Becky's blog

Make Money in Down Market

Here’s how to get sales, finance teams working together

By Rebecca Chernek

Ward’s Dealer Business, Nov 1, 2009 12:00 PM

Remember the old days? Selling a vehicle of just about any brand, color, or size was possible, and with little effort.

It didn’t matter if your dealership had a strong or a weak desk operation, as long as you had a strong closer in the “box.” It didn’t matter if your customers were on the right car with the wrong payment or the wrong car with an okay payment.

The aim of your sales staff was to throw them into the box and have your closer work whatever magic was necessary to seal the deal.

Times have changed. Today, that attitude is obsolete, unprofessional, and a guarantee for failure.

Your sales manager needs updated training to ensure every member of your sales staff is on the same page as those in the finance department, and those in the finance department need updated training in how to sell in modern times.

The new system requires that every staffer properly assess every customer. That includes a well-qualified, above-board interview to ascertain suitable vehicle choice, considering needs and budget restraints.

Profit is still the primary goal. You want your staff to systematically sell cars while earning a profit on both the front- and back end, while also managing a healthy reinsurance portfolio.

Yes, your dealership can still make profit in a down market, but not in the same way.

With credit tight, those working the desk must manage and negotiate every transaction before it ever gets into finance. This means your sales manager should have some finance experience. No longer can he or she quote payments and terms that don’t exist just to bury the deal in finance.

It amazes me how many desk managers lack effective standards and procedures.

Your dealership will improve operations by following these desking guidelines:

Meeting and greeting: Greeting customers in the right way builds rapport. Proficiency comes through training and an in-place curriculum that is managed on a daily basis, without haphazard techniques left to the imagination.

Qualifying customers: Sales personnel must be trained in how to do this in a meaningful interview. What brought the customers to the dealership? Did they see your ad in the paper or online?

Have they purchased previous vehicles from you? Will they be trading a vehicle or making a new purchase? Was their current vehicle financed, with whom and for how long? How will the new vehicle be used?

Are all the decision makers present, or is this is an information day only? Where does the customer live and what do they do for a living? Are they currently employed? Are they on a budget?

The answers provide valuable information and avoid the problems that occur when customers prematurely select vehicles they can’t really afford.

Show me the numbers: In today’s market, playing games with customers is risky business. Here’s a proper upfront desking procedure:

Present a worksheet as though it were a “menu.” Keep pricing consistent. Don’t prejudge customers. Perform that credit check.

Value-price the vehicle with all the numbers, fair market for the trade-in, 20% down and range payments that are figured using an average rate and terms.

When discussing rate, say, “We use an average interest rate until we review your credit score and payback history.”

Say, “Based on the terms we’ve prepared, what works best for you?” Let the customer tell you how to sell to them. Listen to your customer response. Be clear and concise.

Ensure the customer will qualify at the agreed-upon payment for the right vehicle, before sending the sale into finance.

The bottom line: A sales manager without proper desking skills can cause havoc in front-end profit and back-end performance. Success comes when sales and finance work together, using a practicable, consistent desking system.

F&I trainer Rebecca Chernek is CEO of Chernek Consulting, LLC. She can be reached at 404-276-4026 and

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