Always focus on the automotive customer's feelings, Gould says. - Pexels/Pixabay

Always focus on the automotive customer's feelings, Gould says.


Gerry Gould must have known that one point of his Industry Summit talk on “getting back to the basics” would sound almost sacrilegious to a roomful of automotive agents, providers and dealers. But he knows people look to him for reality.

“Eventually, it will move into the digital deal,” he said near the end of his address.

He referred to the “three sales scenarios” dealers can encounter today in a postpandemic market of consumers used to navigating even big purchases like cars largely online – some people even bought homes sight unseen during the heights of Covid, for goodness’ sake.

First, there’s the traditional way of the customer taking the entire car-buying journey in the dealership itself, the way it was when Gould entered the car business in 1979 but today is an increasingly rare prospect.

But today, “The battle for the customer starts at their home,” said the founder of Gerry Gould and Associates, a Tampa-based provider of coaching and training on the F&I process. He included “dealership decision” in that online scenario.

Then there’s the hybrid customer, who starts her research online, then visits a store to finish the job.

“This is the customer we should focus on right now, because eventually, it will move into the digital deal,” Gould said, broaching a subject dealers and other industry professionals may not want to think about for obvious reasons.

He called his line of thinking “outside the lot.”



“We have to give them what they want,” he said. “Train our staff to collaborate on this deal, give them the information they want (online) to draw them closer.”

Then when the customer arrives at the dealership, they find everything in order the way it was presented on the store’s website.

“That’s how 80% of deals are being done today,” Gould said. “Eighty percent of the customer’s journey is complete when they set foot in the dealership.”

All About Attitude

Backing up from that stark picture of reality, Gould laid down some of his best advice on working with an industry altered likely forever by the internet and a virus that upended the world three years ago.

He started with some of the kinds of basics he used to share in a weekly tip-of-the-week column he used to write for F&I and Showroom magazine.

“It’s all in the As. It’s all about attitude. You have a negative attitude, you’re not going anywhere,” he said. “Step outside the comfort zone, and that takes a real strong attitude.”

It might have seemed elementary, but Gould emphasized the importance of looking, speaking and acting professionally.

“If you feel good about yourself, have a positive attitude and approach people in the right way,” he said, everything will fall into the right place on the finance-and-insurance sales front.

“The spear in the heart: You have to have integrity, transparency, rapport to build trust. If you don’t, they’re going to google it,” he said, meaning the consumer will find another dealership if they don’t get their questions answered, likely through their online research acumen.   

Googling It

But before having one’s demeanor in order, the dealership must get its team in order and working in concert, Gould said. That’s because of that 80% of vehicle consumers he mentioned who start their shopping online before assessing anybody’s attitude. Consequently, dealer F&I sales and the sales department should be part of that digital discovery phase.

“It takes everybody in that dealership,” he said.

Next comes the decision phase. He allowed that the more the consumer learns about F&I offerings online, the more products he’ll buy once he appears in the physical store.

While consumers are researching from home, the dealership team should educate themselves as much as possible so they can approach them with authority once they visit, Gould said.

He suggested that his listeners ask their staffs the last time they read an auto industry publication. “They spend more time reading about hobbies,” he ventured.

Bone up on the dealership’s customer relationship management tool, he said, because every F&I manager has access to it. “They should know what’s going on, just like the sales managers do … Everybody gets involved in the deal. Everybody knows what’s going on. It’s all about teamwork.”

And an F&I manager’s self-education shouldn’t stop when they’re across their desk from a customer, he said. Ask them how many miles a year they drive, for instance, so you know if it makes sense to recommend a vehicle service contract.

“Recognize what you have,” Gould said. “Manage the customers’ intentions, address their questions and concerns.”

Emotional Quotient

Everyone should remember that a vehicle purchase, along with the purchase of the products that support that investment, is an emotional transaction, Gould proposed.

First, the dealership must clarify why consumers should do business with it in particular – its why, he said. Then, it should zero in on why the consumer wants a car and from that particular dealership – their why. Lastly, what’s the consumer’s end goal, his why, which other models might meet it, and the obstacles in the way of him making a decision – his what.

“We’ve got to attack their emotions,” he said. “Transparency, sincerity, a natural tone” to the entire buying process are essential.

That means in part that you should identity the customer’s value drivers and to “focus on the machine, not the price.”

“The price paid on a vehicle is relevant to the excitement” about it, he said.

Conversely, one should avoid “bad questions” to help keep the customer in a positive emotional state, questions like: How’s your credit? How much do you want to put down? How much do you owe on your current car?

Then, enhance the allure of your F&I products by “walking the trade” with the customer, or examining their trade-in vehicle as a way to point out products they may want for the replacement.

But perhaps most importantly, avoid approaching sales with a mission mindset, Gould said. Instead, seek to know the customer, trying to understand him or her instead of simply replying.

“We don’t listen enough to understand what the customer just said to us. You’ve got to put aside your feelings and constantly focus on their feelings.”

That piece, at least so far, can’t be done by a computer.

Hannah Mitchell is executive editor of Auto Dealer Today. A former daily newspaper journalist, her first car was a hand-me-down Chevrolet Nova.

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Originally posted on F&I and Showroom

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