I recently had the opportunity to speak at the Industry Summit. I shared with the audience what I consider the top 10 traits the exceptional F&I managers I have worked with over the years have in common.
The first and foremost trait I have identified among the exceptional performers in F&I is that they not only want success, they are willing to work harder and, in most cases, smarter than their average performing counterparts to achieve it.
Since it is football season, I used a football theme in my presentation and as an example of the “want it like a walk-on” mentality. I featured J.J. Watt of the NFL’s Houston Texans. J.J. Watt was a walk-on at the University of Wisconsin and has gone on to establish himself as a top-performing Pro Bowl player in a league of elite athletes.
Walk-on athletes are different than most college athletes. Unlike their scholarship-receiving counterparts, the expectations aren’t as high for walk-ons. Chances are that, if they are lucky enough to make the team and participate in a college program, they are relegated to the practice squad. These players are an important part of any program because they practice against and help develop the scholarship players. However, they rarely take the field on game day. Occasionally, someone special comes along that makes the most of the opportunity earned and proves all the experts wrong by becoming exceptional.
If you ask any offensive coordinator in the NFL about Mr. Watt, they will describe him as a “high-motor” player. That phrase describes a player who never takes a play off, is always focused on the objective, and truly gives 100% on every play.
Would your client dealers and their F&I teams describe you as a “high motor” agent and trainer?
Some people just have it. Others may learn it. But it must originate from within the individual, whatever the motivation. They are entrepreneurial in how they view their role as an F&I manager. To them, F&I is a business within a business.
There is hope for the rest of us, though. Research tells us that maybe one or two people in 100 has the spark. The elite performers in F&I seem to take the spark and make the most of it.
The following are some of the other traits that the elite performers in F&I all have in common. The good news is that, unlike the “wanting it like a walk-on” mindset, these traits can be learned and adopted.
1. They know who their best customer is. Sales is the best customer of any F&I manager. Without sales, every F&I manger is severely limited in what they can accomplish at best, and out of business at worst. The top performers I know drive and cultivate a positive relationship with all members of the sales team. They work with the sales manager and staff to help maximize each opportunity.
2. They are never satisfied with the status quo. They never stop learning and are always seeking ways to improve in all aspects of what they do.
3. They make things happen. They come to work to work, instead of coming to work to wait like the average performing F&I managers. They are only in their office when they need to be; otherwise, they are engaged by being out on the sales floor or in the service department, creating opportunities.
4. They have process discipline. The top performers go beyond trusting their process. They believe so strongly in their process that they can’t imagine doing it any other way. These individuals know everything about the products they offer. They take time to discover the customer’s needs and they align the benefits of their products to solve that customer’s problems and fulfill those needs. Their process is refined and improved as they grow professionally.
Naturally, the average F&I manager is just as strong in their belief that their tried-and-true process is still reliable. The difference is that their process hasn’t evolved or been refined over time. Even when presented with a process that produces much better and verifiable results, they refuse by choosing “the way [they have] always done it” and end up applying one or two years of experience to a 10- or 20-year career and fail to grow professionally.
5. They are consultative. These F&I superstars build trust by keeping the customer informed about what they are doing and why. They are experts in communication. They listen to understand the customer. They share knowledge, give examples, and present options. They know the value of being a great opener when it comes to closing. They are transparent in their method.
6. They prioritize their time. The best of the best know the difference between important and urgent. They have learned to avoid the “present bias” that exists in F&I. These F&I managers know that the urgent isn’t necessarily important. They have come to understand that what is important supports their goals and their priorities.
They also know that, in many instances, what is urgent supports other people’s goals and other people’s priorities. Top performers understand that they cannot always sacrifice what is important to them, such as professional growth and development, for the sake of what is urgent to others.
7. They set goals. Many F&I professionals chase a number or benchmark that has been set for them based on the desired result of the group. The top F&I managers approach it differently. They set professional goals based on their individual performance data and create a plan to achieve their goals. They track their performance on all opportunities, they incorporate 90-day rolling averages to establish trends, they understand the value of small sustained increases over time, and they adjust during the month if needed to achieve their plan.
Finally, true pros know that the numbers tell the truth about performance and rarely if ever lie. They never make excuses.
8. They don’t complain; they teach. In every instance, the exceptional performer in F&I is the best trainer in the dealership. They know how important the fundamentals are to exceptional execution in sales and F&I and they reinforce and train on them at every opportunity. They challenge others to improve and, in doing so, make those around them better.
9. They consistently sell products outside the F&I office. These individuals consistently market and sell products to customers in service. They have made their service drive program work by sure force of will. They also follow up with every customer to ensure that the customer understands everything they have signed and to ensure the customer’s impression of value of any of the products they enrolled in is still intact. They handle any doubts as they arise and limit chargebacks.
Another unique activity the entrepreneurial F&I manager does is to follow up on paid claims. They work with service to be notified every time an RO is paid by a product the customer enrolled in. They ask how the process went and whether it did everything as promised. When confirmed by the customer that it had, they ask for a review. They ask the customer to go onto the dealership website and review the product, and if they are so inclined, the F&I manager as well.
Imagine how powerful that can be when the customer is in the “where” phase of their online research. They are looking for five-star reviews in sales and service. They now see reviews for the products the F&I manager offers and the power of the third-party endorsement.
10. They don’t draw penalties. Mistakes are rare with these individuals. They take pride in their work. They don’t have CIT problems. They protect the dealer and limit his or her risk whenever possible. They touch a deal once. Their situational awareness ensures that seeds of noncompliance never take root. They do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
Simply put, the F&I elite do the things the average F&I manager isn’t willing to do. They understand that consistency is the key to performance and success. They never compromise. They also know this is hard to do and they chose to do it anyway — every time, with every customer, in any situation, without exception. They want it like a walk-on.
John Tabar is the director of training for United Development Systems Inc. He has spent the past 30-plus years dedicated to the automotive retail business.