LAS VEGAS -- Dealers should consider F&I training to be an asset, not a hassle, and should encourage long-term coaching to help employees stay on top, a panel of F&I trainers said at the auto finance Industry Summit here last week.
Training is “seen on the financial statement” as an expense, Matt Woods, director of training and development at Service Group, said at the conference by F&I and Showroom and Auto Dealer Today. “But if it’s viewed as an investment, you’re growing people. The return on investment comes back huge. If you want to improve, there has to be some input.”
One benefit to F&I training is that improvement is measurable, said Ron Reahard, president of Reahard & Associates.
“When you spend money for advertising as a dealer, how many more cars did you sell because of that $10,000 ad? How many more cars did you sell because you had somebody train your sales force? That’s really hard to quantify,” he said.
In the finance office, however, the value of training can be quantified: rising product penetration or F&I profit per vehicle. “It makes it easier for the dealer to justify that expense when he can see the ROI,” Reahard said.
The key to long-term training success is continual training and coaching when the trainer leaves, the panelists said. As consumer preferences change and technology evolves, F&I managers need to be prepared for any situation.
“If I’ve got a professional F&I manager who knows how to sell, I can hand him a paper menu, I can hand him an iPad, I can hand him a blank piece of paper. And they still close the same deal,” said Rich Moore, director of training at Protective Asset Protection.
F&I managers need to be able to satisfy the preference of any customer, he said.
“That’s where the future is headed,” Moore said. “For us as trainers, it is to be able to make sure the people we’re training can handle whatever way it comes at them.”
Tool or weapon?
Technology can slow the dealership down if it’s too cumbersome, said Kevin Jacobs, national training manager for Safe-Guard Products International. “You’ve got to make sure people don’t try to take a tool and make it into a weapon,” he said. For example, F&I managers shouldn’t push more, unnecessary products on customers than usual because it’s faster on an electronic menu.
Dealerships often send employees to training seminars or invite trainers to the dealership, but after the trainers leave and employees get swept up in the day-to-day hustle, sometimes the training goes out the window.
One key to making training effective is incorporating it into everyone’s job description, Reahard said. “If you want training to be something that is done consistently, you can make it part of your pay plan. When we do that, it’s like you flipped a light switch. Training is suddenly important.”
Training vs. coaching
There also must be a clear difference between training and coaching, Jacobs said.
Training, he said, is in a controlled environment without interruptions. In the dealership, there may not be much time to practice what the F&I managers have learned until they are face-to-face with a customer.
“The dealer wants them in front of the customer overcoming that customer’s objections,” he said. “We are trying to change human behavior, and that is one of the most difficult things to do in adults. It’s very difficult to do it in the environment of a dealership with all the distractions going on.”
Coaching, on the other hand, is long-term training that happens even when the trainer has left. To be able to reinforce lessons learned after the trainer is gone, managers should be a part of the training session, Woods said. Employees’ managers are responsible for ensuring their employees’ growth through consistent training in the dealership. Trainers “are in the store at most two days per month.” Teaching managers to coach their staff is essential, Woods said.
The best go first
Another training hurdle dealerships face is that some employees don’t take training seriously. But for any training plan to work, there must be buy-in from the top, Reahard said.
Reahard and his team ask the dealership to send its top performer to training first, “the one that is most experienced that everybody respects and looks up to,” he said.
“That’s who you want to come through the training first because if they come back and say, ‘That was great training,’ then everyone is going to fall right in line,” Reahard said.
But if inexperienced employees go first, staffers may not take their training lessons as seriously.