AKRON (Dec. 22, 2003)—Savvy listening skills are paramount for effective, successful service writers and managers. In particular, good listeners know when it's time to clam up and write an order. Here's an example.
Regular Tire Business readers know that I spent several years selling shop equipment to auto repair facilities of all kinds. I remember all too well the times when it seemed like every sale was a battle royal. Prospect after prospect, it took every referral I could muster. It took all the sales literature and sales aids I had in my bag. It took detailed equipment demonstrations.
Sure, it was especially gratifying when I did close these tough sales. But after a while, a string of tough sales tended to put me on the defensive. In other words, I found myself unconsciously expecting another fight when there was none. The luck of the draw was that the next several sales weren't nearly as difficult as the previous ones for a variety of reasons. The end result was that it took less evidence to convince the next couple of buyers.
The bottom line is that I sometimes caught myself working way too hard and basically over-selling someone because I was still in the “battle royal” mindset from the previous five or six sales. No matter what you're selling—tires, automotive repairs, residential roofing, whatever—many sales prospects become highly suspicious of a salesperson who won't quit selling. “This fellow's selling us way too much, way too hard. He's probably up to something or hiding something,” they think.
For me, concentrating on the basics would always get me back on track. Specifically, use your listening skills and when the prospect shows buying signs, quit selling and start closing. Of course, keeping yourself focused and off the defensive takes concentration and practice. In the case of selling service at a tire dealership or repair shop, it helps immensely when the boss or a competent senior salesperson is available to observe your work. If they're good, they'll detect this defensive, over-selling approach and coach the person out of it. They'll get the worker to relax and refocus on being an effective listener.
The fact that I caught myself over-selling made me very sensitive to the issue later in life. This included cases where I was the seller, the prospect or simply an observer to a sale under way. One situation I observed was both memorable as well as educational. A service shop owner was explaining to a woman that her car needed a new carburetor or carburetor overhaul. The vehicle was failing an emissions test and the gas mileage was also suffering.
The lady's car was in pristine condition. To me, that was a valuable clue about how she looked at her personal “wheels.” At this point, most of the carburetor-equipped cars in that part of the country had rusted away and gone to scrap.
So, this shop owner is explaining, explaining and explaining some more. He's completely on the defensive about doing a repair job on an older vehicle that will eventually cost $400-$450.
Meanwhile, this lady keeps asking: “Give me the bottom line, Joe. What's this going to cost and when will it be ready?” Dear readers, if that isn't a buying sign, then I've never heard one!
Finally, after a whopping 35-minute talkathon intended to convince the lady of the necessity for and then the integrity of the carb overhaul, the shop owner finally quoted an actual price. The woman responded, “Do it.” Then she quickly made tracks out of the shop's office with the gait and set jaw of a person who needed either a stiff drink or a visit to the ladies' room.
I still can't believe the fellow worked her over for 35 minutes with needless, unrequested technical jargon.
Regardless of the fact the car was older, he should have really listened to her and tried to close the sale. A trial close brings out any objections. And hopefully the objections are truthful ones. But never assume that motorists don't want to spend money on an older vehicle. They'll tell you in a hurry when they don't want to invest the money.
Finally, don't over-think or doubt yourself when people readily say yes to your sales pitch. Accept it gracefully and be thankful that in this hyper-competitive world of ours, things occasionally go in your favor. Yes, you can and just did out-maneuver your competition.