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By Mike Esposito, President and CEO of Auto/Mate Dealership Systems
For several years there has been some banter concerning the demise of the F&I Manager position. A focus on the need to speed up the car-buying process and improve customer satisfaction will inevitably lead to the demise of this role in the dealership, or so it’s said. In the words of Mark Twain, I believe the rumors of the F&I Manager’s death have been greatly exaggerated.
The reality is the F&I Manager’s role is not a one-size-fits-all approach. In large dealerships, most sales departments have front-end gross and back-end gross, and a very clear definition of roles and goals for both. In mid- to small-size dealerships, it may make sense to combine roles and you can frequently find a sales manager working payment numbers and also selling service contracts and products. However, in these scenarios typically the contract and product gross is low.
The fact is there is a need for F&I products. Customers, whether they think they need or want them at the time, and regardless of how fast they want to get out of the dealership, really do need to have these products presented to them. Most customers will recognize and want the peace-of-mind that many of these products offer, if they are properly presented.
Instead of focusing on who should be doing the presenting, shouldn’t the focus be on the F&I presentation itself? Regardless of whether an F&I Manager or a salesperson is in this role, the need for that person to be properly trained and the appropriate technology to streamline the process are critical.
These days there is no excuse for a long, drawn-out F&I sales presentation. There are many F&I menu solutions available that are both affordable and fully integrated with your DMS. Listening to the customer and assessing their needs is the most important first step. The ability to quickly create a customized package based on these needs is the second. Dealerships that take the time to create a series of “smart” packages of products designed for different needs have found this to be a successful approach.
If a turn over from sales to F&I is necessary, and a wait time unavoidable, give the customer something to do! This is where mobile tablets are not only a cool tool, but invaluable. While your customer waits, they can scroll through a questionnaire asking them how they use their vehicles. Then, based upon their answers, a series of customized recommendations are presented to them. If the customer doesn’t understand a product, they can click on a description or an educational video that explains everything. Putting the information in the customers’ hands empowers them, which, contrary to what some dealers might think, increases the likelihood they will purchase.
Another important revenue generator that’s often overlooked is following up on lost F&I sales. In some cases the customer really does just want to get out the door as quickly as possible, so they grow impatient and decline everything. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have a need, or that they won’t at some point be inclined to listen.
Once a week someone–the F&I Manager or the person in that role–should run a sales report to extract lost sales opportunities, including F&I. Then follow up with all the customers who left without purchasing, by sending emails or postcards or even phone calls. An F&I Manager with one of our clients does this quite successfully. Anchor Auto Group’s follow-up efforts on lost F&I sales net a ten percent return and add approximately $10,000 in recovered revenue to the bottom line every month.
Additionally, the need for compliance now is greater than ever. Everything nowadays is about crossing your t’s and dotting your i’s. Your F&I menu solution should produce disclosure statements as well as a selected options report that shows what the customer is purchasing and what they are forfeiting. This is key as you never want the customer to come back and say they were not offered a certain contract or product.
Increased customer satisfaction and increased back-end gross are not conflicting goals. It’s possible to have both, as long as the person doing the selling has the appropriate knowledge and tools. Every dealership is different but in my experience, a good F&I Manager is not only financially self-sustainable, but worth their weight in gold. Long live the F&I Manager!
I hope to see you at Booth #3310N at the NADA Convention & Expo!