“Mind of the Dealer” sounds like a course in psychology — and that it is, at Chrysler Financial. The captive lender has undertaken an intensive effort to bolster F&I numbers as dealer collaborators instead of confronters.

Chrysler Financial created the training program as a guide for dealer relations managers (DRM) in their approaches to dealer personnel, from the owners and principals to salespeople and F&I managers.

“Mind of the Dealer is the most intensive effort in the history of Chrysler Financial to enhance brand loyalty by building bridges between us and our dealers,” says Ira A. Levin, senior manager of Chrysler brands marketing for DaimlerChrysler Services.

He adds, “A year since we launched the program, we've seen increases in product penetration, wholesale and retail, customer satisfaction and, more critically, better ties between our dealer relations managers and the personnel at the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep stores they cover.”

With the assistance of training firms Advantage Performance Group and the Real Learning Company, DC Services Sales Education Manager Ed Tate tosses away most of the old approaches to “sales calls” by lender representatives.

“We set about making the process of interaction one of training our DRMs to delve into what the dealers are thinking and pursuing,” he says. “In the past, it was more of a push-pull relationships. Now, it has become one in which we act as consultants and not merely sellers of products.”

Levin, son of a former Honda-Volkswagen dealer, calls the new approach with dealers “a refreshing awareness of a partnership that is interrelated.”

He adds: “As the lending arm of the manufacturer, we are as closely linked to the brand as are our dealers. It makes sense for DC Services to get more in sync with what our dealers are thinking.”

Rollout of the program began in April, 2003 in the Southeast, one of Chrysler Group's eight U.S. regions. DRMs throughout the regions set up 2-day workshops for each dealership, including sales managers, retail and retail credit buyers and managers.

The first day's workshop centers on what the dealers' thought processes are, seeking to better understand his or her reactive and proactive responses in discussing DC's products and services.

On the second day, DRMs and F&I managers measure the values of DC offerings, using five “proven techniques,” says Tate, “that allows DRMs to communicate offerings in the context of dealer-customer values.”

These techniques are:

  • Connecting the value of Chrysler Financial capabilities to specific dealer business challenges

  • Using mental models to communicate ideas and values

  • Using “high-gain” questions to uncover dealer needs and identify specific dealer values

  • Employing effective listening techniques to understand values

  • Brainstorming “best practices” for maximizing dealer values

Anita Fellows, general manager of Crestwood Dodge, Garden City, MI, says the year-old program “has the potential for overcoming the differences between us and the lender in our mutual interest.”

Crestwood has been a program pilot dealer as a Chrysler Group award-winner and a top F&I producer for Chrysler Financial. Its F&I manager, Nick Engels, says dealer needs are often under-appreciated by lender reps. He hopes the program changes that.