Is Technology Your Tool or Your Replacement?
Is Technology Your Tool or Your Replacement?

Any agent who has been in the business more than 10 years can remember the old routine: Wait till the close of the month before scheduling any visits. Show up and pull out the F&I log book, add up each column of numbers, do your long division to calculate PVR, product averages and penetration. Once you had all the information, it was time to visit with the F&I department to see how your computations fit their recollection of what happened.

As soon as you had their side of the story and the calculated facts, you would visit with a dealer or at least with a GM. There you’d discuss your findings, answer any questions, lay out a plan for next month and maybe even recommend a training seminar for a sales manager or new F&I hire with some measure of what could be expected when they returned to the dealership.

Then, you’d head into the back office to take a look at “your paper.” You’d sift through your contracts to make sure that the count was right, that the pricing was accurate, and most importantly, that the remit sheet was filled out so that a check could be cut for the dealer to send in.

Each year, when your product pricing changed, you’d be in the dealership with new “books” with updated costs and suggested retails. You’d make sure that everyone who was anyone had their copy, but for about a month, you had a trunk full of binders looking for good homes.

My, how times have changed.

New software keeps a running tab on all things F&I. At any given moment, from anywhere on the planet, “the numbers” could be looked up and analyzed. With so many products now allowing econtracting, remits are push-button simple. Up-to-date product pricing is done overnight via the Internet while the world is asleep.

Oh, and if that’s not bad enough, consumers now have access to every bit of information available to the dealer. They can instantly fact check everything from rate to invoice to the products your agency represents. And they can access their credit scores and history all while sitting right in front of the finance manager. The dealer, knowing all this is going on, is searching for help. What if you and your agency could be that help?

Perception Is Reality

While you still need to provide support for your dealers, what is their perception of the work you do? Wear their hat for a moment and look at what they no longer see. There is no need for you to “do the numbers,” since they are done electronically. You don’t have to show the penetrations, PVR or product profits, because that info is a click away. There is no longer a need for the remit process since the technology keeps a much more accurate tally and funds can be sent electronically.

The perception issue will always be with us, in good markets and bad. The perception isn’t what’s visible, it’s the value equated to what you do for your dealers. So create value.

If you knew of an auction where the fees were half of what the other auctions are charging, would you tell your dealers? Of course you would. Would that be of value? More than likely.

  1. Consumers have more control over the deal process. Because consumers can now access the same data as dealers, does this mean profits and product sales must suffer? What can you do as an agent to make certain that profits remain strong? What if you used your experience and helped the dealer actually sell more cars? While you wouldn’t be paid for such a service, it seems only logical that if they sell more cars, more of your products would be sold as well.
  2. There is a new business. Dealers can no longer be satisfied to be just dealers. Those who want success into the future must evolve into the data collection business. That means dealers must have the best ways to acquire data and more importantly, strategies to disseminate and use the data to achieve their desired goals.
  3. Don’t fear the data. Understand that, while Big Data may sound intimidating to you and most of your dealers, the key to success is to develop actionable intelligence based on readily available data.

There are countless ways to leverage business intelligence to help your dealers. Here are just a few suggestions that require no investment or additional software.

  • Allow some or all of the deal process to be done online. This not only saves time, but is more accurate and the customer will actually feel more comfortable.
  • Provide true and better econtracting solutions. The more streamlined you can make the administrative side of the deal process, the more time available to be spent building relationships and selling.
  • Have an online presentation. Be able to have something that the customer can watch while other preparations are being made. Examples could include a presentation of what a service contract covers or how GAP really works.
  • Help the dealer manage their online presence. Most of your dealers probably have never even Googled themselves. That alone will open their eyes to what is being said about them or even how popular their website is.
  • Review their vendor’s online presence as well. Maybe one of your competitors has a less than stellar reputation that the Internet could point out. Hint: Check your products before trying this with a dealer.

These are but a few ideas to help you get started. Again, they can all be implemented with the existing dealer infrastructure. This means it won’t cost the dealer to make these improvements, but it could result in more sales and reduced costs. Now, what kind of value would you say you bring to your dealers if you only accomplish one or two of the above items?

There is one last area to consider: costs. It has often been said that there are two ways to increase profits: Increase sales or reduce costs. Now, a few of the above ideas can certainly help in the sales department, but you can add even more value to your dealers if you can point out ways to save money by reducing expenses. However, I would stick to areas you know or deal with.

For example, if a dealer had any redundancy in their software and you could point that out, it would probably add value to your service. (We’ve worked with dealers who didn’t realize they still had two CRMs and were being billed for both.) Ask the dealer what they currently spend on software used in your areas of expertise and offer alternatives used by other dealers you service.

That’s just the beginning. Technology will continue to evolve. Evolving means change. And as the quote goes, “If you are unwilling to change, you’ve already reached your maximum potential.” So don’t let today’s technology stop you from being a better value to your dealers than your competition. Use technology as a tool to help your dealers become more successful. You will make yourself and your agency indispensable to the dealerships you serve.