For readers who are not familiar with auto dealerships, F&I is short for Finance & Insurance, a lucrative add-on when sales reps sell you a new or used vehicle. I’m no expert on selling F&I. I certainly know the wrong way to sell it. It’s the same approach that a young F&I manager tried on me when I bought my second F-150.
The Auto Accident You’ll Never Believe
This story occurred several years ago when I was in the most bizarre auto accident ever. When I tell people about it, they just shake their heads, especially after I show them the pictures.
Two days before Christmas, I’m headed to Columbia, Missouri, and I’m driving on a curvy state highway with no shoulder. I’m about to encounter another vehicle. It was either an F-250 or an F-350, and the driver was towing a truck on a trailer.
The weather was mild for a Missouri winter, but a light mist was falling with a temperature in the mid-forties. Normally, I drive around 60 MPH on this road, but I was driving a few miles slower because of the weather conditions.
About 150 yards before I meet the truck, time slows down to a crawl. The following 10-15 seconds seemingly occurred in slow motion.
There was a metal tire jack on the trailer that was not fastened down. I saw it rolling off, and my old baseball instincts predicted what would happen next.
I correctly predicted the 120-pound jack would hit the pavement at about 55 MPH and bounce upward like a baseball on artificial turf. I was pretty certain my truck would meet the jack as it reached its apex in the air–about the height of my hood.
I was right. The tire jack skimmed the length of my hood and crashed into my window on the driver’s side.
You might be wondering why I didn’t try and avoid it. I would have but there’s little, if any, shoulder on this highway. There was a grassy area on my side of the road, but it was about two feet below the surface of the road. I feared I might roll my vehicle had left the pavement.
I took my chances, and I got lucky. I learned later what kept the jack from going through the window. One of the metal wheels jammed into the upper corner of the window frame, which kept it from going further.
My second biggest fear was being hit from behind. Once the jack hit my window, I couldn’t see. I slowed to a stop and was able to get my wheels on the passenger side on the approximately three feet of shoulder on this stretch of the highway. I was already prepping myself to be hit from behind.
Nothing. Lucky again. No one was behind me.
Having a hard time visualizing this accident? Then take a look at the images in the video below:
Replacing My F-150 With a New One
Thankfully, I was not injured. But my truck was, seriously. While driving a rental, I found out that my truck repairs would exceed $17,000. The estimator said, “I’m not sure your truck will ever run the same.” He and my insurance adjustor agreed that the vehicle should be totaled. Bummer, I loved that truck. But I was also thankful to be alive, so no complaining.
About three weeks later, I finally bought another F-150. I could not find identical options similar to my old truck, so I finally gave in with the one I now have.
I think I messed up the F&I manager’s paperwork and workflow. I agreed on a price and even said I’d buy the extended warranty. But I decided to sign the papers the next day.
When I arrived at the dealership the following morning to finalize the deal, I changed my mind about the extended warranty. My actuarial mind told me there was a 99% chance I wouldn’t need the extra protection.
I explained this to the F&I manager, who was probably about half my age. I guess she knew actuarial science far better than I did because she said I was wrong and that I should buy it.
“You say you had no problem with your last truck, but maybe there’s a 50-50 chance you’ll need it for this new truck.” That was her argument. Is she pleading on my behalf or for herself? She started to get very upset when I didn’t change my mind. She had her boss come into the office. I suppose he was there to knock sense into me. He didn’t. He was about half my age too.
In short, this was a terrible customer experience. I was tired of driving a rental. I wanted my truck that I had already signed the papers for. Instead, I was in a very tense environment because a young person didn’t get her commission. What’s wrong with this picture?
A Bad Experience Gets Worse
When I come to pick up the truck the next day at the agreed-upon time, there were no floor mats. It smelled like a mechanic had been in the vehicle because the steering wheel felt a little grimy. It was lunch hour, so no one could help me on the mats, so I drove off.
Ford (not the dealership) sends out a survey to every new buyer. I think the franchisees read every submission. That’s because I did not hold back. I shared the same facts as above on the customer survey. Within two days, I had a FedEx package with doormats, and it was not me who called them.
I also received a card saying they were sorry for my experience, but they never mentioned my situation about the extended warranty. I think it’s because they have advanced degrees in actuarial science.
It’s Not About Me
An Amazon search reveals three book titles with the name, It’s Not About Me. That’s my advice for every F&I manager at a car dealership. I plan to coach and mentor 25-50 owners of dealerships over the next three years, but I doubt if they will seek my advice on how to sell F&I. Regardless, I was reminded why this industry’s image is tarnished. Sadly, it doesn’t have to be that way.
As I reflect on this negative experience, I’m not convinced the problem was with the F&I manager’s poor sales skills. It was the culture that allowed her tactics to be used in her role. She was more interested in her commission than what I wanted (or didn’t want in this case). A healthy sales culture would have prevented her from getting upset with my decision.
Incidentally, I’m not that person who believes F&I products are a ripoff. I occasionally buy extended warranties for my laptops and PCs. Other times, I maintain the risk by being the bank if something goes wrong with an uninsured product.
Looking back at my situation, here’s what I would have valued from my young F&I manager:
- I wish I could have seen a list of how many customers purchased extended warranties and on which vehicles over the past year. I’m guessing the percentage would have been between 20 to 30 percent. That data would have provided context and allowed the F&I manager to state why some people choose to buy and why others don’t.
- Next, how about a list showing which parts and systems fail the most before the original warranty expires? Without that data, buying F&I is a blindfolded dart throw.
- In short, be a consultive salesperson. Every owner in the dealership industry who takes lifelong learning seriously knows the name, Joe Girard. This is precisely the way Joe would have explained F&I to me.
Accordingly, my advice for selling F&I is through a data-driven approach based on integrity. If you say, “Mark, we’re not allowed to reveal that type of data.” Or “We can’t get our hands on that data.”
My response is to look in the mirror. The person staring back at you is an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs are notorious for being creative and solving difficult problems. Accordingly, find a way to get this data for the customers who are writing you big checks.
Don’t sell F&I for the wrong reasons–to grab as much wallet share as possible from your customers. Do this because it’s a great peace-of-mind product for customers with a low-risk tolerance. Turn F&I into integrity selling that delights your customer.