P&A Magazine had the opportunity to find out more information about Mark Thorpe and what his company, The Impact Group, is doing with electronic menu systems. The following interview discusses how Thorpe’s menu system can benefit the F&I office in numerous ways, including productivity, connectivity, mobile technology, and also looks into the future.
Tell us about your company? And, specifically, how the products you offer can add value to/for the Providers and Administrators?
I founded The Impact Group (TIG) in 1988, initially as a general agency. We evolved into a performance-based F&I training and consulting firm, and then finally into a full-fledged technology provider. We have had an exclusive relationship with Toyota for almost six years with our highly branded version, FS Presentation.
Having seen the industry from such a variety of perspectives, we fully understand the needs of the various constituencies and can offer innovative technical solutions to satisfy them. Within FUSION, our interactive F&I menu, highly branded treatment of the providers’ and administrators’ products really showcases their offerings. We listen to our third-party administrator (TPA) partners and work with them to build dynamic risk assessment tools, as well as a variety of other product-centric tools which emphasize their branding message and accurately reflect the image they want to promote to the marketplace.
Impact Analytics, our reporting tool, offers a wide range of data for the provider and administrator. Most menu reporting is limited to the quantitative analysis—unit sales, penetrations, and income distribution. Impact Analytics tells the story behind the numbers by focusing on exactly how the products were presented—what tools were actually used, at what point, and for how long. The actual product presentation data and trend analysis is available to everyone who has a vested interest in the performance of the F&I department, and accomplishes a number of things: for the TPA, knowledge of whether their product was actually presented is a big deal. Every administrator’s goal is to convey a consistent message from their training classes into the field—through their general agents (GA) down to the FSM’s. FUSION’s capabilities facilitate just that, and help build stronger channel partners and stronger producers.
Connectivity is extremely important these days. What third-party systems does your menu system connect to? What advantages does this provide to the Providers, Administrators, and Dealers?
Connectivity is a core focal point of our application. Through our partnerships with companies like StoneEagle and F&I Admin, we can integrate with any administrator client they support for e-rating and e-contracting. We rely heavily on our Edmunds relationship for the True Cost to Own (TCO) data, which has been a component part of our dynamic product sales tools for VSC, GAP and others. We integrated early with RouteOne because of our Toyota partnership, and we were also the first menu provider to be certified by Provider Exchange Network. We recognized immediately the value of the “central socket” concept which opens up integration capabilities with all the companies these partners support. We also have numerous direct integration relationships with companies like IAS, CNA, Warranty Solutions, NAC, Interstate, Easy Care, all the top tier biweekly payment administrators, and more.
Do you have plans to connect to any additional third parties in the future and why?
We are continually evaluating new partnership opportunities. We expect that we’ll be integrating with F&I Express soon. Our ultimate goal is to provide the most well-rounded, easy to use menu application in the marketplace.
Does your menu system have real-time DMS integration, and if so, is it bi-directional?
We are doing what most of our competitors are doing—either already using or pursuing the respective certifications with all the major DMS systems. We currently we have bi-directional functionality across the board and will continue to support it, provided it remains available with the certified interfaces. This is a primary focus for us, as it enables our application to more easily complete all of the secondary tasks that take place within a dealership’s F&I operations.
Over the past few years, customization has become increasingly important. What features are in demand today and what features do you think will be popular in the future?
There is a huge difference between customization and simply re-skinning your application for a client. I believe there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with some relationships between TPA's and their technology partners because in many cases, the provider is either unwilling or simply unable to build what the administrator says it needs. Most enterprise level TPA's and many of the larger GA's have a fairly defined process that they would love to emulate through technology if they could. We really believe this to be a competitive differential for us. Our clients have the potential to truly tie the guiding principles of their training right to the end user—all while bringing consistency, standardization and ease of use to the product presentation.
As far as sales tools are concerned, any feature that behaves in a dynamic or interactive manner is in high demand and will be used to a great extent. When displaying a concept in a real, simple, and visual manner, allowing the customer to easily assess their risk exposure on a particular product, you take a giant step toward making an intangible product more tangible for them. As developers, everything we do is evaluated through the viewpoint of the “shared experience.”
Mobile technology has become a part of everyday life. Do you see a place in our industry where mobile apps can be utilized? How will this help the Providers and Administrators?
We’re already seeing it in many facets of the dealer’s operation. For the F&I department and the menu presentation in particular, there is a rush right now to take everything to the tablet and I understand that as somewhat of a natural evolution. From the TPA and GA side of the business, we want to provide our partners with as much technology as we can to effectively support a dealer client on-the-go. We understand the limitations of a busy support schedule, and the more real-time information we can provide on the fly, the better we can assist with income development and training initiatives. And that’s a win for everyone involved.
Looking back over the past few years, how have menu systems changed? What changes do you see in the future?
What began as Excel spreadsheets and simple paper presentations has evolved into sophisticated, well-engineered technologies. “SOAP compliant XML web services” probably wasn’t the most recognizable catch phrase of those early days, but they have quickly become today’s standard. Innovation has been driven by the emergence of applicable technologies, the desire to advance functionality, and a true need to improve the overall customer experience. Once today’s trend toward e-rating and e-contracting has been fulfilled, the advancement of remittance systems and ACH payment directly to the administrator is inevitable. I also believe that certain efficiencies—such as electronic signatures or “click and accept” methods will also be standardized. Finally, the ability for the menu application’s dynamic tools to import and collate data from within the TPA’s actuarial history and use it to more effectively present a product to a customer is a very exciting concept.
It is safe to say that most dealers have a menu system, but what percentage use it and what percentage use it to its full capabilities?
It depends on how sophisticated the application is. I can only speak about our experience, and we have a very high rate of adoption. Our training processes are tailored to fit the nuances of a dealership’s overall process, and because of the level of flexibility that is generally given to the business manager, the application is very easy to embrace. Most users can elect on-the-fly whether to use the traditional paper menu presentation, the more popular interactive menu, or a combination of both. Our average user will access 30-35 percent of the available tools or capabilities on a per-deal basis. Delivery by delivery, tool usage may be fundamentally different as the needs of the customer have changed. I view that percentage almost as a baseball coach would view a player’s batting average. The key is the flexibility of the application. With thousands of users, I sincerely hope that FUSION is being used in thousands of different ways. If so, we have accomplished our goal and the F&I manager has made it their own.