You have to get "under their hood!"
Many people tell me they know how important it is to listen. But when I talk with them, I find they really want to do all of the talking. I've found very few people who can tolerate the few moments of silence it takes for someone to answer a question. They feel they must fill that silence with words. When they do that, they cut off the possibility of learning valuable information about what's "under the other person's hood."
If you call on agents, dealerships, or commercial account managers, how much time do you spend talking? And how much time do you spend asking questions and listening? A basic rule of sales says that if you listen long enough, a prospective customer will tell you what it will take to sell him or her your product.
What should you be asking?
Look beyond your sale to their sale
During the years that I sold estimating systems to body shop owners, I found the one approach that got me the most sales was finding out how my product could help that owner get something he or she wanted. Not surprisingly, most shop owners wanted more business, so I emphasized the features in the program that would help generate more business.
Recently, I have been calling on insurance agents for a few shops in my area, and I've found the same rule applies: What they want most is more business. So I've had my shop owner client post the insurance agent cards in his shop where people coming through the shop can pick them up. If one of your customers isn't happy with his or her insurance company, why not refer them to a company that refers business to you?
The same approach may work with a dealership. When you get "under their hood," what do you find most dealerships want? Obviously to sell more cars. If you want work from a dealership, how about letting that dealership do a little advertising in your shop? Or when a customer's car is totaled, referring them to the dealer for a new or used replacement vehicle.
The basic key here is looking beyond what you want, to what your prospect wants. If you can help him or her accomplish that, you should have no problem getting what you want.
Multi-layered probing questions
Not every prospective customer has immediate needs that you can help fill. But there are always concerns you can address that will create an emotional bond that is likely to make this prospective customer select you and your shop for this and future repairs. How do you get "under the hood" of a prospect whose concerns aren't immediately obvious? To accomplish that, you'll have to become adept at "probing questions."
The best book on the subject of probing questions I've found is: "Sales Questions That Close the Sale," by Charles D. Brennan, Jr. (1994, AMACOM, NY). Brennan provides the reader with what he calls "multi-layered probing quest ions." Once again, the key is to look beyond Your problem, to solving Their problem.
By now you're probably adept at solving their transportation problem, getting them a rental car, helping to handle their insurance claim or getting them a quality repair even when they have a cheap appraiser. But how do you "look beyond" the obvious?
If you have the time, it can be effective to probe a person's past experiences with accidents and repair shops. You may be unwittingly compared to a bad experience of the past. By finding out what it was, you can often point out how your shop is different and more desirable.
It can also be useful to probe the future. What plans does this person have to keep this vehicle, or to sell it and get a different one. Questions like these can open up opportunities to "get under their hood" and steer their choice in your direction.
Going after commercial business
I recently spoke with a commercial insurance broker who insures many small proprietary fleets. When I asked her what local fleets would be my best targets for collision repair business, she suggested the building and maintenance trades. Plumbers, electricians, roto-rooters, contractors and similar businesses mostly have small trucks that can be accommodated by the average frame machine and spray booth. She suggested these should be my prime targets.
The first obstacle in going after this business is beating out whoever has been doing their work up to the time you begin to go after it. How do you "get under their hood" to find out what makes them tick, and what you can do to motivate them to change?
I generally start by finding out what trade magazines they read. Just as you read the body shop trade papers, plumbers read something like "The Plumbing News." Of course you could simply advertise in one of these publications, but I doubt that would be cost effective. A better use of the publications is to find out what problems are concerning that plumber or electrician today. What are the expansion plans in that industry, and what obstacles are they encountering?
Once you're armed with that information, when you make a sales call on that prospective commercial account, you're in a better position to make small talk they can relate to. Your questions will make sense to them. And if you listen carefully, they may tell you what it will take to sell them on using your shop.
Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," and "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops." His marketing company now provides on-line consulting and integrated marketing solutions for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E- Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.