Dealers want stability when it comes to vendors, said Mo Zahabi, senior director of product consulting at VinSolutions and Dealertrack. In his 11 years attending the National Automobile Dealers Association convention, Zahabi said, finding F&I solutions that stick is the most difficult task.
"I see it every year," Zahabi said. "A ton of [vendors] coming to the market, and then the next year you don't see them because they're not around."
Dealers choose F&I vendors largely based on word of mouth, though the selection is also influenced by the automaker they work with, their F&I product provider and their dealership management system.
Conkle said he relies on advice from 20 Group meetings, where dealers swap notes on which vendors have been successful for their stores.
Whether a store is part of a dealership group also influences vendor selection, particularly if group executives want all stores to work with the same vendors. But experts say that what works in one market may not work in another.
"No two dealerships are going to run the same, not even in a dealer group. Software and technology is much needed in the dealership, but it doesn't replace people," Zahabi said. "Dealers need to leverage the people who understand that a little more than they do now."
Customers say they want to spend 90 minutes buying a vehicle, but the average deal takes three hours, half of which is spent in the F&I office, Zahabi said, citing Cox Automotive's 2017 Car Buyer Journey Study. Dealers choose vendors in part to save time for customers and to remove problems that drain time in the dealership.
Proctor's store began using the digital retail tool Roadster specifically to solve those problems.
"We believe this is going to help to facilitate the needs of the customer," he said. "They want to be able to control their buying process."
Involving the F&I manager — the main user of the software — in the process is another major step.