Among the many facets of the value proposition agents bring to dealers is their ability to help recruit F&I managers. But this is no small task. Real talent is hard to find, and the agent should also therefore ensure that new talent is not wasted or lost by a dealer not having a process in place to train and continually motivate new hires.
To learn more, we turned to the experts. Shelley Boggan-Kirchner of GSFSGroup, Great Lakes Companies’ John Braganini, Brian Crisorio of United Development Systems Inc. (UDS), Harlene Doane of DealerStrong and Automotive Development Group (ADG)’s Bill Kelly all weighed in to help answer three key questions: Where should agents look for candidates, what attributes should they look for, and how can they help put them on the path to success?1. Where to Look
Most of our experts agreed that although the traditional path from the sales floor to the finance office continues to yield excellent results, agents and dealers would be remiss in failing to expand their search. With that in mind, we discussed a few primary sources to focus on, each with its own pros and cons:
- Internal candidates: Do not overlook the employees already working in the dealership, particularly especially those who make known their intentions to move to F&I. In fact, this remains one of the best sources to start with, the experts say.
“Top-producing salespeople and sales managers are good candidates,” says Braganini, principal of Portage, Mich.-based Great Lakes.
“We always like to look within the organization first, as there are often a number of qualified candidates itching for their shot at being the almighty F&I Manager,” says Brian Crisorio, vice president of marketing for Clearwater, Fla.-based UDS.
In fact, Crisorio adds that he advises dealers to invest in F&I training for promising salespeople — even before a job becomes available. This strategy demonstrates a commitment to the individual on the dealer’s part, giving them a clear path to advance. It also creates a roster of qualified workers who can step in when needed, be it for a particularly busy afternoon or on a more permanent basis.
- External candidates: Agents should be constantly on the lookout for experienced F&I managers who may be looking for a change of scenery. One good way to do that is to make sure every dealer client has a career portal on their website. But Shelley Boggan-Kirchner, the executive in charge of the Hiring Winners platform for Houston-based GSFSGroup, says dealers may want to make their intentions known in a number of ways, including asking customers for candidate referrals and conspicuously posting recruiting materials in the store.
“When we go into a dealership, we bring in marketing and recruiting materials,” Boggan-Kirchner says. “We give them signage they can put up — be it at the receptionist desk or customer waiting areas — saying, ‘This is just to inform you we’re always looking for great people. Feel free to visit our career portal.’ We also give it to them electronically. So if they want to take that link and attach it to a community job board, they can market it directly to community colleges and vocational schools.”
This strategy allows the dealership to constantly evaluate and recruit new talent, she adds, so there is never a crisis when someone decides to move on to another opportunity.
- Outside-the-box candidates: Our experts agreed that smart, ambitious, hard-working professionals in other fields can become effective F&I managers — if you can find them. For all the time and money dealers spend marketing to find new customers, for many, the idea of creating a similar campaign to find outside-the-box candidates remains foreign. For dealers who are focused on the day-to-day operations, taking the time to actively and continuously recruit can be a daunting task. Agents who can weed through and identify the next potential stars — of F&I, sales, customer service or any other part of the dealership — can become invaluable partners. They just have to know where to look.
“Qualified candidates can come from a variety of sources, and those sources often vary from market to market,” stresses Harlene Doane, COO of DealerStrong, based out of Evansville, Ind. She also notes that other sources, such as local job boards, and social media sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are also good places to hunt for candidates.
From traditional sources, such as the local newspaper, to online resources like Monster, CareerBuilder and Indeed, dealers have a number of opportunities to advertise their stores as friendly, productive work environments with the potential for a six-figure income. The downside, of course, is managing a presence on multiple job sites and sifting through the reams of applications that result.
“You will have to look at many more candidates and applications if you’re only recruiting via the Internet than you will if you’re collecting referrals,” Boggan-Kirchner notes.
Agents can help by managing this process on their dealers’ behalf and making sure the ads paint a realistic picture of life in the box, including the long hours and weekend shifts. That description can prove attractive to graduates of colleges and technical schools, who may be willing to sacrifice personal time in order to enter the workforce in a high-paying position.
Of course, like other outside-the-box recruits, recent grads will come in without the benefit of relevant training and experience. That’s where screening for aptitude, ambition and a willingness to learn and follow a process take on added importance.
“What we look for are people that have certain characteristics that we feel will be the most successful,” says Kelly, a partner at Bloomington, Minn.-based ADG. “Oftentimes, they are people with a proven track record, but sometimes we do come across the right individual that we believe we can train on our trademarked Proactive Selling System.”2. What to Look For
It is not enough to simply look for any candidate that walks through the door. It takes a certain blend of skills and attitude to be a great F&I manager, so agents focused on helping dealerships recruit the right people need to ensure they are identifying certain key traits.
- Coachability: One of the first traits to look for is a willingness to learn the F&I process and stick to it. Every dealership will have its own set of rules and procedures that F&I managers will be expected to follow. New hires need to be willing to learn and adapt to that process, whether they are green peas or seasoned professionals.
“With all of the compliance laws and moving parts, a business manager has to have structure and be able to work in a very structured environment,” Kelly stresses. “We are not looking for an individual to go out and create their own way. When the proven path is followed, we have the best results.”
- Professionalism: Even the most knowledgeable F&I manager will struggle if they do not look, walk and talk the part. They need to be able to put consumers at ease and be capable of guiding them through the entire process. If the F&I manager doesn’t inspire trust, they will not get very far.
“We are always looking for someone that not only possesses the general knowledge, but also has the look,” explains Crisorio. “The ideal F&I manager will present himself as a trusted advisor who is qualified and prepared to help the customers navigate the details of a vehicle purchase. They should also demonstrate a team-first attitude and strong leadership qualities.”
- Intelligence: F&I managers must build a working knowledge of terminology, deal structure and federal, state and local regulations, often in short order. Does your latest recruit have the brainpower to guide customers through the F&I process and keep the dealership out of trouble?
- Character: F&I managers assume a powerful position in the dealership. They will regularly face situations that will test their ethics, and ensuring their level of morality matches that of the dealership is a key trait. This can be screened for with examples of real-life situations that came up in the hiring dealership, and then having the candidate explain how they would have handled it. This gives a good baseline for how well they will fit into the dealership’s expectations of its F&I managers.
“Some dealers are more comfortable with the gray lines than others, so the character needs to be in the same circle as the dealer’s expectations,” notes Doane. “Character also comes out in reference checks, if conducted properly.”
- Chemistry: This is perhaps the hardest trait to screen for. The F&I manager will be working with every member of the dealership staff on a daily basis, and it only takes one bad apple to disrupt the entire culture. Agents rarely have the opportunity to work with new personnel on a daily basis, so the dealer’s expectations must be perfectly clear. The dealer principal should have the final say in all new hires, and, assuming the agent has brought them all highly qualified candidates that meet every other criteria, this should be the one trait they focus on the most when making the final decision.
“You want to be sure the person you’re hiring is oriented to the culture,” Boggan-Kirchner says. “You’ll get a lot of information about their character during the due diligence of the hiring process. But once the dealer has made that decision, the work they do needs to be reflective of the culture. I think it’s important that, from the moment people enter into the dealership, it should be emphasized that it’s a career, not just a job.”
One thing all of the experts agreed on was that, while finding someone with previous F&I training is always a good thing, it isn’t necessarily a requirement. Many of them stressed that either going the internal route, hiring experienced sales people who are looking to move ahead at the dealership, or young graduates just out of school who are blank slates, can both be very compelling options. The first comes with knowledge of the industry, the vehicles and the customers that the dealership serves, putting them one step ahead of other candidates. And hiring graduates means not having to undo training or bad habits picked up somewhere else. They can be taught exactly how this dealership does it, right from the start.
“I like both,” says Boggan-Kirchner. “If you hire experienced personnel, that usually means less down time and acquiring a person with a proven track record. Hiring inexperienced requires utilizing broader recruiting methods, having a commitment to training and utilizing performance assessment tools like Hiring Winners.”
Crisorio agrees, noting that an openness to training is, in the long run, more important than previous F&I experience. Although, he says, having automotive experience of some sort can certainly help. “The experienced individual must prove to be coachable in order to adapt to the processes and procedures that a dealer group has in place. Someone new to the F&I office must share the same trait and welcome the guidance that a reputable F&I company and dealership management will provide. That will give them the best chance at a successful career.”
“We all want to think we’ll get the guy who’s going to come out and run $1,200 per copy,” says Boggan-Kirchner. “But what are the characteristics that will make that person able to do it? You want somebody who’s got drive and ambition. You want somebody who’s motivated by their own performance.”3. How to Prepare for Success
It doesn’t matter if it is the perfect candidate, or whether they are brand new to F&I or seasoned pros, every F&I manager should get the education they need to start strong and commit to regular, ongoing training to ensure they always perform at the top of their game.
Braganini might look for candidates who have a proven track record in either F&I or automotive sales, however, he notes, that doesn’t stop him from training them. “Both [experienced and new hires] need to complete our basic and advanced FSM schools, complete a development specialist assignment with one of our trainers and maintain strict adherence to our sales process and core competency system.”
“An experienced F&I manager must become familiar with the products being offered, as well as the selling system utilized to offer those products, so menu training and product knowledge training is a must,” stresses Crisorio. “Regarding the inexperienced F&I manager, additional training would be necessary in the areas of compliance, lender relations and objection handling, to name a few.”
“You are never too experienced to receive training,” says Kelly. “We emphasize weekly training for everyone. Someone that is newer to the job will require offsite, multiday F&I development training. All of the offsite training is followed up with in store one-on-one and online classes. Every week, the best business managers make time to improve themselves.”
It is important for the dealership to set expectations early in the relationship, and then give the F&I manager the tools and knowledge they need to meet and exceed those goals. It is not, however, enough to simply have a list of vague statements that are only pulled out when it’s time to do the annual evaluation. “Once the expectations are set and goals are formed, a daily action plan needs to be followed and a six-month trend report should be implemented to track the progress,” Kelly says.
“It depends on the store and market, but goals should all be written, tracked and have consequences,” agreed Braganini. “Assigning a development specialist to the store to ensure performance compliance will ensure the candidate can succeed.”
It is important for agents to manage the dealer expectations, as well. No matter how experienced a new F&I manager might have been before joining the team, there will be a learning curve when it comes to the exact processes and products the dealership uses. This is another area where training will make a big difference. If the dealer is willing to let the agent get the new hire all the training they need prior to their first day in the office, the chances of their success — and the dealer’s — goes up exponentially.
“While it may be understood that a learning curve will exist, especially with someone new to F&I, the targets established are, well, the targets,” notes Crisorio. “As the chosen F&I partner to our clients, we accept the challenge to ensure an individual is ready to succeed on day one. Realizing success immediately is certainly not guaranteed, so I would encourage any dealer to lean on their F&I company to provide dedicated support, giving that new manager the best chance at success.”
In fact, Kelly believes agents play a critical role in this entire process. “Be a coach and always have a game plan when working with a finance manager,” he advises. “Set the objectives and always bring something of value to each session. I very much believe that it is an agent’s responsibility to develop the finance managers. Contract count is nice, but PVR is the measuring stick.”
The further an agent is willing to go to help dealers find effective F&I managers, Boggan-Kirchner says, the more valuable they will become.
“I think that it behooves everybody for the agent to be involved in the recruiting, hiring and training process,” she says. “I think agents should act as consultants to the dealer for anything F&I-related. I also think it’s a selling point for the agency to have good F&I manager development. And I think that when you have an agency that does that, it stands out.”