Often, when giving presentations to customers, F&I managers focus on product features and benefits. They talk about what it is, how it works, what it costs…And when those customers aren’t interested, F&I managers are left wondering: Were the features not thoroughly explained, was the product too expensive, did the customer not understand the benefits? Chances are, in many cases, it’s none of these reasons.

According to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of all purchase decisions are actually made unconsciously, based on emotional responses to the product – but most people find logical reasons to explain the decision, instead of recognizing it as a gut reaction. In fact, Professor Zaltman notes that many people do this so automatically; they don’t even realize they are doing it at all.

With this is mind, changing up your product presentation based on understanding your customer’s mindset, concerns, and priorities for their new vehicle are key. Is safety their top concern? Appearance? Protecting their investment? Each answer leads to a different approach… and none of them starts with a list of features.

Emotion is a powerful tool. But before anyone starts using scare tactics, it’s important to consider what sales expert Perry Marshall points out: There is a difference between an emotional sales pitch and hype. The F&I presentation doesn’t need to come off as if it were a late-night infomercial.

When it comes to making emotional decisions, previous experiences also play a huge part. In his article in Psychology Today, Dr. Peter Noel Murray says, “When we are confronted with a decision, emotions from previous, related experiences affix values to the options we are considering. These emotions create preferences, which lead to our decision.”

“95% of all purchase decisions are actually made unconsciously, based on emotional responses to the product – but most people find logical reasons to explain the decision, instead of recognizing it as a gut reaction.”

What does that mean? Even the most rational of buyers has likely had some kind of F&I experience, good or bad, in the past. The most successful F&I managers recognize they aren’t starting at ground zero. For customers who have had a bad sales experience or who have heard a friend’s horror story, trust is a large factor the F&I manager must consider. No matter how many great product features are presented, they aren’t going to sway these customers, and scare tactics are only going to strengthen their distrust. To make those sales, the root of the negative emotions needs to be discovered and dispelled, and a new emotional groundwork laid. It’s not as easy as listing product features, but it is much more effective.

Focusing on product features and benefits with a “just the facts, ma’am” approach can work with a consumer who has already made the emotional decision to purchase an F&I product. But for the rest of your customers, you must first understand their experiences, desires and fears surrounding their purchase in order to help them understand why they should care about F&I products. Once you’ve helped them see the “why,” then and only then will they be receptive to the “what.”

To that end, here are a few tips for connecting with consumers and ensuring they leave the F&I office satisfied with both the products they purchased and the experience as a whole.

  1. Get to know them. First and foremost, take the time to get to know each customer. Make it part of the process to go out and meet the customers while the deal is still being negotiated. Take the time to ask them a few questions about what type of vehicle they’re interested in and — more importantly — why they are looking for that specific car or truck. Ask them about family, or about any concerns they might have.
  2. Tailor the presentation. Armed with the knowledge about what concerns might be most important to that consumer, take the time to tailor the presentation to them. Make sure the products or bundles you feel are the most relevant are the first ones you’ll show them. And then take the time to explain your reasoning to each consumer. Even simple, “You mentioned when we spoke earlier that you have young children, and that you worry about having the interior stained or damaged, so I wanted to show you this product that might help protect your investment…” statements demonstrate that you aren’t just trying to sell a product, you are trying to help that consumer solve problems that are important to them.
  3. Don’t be afraid of props. Many F&I managers shy away from using props today, feeling they give the wrong impression of a hard sales tactic. But when used correctly, props can help customers visualize an abstract benefit. They can even help to build trust. A few examples of effective props are:
    • Studies. Having data sourced from organizations consumers trust, such as AAA or Consumer Reports, that illustrate the hazards cars face on a daily basis helps to frame the sales conversation as a way to help that consumer avoid the sometimes costly obstacles their vehicle might come up against, through no fault of their own. Things like potholes, hail damage or spills in the back seat are all hazards F&I can help a consumer proactively prepare for, and studies that put hard numbers on how often those things occur can help take it from a “it will never happen to me” response to an understanding that it is likely just a matter of time before they encounter at least one of those problems.
    • Samples. Carpet and upholstery fabrics from the vehicles the dealership sells, with a wide range of spills, rips and other damage. As a bonus, have a second version of that same fabric sample, this time treated with the F&I protection product the dealership sells. Allow the customers to see for themselves the real value of the product, instead of just having to take the salesperson’s word for it.
    • Photo books. Despite technology being so prevalent in today’s society, sometimes it helps to go back to the basics. A photo book or product point-of-sale materials featuring real-world examples of the products in action is a powerful statement. They can show damaged wheels and tires, alongside a shot of the replaced or repaired version, pointing out that the cost was covered as part of that consumer’s protection plan, for example. The same goes for windshields, interior damage, and so on.

Every consumer has likely had some kind of experience with F&I, whether it was from a previous buying experience themselves, or from stories told by their friends and family. Successful F&I managers understand that it’s not just a matter of overcoming objections, it’s a matter of overcoming negative emotional responses that were formed long before that consumer ever stepped foot on the dealership lot. Putting customers at ease and approaching the sales process as a journey you are taking together to ensure every customer walks away both protected and happy is the only way to find true success — and long term profits — in the F&I office.

Author: Garret Lacour

Garret Lacour, CEO of RoadVantage, is a 30-year F&I industry leader. Garret co-founded Innovative Aftermarket Systems (IAS) in 1984, starting with just one product. As IAS’ CEO, he helped to grow the company to a full-suite ancillary products provider, the first in the industry to adopt menu selling and multimedia F&I presentations. Garret also helped shape the F&I industry with creative new products and ideas. During Garret’s tenure as CEO, IAS evolved into a $100 million company and when sold in 2007, it was the oldest of only three full-suite national providers. Garret founded Vantage Administration Services, LP and the RoadVantage brand to leverage his industry experience and perspective to build a better automotive aftermarket ancillary product company, from the ground up.
Email: garret@roadvantage.com.

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