As the pace of new F&I and dealership technology accelerates, agents must keep dealers on track and in sync to prevent them from falling behind or ignoring the simple solutions that could improve their processes.  - Photo via iStock

As the pace of new F&I and dealership technology accelerates, agents must keep dealers on track and in sync to prevent them from falling behind or ignoring the simple solutions that could improve their processes. 

Photo via iStock

Perhaps B.C. Forbes said it best: “A business, like an automobile, has to be driven to get results.”

Of course, almost nothing drives today’s automobile business more than technology. Customers demand high-end technology in their vehicles. More and more, customers won’t accept anything less from the systems in auto dealerships. 

We all know what that means: If agents fail to choose, recommend, and help implement cutting-edge technology in dealerships, everyone’s reputation sinks.

Clearly, the stakes are high.

That’s why it’s vital to ensure your agency’s workforce has the automotive experience and energy to aggressively seek out and test technology, analyze solutions, and customize options and fixes for dealerships. The best agents often know a dealership needs new or fine-tuned technology before the dealer does. 

That’s especially vital now as the automotive industry continues to make advances in online vehicle transactions.

Consider Digital Sales and F&I Platforms.

There are many reasons why some agents accept dealers’ contention that they needn’t seek new or refined technological solutions. Some dealers believe the automotive world is more about personality than systems. Plenty of us remember the not-so-long-ago days when agents kept a stack of paper contracts in the trunks of their cars and worked from there. 

Plus, some dealers are quick to note that their customers are comfortable with the status quo.

But there’s also fear. 

Take a step back and think about how automotive profit centers have changed in the past few years. It’s difficult to remember a time when F&I played a more crucial role in a dealership’s survival.

That has made many dealers extra cautious about changing what they consider satisfactory F&I systems or digital sales platforms that seemingly take their best salespeople out of the picture. In fact, some dealers believe that technology will undermine the personalized service they currently enjoy with their customers. 

That may be especially true of leaders at small- to mid-size dealerships that have second- and third-generation customer bases. You’ve likely heard them say that their customers have become so accustomed to shopping at their dealership, they wouldn’t go elsewhere. 

Some agents hear that from dealers, accept it, and don’t help their dealers move forward.

That’s often a mistake. 

Some dealers are still riding high on their move from traditional menus to full econtracts. 

True, most F&I product providers have moved to econtracting, and the majority of dealerships have followed. But remember that technology was emerging 15 years ago. 

Yes, some banks and finance companies are still overhauling their systems to align with econtracting, but that doesn’t mean dealerships shouldn’t move ahead. Customers are already increasing their technological demands. That’s clear in customer satisfaction surveys that still rank the length of time it takes to buy a car as one of the greatest dissatisfactions in such transactions.

And that time isn’t just spent in the F&I office. Action on the sales floor has to move at faster-than-ever speed.

Treat Dealership Partners Like Individuals. 

It’s imperative that agents educate their dealers on these new realities as they offer data and technology options to meet the customer’s needs and help them stay ahead of competitors.

Remember, millennials are now in their 30s, with many closing in on age 40. That means there’s a whole new crop of car buyers that are very comfortable with technology and demand faster solutions. Dealers may be so entrenched in their day-to-day operations, they haven’t fully considered that dynamic.

But before you can convince dealers you can help them better serve their clients, they need to trust you as a partner. Today, that likely won’t happen until you:

Find the best automotive technologies available. That means you can vouch for reliability, accuracy, training solutions and upgrades. 

Analyze F&I platforms, digital sales and other technological options for each client. No dealer wants to feel their business is crammed into a one-size-fits-all solution. If you want a dealer to trust you as a partner, show them that you have analyzed their needs to understand their customers, and can provide them with the best solutions for now and the future.

Treat each dealership as if it’s your only customer. Your agency should only hire a workforce that has automotive experience, and is committed to your mission, training, and expertise to offer the right solution the first time. That doesn’t work if you’re a 9-to-5 business. 

Of course, counseling dealership partners doesn’t mean you need to overhaul systems continually. In fact, it’s often better not to do so.

I think of a dealer who struggled with their F&I technology. We analyzed the emenus and other relevant software in place and discovered inefficiencies in the different technologies the dealership had adopted at the urging of various providers. We offered a solution that allowed the dealership to ramp up productivity without completely replacing its system. That, in turn, allowed the dealership to shorten their customers’ wait times. 

But as we said earlier, technology is crucial beyond the F&I office.

Today, fueled by access to online research, many customers arrive at showrooms knowing the vehicles, options, and colors they want. 

Easy enough, right? Well, that depends on many factors, including lot management. There’s almost nothing that saps enthusiasm more than assuring a customer you have the model they want only to discover it takes 20 minutes to locate the vehicle or it has a dead battery. Snafus such as those results in lost dealership customers. Counsel your dealers to explore and invest in technology that will help them manage their inventories and has a useful sell-through for their customers. 

Find the Perfect Fit and Plug It All In. 

As independent agents, we pride ourselves on partnerships with both providers and dealerships. And, again, both those partnerships are built on trust. Consider how much easier it is today for many people to come up to speed on technology. That ease of adoption means the acceptance rate of technology is higher.

But that’s not always a positive. When you buy costly equipment or services for your own business — a computer, a phone system, software — do you just buy whatever a provider offers? Of course not. You probably research and try the technology before you implement it.

We’ve all invested in technology, only to find it didn’t work the way in which we had hoped. That doesn’t happen at our agency and it shouldn’t happen at yours. 

No agency is perfect, including ours. We have all experienced occasional hiccups as we work to keep pace with changing technology, new client needs, and industry challenges.

Eric Peterson is president of The Oak Group, a provider of F&I programs, training and consulting servicesto auto dealerships, agents, and other entities in theautomotive space.