptu and can occur in the environment where the skill being taught takes place (the F&I office). Training on the other hand must have:
- A location that limits interruptions
- A specific beginning and end time
- A detailed agenda
- Attendee involvement (role playing, etc.)
These are the tools that are necessary to create changes in behavior that lead to improved performance.
Legal compliance is also a very important topic that the group discussed. The fact that there are various entities around the country that are targeting automobile dealerships and F&I departments in particular is no longer news. We must, however, not allow our dealers to become complacent. The panel came to the consensus that the true challenge comes about when you look at the complexity of all of the various state and federal regulations in their entirety.
Understanding Reg Z and the role that it plays in every day operations at the typical dealership that originates retail installment sales contracts and then assigns them to another creditor is one thing. However, when you add in the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, the Magnuson Moss Warranty Act, FINCEN 8300, the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, the Red Flags Rule, not to mention the state regulations regarding Unfair and Deceptive Acts or Practices and in many cases the fact that the dealership must monitor various aspects of its business and regularly report the status of its efforts to comply with these and other regulations while constantly making adjustments in implementation, you could have a bottomless pit of compliance issues. Dealerships must recognize that they absolutely can not go it alone.
They must take advantage of the many organizations that specialize in these types of services. Yes, it drives up the cost of doing business but the alternative might mean that you are eventually prohibited from doing business. General agents and product providers must tread cautiously. If you do not possess the required expertise, contact someone who does.
The ramifications of taking shortcuts could be catastrophic especially considering that one of the greatest challenges is that the body of regulations that dealerships must comply with are constantly changing and growing. The latest iteration of this fact is the Dodd Frank Act. The full impact and ramifications of this regulation are still unknown because it is still being written.
We have talked a little about compliance, the structure of training and technology. We cannot end this discussion without covering products and the way that they are presented.
The sales department is responsible for selling themselves, the dealership and the vehicle. Sales should not skip steps and try to sell financing, which is not their job. Take the time to do a thorough walk-around. Find out the customer’s needs and present the features advantages and benefits of the vehicle in a manner that addresses those needs. In other words, slow down and build value in the vehicle itself.
Control the customers focus and bypass the questions about interest rates while steering them back towards understanding the advantages of purchasing at this dealership versus anywhere else. Learn to enjoy the work thereby making the process more enjoyable and fun for the customer. In many ways this involves helping your dealerships to get back to basics.
In the F&I office, insist that they put their doubts aside and master the menu presentation. Do not however, overload the menu with too many products. Always require a needs assessment prior to the menu presentation, analyze the performance of your dealerships and remove from the menu the products that have consistently been poor sellers. Build a unique product portfolio for each dealership that helps the dealership protect their customers and maximize sales rather than maximizing your potential profit. Product knowledge is a subject that is often neglected. Create a brief product quiz that hits the key points of each product. Administer that quiz at least twice per year.
One can take different paths to designing and implementing an effective training program and generally no one path is perfect and no two programs are exactly alike. There are however certain key components or “best practices” that should be included in the process.
The panel provided insight into specific elements of their successful training programs. As the economy travels down the slow road to recovery, it is important that you lead your dealerships down the right path. If I were a betting man, I would bet that employing a technique or methodology that, through experience and research, has reliably led to a desired or optimum result is probably a good thing.