At the 2012 Agent Summit, I had the opportunity to serve as moderator of a panel called “Five Ways to Take Your Agency From Provider Rep to Partner.” Our goal was to provide a discussion that would highlight effective ways to become a true partner with today’s dealer — and lead them to record profits.
I was joined by Tim Blochowiak of Protective Asset Protection, David Duncan of Safe-Guard Products International, Garrett Lacour of RoadVantage, John Luckett of First Extended Service Corp. and Ricky Wolfe of Interstate National Corp. These five strong voices in the agent arena shared how they are working through a changing market and providing innovative products and creative ways to maximize dealer profitability.
Let’s take a look at some of the many insights they provided:Agents must offer new ways to present products.
In the F&I office, the presentation must match the changing behavior of customers. As an agent, bringing that kind of creative change will differentiate you from the competition.
The recent recession has made dramatic change in how consumers view their money. They are more resistant than ever to what they perceive as “extras.” Most customers who have bought a vehicle before have already experienced an F&I presentation. If the products and the way they are presented is the same as their last experience, they’re more likely to be resistant.
Great companies have used a changing environment as an opportunity to examine the way they do business and make creative changes that move more customers to buy.
Take Apple Computer, for example. In 1997, everyone was writing the company’s obituary. Then they re-launched their company with creative ideas and products and have since become a leader, and not just in home computing. Apple has become a new standard bearer for designing and marketing products that customers are motivated to buy.
On the flip side, companies like Kodak are going under because of their lack of urgency to change. Kodak introduced us to film photography and remained a market leader for decades. However when the market demanded digital photography, Kodak stalled. Now, they’re in bankruptcy. The message was clearly defined: Change and innovation today will lead to record profits tomorrow.Adding underperforming dealerships to your roster will not lead to long-term and sustainable growth.
Successful agents have learned that it’s not about adding dealerships; it’s about selling products. Dealers need and demand income development. A well-trained and focused F&I team can change to meet the new perspective of customers and provide record profits in a challenging market. The bad news is that most dealerships cut or even eliminated their training budgets during the recent recession. The good news is that they’re turning to their agents to provide new training.
You have the opportunity to take a hands-on approach to growing the overall skill level of your dealers’ F&I teams. Your toolkit should include role-playing exercises, benchmarking and accountability. Certification through off-site training also will be valued and sought after by dealers.
The next step is establishing a new F&I process that utilizes the finer points of your training. Customers have already seen the high pressure, memorized sales pitch many F&I managers still swear by. Introduce your dealers to a customer-focused process that will provide an environment where customers feel someone is trying to help them make good decisions, rather than just trying to sell them something they don’t want or need.
Also, there is real opportunity to sell service contracts in the service drive. Many dealers have tried and failed in the past. But there are better approaches out there than there were 10 years ago, and it may be worth another shot. Providing your dealers with a new revenue stream will definitely help set you apart.“How are you different than other agents? What can you provide that they don’t?”
Agents that are in a growth mode today have heard those questions from dealers more than once. Those who have the answer will see their stock soar.
Dealers are possibly the most sophisticated consumer in the market today. They have heard every sales pitch for just about every product on the market. What they really need is a true partner who can provide training, processes and the ability to bring the change needed to their organization to sell those products in today’s market.
There is a shift taking place in the dealerships that survived the downturn. Dealers can no longer afford to have an untrained and unfocused F&I team presenting the products at their stores. Why not take a leadership role? The gentlemen who provided the insights listed above know that the agent segement will see record growth in 2012 and beyond. In other words, our best days are still ahead of us. Let’s help our industry change to see unprecedented growth and profits!