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Selling the Estimate

Turn those “waste of my time, just part of the job” drive-in estimates into sales by following a few simple steps.

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Taking advantage of all the business opportunities
that come your way can sometimes be the difference between a profit
or a loss for your shop. Take drive-in estimates for example.
From time to time, your estimators are asked to write these kinds
of estimates. How do you look at drive-in estimates? Are they
a waste of time, just part of what you do, or are they opportunities
for increased sales?

Drive-in estimates should be seen as the kind
of sales opportunities that can make the difference between maintaining
the status quo and seeing increased growth.

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You’re probably thinking, "Easy for him
to say." And you’re right, it is. The key is to develop a
sales procedure and then use that procedure to close the sale
on these kind of estimates.

Step 1

For your estimators to properly sell the estimates
they write, they need to follow a procedure that allows them to
build a relationship with each customer based on communication,
education and trust – a relationship that always ends with a sold
job.

The first step in this selling procedure involves
a prompt and proper greeting that lets the customer know you’re
glad he’s at your shop. An example of this would be, "Good
morning/afternoon. Welcome to XYZ Collision Repair Center."
Ignoring a customer when he arrives at the shop usually makes
a bad first impression. If you’re busy with another customer or
on the phone when the customer walks in, at least look up and
acknowledge him. As soon as you can, greet the customer with the
proper greeting.

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During this initial customer meeting, make
sure your estimator gets the customer’s name and the customer
gets your estimator’s name. How many times have you been in an
awkward position because you couldn’t remember a customer’s name?
How many customers do you think have forgotten the name of the
person helping them in your shop? If you repeat the customer’s
name during your conversation with him and use your name at the
appropriate times during the transaction, you should be able to
avoid awkward situations.

Step 2

After the estimator has met the customer and
introduced himself, it’s time to write the estimate. Invite the
customer to look at his vehicle with you. Having the customer
accompany your estimator as he starts the estimate will allow
him to show the customer any additional damage. During this time,
he can also explain what he’s looking for as far as damage, explain
any repair techniques to be used that are unique to the customer’s
vehicle, any special equipment the shop owns – such as structural
repair racks or unibody measuring equipment – as well as the training
level of the technicians.

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To determine whether the customer understands
the explanation of the repair process, ask him questions. Structure
them so they must be answered with a yes or no – preferably yes
– answer. For example, "Isn’t it great that all our technicians
are certified to perform the repairs your vehicle needs?"

Step 3

After the estimate notes are completed, lead
the customer back to the office where he can see the estimate
as it’s written. Allow him to watch and ask questions as the final
estimate is prepared. This interaction with the customer as the
estimate is written allows your estimator to continue building
the relationship that’s essential to closing the sale.

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While the customer is sitting there, the estimator
has yet another opportunity to explain the straightening and measuring
equipment used in the shop. He can also explain the workmanship
warranty, the paint warranty and the relationship the shop may
have with the customer’s insurance company.

Your estimator should also ask the customer
more questions that will help determine whether or not he understands
what’s been explained. And don’t forget to structure the questions
to receive a yes answer. For example, "We have computerized
paint-mixing equipment here that will help us match your vehicle’s
paint perfectly. Isn’t it nice to know we can match the color
of your vehicle’s finish exactly?"

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Step 4

After the estimate is completed, it’s time
to hand it to the customer and ask for the sale. The transaction
with the customer to this point has been trust building, educational
and informative. Your estimator has laid the groundwork for selling
the estimate and the shop to a customer who’s now well-informed
and able to make the best buying decision.

Remember, making the sale is done by asking
a question that will have to be answered "yes" or "no."
Throughout the transaction, your estimator has been working with
the customer to elicit yes answers to all of his questions. If
he’s earned the customer’s trust, this will continue through the
closing question. Examples of good closing questions include:

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"Based on what we’ve talked about when
we looked at your vehicle, would you like to set up an appointment
to do the needed repairs this week?"

  • "We have availability for most of the parts it’ll take
    to repair your vehicle. Can we start on it today?"

  • "Do you have rental coverage as part of your policy?
    Would you like for me to arrange your rental car now?"

  • "Based on our current work load, I can begin work on
    your vehicle Thursday. Is that OK?"

  • "We have a limited lifetime warranty on all of our workmanship,
    would you like to take advantage of this warranty?"

  • "Would you like for me to save you the trip of going
    to the claims center by calling them for you right now?"
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  • "Knowing what you now know about our shop, will you trust
    us to properly repair your vehicle?"

    Making the Sale

    The job of your estimator is to earn the customer’s trust. Once
    trust has been earned, he can educate potential customers so they
    feel comfortable with you and your repair shop. Following the
    above suggestions and asking the customer questions that will
    elicit yes responses as often as possible will make it easier
    to close the sale on drive-in estimates.

    But, as with any new skill, learning takes practice. To see how
    your estimators are doing, track your closing ratio. Keep a list
    of all the drive-in estimates your staff writes. (Estimates written
    for any direct repair programs shouldn’t be listed.) Any drive-in
    estimates sold need to be tracked on a separate list. The closing
    ratio will be a comparison of the total drive-in estimates written
    and the total drive-in estimates sold.

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    With regular practice and careful monitoring, proper closing techniques
    can be mastered by any estimating staff – including yours. Once
    they’ve mastered the right skills, you can bank on increased sales
    and increased profits.

    Writer Mike Jones is an independent body shop consultant who
    also creates video training tapes. He can be reached at (800)
    652-1553.

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