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Advanced Selling Skills

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Ten service advisors sat in a room, wide-eyed, bright red, completely embarrassed. 

Barry Barrett, service advisor trainer for RLO Training, had recorded phone calls he made to each of their shops the week before, and was now cycling through them, ripping them apart, showing the key mistakes each of them had made trying to sell work.

“I’ll be honest, though, I handled it pretty well,” says Dan Leuck, one of the advisors who sat in that room five years ago. “I’m just good at having a conversation, at being on level ground with everybody, making people feel comfortable.”

While Leuck was certainly personable and a good conversationalist over the phone ... that was about it. When it came to actually producing more revenue for his shop, Guaranteed Transmission Service in Lafayette, Ind., he was still making some key mistakes.

Despite service writing at a dealership for several years, Leuck didn’t consider himself a “salesman” for most of his career—that was until he sat in Barrett’s class, “Advanced Selling Skills,” where his perception of the profession was flipped on its head. Now, Leuck—whom Barrett calls one of his best students—is taking those classroom skills and applying them during each customer interaction.


For years, I called myself a “service writer.” That was wrong. Service writers take orders—service advisors are quite the opposite. Every interaction I have with a customer is about advising the work they need, as opposed to just writing down what they think they want.

Most shops don’t get the appointments like I get them. They don’t have a well-thought-out game plan for an incoming call. There’s no established objectives to handle that call. When that phone rings, our objective is to get you in the door without giving you a price, and to be OK if that’s the end of the call.

That’s why our other service advisor and I are role playing throughout the day. Before he calls a customer, I’ll say, “Present it to me. Sell it to me really quick before you take that phone call. Make sure you’ve got that game plan put together. If he says ‘yes’ to these questions, what are you going to say? When you’re trying to sell this part, what are you going to say? What does that part do? Why do you need it? What is going to happen if it fails?”

Whenever you answer that phone, you need to have the tone of a smiling face. You can literally tell a smiling face over the phone. I don’t care how busy you are, how much you’re pulling your hair out right now, how many customers are in front of you—if you answer that phone, you cannot be sidetracked. You cannot multitask. The caller will think, “Oh my god, this guy on the phone thinks I’m a burden right now. He doesn’t want to talk to me.”

We’ve got a bit of a script for the initial part of an incoming call: “Thanks for calling Guaranteed Transmission Service, my name is Dan, how may I help you?” It’s peppy, it’s to the point. I’m going to ask your name immediately, which nobody does. I’m going to make it personal before I make it about your car. It’s people first—the cars will come. If I can please you as a person, your car will come in to see me.

OUT FRONT: Dan Leuck has a proven approach to customer service that enables him to convert phone calls into jobs in the back of the shop.

The routine doesn’t change if a customer walks through the doors. You come in, I shake your hand; here’s who we are; here’s what we offer; what can I do for you? It’s actually easier in face-to- face situations because I can show you what I have to offer. I can take you on a tour of my shop. I can introduce you to my techs if I need to. You’ve already taken the time out to come and see me. You’re already here, and I’m going to do everything I can to make you leave your car with me here right now.

Posture is very important. I don’t want my arms crossed— that’s defensive. I don’t want my arms on my hips—that’s intimidating. I’m not towering over you, and I’m not sitting down. I’m going to stand up, shake your hand, and have a smile on my face. I’m going to greet you when you come in through the door whether there is a line of customers or not, and say, “I’ll be right with you.” Even if I have to grab someone else to help you, I’m going to acknowledge you’re there.

I welcome the fact that they came to see me: “Thank you so much for coming to see me, for giving me the opportunity

to fix up your vehicle, that means a lot to me and the family that built this store. You’ve come to the right place.”

I also want to sell myself right away: “How did you find out about me? Oh, you found me online? Well, did you see my Google reviews? Because I’ve got a perfect rating.” I’m going to talk about why I’m going to create a great experience for them. I’m going to build rapport immediately.

When selling your services, it’s all about asking quality questions. Say you call my shop because your brakes are making some noise and you want to replace your brake pads. Well, how are you so certain that that’s what you need? I’m going to ask you as many questions as I can. The quality of my questions is going to justify the quality of the answer I get.

So I would respond, “OK, great, we can help you out with that. But are you certain that you need front brake pads?” It’s a simple question. Most folks would say, “OK, you’re looking at $22.45 for some front brake pads. When do you want to come in?” You never give a price over the phone. When someone comes to you and says, “I need this,” you should respond:

  • When did you notice it?
  • How often do you notice it?
  • What does it sound like exactly?
  • What do you think it needs? 

When you ask a question, use a tie-down as well. “The noise that you’re experiencing is this and this, and what we need to do is replace these parts.” That’s a statement. That’s not requiring an answer. And then the customer is drawn to think, “I need that part.” I’ve already made the sale. The money is not relevant anymore.

Some people just want a price and you’re not going to please them. There are a couple of things you cannot overcome when you’re working with a customer, and ignorance is one of them. If you want to be ignorant, well, I can’t work with you. You’re not my type of customer.

I’ve got an arsenal of things to talk to price shoppers about. I’ll present the benefits of our shop—our warranties, our highly skilled techs, our top-of-the-line equipment. I’ll offer courtesy secondary opinions on their vehicle.

If you ask for a price, I’ll respond with, “Well, what am I giving you a price on? Let me have one of my certified techni- cians run a series of test and procedures to pinpoint exactly what’s going on. From there, I can get you an exact estimate on what it’s going to take to get you back on the road. How does that sound?”

Now I’ve got to convince you that I’m worth costing $200 more than the shop down the street. I’m going to tell you why we’re better than all the other shops. What can I offer that other shops can’t? You have to advertise your shop’s unique selling points.

The technicians installing your parts? They’ve got over 100 hours of training between them.

We’ve got scan tools that help diagnose your issues that other shops don’t have.

I’m going to offer you a better warranty than the other shops.

Our shop has been in business for 32 years. It started in my owner’s garage and is now a prominent part of the community. We’re a family-owned business, and we treat our customers like family. An example of me advertising why my shop is better would go like: “So, Joe down the street told you you need these repairs. Do you know why you need them? Do you know why these components are failing? Sixty percent of the people that come into my store are misdiagnosed or under diagnosed. If I were to just put those parts on and you’ve got the same issues, you’re not going to be very happy with me.”

At the end of it all, if I’ve done my job, I’ve convinced you that we can offer our services better than anyone in town, and I’ve won your business. It’s an art form that’s taken me years of practice to perfect. 

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