Who’s in the driver’s seat?

Giving your customer more control during the F&I process might seem risky, but it can reap big rewards


CONSUMERS ARE WELL ARMED with information when they walk into the dealership to “validate their research” and select their model.

We’ve written a lot about how salespeople are transforming into product advisors and sales consultants, as the balance of power in the vehicle knowledge game has tipped towards the consumers.

This has all resulted in more self assured buyers, which actually is a good thing — that is until they wade into the unfamiliar territory of the F&I office.

When car buyers enter the F&I office, many don’t know what to expect next. Even for experienced car buyers, the processes and offerings vary greatly by dealerships and are constantly evolving.

“The part of the process where the brakes get put on is generally at the F&I office,” says David Wilke, Manager, National Training, at LGM — a provider of finance and insurance products in the automotive industry.

Wilke doesn’t believe that there’s a lack of process in place. F&I managers can recite their process on command. And it’s not that they aren’t showing the customers their paperwork or swivelling their screens around to verify things like monthly payments and trade numbers.

The problem is that F&I managers are not allowing customers to drive that part of the process.

The breakdown between customer and F&I manager usually happens when there’s a lack of communication about the direction of the conversation.

The F&I manager knows there’s some paperwork that needs to be filled out, some products to present and some questions to ask the customer.

The customer knows that an interaction with an F&I manager is about to take place. But the customer doesn’t necessarily know what that conversation entails.

I spoke with Wilke to get a sense of the kinds of current conversations going on in F&I offices. He trains F&I managers through courses offered by LGM’s national PowerTrain program.

What Wilke often sees is F&I managers “pushing” the conversation with the customer.

That’s when the F&I manager holds all of the control in the conversation. Basically, the manager is imposing or “pushing” the process on the customer without giving any chance for input.

The better and more transparent approach, says Wilke, is to have the customer drive the process which is considered more of a “pull.”

In other words, tell customers that we have to do X number of things but let them choose what they want to do next. Let them take the wheel.

James Sellner, Sales Manager at Volkswagen Waterloo, is all for being open and transparent about the F&I process with the customer.

A big fan of LGM’s training program, Sellner, who spent about seven years in the F&I office before migrating to sales, learned that explaining each step throughout the F&I process to customers can help make a big difference and establish a sense of trust.

Even the way the F&I manager communicates with the customer can make a difference.

Say, “Zara, do you mind if we do your credit app next?” instead of “Zara, it’s time to do your credit app next.” I’m more likely to say “yes,” to the way the question was phrased because I know this needs to be done.

It might seem counterintuitive to throw the control of the negotiation to the customer but Wilke doesn’t think so.

He calls this tip the “permission to proceed,” which he shares in his training sessions. The process then becomes more of a “pull” instead of a “push.”

Sounds simple enough.

Developing a more transparent and customer-driven process also means creating the kind of environment that puts the customer at ease.

For Wilke, making the customer feel comfortable is more important than just going through the typical sales strategies, like the questions to ask.

“I don’t believe in old selling techniques nearly as much as I believe in creating a welcoming environment — one where there’s collaborating to achieve a common goal,” says Wilke.

That means establishing a level of trust to the point where you can make the customer feel like you are a resource to them. Wilke advises to make the customer more aware of a risk and then position the product as a solution. Then, it’s up to the customer to decide if he or she really needs it.

And he doesn’t think any fancy technology is required. Just a pen and piece of paper will do.

Sellner likes the menu-selling approach to help customers make their decisions.

“What I really like about the menu is its transparency,” he says, adding the customer is not only able to see all of the products the F&I manager is going to discuss but also it can be customizable if needed.

It’s all integrated in Volkswagen Waterloo’s DMS in which customers can see all of the figures and interest rates, and that there are no hidden fees.

The process has now become transparent.

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