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Challenges in the Finance Office

For the past few years, menu sales have benefited dealership business managers by providing a non-evasive approach for presenting product options to customers. Proper use of the menu means that these managers can present 100 percent of their products to 100 percent of their customers 100 percent of the time. Unfortunately, too many managers are continuing to present the menu in the same “old way” with outdated and unproductive sales methods.

Stephen R. Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Successful People, has a special knack for creating memorable, spot-on quotations. Especially appropriate for the subject of this article, the first one is: “If we keep doing what we're doing, we're going to keep getting what we're getting.” Another that complements the first: “When you have a challenge and the response is equal to the challenge, that's called ‘success.’ But once you have a new challenge, the old, once-successful response no longer works. That's why it is called a ‘failure.’”

If managers keep doing what they’re doing, they’re going to keep getting the same unsatisfactory responses. Covey might suggest that every customer represents a new challenge, and if finance managers are still presenting products to every customer in their old “once-successful response,” they can expect failure. Failure, in this instance, means fewer products sold and lower commissions and bonuses, which also translates to lower profits for the dealership, not a good thing!

Managers need to take a fresh look at their menu challenges and create new responses that work with today’s savvier clientele.

First Things First: Win Trust
Why do customers buy any products at all, whether they are from car dealers or department stores? The customers either need them or perceive value in them. Most customers, however, will not buy a product from anyone, if they believe the store or sales person is being deceptive, misrepresenting the product or taking advantage of them. Knowing this is important if product sales in the dealership finance office are to take place at all.

How can managers convince customers of their need for one or more products before closing on a vehicle sale? First, they must win their trust. In today’s world, this is not an easy task. In fact, it can’t be done if eager-to-sell managers haven’t learned anything about customer needs before presenting the menu, and this can only be accomplished by asking the right questions, listening closely to the answers and responding appropriately. This conversation process begins by meeting customers outside the finance office by the sales desk (common ground) and by conducting a proper “needs,” fact-finding conversation to determine driving habits and car care concerns.

Trust, these days, is earned by more than a Crest-Strip smile and a smooth delivery of memorized lingo. Trust is built by letting customers know the dealership cares about their well-being and the safety, security and comfort of everyone riding in their vehicle. Honesty, integrity, reliability, dependability and consistency aren’t just words. They hold enormous value. They are the foundations for building a profitable relationship with customers who could become loyal customers. A successful customer relationship is not a momentary thing. It is long term. Customers who like and respect the finance manager before ever entering the finance office will be receptive to the menu presentation and more likely to make one or more purchases.


Listen. Ask the Right Questions. Listen Again.
What happens when a customer chooses not to take advantage of an option but, rather, to stay only with the base payment? Remember Covey’s advice? “When you have a challenge and the response is equal to the challenge, that's called ‘success.’” Managers who have not acquired the skills to determine the reason behind the customer’s rejection will lose the sale. However, a well-trained manager will have several surefire techniques to manage an effective product close.

Remember those initial conversations out at the sales desk? Wise managers asked specific questions and listened carefully to answers. They learned what customers needed and exactly which products on the menu would benefit those customers the most.

Some customers said they planned to hold on to the purchased vehicle until the wheels fell off; some said they were unsure of how they would meet their monthly payments if they were to become seriously ill or lose their job. One mentioned that a friend had experienced a total loss and had to pay thousands of dollars out of his pocket in order to get a new vehicle loan. One said his wife wanted tinted windows, because she was always forgetting her sunglasses at home. Several customers asked questions about the length of the vehicle service warranty. Customers will always tell managers how and what to sell to them. All it takes is asking the right questions and listening carefully to the responses.

Be prepared to answer every customer concern and to present the value in every product. Understand that when a customer says, “No, thanks. Let’s just stick to the base payment,” this reply may only be a knee-jerk reaction that may not really mean “no” to every product but only “no” in general. Knowing how to respond to the statement, “Let’s just stick to the base payment,” is critical in the presentation of the menu. It doesn’t mean managers should draw up the paperwork that instant; it means they should meet this challenge with a response that is equal to it. They should ask more questions.

Let’s veer from the car world for a moment to create an analogy. Imagine a close friend has been invited to speak at a very important conference for the first time. She goes shopping for a suit that will set her apart from all the others in a positive way, which will put her at ease because she’ll “fit in.” She tries on a suit at Neiman Marcus that is perfect for the occasion—one that looks as though it was custom-made for her. When she takes a peek at the price tag, she almost hits the floor. It is way over her budget! She immediately removes the suit and puts it back on the rack.

However, the smart and experienced salesclerk invites conversation with several questions. She asks why your friend has decided against the suit when it fit her so beautifully. She adds that your friend looked spectacular, very professional and approachable. Obviously, your friend is flattered. More questions establish the occasion requiring such a suit, the number of people who will likely see her in it, the impressions she will make in it, and more importantly, how relaxed and confident she will feel while delivering the address knowing she is being admired not only for what she has to say but for her taste in suits. For such an important day, doesn’t she think she should look her best? The salesclerk might even bring up adages such as ‘dress for success,’ or ‘first impressions are lasting impressions.’

The salesclerk built value into the suit, meaning cost was no longer an issue. The clerk sold the suit, congratulated your friend on her wise choice and offered her the opportunity to also purchase accessories that will enhance the outfit: a silver necklace and earring set and a pair of shoes that are “to die for!”

Now, Finalize the Sale
Building value in the menu products is the name of the game! That’s how successful managers meet the new challenges thrown at them by savvier customers. They first find out why their customers have made the choice to stick with the base payment. Then, they offer common-sense responses. A customer who plans to hold onto a vehicle “until the wheels fall off” needs a long-term service contract. A customer concerned about losing his/her job or getting hurt on the job needs to take advantage of a disability product. A customer who plans to trade the vehicle on a new model within three years needs a paint and fabric protection product. Overcoming objections to menu products requires both product know-how and presentation know-how.

That’s not to say that some objections aren’t sticklers that will challenge even the best managers. Sometimes you’ll get responses like, “The reason I chose not to take advantage of the service contract is I bought one before and it never covered anything... I have my own mechanic… I can’t afford it… If I’m buying such a quality car, why are you trying to sell me a service contract?” However, regardless of how difficult customer objections are, well-prepared managers are able to meet the challenge. They use the approach demonstrated by the Neiman Marcus salesclerk. They inspire dialogue with well-thought-out questions and comments and connect with customers on a personal level. They know how to do this because they conducted friendly, but purposeful, dialogue out by the sales desk.

If the menu product makes sense, if it brings specific value to unique customers and if these customers can perceive the benefits, it’s worth overcoming the initial objections.

Covey also said: “Management works in the system. Leadership works on the system.” To snag more sales and to overcome objections, managers must meet the challenge by challenging their “old, once-successful” responses that “no longer work.” By working on their old system, they will turn failures into noteworthy successes.  

Vol 5, Issue 7



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