David Gesualdo

David Gesualdo

It is difficult to spend any amount of time with Joe St. John and not walk away inspired. As director of training for IAS, he has crafted a program designed to, in his words, “stop treating customers like idiots.” As a first-time speaker at last month’s Industry Summit, he wowed the crowd with his unique style.

He cursed. He laughed. He cried. … Well, he didn’t cry, but his mother, a former service writer, did, during a Facetime session shortly before the conference, and he snapped a photo of her weeping face. She would never allow him to share it, he said, but he showed it to us anyway and swore us to secrecy. (Whether any attendee spilled the beans to Mrs. St. John was not known at press time.)

He had a valid reason. He wanted to remind us that buying a car remains a deeply emotional experience for customers and should be for sales and F&I professionals as well. This point is easily lost in the call to move more of the transaction online, where we’re told today’s customers live. But as St. John pointed out, the same Millennials who are hyperconnected to the digital world are still humans and still crave real, in-person social interaction. What better place than the F&I office, he argued, where highly trained professionals deliver highly personalized presentations to highly educated customers?

In the pages of Auto Dealer Today magazine and its sister publication, F&I and Showroom, we are proud to run stories contributed by the very best sales and F&I trainers our industry has to offer. Not one of them will tell you to manipulate or deceive a customer. Nor will any of them tell you their dealer clients have demanded a process built to trick car buyers into spending too much on their vehicle, financing or aftermarket products.

You don’t have to believe they or their dealers are good people with love in their hearts to accept this. They know what you know: The old-school, knock-down, drag-out sales process appeals only to a narrowing slice of the car-buying public. It’s not a recipe for long-term success — certainly not with the regulators breathing down your neck — and, as St. John pointed out, it is a sure path to a flat-out blanket rejection of all the products your customers need to secure their investments.

Now that Industry Summit 2015 is (barely) behind us, it’s time to prepare for the next Compliance Summit. The first, held in Miami last November, and the second, which took Chicago by storm in April, were breakout hits that demonstrated a pronounced need for advanced compliance training with a regional focus.

Next up is the inaugural Texas Compliance Summit in Austin on November 16–17. If you are a dealer, compliance officer or front-end sales or F&I professional, this conference is for you. We will spend the next several weeks tweaking the Compliance Summit format and crafting an agenda that speaks directly to the need for dealers in Texas and surrounding states to build a plan that will keep you and your customers safe and protect F&I profits for the long term. It can be a difficult and, yes, emotional process, but we all must have faith that our industry is going somewhere — specifically, a place where the needs of customers, dealers and the businesses that support them are perfectly aligned.