LAS VEGAS – Customer questions are just that, so salespeople shouldn’t treat them otherwise, says Tony Dupaquier, whose job is to hone the product-presentation skills of dealership finance and insurance staffers.

“Answer questions, and don’t treat them as objections,” he says. “Objections almost always are statements. A simple question is a question.”

Yet, some F&I managers fail to distinguish between interrogative and declarative statements. Dupaquier’s advice to them: “Slow down and listen.”

He offers tips on overcoming true customer objections (the I-don’t-want-that-maintenance-plan kind) at the F&I Management and Technology conference here.

He groups customers into five categories:

  • Prospects who buy nearly every product, from extended warranties to wheel-and-tire protection plans. Representing about 10% of customers, “they’ll walk in and start asking for things,” says Dupaquier, director-F&I training at American Financial and Automotive Services.
  • Car buyers who wave off any aftermarket products. “They don’t want to buy anything. All they do is ruin your day.” They represent about one in 10 customers.
  • Shoppers who express an interest in F&I products, but need a presentation to nudge them into buying. “They like to see the show. They may ask a question or two, but they don’t offer objections.” About 20% of customers are like that.
  • Customers who misleadingly seem interested. They ask questions. They show an interest. Then they declare they’re not buying anything. And they don’t. “These are the ones who drive you crazy.” They make up about 20% of visitors to the F&I office.
  • Customers who ask questions, toss out some objections but ultimately buy something. About 40% of prospects do that.

Dupaquier never has met a customer objection he couldn’t address.

Selling extended-service agreements at places such as Honda dealerships presents particular challenges when car owners don’t see a need, citing the brand’s reputation for durability, especially in powertrains.

As another F&I trainer put it: “Honda owners think God made their cars.” So how do you sell extended warranties on vehicles perceived as so divine? Dupaquier suggests focusing on non-mechanical parts.

“How do you maintain the sunroof or the navigation system?” he says, describing a tack to take. “Those operate until they don’t. Wouldn’t it make sense to have a service contract for all of the non-maintainable parts?”

He suggests talking about the weather, not to make idle conversation, but to sell service agreements.

“Extreme hot and cold can damage the modern technology that is in cars,” he says. “In Dallas, talk about the heat. In Bismarck, North Dakota, talk about the cold. Compare exposed vehicle parts to cooking your iPhone in a car on a hot day. Cars are electromechanical machines, and parts break down. It is not a question of if, but when.”

A common objection heard in F&I offices is when a customer says a friend, neighbor or relative advises against buying a service contract.

Dupaquier’s recommended retort: “Even if it were legal not to have car insurance, wouldn’t you buy it? Most people say ‘yes.’ If they say ‘no,’ move on.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com