PEN Helps to Enhance
Agency Processes


Provider Exchange Network’s PEN Services is assisting Agents nationwide to improve F&I performance and profitability by helping your dealer clients stay ahead of the technology curve, at no cost to your Agency. Check your dealer eContracting vital signs with Ron Geer, Vice President of Provider Services at Provider Exchange Network, where he helps agents and dealers use retail technology effectively.

Ron, what does Provider Exchange Network do? Most agents know that PEN helps Providers integrate to a large network of Menu and other dealership selling systems. At Provider Exchange Network, we work behind the scenes to integrate those systems, so the dealer can use their favorite system to connect to all their providers. My message to Agents is that we understand that it can be complicated, but we can streamline the process with a few simple concepts.

Specific to agencies, we’re trying to help agents become a more productive part of the F&I sales process. This means better planning, guidance and follow up with the dealer. We use the term “Integrated eContracting,” which is just eContracting with the benefits of an integrated dealership system. Anybody in the industry — especially agents — knows that dealers are going to use dozens and dozens of different software applications. This makes it a challenge to stay current.

How does integration benefit the agent? Software Vendors show the dealers how to use the software, but agents are the ones that understand why to use it. If an agent promotes the provider’s portal and they represent five different provider’s products, that dealer must log into five different systems for every car deal and potentially rekey deal information into each of those systems to rate and contract. And then they must key all that stuff back into the dealer system. Even if they are using a consolidated portal, it still does not replace their menu or their system of record.

But dealers don’t always use the systems efficiently or consistently. Correct. Very few dealers use every feature of their systems. In the case of Integrated eContracting, it is rarely a case of it being “too complex.”. More often, it’s because the dealer didn’t know their options or how to use the features. This is why agents need to get more comfortable with this stuff.

When we talk about technology, all we do at PEN is complement the providers’ existing technology by extending their functions into software the dealer is already using. And I think most people in the industry know that. But we want to help agents, because agents are the people dealing with the complexity.

And you want them to be your advocates. Not necessarily advocates of “PEN.”. We want them to advocate the best process for the dealer. We merely help them execute their chosen process. Dealers and agents alike generally go with what they know, with the safest approach. If that means paper, they go with paper. If a dealer is using a sophisticated selling system, they want to maximize its capability. If the agent is not involved, they risk losing command of dealership results. Faulty processes lead to missed sales opportunities and lost contracts. Dealer remittance will be messy, and commissions are going to be delayed or missed.

Agents can be vulnerable when dealer processes are broken. Absolutely. It’s important that agents are “productively engaged” in the dealer’s business-to-business process. But as a coach, not a tech support rep or a firefighter.

What’s stopping them? Some agents see technology and turtle up. Some agents are tech savvy. They’ll go out there and try anything. Unfortunately, we see what happens when the effort is not followed through. Even tech savvy agents can sometimes find themselves in something they can’t handle. The most successful agents are productively involved by advising and helping the dealer manage their process after initial setup.

Our goal at PEN is to help agencies manage this better. It doesn’t have to be daunting. No agent should ever have to troubleshoot a technical issue in a menu. That’s the job of the menu company. Agents can help dealers use their system better, but they can’t provide technical support like the software vendors. Does the agent hire the F&I manager? In most cases, no. Do they pick their menu? Most cases, no. Not that they couldn’t, but they usually don’t. The agent has an obligation to help the dealer make better decisions with regards to their process.

What does the agent need to know to get up to speed? Every agent should have an idea if the tools used by the dealer are working. PEN can help agents ask the right questions; it is like a hiring interview. If you don’t know to ask the right questions, the answers will not be revealing.

I often use the term “vital signs.” When you go to the doctor, I don’t care if it’s a routine physical, the measles, or a broken leg, they’re going to take your temperature and pulse. We want to help agents get more comfortable checking those basic things to get a better picture.

What does the Agency pay for that service? We don’t charge them a fee. Our success depends on their success. We communicate to agents because we have insight and advice and we can help them with their internal processes. This not some consulting package. It is our offer to help where help is needed, in the form you need it.

What’s the typical catalyst for a dealer to integrate a product in their system? There are really three main use cases.

The first is when the dealership is getting a new menu. In those cases, the menu provider is the project manager. They’ll ask, “What products do you have? Who’s your agent?” And they’ll coordinate the integration.

The second use case is a product changeover. Those are generally agency-driven, and they will include product-based training. The unknown is, what is the dealer doing about the systems? This is where agents are all over the map. Proactive agents generally have more successful technical integration because they planned ahead. The ones that come in and train the dealer on the product, provide marketing materials and then show up at the store and say, “What system are you using?” tend to have fire drills.

The third use case — and this is where it’s fun — the dealer just woke up one day and said, “I want to start integrating this product on my system.” And guess what? Nobody is in charge. And that’s when agents visit and run into a buzz saw. Dealers might say, “My remittance is all screwed up” or “I’m getting duplicate contracts” or “I’m getting all sorts of technical issues.” Our message to agents is to get ahead of that curve. There are answers to every technical problem, but most of these problems result from broken processes or poor coordination inside the dealership.

Does the work you do pose any threat to the agent? Only if getting out of your comfort zone is a threat. The agents own the F&I process. I think everybody understands that. Change can be perceived as a threat but when you take time to plan and make informed decisions, change becomes a catalyst for improvement.

What are the real threats? When it comes to technology, we’ve been hearing about disruptors and new tech like online shopping. But a disruptor is only a threat when the current model isn’t working.

The real threat to agents is being left behind. If you are not helping dealers lead the way into the future of F&I, disruptors are going to take you out of the conversation. And that applies to everybody — product providers, dealer system providers, for dealers in general. If the industry doesn’t fix a problem, someone will, and it will get messy. Your consumers want the F&I process to be easier, and they want more control of their buying process.

This is not today’s immediate problem; everyone agrees the market is demanding change.

Let PEN Services help you improve your existing process, whether that’s simple education for your field team or looking at your internal guides and checklists. If your dealer is having problems with the menu, you should be able to tell them how to get help from their software vendor. If they’re using PEN, we’ll jump in and help YOU the Agent. We don’t directly support your dealers, but we can support the agents.

The bottom line is that integrated eContracting has many moving parts. It’s a lot of different systems and different providers. It can get very confusing to people. Our mission is clear: Integration works best when everybody is empowered.

So, agencies need to look at how they can empower dealers and empower the people out in the field? Develop experts inside the agency office, take the field leaders and get them a little bit more self-reliant. Manage expectations of the field agents. Give them the right kind of training, because you don’t want them to try to be software troubleshooters. That’s not their job.

Ron Greer is Vice President of PEN Services, responsible for developing business relationships with F&I Product Providers, Dealer Software Vendors and Agents for Provider Exchange Network (PEN). PEN provides F&I integration technology for dealers while PEN Services helps Providers and Agents effectively use their Retail Technology.