F&I’s Big Moment
Seated with former F&Idol winners Dina Wilson and G.P. Anderson, I watched with pride as reigning F&Idol champion Justin Gasman defended the F&I profession during the P&A Leadership Summit’s “Presenting F&I Products Online” discussion this past August. You can read about it on Page 14, but before you do, I thought I’d frame what I witnessed.
See, I believe the session will go down as a historic moment for the F&I industry. And I’m not the only one. “If we do get back together in three years, let’s look back and say that we took the opportunity that we have, and we changed the industry and didn’t let somebody else come in and do it for us,” said panelist Brett Pomerantz.
And Pomerantz, who serves as ecommerce director for Cox Automotive, wasn’t the most popular guy in the room. It wasn’t that anyone disagreed with his belief that F&I needs to figure out its place in the Digital Age. I just think the F&I product providers and administrators in the audience were keenly aware of the risks involved in what he was proposing.
Gasman and Pomerantz were joined by Dan Lievrouw of American Guardian Warranty Services, Matt Nowicki of IAS, and The Impact Group’s Mark Thorpe. Throughout their discussion, I was reminded of concerns raised during a panel I moderated at Industry Summit 2012: “F&I Unplugged: Debating the Mobile Menu.”
Chief among them was whether product providers would be able to adapt to the factories’ push to move the F&I process upstream — specifically, to the point where customers are browsing online inventories on dealer websites — without sacrificing F&I production. One of my panelists said the following:
“I have to admit that, when it comes right down to it, we’ve got a really big responsibility, and that is to our primary constituency, which is our F&I managers who are using our solutions. And along with that responsibility comes an obligation to do no harm along the way. … And I do think there’s a danger if we’re not thoughtful and if we’re not responsible that it could be that slippery slope that we’re all kind of worried about.”
The speaker? Mark Thorpe, and he was talking about the tablet-menu craze that took the industry by storm four years ago. I didn’t appreciate his comment then, but I do now, and he was right: We do need to be thoughtful about this digital push, and we do need to ask the tough questions.
And I have to say, I’ve become a fan of Thorpe, especially when he delivered this line at the P&A Leadership Summit: “You know, it may come as a shock to hear from a technology provider that our technology doesn’t sell customers the products. Our technology supports our users, who sell customers products.”
Dina and G.P. just about jumped out of their seats when he said that.
I think Pomerantz was surprised by how his message was received. And I guess I was, too. I agree that consumers don’t necessarily walk into dealerships looking to buy a service contract. And I do agree that it’s unfair to expect them to digest what our products do in the seven to 10 minutes the F&I manager spends presenting them. But to say the industry doesn’t risk anything marketing and selling products online ignores the decades of work that have gone into the current F&I process. That way of thinking also ignores the passion and dedication of a true F&I pro.
I witnessed that commitment this past May at F&I Think Tank — not during a speech or presentation but at a dinner with Dina, Justin, G.P., Mad Marv, and several other F&I pros. No, they weren’t bragging about their latest sales conquests. They were sitting at the table practicing techniques G.P. shared during a session earlier that day. Yeah, I’m talking true pros.
I remember hearing as a young journalist how the Internet was going to revolutionize my profession. And it did, but not for the better. I think the problem was no one asked the tough questions. And as the old expression goes, you can’t unring the bell.
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