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Finance and Insurance – The Profit Center

I would like to make myself clear on a few items of interest before I get too deep into the sales processes at any dealership, including: automobile, recreational vehicles, boats, motorcycle, and even furniture or other big ticket items. A business has to turn a fair profit in order to stay in business. I believe that they should make this profit and use it to pay better quality employees a premium wage in order to serve you better. The financial strengths or weaknesses of any business can definitely have a dramatic effect on your customer service and satisfaction. I do not, in any shape or form, wish to hurt a dealerships profitability, as it is essential for his survival. I merely want to advise people how to negotiate a little better in order to make the profit center more balanced.

Let’s get right down to this! Every dealership has a finance and insurance department. This department is a huge profit center in any dealership. In some cases, it earns more money than the sale of the automobile itself. Profits are made from many things that most buyers do not understand.

You as a consumer should understand the “flow” of the sales process to understand the profit centers that are ahead of you. Most negotiating from the consumer seems to stop after the original price is negotiated and agreed upon. Let’s examine just a small portion of what leads up to that point.

The first thing that every consumer should understand is that when you go to a dealership several things come into play. One of the most important things that I could point out to you is that you are dealing with a business that has been trained to get the most amount of money from you as they can. They are trained and they practice these tactics everyday, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. Let me point out a couple of important facts that I have said in this paragraph. First, you’ll notice that I said a dealership and not a salesman and secondly, I emphasized times of day after day, week after week, etc. etc. This was done to let you know that the salesman is working very closely with the sales managers in order to make as much money as he can. Your interests are really not their objective in most cases.

One tactic that is used heavily in the business is that the salesman says he is new to the business. This may be true or not, however; keep in mind that he does not work alone. He is working with store management, who gives him advice on what to say and when to say it. These guys or gals are very well trained on how to overcome every objection that you may have to buying from them. They have been trained in the psychology of the buyer and how to tell what your “hot buttons” are. They listen to things in your conversation that you may say to one another as well as to the salesman. They are trained to tell their desk managers everything that you say and then the desk manager is trained to tell the salesman exactly what and how to answer you. A seasoned salesman does not need as much advice from his desk and may negotiate a little more with you directly without going back and forth.

The process of negotiation begins the moment that you walk into the front door or step foot out of your car and begin to look at vehicles. Different stores display inventory in different ways. This is done for crowd control or more commonly known as “up control”. Control is the first step in negotiating with a customer. Ever who asks the questions controls the situation. Let me give you an example: A salesman walks up to you and says “Welcome to ABC motors, my name is Joe, and what is yours?” The salesman has just asked the first question- you answer “My name is George.” He then asks you what you are looking for today, or; the famous “Can I help You?” As you can see, step after step, question after question, he leads you down a path that he is trained to do.

Many times a well trained salesperson will not answer your questions directly. In some cases, they only respond to questions with other questions in order to avert the loss of control. An example of this could be something like you asking the salesman if he has this same car with an automatic rather than a stick shift. Two responses could come back to you. One would be yes or no, the other could very well be something along the lines of: ‘don’t you know how to drive a stick shift?” In the second response the salesman gained more information from you in order to close you. Closing means to overcome every objection and give your customer no way out other than where do I sign. The art of selling truly is a science of well scripted roll playing and rehearsal.

We have established that the negotiating process begins with a series of questions. These questions serve as two main elements of the sales process. First and foremost is to establish rapport and control. The more information that you are willing to share with you salesman in the first few minutes gives him a greater control of the sales process. He has gathered mental notes on our ability to purchase such as whether you have a trade in or not, if you have a down payment, how much can you afford, are you the only decision maker (is there a spouse?), how is your credit, or do you have a payoff on your trade in? These are one of many pieces of information that they collect immediately. Secondly, this information is used to begin a conversation with store management about who the salesman is with, what are they looking for, and what is their ability to purchase. Generally, a sales manager then directs the sales process from his seat in the “tower”. A seat that generally overlooks the sales floor or the sales lot. He is kind of like a conductor of an orchestra, seeing all, and hearing all.

I cannot describe the entire sales process with you as this varies from dealer to dealer, however; the basic principals of the sale do not vary too much. Most dealerships get started after a demo or test drive. Usually a salesman gets a sheet of paper out that is called a four square. The four square is normally used to find the customer’s “hot points”. The four corners of the sheet have the following items addressed, not necessarily in this order. Number one is sales price, number two is trade value, number three is down payment, and number four is monthly payments. The idea here is to reduce three out of the four items and focus on YOUR hot button. Every person settles in on something different. The idea for the salesman is to get you to focus and commit to one or two of the hot buttons without even addressing the other two or three items. When you do settle in on one of the items on the four square, the process of closing you becomes much easier.

One thing to keep in mind is that all four items are usually negotiable and are usually submitted to you the first time in a manner as to maximize the profit that the dealer earns on the deal. Usually the MSRP is listed unless there is a sales price that is advertised (in may cases the vehicle is advertised, but; you are not aware). The trade value is usually first submitted to you as wholesale value. Most dealers request 25-33% down payment. Most monthly payments are inflated using maximum rate. What this all boils down to is that the price is usually always negotiable, the trade in is definitely negotiable, the down payment may be what you choose, and the monthly payment and interest rates are most certainly negotiable. If you do your homework prior to a dealership visit you can go into the negotiation process better armed. You still need to keep two things in mind through this process. The first item is that you are dealing with a sales TEAM that is usually highly skilled and money motivated. The more you pay the more they earn. The second item to remember is that you may have done your homework and think that you are getting a great deal and the dealer is still making a lot of money. The latter part of this statement goes back to the fact that it is essential for a dealer to make a “fair” profit in order to serve you better.

Once your negotiations are somewhat settled, you are then taken to the business or finance department to finalize your paperwork. Keep in mind that this too is another negotiating process. In fact, the finance manager is usually one of the top trained sales associates that definitely knows all the ins and outs of maximizing the dealerships profit. It is in the finance department that many dealers actually earn more than they earned by selling the car, boat, RV, or other large ticket item to you. We will break these profit centers down for you and enlighten you as to how the process usually works. Remember that finance people are more often than not a superior skilled negotiator that is still representing the dealership. It may seem that he or she has your best interests at heart, but; they are still profit centered.

The real problem with finance departments are that the average consumer has just put his or her guard down. They have just negotiated hard for what is assumed to be a good deal. They have taken this deal at full faced value and assume that all negotiations are done. The average consumer doesn’t even have an understanding of finances or how the finance department functions. The average consumer nearly “lays down” for anything that the finance manager says. The interest rate is one of the largest profit centers in the finance department. For example, the dealership buys the interest rate from the bank the same way that he buys the car from the manufacturer. He may only have to pay 6% to the bank for a $25,000 loan. He can then charge you 8% for that same $25,000. The dealer is paid on the difference. If this is a five year loan that amount could very well be $2,000. So the dealer makes an additional $2,000 profit on the sale when the bank funds the loan. This is called a rate spread or “reserves”. In mortgages, this is disclosed at time of closing on the HUD-1 statement as Yield Spread Premium. This may also be disclosed on the Good Faith Estimate or GFE. You can see why it becomes important to understand bank rates and financing.

Many finance managers use a menu to sell aftermarket products to you. This process is very similar to the four square process that I discussed in the beginning. There are usually items like gap insurance, extended service contracts, paint and fabric guard, as well as many other after market products available from this dealer. The menu again is usually stacked up to be presented to the consumer in a way that the dealer maximizes his profitability if you take the best plan available. The presentation is usually given in a manner in which the dealer wins no matter what options are chosen. With the additional items being pitched to you at closing, your mind becomes less entrenched on the rates and terms and your focus then turns to the after market products. Each aftermarket item can very well make the dealer up to 300-400% over what he pays for these items. Gap coverage for example may cost the dealer $195.00 and is sold to the consumer for $895.00. The $700.00 is pure profit to the dealer and is very rarely negotiated down during this process. The service contract may only cost a dealer $650.00 and is being sold for $2000.00. The difference in these items are pure profit to the dealer. You see, if you only paid $995.00 for the same contract, the dealer still earns $345.00 profit from you and you still have the same coverage that you would have had if you had paid the $2000.00. The same is true for the gap coverage. You are covered the same if you paid $395.00 or $895.00 if the dealers costs are only $195.00. The only difference is the amount of profit that you paid to the dealer. Another huge profit center is paint and fabric protector. In most cases the costs to apply the product are minimal (around $125.00 on average). In many cases the dealer charges you $1200-$1800 for this paint and fabric guard.

Finance – More Than Number Crunchers

If you were to dissect the culture of a business, and you ask various people in an organization what the real roles of each department are, you’ll find the well-known dichotomy between “front office” and “back office” operations.

Front office staff are the people who deal with customers. They might be the customer service department, the sales department, and sometimes the marketing department (depending on how involved the marketing department is in the sales cycle). Back office staff are usually the admin assistants, HR, and the killjoy of all businesses – the Finance department.

In businesses I’ve observed, Finance departments often face silent derision or disrespect. Part of it is an us-versus-them mentality that comes out of the front office staff who feel their jobs are more difficult because they deal with customers (compared to Finance, who deal with numbers). And no one from the front office sends memos to the back office saying “please spend less time crunching the numbers” but it can feel like the back office is constantly memo-ing the front office with “watch this expenditure” or “spend less on client lunches”.

Unfortunately, this view is supported by management at all levels that give Finance the nasty job of accounts receivable, the inputting-heavy job of accounts payable, and the dull job of budget forecasting. Compared to the highly creative marketing department and the edge-of-the-seat, in-the-trenches feeling of the sales department, finance is like the broccoli side dish on a plate of steak and fries.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Finance departments shouldn’t be relegated to the back office in the hopes that their sharp pencils won’t poke a customer in the eye! Finance departments can and should play a far more important role in the organization. Here are some ideas:

POSSIBILITY 1: Finance should be more about business strategy than number prophecy. When the Finance department hounds the sales managers to get in their budgets and then turns them around for a final target budget for the year, their role is reduced to mere numerical interpreter. But what if Finance sat down with sales and talked to them about how their numbers connected to expected outcomes? And then, what if Finance sat down with the executives of the company and actually worked out a forecast that was tied to what the market was anticipating! Imagine a world where Finance’s numbers were more than just a spreadsheet that gets pulled out at every quarterly review.
POSSIBILITY 2: Finance should be more about opportunity. Many sales managers have some limited view into which customers are sending business. But the view isn’t always perfect. Or complete. Finance should get involved to show how a customer is really impacting the business’ bottom line. If Finance and Sales talked to each other, Sales might be shocked to discover that their biggest client is actually less valuable than expected because of the amount of work involved in keeping them as clients, or they might discover that a seemingly profitable client isn’t profitable at all because their receivables get very, very old. Imagine a world where the Finance department can relate true business impacting information to Sales to tell them which opportunities are truly the most profitable.
POSSIBILITY 3: Finance should be selling, too. When Finance gets the job of following up on accounts receivables, they can potentially do more harm than good. Finance people are highly skilled at numbers, and they might be good “people-oriented” staff, but they are rarely trained in the art of sales. However, when a Finance person, tasked with accounts receivables, gets adequate training in receivables AND customer service AND sales, their success rate at getting the receivables paid can increase, but so will their success rate at winning more business.

There are so many more opportunities, too. Businesses should be using their accounts payable list as a prospecting list. They should be temporarily swapping roles between Finance and Sales for brief “see-how-the-other-side-does-it” days to enable new appreciation and new connections. Finance should sit in on sales calls to see why Sales sometimes feels like they need to bend the rules to close the deal (and Sales should shadow the work of Finance so they know what work needs to happen at the back-end if they don’t assess risk adequately during the sale).

Drive Growth Through Innovation in Your Finance Department

Cognitive surplus has been recently proven to be a gold mine for a collection of different departments. Don’t you think it’s about time you learnt to benefit from this within your finance department as well?

Go beyond the apparent and obvious
All of the typical financial processes that most companies will utilise to drive growth are fairly obvious these include: cutting into the bottom line, maximizing revenues at the top line, and calculating the return on investment (ROI) for any new investment opportunities.

But if you can make ‘innovation time’, in conjunction with financial analysis, you will find that you are given a chance to look at less traditional levers to drive growth within your department.

Not a very exciting task
Ensuring that you are given real time away from the stress of daily tasks will eventually prove to be an invaluable exercise. Real time allows you and your department time to reflect and allow you analyse the performance of your finance department within the past versus the demands, your deliveries and performance of today. By reaching into and exploring your cognitive surplus, you and your colleagues could discover areas that are limiting, and which could limit your financial performance tomorrow. By taken a look at these limits you and your department can explore alternative solutions to help drive growth and increase the overall innovation of your company.

With your financial performance analysis in situ and a collection of innovative ideas in hand you’ll be able to better forecast and set up departmental budgets, whilst providing a firm foundation from which you are able to review any innovative concepts to vary the business structure serving to help alter the performance/cost ratio in a positive direction.

Want a push towards the right direction
Want a sensible push towards the right direction, which will help you greatly improve the performance of your finance department?

You probably have an identical gut feeling that was brought to our consciousness by an accounting survey of the financial close process: only 28 % finance employees trust the reported numbers within the month end financial close making historical account analysis an even more arduous task.

Financial Reconciliation software can make the whole financial close process quicker and more economical by the complete integration of automatic account reconciliation with automated approval workflows. With the utilization of summary dashboards, account reconciliation software makes strict compliance the quality standard for your team, whilst at the same time executives are often accurately kept within the loop with drill-down reports at the press of a button.

You can conjointly do away with binders and build your historical analysis faster and easier with a completely digital archive. Although storing all monthly close reports in binders may provide that old-fashioned feel of security, however that feeling can be misleading. Using binders to archive can in the long run prove more of a hindrance than a help. Problems that can arise are:
Which binder is all the information archived in? This issue can further be compounded with the problem of physical space required to store all of your company binders.

Where in the binder is it? Generally binders over time become too hefty to go through. So whether you’re working with binders or spreadsheets maintaining that control and overview are a top priority. At any moment, you need to have all documentation in place and to understand the status of every person and every task. Financial Reconciliation software can help you to streamline and digitize your monthly financial close process. Whilst allowing you to replace cumbersome spreadsheets and full binders with an up-to-date real-time overview of the entire balance sheet reconciliation process.

Taking all of the above into account what’s more, due to all of these efficiencies financial reconciliation software will actually help you facilitate to make ‘innovation time’ within the financial department, serving to create a virtuous cycle of enhancements and innovations with in your department.

Learn How Your Finance Department Can Inspire Growth

Almost all departments within all companies have an untapped ‘cognitive surplus’. A ‘cognitive surplus’ is the difference between the specific tasks an employee is assigned to do and what they actually are capable of doing – the actual versus the potential work.

It seems obvious, but to tap into it the ‘Cognitive Surplus’ can make a huge difference.

Companies such as 3M, Dell and Google have all implemented what is called ’20% time’ or ‘innovation time’ – one day of their working week, dedicated to whatever projects they like… provided it benefits the company in some way.

Does it pay off?

One might wonder: Does it pay off? Well, at Google this has resulted in successful projects such as Gmail, Google News and AdSense, and according to ex-employee, Marissa Mayer, as many as half of Google innovations are a result of ’20% time’.

But, while this approach might be considered something market leaders can utilise, many finance departments perceive they barely have the time to complete all the necessary work at present, never mind crafting new and innovative ideas, supporting procedures that aid business growth.

Yet finance departments really do need this ‘innovation time’.

In this slow and sometimes contracting economy, the next two years will be critical for businesses. It will fall largely on finance departments to walk the thin line between productive spending and managing a dwindling pool of resources. Additionally, with a host of new financial regulations coming into place in this two-year period, financial departments will be instrumental in helping businesses to remain compliant without losing their current standing.

This extra pressure and workload will make it difficult for finance to inspire new talent whilst holding on to the employees they already have. Finance professionals require stimulating challenges without being overloaded with extra work – they need ’20% time’ to effectively tap-in to their expertise, and not have their time consumed by lengthy, repetitive tasks – that can be automated.

How to make time for tapping into ‘Cognitive Surplus’ in the finance department

One way in which businesses can help free up some of their finance department’s time to complete tasks, is by automating the tedious and time-consuming tasks that turn prospective talent off finance work. Reconciliation is one such set of tasks that finance professionals find particularly tiresome and time consuming. Fortunately it is now possible to automate account reconciliation, processing hundreds of thousands of transactions in just minutes rather than hours or potentially days.

While significantly reducing reconciliation errors, automation also frees up large chunks of time that could be dedicated to maintaining compliance, providing strategic insight in this tough economy.