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Top Tips for Selling Over the Phone

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Jaren Davis had worked in the automotive repair industry for more than two decades when he became the service advisor at Arizona Auto and Radiator Repair in Sierra Vista, Ariz. Still, he says, the transition from turning wrenches to selling that work was a total shock.

“I thought I would be able to incorporate some of the things I already knew from the other side of things,” he says. “It’s nothing like that.”

In particular, he says, selling over the phone was especially difficult and he found himself often stammering or stumbling over words when a customer asked him a question that caught him off guard.

To help convert phone calls into jobs more easily, he worked to develop a script that he could fall back on as a template for the conversation.

“It’s made it a whole lot easier,” he says. “It gives you the steps, value and solid questions to ask them to help you get through the process. Once I got the script down, it really didn’t matter what the phone call was for or what the issue was, I have an answer for it.”

And it’s not as complicated as it may sound. Davis worked with Barry Barrett, a sales trainer at RLO Training, on more confidently selling work over the phone. Both Davis and Barrett helped Ratchet+Wrench outline steps for selling work over the phone that any shop can easily implement.

Before the Sale

1.) Barrett says the most important component to understand about closing the sale is that it’s done in the first 20 minutes of the conversation—not the last. That’s why it’s important to start establishing a relationship with the customer as soon as they bring in their vehicle.

“I try to build a relationship before I have to make that phone call,” Davis says. “I trust my friends. If my friend tells me something, I believe it. I want them to feel that I’m trustworthy so when it comes time to make that phone call, they believe what I say.”

Davis says that he also asks what the customer expects from the shop, the value they can expect and the timeline of their vehicle. He says he makes note of that and will reference earlier conversations during the phone call.

2.) When they come in for drop off, let the customer know that the technician will complete a thorough inspection on the vehicle, which the service advisor will review during a follow-up phone conversation.

“I let them know that we might find six to 10 different issues they have because my guys in the back are really great problem finders,” Davis says. “That’s what their job is. If we don’t do that, and we don’t keep your vehicle safe and reliable, we haven’t done our job.”

That way, he says, the customer won’t be shocked when several different issues are potentially uncovered, and also knows that the service advisor will walk them through the various issues.

3.) Before picking up the phone, Barrett says it is crucial to ensure that you have all of the necessary information. Start by reviewing the vehicle service history, the inspection, the estimate, any notes from the technician, the final prices, the breakdown of those prices, and any other materials (such as photos or videos) you may need.

Davis says he has a conversation with the technician and has him outline every detail of the tests and procedures performed, the results determined, the parts needed, and any potential questions the customer may have.

Making the Call

1.) At the beginning of the conversation, first make sure that the customer has time to take your call—and start with good news.

“I like people and I like to be friendly,” Davis says. “I don’t like to give bad news right away.”

Instead, Barrett recommends starting the conversation by reviewing why the customer brought the car to the shop.

“What I want to start with is their main concern, which could be the check engine light,” he says. “Start by reassuring that you understand what is important to them.”

2.) Next, review the results of the inspection, starting with the main concern. For example, in keeping with the check engine light example, explain what caused the check engine light to turn on. Next, move on to the other items found during the inspection.

“When I call the customer back, I’ll talk about what the different repairs are,” Barrett says. “I’ve got an oil leak, brakes that are at 4 mm and a check engine light.”

3.) Be sure to use non-technical language when explaining the repairs needed.

“I explain to them in a non-technical way what that means to them,” he says. “For example, if you have a valve cover leak: ‘It’s corrupting your oil and won’t lubricate as well. Later down the road, you might have to do everything up to replacing your engine if it goes unaddressed.’”

4.) In addition, take a “unique-selling-points” approach by listing the features and benefits of the repairs to the customers. Davis says that customers need to understand what’s in it for them and why taking care of the concerns right now will help protect their investment, increase the life of their vehicle or prevent more costly repairs down the road. 

“If you have a vehicle that needs $5,000 worth of work, there better be features and benefits to that work being done,” he says. “If I need work done, I better get something for that work other than just spending money out of my pocket.”

Barrett says to take the time to both explain any safety issues that could be involved, but also why it’s a good choice for the customer to take care of them today. Most customers strongly dislike auto repair, he says, so it’s important to make them feel good about their decisions, rather than all the work that needs to be completed on their vehicle.

5.) Make sure the conversation revolves around asking questions. Davis says he always asks, “Does this make sense?” throughout the conversation.

“If it makes sense, it has to be true,” he says. “If it makes sense, then it’s normally a service that needs to be performed. It might make sense to you, but it could still be wrong to the customer.”

If the customer objects to the price or a part, he recommends asking, “What would you feel comfortable sacrificing, value or price?”

“Rather than just giving statements and leaving the decision up to me, I ask those questions first about what’s most important to them and let them make the decisions themselves,” he says.

6.) After explaining the services, present the cost as one final price. For example, let the customer know that you could take care of the check engine light, oil leak and brakes for $1,500 today, rather than listing the individual prices of each service.

“The worst thing that people do is they start to break it down to the customer and give a price for each individual repair,” he says. “It confuses the customer otherwise. They don’t know what to do, and then they give you the rebuttal.”

Assure the customer that this is the final price. Start with the final price for all of the service needed and then work backward, rather than starting with the cheapest service and adding more expensive repairs. 

7.) If the customer objects to the price, redirect the conversation by asking questions. 

“If the customer says, ‘I don’t have that kind of money,’ the next question should be, ‘How much money do you have for the maintenance of your vehicle?’” Barrett says. “Now, rather than just doing the brakes for $300, maybe you can fix two problems for the amount of money they have.”

After the Sale

1.) After presenting the options, ask the customer how they would like to proceed.

2.) Next, go over the features and benefits of what the shop will do after the job is complete.

“I’m going to be taking care of you even after you leave here,” Davis says. “I’ll say, ‘I’m going to warranty that part for three years and 36,000 miles.’”

3.) Ask if they have any final questions or concerns and then discuss the next step. For example, does the customer need a rental car or shuttle service? Davis says to make sure the customer knows exactly what the repair process will look like. 

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