Executives representing Dealers’ Choice Awards-winning F&I product, training, and financial services providers reveal the trade secrets that won them national recognition from auto dealers.
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Executives representing Dealers’ Choice Awards-winning F&I product, training, and financial services providers reveal the trade secrets that won them national recognition from auto dealers.

Each year, dealers across the nation vote for their favorite providers in Auto Dealer Today’s Dealers’ Choice Awards. For a multitude of reasons, the agents that do business with both these dealers and providers show great interest in the companies voted to be the industry’s leading. 

AE had the opportunity to speak with representatives of some of the companies that secured a spot in the 2019 DCA rankings. Experts from areas including recruitment, product training, service contracts, and many more shared their thoughts on the steps that have led their companies to success.

IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS

Relationships are crucial in both the agency and provider space and a major catalyst for the profits that drive them. For those companies that paved their way to a DCA win this year, they all agreed on one thing: positive relationships matter. And that goes for both the dealers and agents they do business with. 

Through continued support, collaborative ideas, and programs and services that cater to agents and dealers alike, these F&I product providers are gaining momentum.

“The first way we do this it to provide exceptional service levels and support for our agent and dealership clients,” said IAS’s vice president and head of the agent channel, John Lutman. “We don’t look at our clients as a vendor relationship. Instead, we refer to them as partners in this ever-changing competitive market that we are all in.”

"Our consistent focus on customer engagement, real-time communication and true transparency allow for very healthy, positive, and long-lasting relationships."

National Auto Care’s president and CEO, Tony Wanderon, thinks that having empathy, listening, and doing what you say are key to any relationship. “To me, the most important aspect of our business is doing what we say we will; that does not mean always saying yes, but rather doing the right thing even if sometimes it’s better for one side and not the other.”

“Simply put, we care,” said Greg Goebel, CEO of DealerStrong. “We work closely with our special finance clients, many on an ongoing basis, monitoring their success and giving them ongoing insight to their successes and opportunities.”

United Development Systems’ president, Randy Crisorio, believes the success of relationships between UDS and its dealer partners rests with effort, commitment, and expertise that delivers results. “UDS staffers consider ourselves as an F&I performance company and execute that culture every day,” he added. “Training is a key ingredient and comes in many forms and this in itself sets us apart from the competition.”

Justin Thomas, president and COO of PayLink Direct, said his company’s solutions are designed to help enable sales, but they only work well when they are implemented, tested, and refined in a collaborative way. “Each partner has specific nuances to their business and key areas of focus, and we want to do our best to understand those details and earn their business every day by matching our services with their objectives.”

Read: Agents Can Change a Dealership's Culture – One Whistleblower At a Time

“We are here to support dealers and agents alike and enable their unique vision to grow into a successful process within our system,” said ProMax’s director of training, Jack Beciri. “Honest communication, system flexibility — and above all, top-notch 24/7 customer support — are the keys.”

To their agents, The Impact Group’s responsibility is to make sure they have marketable and innovative solutions that differentiate their agency from its competitors, but also to arm them with the information they need to effectively service their book of business, said COO Garrett Thorpe. “If they have the confidence that we’re always willing and available to help, and that we know what we’re doing, the positive relationship comes naturally.”

AutoCareersOnline’s No. 1 priority is to help their OEM, TPA, and general agency clients build winning sales teams, said president Diane Uzelac. “We focus not just on maintaining a vendor relationship with our clients, but rather on building partnerships with them.”

Portfolio recognizes that this business is largely driven through relationships, said CSO Dan Haugen. “Selling an F&I product is mostly a transaction, whereas building wealth for our dealer clients requires a long-term trust-based relationship. Just like we meet with our dealer-owners quarterly, we reach out to every agent at least that frequently to see if they require any help or just need some counsel.”

Jason Gillette, StoneEagle F&I’s vice president of sales and marketing, believes that “cultivating trusted long-term partnerships is a top priority and one of our key core values — it’s more than just good business, it’s central to our identity.

“Beyond that, our agent and dealer partners directly inform many of our retail development priorities, as we strive to deliver solutions that meet a real-world need,” he added.

“Our dealers continually rely on us to provide fixed ops expertise and coaching because they don’t always have the time to address the complexity of what’s happening in their service and parts operation,” said DealerPRO Training’s dealer development manager, Kristin Williams. “Or they want our objective insight as they seek to make changes or implement new processes.”

Jeff Jacobs, founder and CEO of Universal Lenders, said, “The best way to maintain positive relationships with our agents is to provide an F&I product financing program that requires minimal agent effort while compensating them for their dealer’s production and providing their dealers with the maximum benefit.” He added that this creates a win-win for the dealer and agent.

“We listen to their needs and provide the products and services they want at competitive prices, with fast and efficient service, and with full transparency,” said Guy Koenig, president of GSFSGroup. 

“Additionally, we have a full time, experienced and dedicated team of managers, sales representatives, training managers and performance development managers, all of whom are available as needed.” 

Alan Miller, senior vice president of sales, said CNA National focuses on building lasting relationships with their clients by learning about their goals, not just their production numbers. “Furthermore, we continue to demonstrate our commitment to the agency distribution model,” he added. “The exceptional service our agents provide their dealer clients inspires all of us here at CNAN.” 

“Maximus Auto Group was founded with the mission to provide the best customer service in the industry. ... The saying goes, if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it, and we implement that wisdom every day,” said the company’s president, Dean Harrison. “We do this in a multitude of ways, allowing our management team to monitor the complete customer experience. Happy customers equals happy dealers, which equals happy agents.” 

RoadVantage’s philosophy with agents is to always be proactive, available, and responsive. “Our team is in constant contact with our agents regarding opportunities, product launch assistance, account reviews and successes,” said President of Sales Randy Ross. “This regular interaction creates profitable and problem-free relationships for all involved."

President David Neuenschwander said National Automotive Experts and NWAN’s singular focus it to help their customers, both agents and dealers, make more money and to strengthen the relationship between the dealer and their customer. “Our consistent focus on customer engagement, real-time communication and true transparency allow for very healthy, positive, and long-lasting relationships.” 

“AUL strives every day to provide the highest level of service in the industry,” said Paul McCarthy, SVP of agency and dealer sales. “We look for a way to say yes to every opportunity and we make it a point to always act in our customers’ best interests.” 

SECRETS OF THE TRADE 

While all our winners agreed that relationships lead the way in their company’s success, each has their own industry tips and tricks that they use to stay a step ahead of the rest. For some it is their employees; for others, consistent results. What is it that sets your company apart from the rest? 

“Our people consistently make the difference. Our team’s strengths include dealer sales, client training, program implementation, customer satisfaction, client communication and scalable technology, said PayLink Direct’s Thomas. “We are highly effective and capable of finding a solution to any given problem for our agents, dealers, and administrator partners.” 

Kristin Williams of DealerPRO Training shared that their dealers said they were previously somewhat “unengaged” with their fixed ops departments. Their training program helped them stay on top of service profitability and held them accountable to their service and parts managers and employees in a way they had never been before. “… And because we pay significant attention to every detail, every employee, and every process, that makes up a successful service and parts operation.” 

“Consistency and value,” said ProMax’s vice president of strategic business initiatives, Melissa Sinclair. “Whether it is the products we provide or the support team that comes along with those products, we have a commitment to always providing the best solutions possible.” 

"Through every level of our company, our fcus is on providing an exceptional experience to agents, dealers and customers."

Lutman of IAS said they have great focus and great employees who truly care about helping their agents and dealers be the best in the industry. He added that, “For years, IAS has been providing full-service solutions for our agent and dealer partners.” 

“We are lucky to have great people both internally and externally,” said National Auto Care’s Wanderon. “Winning this honor year after year is not just about our company — it’s about our agent partners, too. They are the ones who are in the stores, training, and doing all they can for their clients and company."

Loyalty, without a doubt, is what The Impact Group’s Thorpe says is the main factor that helped lead their company to a DCA win. “As a supporting provider with a depth of experience, we have our own processes and beliefs about what’s effective and what’s not, but we also understand that our own flexibility and stewardship of our agents’ relationships, even when it’s not always in our own best interests, is what ultimately makes or breaks our success.” 

“I dare say we have the most unique and effective reporting and tracking tools available anywhere today, and the metrics are the stepping stones to growth,” said UDS’s Crisorio. “The bottom line in our view is offering an array of training opportunities and reporting that keeps growth top of mind, leads to long term relationships, and earns the dealer support demonstrated through the Dealers’ Choice Awards program.” 

Jacobs of Universal Lenders said as a former auto dealer himself, he designed their program to say “yes” to dealers. “All paperwork problems are resolved directly with the dealers. No contracts are ever returned unfunded. We notify our dealers directly about pending cancelations and chargebacks.” 

Having trained more than 6,500 dealers and dealership personnel, and mixed with their integrity and desire for our clients to be successful long-term, Goebel said their clients appreciate DealerStrong’s unique service. 

“Though every level of our company, our focus is on providing an exceptional experience to agents, dealers and customers,” said RoadVantage’s Ross. “Combined with innovative, industry-leading F&I products, the highest levels of claims service, and uncompromising account service, we are providing the value today’s educated customers expect.” 

Portfolio’s Haugen said their dealer-owners completely look to their agents and managing directors for advice on how to maximize their wealth through the reinsurance program. 

“Providing top shelf customer service and superior agent income development services are the mere ante to stay in the game … Portfolio consistently delivers on the fundamentals, but having that trust-based dealer-owner relationship, is the key,” he said. 

“AutoCareersOnline has a keen understanding of what it takes to be successful marketing F&I ancillary products to car dealers,” said Uzelac. “When selling a commodity, the only distinction between your company’s offerings and your competition is your people.” 

McCarthy attributes AUL’s nearly 30-year commitment to delivering new and innovative products, combined with industry leading customer service, as the main factors that helped them achieve this important industry award. 

“We spent the past few years building agent training modules that focus on helping our agents really understand how we work, said NAE/NWAN’s Neuenschwander. “From product knowledge to selling tips, we have brought a renewed focus to helping our agents be more successful with our entire suite of products and services.” 

Harrison said that when a customer engages with MAG, they want them to feel like they’re engaging with the dealership. “MAG’s customer experience management tools empower policy holders to quickly and conveniently get help, start a claim, know what’s covered, and stay connected with us and their dealership. Those consistent, positive interactions create loyal, happy customers who return to the dealership for every other service they need.” 

Read: Agents Must Offer More Than F&I Training

“There’s no question it’s our customer service,” said Miller. “Not a day goes by that we don’t get at least one and sometimes several positive comments. This speaks highly of our associates and their dedication to both CNA National and our clients. “ 

Gillette claims that it really comes down to the longstanding, trusted relationships that StoneEagle F&I maintains. “Our truly remarkable team and their ongoing commitment to excellence is certainly a factor in our DCA win this year and in years past.” 

GSFSGroup’s Koenig ended the conversation by attributing their DCA wins to the support and trust of their agents and dealer partners. “We strive at every opportunity to be their partners and provide the products and services that they need to support and grow their businesses.” 

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