Article

Commit to Excellence

Build your F&I training program the same way you would build a house: on a solid foundation with expert craftsmanship and high-quality materials.

March 2016, Auto Dealer Today - Feature

by Ronald J. Reahard - Also by this author

Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi once said, “The quality of a person’s life is in direct proportion to their commitment to excellence, regardless of their chosen field of endeavor.” Whatever your chosen field of endeavor, your level of achievement is also in direct proportion to your commitment to training. For any training program to be truly effective, it has to be an ongoing process, not a one-time event. Implementing and maintaining an ongoing F&I training program at your dealership is the key to improving F&I performance and profits in 2016.

Many of the large public and private dealer groups are consistently exceeding $1,500 per retail unit in F&I income. Building and maintaining an extremely profitable dealership (or F&I department) is like building and maintaining a house. A good design, the use of quality materials and outstanding craftsmanship translates into few problems, minor repairs and a great house. A bad design, cheap materials and poor construction means lots of problems, endless repairs and a lousy house.

In the F&I office, a thoroughly trained F&I professional who takes pride in his craft and is expected to follow a consistent process, continue to improve his skills, and is held accountable can deliver amazing results — and profits. On the other hand, relying on bad training, poor processes, little or no accountability or ongoing training virtually guarantees you will have constant turnover, poor performance and inconsistent profits.

First, Pick a Plan

Just like it’s important to pick the right builder, every dealer must also pick the right products and the right training. That requires evaluating the business philosophy of your training company, their reputation, and the number of years they’ve been in business. How are they different? Is the focus on helping customers or making money? Can you take a virtual tour of their training? Check out their references. Call the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) or the Association of Finance & Insurance Professionals (AFIP). Call some of their current clients. Maybe even read an article by one of their trainers (wink).

When it comes to training, it’s important that you understand the F&I sales process that is being taught. Is it needs-based or presentation-based? Do they teach managers how to embrace today’s open-source selling or recite yesterday’s word-tracks? Is the focus on helping customers or selling stuff? Is the training designed to meet your needs or their needs?

If at all possible, attend all or at least part of the training yourself. You need to know exactly what your managers are being trained to say and do. Would you subject your mother to your F&I sales process? If not, you’re doing it wrong.

Pour a Strong Foundation

Just as a good house starts with a good foundation, any ongoing training must be built upon solid ground. For starters, every F&I manager must attend the initial training. You can’t build a house with blueprints for a different foundation, and you can’t build an ongoing training program on someone else’s F&I sales process. Everybody has to work off the same set of plans. So pick and then perfect a process you believe in and require that everybody follow it.

One of our oldest clients has grown from a handful of dealerships to more than 50 stores in the 14 years we’ve been training their F&I managers. Every one of their F&I people goes through our three-day class, whether they’re brand-new or have 25 years of experience. Their F&I managers are also required to complete a weekly online training module to improve their skills, and they record every F&I transaction. They are firmly committed to a proven F&I process, everyone is expected to follow it, and the result has been excellent profits and exponential growth.

Even the best carpenter still has to anchor the walls to the foundation. Your ongoing training program must be anchored to a strong foundation. For example, every customer sees a factory warranty drawing. All F&I products are presented on a menu, and there have to be at least two visual aids used to help the customer “see” their need for our products, and a signed customer acknowledgement when they’re declined.

Follow the Blueprints

Once your F&I manager has attended the initial training class, it’s time to implement your ongoing training program. This is a critical period, whether you’re building a house or an F&I professional. The stud walls may be up, but the slightest wind will knock them over! The first few days an F&I manager is back in the dealership will determine whether he or she builds confidence in a customer-focused sales process — or revert to their former, more comfortable presentation the first time a customer refuses to buy something. This is where one-on-one follow-up training makes all the difference.

As a dealer, it’s essential every F&I manager understands you are committed to a customer-focused F&I sales process, and you expect your people to embrace it as well. It’s no longer business as usual. This is when your training provider must help establish new performance goals and expectations, with specific training assignments, role-playing exercises, evaluation criteria and mile markers to measure each F&I manager’s progress.

Utilizing an online training program eliminates excuses. It’s easy to monitor and you don’t have to create it. Recording and reviewing actual presentations allows you to see what’s really happening behind closed doors. You also need to conduct regular testing of every manager’s consultative selling skills. If you want performance to improve, you have to hold your F&I managers accountable — and track effort, not just results.

You should train like you brush your teeth: every day. What are you doing today to improve your skills for tomorrow? You can’t expect F&I performance to improve at your dealership without implementing a process to make it happen. Ongoing training should be part of every F&I manager’s job description and compensation plan. Your pay plan is your job description. If you truly want ongoing training to be a top priority, it must be part of your F&I manager’s compensation plan!

Use Quality Materials

Granite countertops and oak flooring are more expensive than laminate countertops and linoleum, but they stand the test of time. So does a comprehensive training program. Implementing an ongoing F&I training program will prevent your F&I manager(s) from becoming complacent, and ensures they continue to improve their consultative skills.

Any ongoing training program you implement needs to:

  • Include weekly training assignments and testing,
  • Track individual effort, not just results,
  • Be consistent week after week, month after month and year after year,
  • Include consequences for doing or not doing the training and
  • Improve your bottom line.

Unfortunately, most people won’t take the initiative to improve their skills without some encouragement. If your F&I managers are resistant to ongoing training, then what are they going to do to improve their skills? Doing nothing is not an option. Requiring an ongoing training program will ensure you have a proven process you can use to get new managers up to speed and productive immediately. More importantly, it will result in process-driven results, so the bottom won’t fall out when you lose a top producer.

Enjoy the Results

Implementing an ongoing training program that builds upon your managers’ initial training will increase their product sales and boost your bottom line. When ongoing training is something that is both expected and tracked at your dealership, F&I now becomes a career, not a job. An ongoing training program also reduces turnover and ensures no F&I manager is irreplaceable.

But the real value of implementing an ongoing training program in your dealership is that it instills the expectation of continuous improvement. Performance doesn’t improve because you demand it. Performance improves when you implement a process to ensure it happens. With an ongoing training program, goals now become achievable. Complacency is no longer acceptable. Continuous improvement is expected. “Here’s where you are, here’s where we need to be, and here’s how we’re going to get there!”

With an ongoing F&I training program, you will see consistent results, continuous improvement, and increased profits year after year. It’s 2016. There is no question our industry and your dealership will face many new challenges and opportunities again this year. Now is the perfect time for you to make a commitment to excellence!

Ronald J. Reahard is president of Reahard & Associates Inc. and ranks among the industry’s leading F&I trainers, authors, consultants and speakers. [email protected].

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