The Secret Sauce of Sales - Relationship Selling


The weather was perfect for racing. I was looking forward to the sweet smell of unburned racing fuel, overworked tires and door to door short track competition. I checked my phone one last time before heading into the deafening roar of the track. I discovered it quit working and was nothing more than a rectangular hockey puck! I managed to get thru the day, but It was now obvious how dependent I was on my phone. The next day I went to my wireless service provider. I was overdue for a new phone, and this probably meant having to get one. The representative had my old phone working in just a few minutes. He put me in a position to decide what I wanted to do, instead of just selling me a phone. Awesome customer service, I now have a "go to" phone guru that I know is looking out for me.

This is just as important for your customers. No matter what they do, they absolutely depend on their vehicles. Auto repair has traditionally been a transactional business model. This means the transaction is the end of the relationship. This model worked well for many years. The wave of the future is relationship selling. This means the transaction is just the beginning of the relationship. This is a great idea in a business that thrives on regular repeat sales like auto repair.


Relationship selling begins with the service advisor. Advisor being the key word. In order to become your customer’s trusted advisor on all things automotive, you must be trustworthy, competent, and most of all likeable. Empathy is a key component to achieving trusted advisor status.


Initial customer contact is the beginning of building a relationship. Always smile as soon as you see your customer and greet them by name. If you do not know their name, offer your name and ask for theirs. Always ask open ended questions to get the conversation started. It is critical to stay engaged from this point forward. Any interruption in your attention is viewed by your customer poorly. You should have policies in place that state if someone is with a customer, the rest of the team will ensure that they can continue without interruption.


As you begin interacting with your customer, pay attention to their tone. Try to pace their tone so you can relate to them. We have all had experiences where our salesperson was more like a game show host. This kills the relationship because you simply cannot relate to that person. Your customer may be a bit down because their car left them stranded at the worst possible time. If you seem too perky, your customer will think that you really don’t care. This will hurt your credibility, likeability, and creates an emotional distance.


Pay close attention when your customer is speaking. Ask open ended questions and always take notes. These things demonstrate empathy and professionalism. After your customer has finished speaking, take a slight pause, and in your own words relate back what you heard. Always hear your customer out completely. Use good body language and make eye contact. Nod your head to let them know you are engaged in what they are saying. Active listening means letting your customer communicate their entire statement without your interrupting or interjecting. Do not let your mind wander toward what you want to say once the customer stops speaking. Keep your attention on exactly what they are saying. Choose your words carefully. Filler words and phrases like, “you know”, “like”, “um”, or “to be honest with you” are going to diminish trust and credibility. Break the habit of using any words or phrases that create an atmosphere of weakness. Trust is built when your customer knows you are confident and they are in good hands.


Customers want to make informed decisions that are in their own best interest. The essential next step is educating your client. Share information so they can make informed decisions. Education is very important to continuing to build a trusting relationship. Put yourself in your customer’s position. Have you ever had to make a buying decision without understanding the situation fully? It is an out of control feeling. Your job is to share information with them to the point that they understand the situation well and are comfortable making an informative decision. This is the “secret sauce” of relationship selling.


Gather all of the information needed to present your customer the diagnosis for the primary concern, as well as the inspection results. Many shops are reluctant to tell customers everything that is wrong with their vehicle. The fear is that they don’t want to scare them off. This is a big mistake. You owe it to your customers to tell them everything you discover that needs to be done. Remember, this is about trust and that means total honesty. Properly presenting all the information is the right thing to do. Estimate and prioritize everything in a format that puts your customer at ease. The following categories will work well in sharing the information and empowering the customer to do what is in their best interest. Begin the conversation with all the good things you noticed during the inspection, such as; The new tires or what good shape the suspension is in. Maybe it’s had a recent paint job or it has low mileage. Look for the good and compliment them on their vehicle. Next, move into your recommendations;


· Needed repair; These are your primary recommendations based on the customer’s concerns and any glaring safety problems like grinding brakes, bulging hoses, or leaking fluids.

· Reliability; Worn parts that are still serviceable but should be addressed soon.

· Preventative Maintenance; Indicated by fluid condition or mileage. Could be things like a timing belt or transmission service.

· Economy; May be things like a fuel injection service or air intake cleaning. Anything that would restore the vehicle to top operating condition.


Presenting these recommendations in an organized format is extremely important. Bundle the repairs into estimates that include parts, labor, fluids, and taxes, all with one total out the door price. Use simple language when explaining the repair. Do not get too technical when talking about the repair and focus on the benefits. It is very important to make your presentation as clear and straightforward as possible. For example; So Mary, let’s begin with the reason you brought your car to us. The leak is the water pump, and Steve also found the coolant is rusty and the thermostat is stuck closed. The leaking water pump should be replaced and the coolant also needs to be flushed out and replaced to get the cooling system nice and clean. The old coolant is abrasive and acidic and no longer resists boiling and freezing as it should. The thermostat regulates the flow of coolant and with it stuck shut it cannot do so. The water pump, cooling system flush, new thermostat, new coolant, which includes parts, labor, tax, and our 12/12 nationwide warranty is $472.00 for everything out the door. If there is a question, address it. Most likely you will get authorization to do the repair.

Presenting the sale this way demonstrates that you understand their situation and you are looking out for them. This builds trust and the relationship. This will improve your sales closing ratio and add significantly to your bottom line.


When reaching agreement with your customer be sure to under promise and over deliver. Have the car completed before the agreed time and under the agreed price. This is easy to do if you plan it from the beginning. When your customer comes in to pick the vehicle up give them your undivided attention. Greet them with a smile and use their name. Present the invoice and review it; the parts, labor, warranty, and the total price, which should be a little less than what was agreed on. Ask if they have any questions, review any unsold recommendations, and prioritize them for your customer.


Set their next appointment at this time if possible. It could be for a routine oil change or some unsold recommendations. Be sure to get their preferred method for reminder, text message, email, or phone call. Follow up with your customer in three working days about how their vehicle is doing. Thank them for their business and remind them to feel free to call you anytime if they need anything at all.


It’s easy to turn customers into clients and clients into advocates. All that you have to do is look out for their best interest and you will become their trusted advisor for all things automotive.


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