Smartphone-powered customers will prove worthy foes to sales and F&I pros who fail to anticipate their questions and appreciate their easy access to information.

Smartphone-powered customers will prove worthy foes to sales and F&I pros who fail to anticipate their questions and appreciate their easy access to information. 

As a dealer, your main concern used to be watching customers leave the dealership. They would drive down the street, check out your competitor’s inventory and compare vehicles, prices and trade-in allowances. Well, times have changed. They still do all that, but they no longer have to leave.

Showrooming and Celling

“Showrooming” is the term for when a customer uses their phone to do a little comparison shopping while they’re still sitting in your store. These days, if you leave them alone for even one or two minutes, chances are you’ll return to find they’re on their mobile device. They could be texting or exchanging emails to compare your price to another dealer’s, checking out their inventory, negotiating with someone in their Internet department or obtaining product information or the value of their trade-in online.

Globally, half of all Web users now rely on their smartphone or tablet as their primary (or exclusive) means of going online. According to the 2014 Autoshopper Study by J.D. Power and Associates, new-vehicle buyers who use the Internet during their shopping process on average spend nearly 14 hours on the Internet looking for vehicles prior to purchase. Who needs a computer when Siri is available 24/7?

Once they arrive at your dealership, more than one-third (34%) continue to use their smartphone or tablet to shop you. Vehicle pricing is the most frequently accessed content (61%), followed by model information (42%), inventory search (40%) and offers/incentives (36%). J.D. Power’s study also showed that, among customers who use their mobile devices to access vehicle pricing information at the dealership, 84% use this pricing information in the negotiation process and 73% believe they obtained a better deal as a result.

That doesn’t change when it comes to the F&I office. After those customers agree to buy the car, every minute they’re waiting on an F&I manager to prepare their paperwork, they’re no longer “showrooming”; they’re “celling.” They’re texting friends and family members to ask whether they should buy a service contract, GAP protection and whatever other F&I products your dealership happens to offer.

If they’re not texting their second baseman (that personal advisor we never see and can’t talk to) they’re asking the omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent gods known as Siri or Google, “Do I need tire and wheel road hazard protection?” And who do you think they’re going to believe? Probably not the stranger they just met in a car dealership who is trying to sell them something.

Thanks to the Internet, society has quickly transitioned from a need to know information to a generation of consumers with a need to go to information. What’s worse, we also feel the need to obtain online confirmation, or at least validation, of every decision we are asked to make — before we make the decision.

Today, every consumer has a world of information at their fingertips, and they tend to believe their friends, family and online research to be far more accurate, credible and believable than any information we provide. And even if they believe us, they still like to have that security blanket of personally confirming their decision with the Internet gods, so they can say they did their research.

Independent Research

Customers no longer have to drive down the street to browse other dealers’ inventories or negotiate for a more favorable price or trade-in value.

Customers no longer have to drive down the street to browse other dealers’ inventories or negotiate for a more favorable price or trade-in value. 

Our company has cameras in hundreds of F&I offices, and each month we record thousands of F&I transactions at dealerships all over the country for training purposes. Not long ago, I watched an F&I manager at a Land Rover dealership explain the importance of tire-and-wheel protection to a customer. The F&I manager emphasized how important it was, since the customer’s new Land Rover had 20-inch factory alloy wheels and, unfortunately, like most vehicles, it didn’t come with a full size spare tire or wheel. He went on to inform the customer if he had to replace one of those factory alloy wheels, the cost was $648.

At that point, the customer whipped out his iPhone, tapped on the screen a few times, turned the screen toward the F&I manager and declared, “No, it’s not. It’s $442.” Just like that, the customer was calling that F&I manager a liar. Fortunately, this was a true professional who had done his homework, and he knew exactly what that customer was looking at on his phone. He calmly responded, “That’s a reconditioned wheel. I’m talking about a brand-new factory alloy wheel. In fact, here are prices from our parts department for all the wheels available on your particular vehicle.”

The F&I manager then turned his computer screen around to reveal the various wheels available on the customer’s Land Rover to face the customer. “And those prices don’t include a new tire, or mounting, balancing, valve stem, sales tax, environmental fees or nitrogen,” he added. “And surely, if you ruin a tire and wheel on your new Land Rover, you want replace it with a brand new tire and wheel, not one that’s been remanufactured, am I right?”

That F&I manager wound up selling that customer a total of three additional products, including tire-and-wheel protection. Had he not been prepared for the customer to question what he was saying and known what a new factory wheel really would cost, he would not have sold that customer anything.

F&I pros should assume the customer is going to question virtually everything they say, at least until they can “go to” a trusted source via their mobile device or a computer in that office and get online confirmation. In this new information age, it’s critical your salespeople and F&I managers know what a customer will find on the Internet about the products you offer. More importantly, they must be able to provide that customer with credit information and alternative websites, if they expect to overcome and offset all the negative information out there.

You Don’t Have to Buy Anything

With today’s consumer, F&I professionals must have a conversation about the options available in connection with their purchase, rather than make product presentations. They must also remove the sales curse right upfront by letting the customer know they don’t have to buy any additional products. This important step eliminates the fear of the decision-making process.

Rather than forcing the customer to listen to a product presentation, an F&I professional must be capable of making customers thirsty. Thirsty to learn more about that product, thirsty to know the features and benefits of that product, thirsty to know why they need that product and, most importantly, thirsty to buy that product. That’s what selling is. It’s what it’s always been. You have to make customers want what you have.

Every consumer likes to know what their options are. And they genuinely appreciate having a knowledgeable F&I professional who can and will direct them to online information that will allow them to make an informed decision and enable them to confirm for themselves it’s the right decision. Providing today’s consumer with current product information and customer reviews they can easily access online is critical. It allows us to influence their decision, and it enables them to validate that decision.

That’s why we provide links to sites like on our website, to provide F&I professionals with online resources, positive product information, third-party expertise, customer testimonials and answers to questions about F&I products.

When these links are on your F&I manager’s computer desktop, and customers can quickly share positive online information and F&I product reviews with your customers, they won’t be celling your F&I manager. They’ll be selling themselves.

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

About the author

Ron Reahard

President of Reahard & Associates

Ron Reahard is president of Reahard & Associates Inc., a Dealers’ Choice Award-winning provider of F&I classes, workshops, and in-dealership and online training. Contact him at [email protected].

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