When years ago I applied for a position at Victor Ford in Wauconda, IL, I wore khaki slacks, a button-down dress shirt, a necktie and sports coat.
I got the job, but the general manager told me to lose the coat and tie – fast; we were a rural dealership that sold trucks to building contractors and horse people.
He was right. Dressing for success at dealerships in general and the F&I department in particular is local. But attitude is global, no matter the situation or customer demographic.
F&I trainer Mike Hirschfield pushes both points with clients. “My message is to cater to your demographic and always maintain a level of professionalism slightly above those you’re serving,” says Hirschfield, president of F&I trainers Cornerstone Dealer Development.
You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression, and you have to make it fast, says Matt Woods, director of Training and Development for Service Group Insurance and Financial Services.
Professionalism is paramount, he says. “You can get the deal done whether wearing an ironed shirt or not, but customers tend to trust and listen better to F&I presenters who represent themselves professionally.
“It’s difficult to put numbers on these things, but customers don’t want their sensitive financial information, not to mention their money, in the hands of someone who seems unqualified.”
It may seem obvious, but F&I managers on the job with gum, chewing tobacco or candy in their mouths doesn’t make it.
How customers view the F&I office itself matters, too. Personalizing an office is fine – to an extent, Woods says. “I work here, but do I need to make it look like I live here?”
Keep workspace free of clutter. Don’t drink a beverage without offering one to the customer.
“I know an F&I manager who was slurping a drink through a straw when his customer stopped the presentation to mention how thirsty he was and got right up in the middle of the deal to find a drink,” Woods says. “The deal’s momentum broke apart right then.”
Deal jackets, product brochures and other items are best kept in a drawer for easy access when and if needed. “Those things telegraph that you’re most compelling interest is a sale, not listening to the customer,” he says.
He offers these other tips:
- Smile. This is No.1. People who smile come across as more successful.
- Slow down. Customers can perceive fast talkers as less trustworthy.
- Believe in what you sell. It helps if you have purchased aftermarket products you are selling, and speak about them from personal experience and value.