The Key to Long Term Service Department Profits: Consultative Selling

There are many approaches to selling but none more effective than consultative sales. At its heart, it simply means putting the customer first, ensuring customers’ concerns are heard. In dealership repair services, this also means making certain customers understand you’re doing everything you can to help find them productive solutions by offering the right experience. In other words, being a true advisor by anticipating your customers’ problems and needs.

The Basic Principles of Consultative Selling:

  • Focus on the customer’s needs. You know where your focus should be. But it bears repeating. It can be tempting to sell services beyond what the customer needs in order to hit sales goals, but it’s likely to cost you much more in the long run than you gain short term. You can kill future sales and could be viewed as a high-pressure salesperson, which reflects on you personally and your dealership.
  • You do, however, have to be proactive. Customers often don’t know what they need, so, for example, if you discover they something [a part or system] is about to fail, you need to advise them of it. It might be something that won’t fail immediately but the decision of whether or not to repair belongs to the customer. If you don’t advise and it fails shortly after they leave your shop, your dealership seems inept.
  • Use language that focuses on the customer. How we talk makes a difference in how we’re perceived, so use “you” or “yours” as often as you can in explaining a repair. Every buying decision contains elements of emotion. And if a customer is uncomfortable or stressed, take that into consideration. It’s a good way to forge a trusting relationship.
  • Emphasize why the customer needs the service, not on objections – that is, stress the positive as opposed to the negative. Helping the customer understand the problem and why it requires a particular service will make you a trusted advisor and minimize resistance to your future advice.
  • Learn about the customer before the service appointment. If you understand their needs, it will help you deliver better service – and it demonstrates that you’ve done your homework. These are the kinds of things that keeps them coming back.
  • Don’t rush through an explanation of the service or press for a quick decision. This is hugely important in terms of giving the customer a good impression of the service team and the dealership.

A Few Fundamental Habits To Ensure Your Service Is Consultative:

  • Be sincere. You have to care about people to be a good service person. You can’t fake it. If you don’t’ care, you’re in the wrong career.
  • Be honest. Honesty is key to building trust. If you aren’t honest, it’s usually an irrecoverable mistake. A quick story: Almost 35 years ago, I took my car to a dealer in Indianapolis for an oil change and I told them I also needed brakes. They checked the car and told me I didn’t need brakes. I appreciated the honesty they provided, even though it meant less sales for them in the short run. A few weeks ago a friend called me saying he had picked up a nail in a tire and a national tire outlet told him he needed four new tires. I referred him to that dealer who not only told him he didn’t need new tires, but fixed the puncture without charge. Of course, he’ll be using that dealer for all his servicing now, just as I and my family have for the last 35 years.
  • Pay attention. Listen to your customers. You won’t become a trusted advisor if you don’t.
  • Be interested. Ask the right questions at the right time to demonstrate you recognize the customer’s concerns and are experienced and qualified.
  • Do a recap. When you repeat the problem as expressed by your customer, you prove you were listening. And if the customer then has additional concerns, they’ll come out as you reiterate what you've been told.
  • Don’t assume. Treat every complaint as if it’s the first time you’ve heard it. If you jump ahead with early assumptions, you shortcut the process of showing you are an active listener and interested in learning the customer’s concerns.
  • Take ownership. Make it absolutely clear to the customer that you are the single best source of information throughout the repair process. Ownership is control. From the time of approval for the repair, you should control where things go and how they are communicated.
  • Keep a friendly ear. Customers want empathy and to know that you’re concerned for them. You are the professional, so know what and how it needs to be communicated.

A very old study showed that happy clients share their outcomes with about 17 other people, but will tell more than 70 people about a bad experience. And that study was conducted before there was an internet! Consultative selling involves a variety of techniques and activities, but they all come down to caring about the customer, putting the customer’s needs first. If you do that, your customer will have a good experience and you will build your reputation as a trusted advisor.

For more information on consultative repair sales or other dealership-related inquiries, contact Rex Collins at RCollins@hbkcpa.com or 317.504.7900.

About the Author(s)
Rex is a Principal of HBK CPAs & Consultants and directs the firm’s Dealership Group. He has worked extensively in the dealership industry since 1984 as a department manager, a general manager and an owner, as well as providing tax, accounting and operational consulting services exclusively to dealers as an independent CPA. This experience includes working closely with hundreds of dealers from coast-to-coast since 1987 on creative tax planning and financial statements issues. He provides clients with a wide range of transaction work services, and consults for them in specialty areas such as operations, government regulatory compliance, valuations and M&A feasibility studies. Rex is active in many professional associations. He is the current Chairman of the BDO Dealership Industry Group, contributes articles and commentary to dealership industry publications, is frequently called upon to speak to industry associations and conferences, provides expert testimony, and is regularly quoted by industry and the general media.
Hill, Barth & King LLC has prepared this material for informational purposes only. Any tax advice contained in this communication (including any attachments) is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, for the purpose of (i) avoiding penalties under the Internal Revenue Code or under any state or local tax law or (ii) promoting, marketing or recommending to another party any transaction or matter addressed herein. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions regarding the matter.

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