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F&I: All Customers Are Next Door to You – They Are Online

Your dealership needs a strategy that encourages F&I to collaborate with customers as they educate themselves about the vehicles they’re interested in.

Nowadays we shop for everything online, whether we need to buy a new flat-screen TV or are looking for an Italian restaurant close by. It’s one of the reasons consumers are now pushing for that same quick, easy and transparent experience when purchasing a vehicle. This paradigm shift means that, just like your vehicle inventory, F&I needs to step online to engage and educate consumers about the process.

Your dealership needs a strategy that encourages F&I to collaborate with customers as they educate themselves about the vehicles they’re interested in, the financing they’ll need and the F&I products that will protect their investment. All of that needs to happen before they come to the dealership. In other words, we need to make the F&I department available where customers are most comfortable making buying decisions — on their laptops, iPads or smartphones. The following are three items you need to include in your F&I department’s new online strategy:

1. Offer Pre-Approval Before They Buy

In the real world, only a small percentage of people actually pay cash for a vehicle. The rest of us have to finance them. Allowing customers to obtain pre-approval without committing to buy eliminates the fear of commitment and the risk of personal humiliation if they can’t qualify for financing. Basically, it allows the customer to take another step on the road to the sale with no obligation and zero risk.

Offering online pre-approvals is also a great qualifying tool, and can serve as a backup option in the event the customer doesn’t qualify for low APR or extended-term financing. For most customers, allowing them to get pre-approved for vehicle financing is the closest they’ll ever get to paying cash. In fact, credit unions and direct lenders have been using pre-approval as a marketing tactic for years. Even the Federal Trade Commission encourages consumers to get pre-approved for financing before shopping for a vehicle.

Knowing you’re pre-approved is empowering. It puts any advertised or promotional rate in context and allows you to feel like you have the flexibility to take your business elsewhere. It also demonstrates transparency, while shortening the time the customer spends in the dealership. As we all know, educated customers are more likely to buy from and finance through the dealership that empowered them.

2. Educate and Inform Customers

When designing your F&I webpage, think about the information you’d want if you were shopping for a vehicle. A payment calculator is a definite must, but what about adding an affordability calculator? It could help shoppers understand how much vehicle they can afford, based on the payment and benefits they desire. Links to myFICO.com, the National Automobile Dealers Association’s “Understanding Vehicle Financing” page and annualcreditreport.com would also be helpful.

The goal here is to create interest in talking to a finance manager. So your website could ask, “Would you like to know your credit score?” or “Would you like to chat online with a finance manager?” You can also offer helpful information, i.e., “Five Steps to Better Credit” or “How to Improve Your Credit Score.” Soliciting and posting positive F&I product reviews, YouTube videos, testimonials and Facebook “likes” also needs to be an integral part of your F&I page.

3. Follow-Up Online Contacts

According to research from Harvard/MIT, contact rates decrease 100 times if you wait 30 minutes, as opposed to five minutes, to call back a lead. That’s why there needs to be a process in place and a concerted effort by everyone to follow up on internet contacts immediately. This requires a commitment to selling vehicles and F&I products the way customers want to buy, not the way we want them to buy.

Rapid response is also important, because when someone gets back to a customer immediately, we know where they are. Second, their interest and the questions they have are still on their mind. This top-of-mind awareness reduces the chance they’ve already moved on to something else. Just think of the “wow” factor. Hey, we need to impress internet customers by the speed of our response and our commitment to delivering the information they want when, where and how they want it.

So, whenever a customer makes initial contact, whether by phone, email, text or via an online inquiry, the quicker we respond, the more likely we are to sell them. With F&I income critical to every dealership’s bottom line, we really need to start that F&I relationship online. t

Emre Ucer is the managing partner of MotoLease LLC. He oversees the development of solutions for the motorcycle and powersports industry to fit even the most credit-challenged riders.

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