What do Starbucks, Apple, Fed-Ex and Dollar General all have in common? Each company had a crossroads moment when their business was in decline and the future was uncertain. Also each company had a turn-around that was based on an intentional effort to make changes that were based on what the customer thinks and wants.
Dollar General is a surprising company in the list above. However, their effort to adjust their business model, based on what their customers think, has led to 2800 new stores and 30,000 new jobs since 2004. All great company leaders have a clear understanding of their customers. It is the basis of why a company exists. It's the foundation of an organization's vision and strategy. Customers, if we listen to them, will tell us all we need to know to develop the right products and services to grow a viable business.
We all have an idea of what we think is the best way to present products. Should we talk about products immediately after meeting the customer, or after we have discovered why the customer needs them? When should we present the menu? Should we conduct a customer interview at the salesperson’s desk or in the F&I office? Should we use an iPad in our presentation or the traditional paper menu? The plain answer is: it really doesn’t matter what I think or what you think. What the customer thinks is what really matters! We should filter everything we do in the F&I office through the concept of “What does the customer think?” Customer behavior and preferences are changing frequently, and the same manner utilized effectively to present products several years ago is obsolete today. While the principles of selling are timeless, the manner in which they are carried out does change.
When the video rental market welcomed a new player called Red Box, there were others that said, “It will never work.” You see companies that refuse to change and adapt to customer behavior and preference and get left behind. F&I professionals who refuse to change do too! Let’s look at two important ways we need to adjust our presentation that matches what customers think and like.Customers are interested in what they do and what they like.
If we stop talking about ourselves and listen and learn more about each customer, we will have the clues to what will lead them to buy. The most important tool in the F&I office is “you told me earlier.” When we repeat something a customer told us, they know they have been heard. Then the chances they will buy our products go up dramatically. Customers are not likely to buy our products because of what they hear, but because they feel they have been heard! There is a direct correlation between your ability to listen effectively and the level of your success. I have yet to find a top-producing F&I professional who doesn’t have superior listening skills.Use the 70/30 rule.
Customers should be talking 70% of the time and we should be talking 30% during the time leading up to the menu presentation. That demands that we use open-ended questions to get them talking.
Recently while reviewing a video of an F&I transaction, I counted the facts that I learned from the conversation. I learned 12 facts about the F&I manager, including where they grew up, what they drive, what F&I products they buy and how long they have been in F&I. I learned five facts about the customer. I also watched the customer respond to the question “What brought you in to buy a car today?” She responded, “My husband has been given 12 months to live and he wants me to have a new car.” The F&I manager responded, “That is great. So what are you trading today?” Really! She wanted to talk about her husband and her family. Guess how many products they sold to that customer? You guessed correctly. Zero!
Getting customers to talk about themselves is not a trick to get customers to buy. It’s what they like to do. So let them! If we let them talk about what they do and what they like, they are more likely to be comfortable with the process and listen to what we have to say. That’s the goal. So stop talking and start listening more intentionally. Customers love to talk about themselves. Let them!Customers want to know what their options are.
Customers like to review their options. They like a process without being pressured to buy a product that someone else thinks they need. They simply will not buy a product they don’t want and don’t think they need. Our effort to lead the customer to buy should only happen after we have established that they need the product in their eyes, not ours. Customers expect someone is going to pressure them to buy products they don’t want or need. What a relief when they find a different experience. You see, if we want to change the outcome of our F&I presentations, we must change the experience.
Remove the pressure from your presentation. When pressure goes down, customer resistance does too! When a customer says “No”, welcome it and agree with their decision. “Absolutely, the last thing you want to do is increase your payment. If you thought you were going to have problems with your new Lexus, you would buy something else. Am I right?” The pressure to buy just went out of the sales balloon and you now have the opportunity to follow up with, “You certainly don’t have to buy anything you don’t see value in. However you said something a minute ago that really got my attention.”
Use the menu as it was intended: to be a non-threatening disclosure of the customer’s options, not an effort to sell. Do not sell the first time through the menu. Just simply tell them what each product is and what it does. Even something as simple as the layout of the menu can put a customer at ease. They expect us to try and sell them an “extended warranty.” So if it is listed first on the menu immediately they think, “I knew they were going to try and sell me that,” and they stop listening to anything else we say. Why not list a product they are not familiar with first and list the service agreement further down the list? Customers might like it. And remember: it doesn’t matter what we like, it only matters what they like.
Starbucks didn’t offer free Wi-Fi or breakfast items until they listened to their customers. Fed-Ex didn’t develop the “total office experience” until their customers told them what they wanted. And Dollar General didn’t offer grocery items or new, clean and convenient locations until their customers told them what they expected. Customers have something to say. The question is: are we listening? And even more, are we willing to change to think like our customers and give them the experience they want? The answer to that question holds the keys to our future success!