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The Rules of Selling in the Automotive Trades Part 7

One of the dumbest things I did when I first opened my transmission shop was to quote prices over the phone. All that earned me was a whole lot of hang ups and lies from people who said they were bringing their vehicles in but never showed up. What I couldn’t understand was why they wouldn’t come to a shop that was offering the lowest price in town. I was only doing that because at the time I didn’t know what to charge. Anyway, they weren’t coming. I thought, “Maybe they want an even lower price.” It turned out I was right. They wanted a much lower price; somewhere around zero dollars was what they wanted to pay.

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By way of explanation; nobody wants to ever believe they need a very expensive transmission rebuild even though they ask for the price of one. If you blurt out a price you are confirming that they do need a rebuild, so you’ve taken away all of their hope that they might get away with a lesser repair. So if all hope is gone why should they come to you when there might be another shop that will do it for less? That’s when the shopping starts. If they think they will get the same diagnosis from everyone they figure why not find the shop that’s the cheapest? Of course most of your callers don’t know the old Irish expression, “Cheap is dear” which means that cheap can often end up costing more than the better quality but higher initially priced alternative.

So as not to have customers lump you in with all the shops that try to quote prices for repairs of unseen and unverified conditions your only job on that initial call is to somehow get that customer’s four wheels firmly planted in your driveway. The way  you do that is to keep hope alive; the hope that if they come to your shop you might be able to find a way to save them some or a lot of money because that’s what they all want, to save as much as they can on something they didn’t want to buy in the first place. You would want it too if you were in that position. So it shouldn’t be hard for you to understand what they want; so give it to them. Give them the hope that if they show up at your shop you will move heaven and earth to try to save them as much as you can. The only thing you don’t know is how much that might be if anything, so there is your primary reason for getting them into the shop; to find out.


One thing you don’t want to do is to stay on the phone any longer than you absolutely have to. The longer you talk the more chance there is that you will say something that will hurt your sale. Your objective is to close for an appointment to either have them drive the car in or allow you to tow it. That’s all. You aren’t trying to sell anything at this point. That comes later, after you have diagnosed the problem and priced out all the necessary parts and labor.

You know, price is usually the first thing they want to know because they don’t know the right questions to ask, but it should be the last part of a sales presentation. It comes after everything else has been discussed. Instinctively customers know that when they hear the price mentioned a closing attempt will immediately follow which, in essence, means the presentation is over even if the salesperson has not yet gotten them to accept all the features and benefits that would allow for a profitable price. Of course that will bring up any number of objections because quoting a price without performing all of the preliminary actions does nothing but cause more suspicion since they also know deep down that if the vehicle hasn’t yet been diagnosed the number is being pulled out of thin air which means it can be argued or simply rejected.


In the interest of getting off the phone quickly with an appointment, try this: The customer calls and says, “I think I’m having a problem with my transmission.” Then you say, “Is the car drivable?” That’s a branch question. The answer can only go to one branch or the other. If he says yes immediately offer an appointment. If he says no offer to tow it in. You do all of this before he’s had a chance to ask you for a price. An example of the closing question to get the appointment would be, “When would it be convenient for you to bring the car in? Would now be a good time or is 10 o’clock better for you?” In the case of a tow you might ask, “Is the car available to be towed now or should I send the truck in an hour?” Notice the use of the “Alternate of choice” closing question. You’ve offered choices but they are all positives so any answer they pick, you get what you want; a car in your driveway. When offering a choice of times to bring a car in always make “now” the first choice because now is when they called meaning there is a reason why they chose now to call. Maybe now is the only time they have available so if you try to put them off you may lose the window of opportunity. If they don’t immediately go for the appointment you do want to find out why they called now. It might be the key to closing the entire sale. For example, if they tell you what the car has been doing, you might ask, “How long has it been doing that?” They might answer, “For several weeks now.” So then you might say, “What made you finally call today?” They might answer that they just got their Christmas bonus or that the problem just got worse. Keep your ears open because whatever answer they give it will help you close the sale. If they said they just got their Christmas bonus say, “Let’s get the car in and see how much of that bonus we can save you.”  If they say the problem just got worse you can say, “Unfortunately, unlike humans, cars can’t heal themselves. When they develop a problem it either stays as bad or gets worse without somebody diagnosing and fixing it. Why don’t you let me take a look to see if there is any way to save you some money?”


Just remember that they called now so now is the time they want something done about their problem. Trying to put them off can easily turn them off and make them call somebody else.

Even if the shop is very busy there is always room for one more car. You may not be able to fix it immediately but in most cases that isn’t a big problem. You can always find a workaround, another means of transportation for the customer while you have his or her car. If you don’t capture the car and the customer at this point you probably never will.

When that new customer calls you have a very small window of opportunity to impress with your ability to control the conversation and put him or her on track with the next step you want them to take. Most calls only last for a few minutes so you need to stay on point.

Get the commitment to bring the car in or tow it and get off the phone. The longer you stay on the more chance they will start badgering you for a price and you really don’t want to deal with that if you don’t have to. There’s an expression in selling you should make yourself familiar with, “Buying it back.” That’s what can happen if you keep talking after you’ve closed the sale. You can inadvertently say something that makes the customer want to rethink his decision to buy and then you might be starting the sale over from scratch. Be careful not to plant ideas in the customer’s head that don’t need to be there. The best thing is to separate yourself, physically if need be, from the customer immediately after the sale is closed.


Here’s a story that might help you remember. A friend of mine in California used to sell shop management software. He received a call one day from a shop owner in Lake Tahoe who had heard about the system and wanted him to head up there for the weekend to do a demonstration. It was ski season so it didn’t take too much convincing to get him to go so he packed up his computer and drove up the mountain. His plan was to ski all weekend and on Sunday do the demo and try to close the sale just before he was ready to head home. It was a good plan until the shop owner threw in the monkey wrench. He decided that he wanted to have the demo done first so they could ski the rest of the weekend without having to worry about business. My friend could do nothing but agree.

The demo went well and after a few objections were handled the client decided to buy. That was great; couldn’t be any better except for one thing. It was still very early in the weekend and my friend knew that because he couldn’t separate from the shop owner he was going to have to choose his topics of discussion and his words very carefully. Even though he loved to ski all he could do was prey for the time to go by quickly and to not say the wrong thing until he could finally distance himself from his customer. That didn’t do much to help him enjoy the rest of his weekend.


There is a happy ending to this story. The shop owner never brought up the system again except to ask how soon he could expect to get it. Our salesman, being the smart cookie he was didn’t answer with a statement but with the question, “When would you like it to start making you money? How’s Thursday; is that good for you?” He delivered and set it up on Thursday and they enjoyed skiing the rest of the weekend.

Of course not every caller is going to accept your offer of an appointment. Some will ask for a price, possibly several times. Your job is to maintain your composure and stay in control of the interview. You do that by handling all of their objections to bringing the car in before having a price. Seems difficult at first but with some practice anyone can get pretty good at it. We’ll look at all the methods for doing that next time.

***Winter Special*** Now you can purchase one copy of Terry Greenhut’s 450 page book “How to Market and Sell Automotive and Transmission Service and Repair” for only $49.16. In addition you can now own the complete set of Terry’s 9 hour sales course “How to Sell Automotive Service and Repair for only $486.43 for the video DVDs or $278.37 for the audio CDs. To take advantage of any of these great opportunities text or call Terry directly at 914-882-3003 to place your credit card order. Don’t wait. Let’s make this your best year ever.


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