The digital age has forced us to change our selling processes to keep up with online shoppers. Many of the old methods have disappeared in favor of a streamlined buying experience and greater transparency. This sea change has had an impact on F&I as well. In some cases, it’s at odds with the traditional finance process.
Internet sales reps and business development center (BDC) staff need more cooperation from the finance office than ever. Customers want more information before they visit the dealership, including down payment, monthly payment, rate and terms. And they see no reason why you can’t tell them the details of a loan. After all, if they can finance a house online, why not a car? Well, as F&I managers are keenly aware, if we give customers all the details, we’ll probably never see them.
You can’t hold out forever. Just as they always have, customers want to shop around, compare vehicles and prices, and, for a used car, get a vehicle history report. The only difference is that they now want this information over the phone or in an e-mail. So how do you manage these expectations and still get a chance to make your F&I presentation and structure a fundable deal? Here are three keys to success:
1. Establish a Workflow
The first person to see an online credit application should be a manager. Whether it’s an F&I manager, sales manager, Internet manager or an experienced BDC manager, they must be able to identify the customer as prime or subprime and send them to the proper desk.
Some shoppers may want specifics on rates and payment options. Others just want to make sure they can get the car. If they just want to know if they are approved, they probably belong in special finance.
Privacy is a factor as well. You can no longer just print credit apps and hand them off to a salesperson. Those printouts and all the personal information they contain will end up stuffed in desk drawers and cubbyholes. That’s a slight to your customers and it won’t look good on a compliance review.
2. Establish Transparency
Subprime customers do not want to waste their time and suffer the embarrassment of leaving empty-handed. Keep in mind that many of them have been told they were approved only to find out they weren’t.
Frank Jones, Internet finance manager at Glenn Auto Mall in Lexington, Ky., says transparency in the process is the key to avoiding a letdown. He advises his colleagues to share the general criteria for approval, set reasonable time expectations and be helpful. “You have to get a customer to like you and like your process to get the appointment without getting into the specifics of the deal,” he says.
The finance department can help by being available to take a turnover on the phone. When sales reps get stuck, the F&I manager steps in — the same as if the customer were sitting in the showroom. They are better qualified to get the information they need from each customer and address their questions and concerns. It certainly beats letting a salesperson quote payments without the benefit of a proper interview and finance presentation.
3. Establish a Call to Action
You could say that an online credit application is the loudest buying signal you can get from a prospect. Any customer who is willing to give out his or her Social Security number and date of birth is definitely in the market. That being said, you should do everything you can to get as many credit application leads as possible, including asking prospects you’re already working with to apply online.
Jones has added a credit application to his website and built microsites to capture even more. Nearly every e-mail he sends to unsold customers invites them to apply online. This past August, Jones delivered 73 units from 318 unique credit applications. “It’s not just the process,” he says. “We have the inventory and the lenders to make us successful. But nothing happens until we get a lead.”
Online credit applications can become a profitable niche for a dealership. Thirty-five percent of your business is secondary and you can’t afford to miss that market. Plus, the credit application has a hidden benefit many dealership employees don’t recognize: When a customer fills out the online credit app, they have taken the first step toward a test drive and, eventually, a deal.
Greg Wells is president of AllCall Automotive Contact Center. He has spent almost 25 years working in automotive retail, with specific expertise in business development centers and Internet sales. His work has been recognized nationally by the NADA, and his in-dealership sales training experience has launched many successful selling careers for his students.