Selling the Benefits of Repairs

March 1, 2015
People spend money on what makes them happy, which means we need to reach them at an emotional level

Many years ago, I learned a valuable lesson in human behavior that is worth sharing with you. Louie, a regular customer, dropped off his car for an oil change service and a New York State inspection. He said he would be next door in the sporting goods store to check out the new shotguns that had just arrived. This was fall, shortly before deer season. 

The car was in good shape, except for the tires. Although the tires passed the state inspection, they were pretty worn, and with winter around the corner, I felt a new set of tires would be in Louie’s best interest.

Being that the sporting goods store was right next to my shop, I decided to walk over to the store to find him. He was standing at the gun counter holding a brand new Winchester shotgun. He had a grin on his face from ear to ear that quickly disappeared when I suggested he put a set of tires on his car. I explained to him that although the tires passed inspection, he should replace them. He looked at me, stared back at the shotgun, and then looked back at me. What happened next is something I will never forget. 

He told me, “My wife only uses the car to shuttle the kids from here to there and run errands around town, so let’s wait on those tires for now.” I said in a concerned voice, “Are you sure, Louie?” He replied, “I just spent $400 on a new shotgun. I’ll be back for the tires.”

Be back for the tires? Was the shotgun more important than the safety of his family? At first, I chalked it up to another customer who did not have his priorities in order. But then I began to think about it. What makes a customer choose between a shotgun and a set of tires? The answer is not so much a matter of choice or priorities, but more about what makes someone feel good. 

Let’s face it, people like spending money on things that make them feel good. And for Louie, the money was spent on that shotgun even before he left the house that day. Think about it: If you were looking to buy a plasma TV and did all the research and decided today is the day you’re going to purchase it, the money is already spent in your mind. The only thing left is the money leaving your wallet once you’re in the store. 

I learned a valuable lesson from Louie that day. I learned that most people do not budget for car repairs. They will, however, budget for something they want, something that brings them a little joy. There’s no fun in setting aside money for car repairs. On the other hand, setting aside part of your paycheck for a brand new shotgun just before deer season—now that’s another story.  

How do you compete with this mentality? You need to reach your customers on an emotional level. You need to be better at sales, which means understanding how the human mind works. Looking back, I should have shown Louie the tires and pointed out that the winter and snow was just around the corner. Let him know that the well-being of his family was at stake and make him understand that peace of mind knowing his family will be safe is really all that matters. I should have also given him options and kept him in control of the situation. Can I say with certainty this would have worked? No, but I can tell you that moving forward from that day, it has worked and increased sales for me. 

I tried to sell Louie a set of tires, not the benefits of replacing the tires. The only thing on his mind at the time was the shotgun and the 400 bucks, which was already spent.  People don’t want to buy parts or labor. That doesn’t make them happy. You need to sell value and benefits and make the customer realize why the service or repair you are suggesting is in their best interest. When the benefits outweigh the price, a sale is made. 

And there’s one more lesson I learned that day: Have the customer wait in my waiting area, before they walk over to the sporting goods store. 

Joe Marconi has more than three decades of experience in the automotive repair industry. He is the owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., a business development coach for Elite Worldwide and co-founder of Reach him at [email protected].

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