The art of the deal is back. The lousy economy can be thanked for that.

Many car dealerships, out of necessity, are properly structuring deals, a talent that seemed like a lost art in recent times.

“You are going to see fewer customers; that's just a fact” says Glenn Roberts, Zurich Insurance's national training and business development manager. “So think about how to do the right deal.”

That includes asking qualifying questions of consumers to determine wants and needs; knowing their financial abilities; requiring money down (100% financing is no more); and putting the right person in the right vehicle — one they can afford.

That may seem obvious to sales pros. But not to some showroom staffers, even some sales managers, who got accustomed to the boon years of brisk sales and easy credit.

Until vehicle sales dropped without a parachute, those people stumbled along, despite their failure to follow basic car-selling protocols. There is hope for them yet. They can be redeemed by learning how to do it the right way, Roberts says.

It starts with guiding customers to vehicles that fit their needs and budgets, “not necessarily one that they fell in love with or that the salesperson wants to sell,” he says at a F&I Management and Technology conference in Las Vegas.

Often, it isn't until the customer is in the F&I office, trying to get credit, that harsh realities mar the aspiration of owning a car beyond one's budget.

“When a customer is on too much car, the house begins to work against itself,” Roberts says. “You cut front-end gross, cut out F&I products and put too much on a trade. With proper qualification and deal structure that won't happen.

“Switching cars is a whole lot easier on the sales floor than in the F&I office or after the bank has nixed the deal,” he says. “You need to know a customer's ability to pay long before he or she gets to the F&I office.”

With today's credit being ice cold, a properly structured deal — one that is likely to get financed and not frozen to death — consists of:

  • A car that makes financial sense.
  • A down payment.
  • An accurately appraised trade-in.
  • Loan terms not exceeding 72 months, certainly not 84.

“Customers with no equity and no cash are not going to get financed,” Roberts says. “Cash is king, queen, prince and princess.”

Sales managers in particular must know the art and science of a deal structure, he says. “It is beneficial if a sales manager has had some hands-on F&I experience.”

A vital role of the sales manager is to make sure the F&I manager is presented with viable deals, ones likely to be financed, Roberts says.

A deal needn't be “wrapped in a bow,” he says, but “the F&I office can't make up for badly structured deals.”