The customer interview, from an F&I perspective

By Brian Gallmeier

In previous articles, I have written about Power Ratings and rainmakers. This article is now the second part of a series that will explain the sales and finance process, from the finance department’s perspective.

The customer interview: A private discussion between a finance manager and a prospective customer. The interview occurs right after the turnover from a salesperson. In every case possible, it should occur either before a sale is even agreed upon or immediately afterward. The objectives of the customer interview are for the finance manager to set the customer at ease, learn a few things about the customer and what he or she is buying, and if needed, begin the transition from a cash deal into a finance deal.

Most dealers with poor performing finance departments share one single factor during the sales and finance process: The customer interview either does not take place at all because there was never a turnover, or it takes place after the customer has already left the dealership.

Why would a salesperson not want a finance manager to conduct an interview? When the interview fails, many great salespeople or even sales managers/dealer principals believe they are protecting their customers and simplifying the sales process by “railroading” the customer to make the process simpler and quicker. They collect a down payment check, place it in the deal folder, get a sign-off on the deal, tell their customer they will call them when the unit is ready for delivery, and sometimes even tell the customer the “out-the-door” price without any turnover to finance.

In this case the salesperson may have what they perceive to be a great “deal,” but long term, the dealership rarely benefits from these types of “deals.” Even the customer may have been short changed. Given a proper turnover for an interview, the customer is more likely to purchase additional accessories, purchase finance products, finance their machine with the dealership, come back to the dealership for service, refer their friends and relatives to the dealership for additional business and buy their next machine from the dealership.

Call it a ride on a freight train that costs as much as $5,000 per occurrence! Every time a salesperson is allowed to take a down payment or payment in full without a customer interview by the finance manager, it costs the dealership $5,000. $5,000 in opportunity costs far exceeds the profits made on a skinny cash deal where the dealership may never see the customer again, or the customer may never use any of the dealership’s services. Salespeople so often still get their commissions, even though they may be the only one benefitting from the transaction.

A strong customer interview

Here’s the start of a list of what exactly a finance manager can gain from a strong customer interview.

Tell your finance managers to just be themselves and ask the “5 Ws and How” to start: who, what, where, when, why and how?

It’s never comfortable to go through the entire list, but gain as much information as possible during the conversation. Start with general conversation and see where it goes in order to get to know the customer. Try and earn the right to ask a few more details about the customer and their riding habits.

•  Who will be the primary rider of the machine?
•  Who else will be riding?
•  What are you buying today?
•  What are your maintenance capabilities?
•  How often do your clean your equipment?
•  Do you like to clean it, or is it more of a hassle?
•  Have you purchased from us before?
•  Where else have you purchased?
•  Where do you plan on keeping your machine? How about storage?
•  Will you be storing outside or inside? Is it heated and air conditioned?
•  Where will you be riding?
•  What restaurants or bars do you stop at on your trips? Do you go to your favorite places each time or different ones?
•  When is the next time you will be trading?
•  How much will you drive in a given year, or during the lifetime of this machine?

Then as long as it’s in a private area, the finance manager can get into a few more personal details if required:

“So, one of my responsibilities is to work on your funding needs. Do you mind if I ask a few questions about your credit history if I need to answer some questions from the bank?”

Review actual credit score, loans outstanding, any derogatory items, payments made on time and any late payments. Have the credit application in the paperwork and review income, work and residence histories.

Switching cash to finance

During the interview it’s the finance manager’s chance to gain a finance customer. A separate article will be dedicated to providing some methodologies to switching a customer from all cash to finance, but here are some tips:

•  The dealership is already an indirect lender for that credit union;
•  One-stop shopping, no need to go to a bank or credit union;
•  X number of banks, the dealership can determine which bank is best.

Once it has been determined whether it’s a cash or finance deal, the customer may be turned back over to the salesperson to complete the showroom tour and to handle miscellaneous paperwork.

The finance manager is now ready to get to work on what most perceive is his or her only responsibility — get the paperwork ready and get the deal submitted to the banks for approval.

It is now time to create the menu, based on what was learned in the interview. The menu presentation is the next article in this series.

While perfect paperwork is very important and a must for every finance department, once that is mastered by the finance manager, the finance process takes over: The turnover, the interview and then the start of the work in “The Box,” which is the menu presentation.

Brian Gallmeier, founder of Income Development Partners, uses his powersports experience at the retail level to train F&I departments. He can be reached at or 612/616-8611.


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