Way back in 1971, C.P. Snow wrote about technology in the New York Times. He said, “Technology… is a queer thing. It brings you great gifts with one hand, and it stabs you in the back with the other.”Many dealers are voicing that sentiment these days. Far too few have done anything about it. Some have learned to use computer software with skill. They use the apps on iPhones, iPads, and Blackberries. They have created an effective Web site. They use Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn for social networking. For others, these are merely words and technologies that test their ability to conduct both business and their private lives. Dealers, already feeling the brunt of the two-plus year recession and massive changes in the car industry, are becoming increasingly concerned about their ability to not only keep up, but to even remain in the playing field.Why should dealers bother with such things? Isn’t the old way good enough? Nope!Customers who always shopped on the lot are now shopping on the Internet before they take a step toward a dealership. They’ve researched every model in their price range and with the features they want. They’ve read a dozen articles about how to get the best deal. They’ve become more savvy than many sales people hired by dealerships; they know their credit score; they know where they can find the best price on insurance, window tinting, undercoating, you name it. Everything once sold to them by a finance officer from the menu is for sale on the Internet.Are you one of the dealerships where handwringing has become a daily pastime? Have you taken a close look at your bottom line? Have you noticed what would happen to your finance portfolio if you removed your sub-vent rated and nonprime customers? Have the numbers of your prime-financing customers dwindled to an all-time low? Perhaps you haven’t seen the drop in your captive financing yet, but beware, it’s coming just as surely as the first snowstorm.Snow was right, back in 1971! The Internet can either become a beacon for drawing in more satisfied customers to your dealership and vastly increase your bottom line, or it can stab you in the back. It can be your best friend or your worst enemy. How?Statistics show that 80% of car customers go online before they make the decision to buy and before they come to your dealership. What are they researching? Brands, models, features and, most of all, prices. Most of all, prices. The majority of Americans in today’s economy are deeply concerned about their budget. They have a fixed amount to spend on a car payment and all the other expenses involved in owning it. The vehicle they choose must fit within that fixed figure. They cannot afford to buy on whim or to make a careless mistake. They won’t take the chance of being bamboozled into buying things they don’t want, don’t need, and can’t afford by a fast-talking sales or finance mangerWhere do these savvy customers get their information? One of their first sources is Edmunds, the friendly consumer-shopping guide. Edmunds has never been and still isn’t the dealer’s friend. Edmunds does whatever is necessary to achieve the sale on vehicles and products from the Internet shopper… and then refers these buyer to specific retailers to obtain a fee! Banks. Finance companies. Insurance companies. You name it.Don’t let them get a strangle hold on your customers! If you haven’t already checked this article on Edmunds.com, perhaps you should do so right now!Confessions of an Auto Finance Manager In the Back Rooms of America’s Car Dealerships By Philip Reed, Senior Consumer Advice Editor and Nick JamesIntroduction”Congratulations, you’re getting a great deal!” the car salesman says, pumping your hand. “Let’s sign the paperwork and you’ll be on your way in your new car!”At first you’re relieved – the negotiating is over. But then the salesman walks you down a back hallway to a stark, cramped office with “Finance and Insurance” on the door. Inside, a man in a suit sits behind the desk. He greets you with a faint smile on his face. An hour later you walk out in a daze: The whole deal was reworked, your monthly payment soared and you bought products you didn’t really want.What happened to your great deal?You just got hit by the “F&I Man,” also called the finance officer. He waits in the back of every dealership for unsuspecting customers so he can increase the profit for the dealership and boost his commission.In this four-part series, written by veteran auto finance manager Nick James, you will learn the F&I man’s tricks and how to avoid them. When you’re done, you’ll be ready to safely navigate this crucial part of the car buying process, and the F&I man will never work his “magic” on you again.- The Editors at Edmunds.comAre you still ushering your customers into the office of your “F&I Man”? No? You have a Web site? You update it once a month? You have a tech-savvy employee who checks your e-mail messages every morning? BUT… how would you answer these questions?When your potential customers come to your Web site, what resources do you have available to steer them away from online financing? Do you have a quick reference guide for their buying the vehicle that fits their budget and your financing terms? Is the information presented in a complete, forthright and friendly manner? Does it enlist confidence and trust? Will readers feel they’d get a no-nonsense financing deal from you?If these online customers make a call to ask a few questions, does your finance manager answer them, or resort to the former game of “I can only reveal those options when you come in for an interview”? Does he or she become discouraged by the process of reviewing transactions over the phone? Does your Internet manager have direct access to your finance manager at all times; avoid posting rates and product pricing on your Web site; work well with your sales and finance departments? Have you utilized the I-chat technology now readily available to instantly answer your customers’ finance questions? How many phone calls to your finance department go unanswered on a daily basis? How are online customer calls being handled in your F&I office?Reducing your finance penetration will not only effect the overall performance of your dealership, but will negatively effective your reinsurance investment. If your customers are financing with someone else, they could also be buying their other products. Take a long and serious look at the insurance products you sell, the agent who works with you, and the changes that must be made to keep you competitive with the technology available to all your customers. You must remain competitive in products offered, their quality, and their prices. Should you be considering a new partner?What new and creative processes are you providing your current and potential customers within your Web site? Have you considered presenting your menu as a virtual finance manager? Do you have WebEx with a preloaded menu available for review with your customers whether they are onsite in your finance office or sitting in the comfort of their home? Why not?An upfront sales approach is the best way to reestablish a thriving business in today’s technological world. Teenagers and college students are facile in the use of every conceivable tool involving the information highway. They are your future customers. They will find Edmunds and every comparable site and use the information to their advantage. Provide them with a dozen reasons to buy their vehicle and products from your dealership. Ensure them that financing their dream car with you is the only sensible choice.Although computer use and Internet technology has been around for several decades, it has taken a giant leap in recent years as more and more consumers realize they can save themselves time and money by letting their fingers do the walking. Another great American journalist, Sydney J. Harris, who wrote for the Chicago Daily News and later the Chicago Sun-Times, died in the late 80s; but, he was savvy about where technology would take us. He said, “The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.”We’ve reached that point. Where in the world is your finance penetration? It’s time to find out! Do it… today.