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Thursday, 26 July 2012 20:14

Capturing the Tough Ones

Written by Tom Franklin

I was recently talking with an estimator at a relatively busy shop in my area. I asked what his biggest problem was these days. He said it was the people who came in for an estimate but wouldn’t leave the car. He said no matter how much he promised, he couldn’t close the deal on many of the tough customers. It occurred to me that he might be putting too much faith in the power of words. Some people simply have a distrust of sales pitches, phony promises and fancy words. Maybe they responded to one too many TV commercial promises or a phone solicitor or one of the many over-hyped ads for products that never live up to their promises.

So what do you do when you run into one of these supreme word skeptics? I suddenly remembered a Caribbean black fellow who owned a small shop in an affluent white neighborhood and had an almost perfect record for closing jobs and getting the keys. I asked him how he does it. He told me that because of his color, he had to work harder to win a prospective customer’s trust. He knew they might doubt what he said, so he used several tactics to hold onto a prospective job. He would often bring his top body man out to give a professional opinion on what needed to be done. He might also take a prospect into the shop and show him or her some jobs in progress and a couple of recently competed jobs. If that didn’t close the deal, he had one final strategy. He would have his body man come out and actually buff out a scratch or two or make some minor repair right on the spot. Then he’d have the customer touch a buffed out area to feel how smooth the surface had become. He said when a customer would see how serious he was about going the extra mile, they would almost always let his shop do the job.

It occurred to me that another reason for his show-and-tell success with some of these people is the fact that nationally, about 28 million people have some sort of hearing loss. And there are probably another million or so who have English as a second language. And then there is the possibility that the prospective customer’s mind is distracted. Perhaps he or she is still emotionally tied up in recalling the accident. It’s possible that many estimators mistakenly think that their prospective customers have heard what they were saying. And even if they did hear it, how many might not have understood what they heard? My Caribbean friend’s show and tell – and possibly touch – approach to selling the job could have somehow bypassed these comprehension limitations and reached the prospective customer on a different level.

There are several major ways people receive and process information: the usual auditory method of listening, plus visual-verbal (reading words), visual non-verbal (simply seeing an object), and tactile (also called kinesthetic). Kinesthetic people mostly respond to real-life situations or objects they are able to touch and feel. These people perceive best by experiencing or doing things. It would seem some other industries make use of this information. Miller & Associates (Dallas, Texas) excels as a premier provider of sales, customer service, and support to the foodservice equipment industry. They say they view themselves as the customer’s best conduit for information. They say they take a tactile approach to sales by encouraging touching every channel in which equipment is supplied. Through this kind of education and after-the-sale service they say they thrive with end-users like schools, chains, and institutions.

A visual and tactile approach has also been used to improve driving skills. Usually we steer a car using mainly visual information to perceive the road’s shape and bends. One professional driving school went beyond this usual approach and developed a driving simulator with visual and/or tactile information guides. These were used to virtually present the drivers’ lateral position and to enhance their steering performance. The tactile guide improved driving accuracy more than the visual guide, proving that the tactile information of the virtual position of a car is the more useful for assisting and improving a driver’s performance.

The estimator doesn’t have to get into these technical details on why a prospective customer will respond better to a visual and/or tactile presentation than to a predominantly talking approach. Just knowing it is possible to have this alternative to the usual estimate delivery should improve closing results. And there should be some satisfaction in knowing the prospect won’t be turned off by distrust of what he or she thinks may just be exaggerated sales pitches and phony promises.


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