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Winning the Keys

Estimators must sell first, estimate second in order
to convert the person with a damaged vehicle into a paying customer.


interaction. Most sales happen after the customer has been asked more than one closing question.

Step 1: Qualification
Qualification is the first and most important step in the sales process. It allows you to build a relationship with the customer and conduct a “needs” assessment, and forms the foundation for the ultimate sale. Remember, the customer asked for an estimate, but she  needs to have her damaged vehicle repaired!

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In Bob’s example above, the qualification consisted of asking, “Who are you, which car is yours, who has your insurance?” Then, he left the customer to generate the estimate. No wonder he didn’t get the job; he didn’t address the customer’s real needs! Qualification allows the estimator an opportunity to conduct an analysis to discover the customer’s unique needs.

If the customer’s primary concern is the availability of substitute transportation, why spend time discussing color match? It would be better to arrange a rental car, get the customer’s keys and repair their car.


Collision customers want empathy, trust and direction. They want you to care about them and demonstrate compassion for their situation. They need direction (as collision repair isn’t something they’re familiar or comfortable with) and they want to feel that they can trust you to fulfill your promises. This is best done during the qualification step of the sales process.

There are many ways to qualify a customer, from a simple conversation while walking to the damaged vehicle to completing information on a computer screen. The most common is to use a Customer Information Form (CIF).


Many repairers hand the CIF to the customer and ask them to complete the form. That does not demonstrate empathy! It’s best to complete the information on the form with and for the customer, allowing plenty of opportunity to ask meaningful questions and demonstrate empathy by truly listening to what the customer tells you so you can discover their true needs and respond in a positive manner.

There are plenty of preprinted CIFs available. If you’re using one, take a good look at it. Most ask for too much information, and filling in all of the boxes takes too much time. Consider using a simple form that doesn’t require any information that must be recorded to generate a damage evaluation. You really don’t need VIN number, license and mileage on the CIF as you’ll be getting those items at the vehicle.


Remember: always ask the customer a closing question at the end of the qualification process. It’s great to gain customer commitment before writing the damage evaluation.

Step 2: Presentation

Frequently, collision estimators think of a presentation as presenting the estimate. To effectively win the keys, a presentation should be a statement of why the customer should decide to purchase collision repairs from your shop. This presentation is delivered after the qualification process and prior to actually beginning the damage evaluation.

Some refer to this as a 90-second “elevator” speech.  Pretend you’re on an elevator and have 90 seconds to tell others on the elevator why they should buy from you.


“Mrs. Jones, I’m glad you came by our shop today for an estimate. We’ve built our business by providing the highest quality repairs. We work with all insurance companies, and my personal goal is to exceed your collision repair expectations. We truly care about our customers; that’s why most of them are either repeat customers or direct referrals from previous customers. Mrs. Jones, I look forward to handling this for you.”

Create a couple of different presentations for your business.  Every collision repair shop needs a presentation to use for non-DRP business. If you choose to participate in DRPs, you need a good presentation for those customers as well.


Keep the presentation short! Many 90-second elevator speeches actually run for three minutes! That’s too long.

Step 3: Close
As noted above, ask for the sale at the end of the qualification process…every time! If the customer’s vehicle needs to be dismantled to generate an accurate blueprint, explain the process and ask for permission to dismantle it for a blueprint. “Closing to teardown” is a highly successful closing technique in a collision center.

We’ve discussed closing the sale already. Just remember to ask for the sale before you write the estimate.

Some customers will want an estimate. If they want one, and it makes sense to generate an estimate, go ahead and write one. But it’s best if the customer has at least made some confirmation that your shop will repair the damage prior to writing the estimate.

Step 4: Educate Objections
Sometimes, the customer says “No” when asked for the repair. Think of those objections as steps in the sales process. An objection is usually a request for more information. That’s why we need to learn to educate objection.


Great collision estimators win keys by properly educating objections in a standard process:

  • Listen
  • Restate
  • Educate
  • Confirm
  • Close

When a customer offers an objection, truly listen to what they’re saying. Many of us hear the first few words, then begin to formulate a response. So pause and listen to the customer’s comments. Restate the comments to ensure that you heard their concern properly. Restating the objection also demonstrates respect.

Most objections require additional customer education, such as an explanation of the process for matching color. Others require additional information from the customer for the estimator, such as a more complete explanation of their concerns.


Once the objection has been clarified by additional education, the estimator should confirm that the customer understands the explanation. When the customer confirms their understanding, be sure to ask a closing question.Always try to win the keys after handling any objection!

Step 5: Satisfaction
The final step in the sales process is satisfaction. Once you’ve won the keys, you must fulfill your promises to the customer. The important thing is to keep the customer informed about the repair progress.

When repairs are on schedule, email or text updates are fine. If there are delays or additional damage, make sure to call the customer as soon as the issue is discovered.  


Personally deliver the repaired vehicle to every customer. Point out everything that has been corrected and that the vehicle has been cleaned, and also point out any extra work that was done. Then, confirm the customer’s satisfaction. If they’re not satisfied, correct any issues immediately.

Measure to Manage
Success at winning the keys is measured by tracking close ratio, or “batting average.” Either way, this is a measurement of the number of estimates that are converted to repair orders.

The math is simple:

Number of repair orders written over a time period / number of estimates for the same time period x 100 = close ratio

Example: Bob wrote 60 repair orders and 110 estimates last August. His close ratio is 60 ROs / 110 estimates x 100 = 54.5%.

Close ratio is an important key performance indicator (KPI). In most situations, estimators who are able to increase close ratio by 10 points will see annual sales increases of $250,000!


Track close ratio by estimator and by referral source to increase sales. As a guide, overall close ratios should be 75 percent. DRP close ratio should be 90 percent and non-DRP close ratio should be 60 percent.

WARNING: To obtain an accurate close ratio, count all sales opportunities as estimates. Count the customer who comes in with an estimate. If you have a customer come in and you don’t write an estimate because they’re going to a drive-in estimator, count that as a sales opportunity, too.

If you’re using a computerized management system, make sure all estimates are being imported into the system or your close ratio numbers won’t be correct. I’ve worked with many shop owners who didn’t feel that they had a sales issue because the close ratio as stated by their management system was high. Digging a little deeper showed lots of “pending estimates.” Those estimates hadn’t been imported into the system, so the close ratio was artificially high.
Follow Up Unsold Estimates
All shops should have a standard process to follow up on all unsold estimates. Phone calls and follow-up letters should follow the estimate or sales opportunity immediately, and again after three days. Owners and managers should call unsold estimates one week after the estimate. This process will capture 20 percent of the unsold estimates, converting them into sales. This won’t work if you only do it when you’re slow. It must be done constantly!


In Bob’s case above, he has 45 unsold estimates from the past August. If he consistently utilized a follow-up program for unsold estimates, he would have closed nine additional estimates!

I’ve conducted many sales seminars over the years. In every seminar, we practice qualification, closing sales and educating objection skills. Sadly, that’s usually the end of practice.  

Shops should hold short sales meetings among those who are employed in customer contact roles. Practice qualification processes, presentations, closing techniques and handling different objections. The result will be improved sales efficiency and increased customer satisfaction.


Hank Nunn is a 37-year collision industry veteran. He may be reached at [email protected] or

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