Driving Sales Excellence through Qualified CustomersPosted 9/11/2007
By Steven J. Feltovich
What exactly constitutes "qualifying" potential customers, and how should it be applied to a collision repair or automotive service shop? I believe it is a term that is often misused and misunderstood. Too many people immediately determine that "qualifying" customers has to do with whether the customer has the ability to pay for your services. Although that is correct, that does not take into consideration the whole meaning of the term, which has two parts: the customer's ability to pay for the product or service that your shop offers, and your shop's ability to fulfill the needs and expectations of the customer. Qualifying customers up front is vitally important. Customers who do not meet criteria on the front end can result in failure both for the shop and the customer.
The key to qualifying customers effectively lies in asking the right questions. Investing time in the beginning will be well worth it. Ask specific questions of your prospective customers. It is imperative that your shop does not continue further into the process if the answers do not meet the shop's pre-established criteria. Realizing this up front will help save your shop valuable time and money.
If your front-line staff is prepared to "qualify" customers by knowing the right questions, they will be able to quickly differentiate real prospects for your services from suspect ones. Prospects will be easy to establish a business relationship with because they truly have a need for your services. These customers have the authority to make the decision, they have the resources and ability to pay for the product or services, they have a sense of urgency, and they will answer your questions because they are interested in what your company has to offer. Suspects may have a need, but may not have the ability to pay, may not have a deadline, and may not be eager to form a business relationship because they anticipate that it is unlikely they will use your company's services.
According to conventional sales techniques, a potential customer should not be disqualified unless they specifically tell us "No," and even then they may still be a candidate for our products or services. However, when we are looking at "qualifying" customers, it is necessary to find out the answers to our questions, even if they do lead us to know that the customer's decision is "No." Your shop can be more productive in finding the "right" customers by learning sooner rather than later that your chance of closing a sale with a particular customer is highly unlikely. You need to eliminate customers who will not yield any return on your investment of time, money and energy. These type of customers will decide not to use your shop because their insurance company will persuade them to go elsewhere, they do not have the ability to purchase your products or services, or they will ultimately be dissatisfied with the finished product your shop provides them.
Some examples of effective questions that your front-line staff needs to ask to "qualify" customers are as follows:
When you have determined that your customer is a "qualified" prospect, you don't just stop there and hope that they make the decision to select your shop. Customers want to feel that their unique wants and needs are addressed by your shop personnel. Because customers know that many competing shops would like to have their business, personalization is critical to turn prospects into customers as well as retain them as clients and give them better service than the last time. Simply using the customer's name is basic personalization. Customers want to have the same "experience" every time they deal with your shop's staff, regardless of who they are communicating with. Accomplishing this goal requires that service and repair shops have their front-line staff professionally trained through sales workshops. The shop must ensure the development of an internal sales process that becomes a standard for the staff to follow in dealing with customers.
When customers contact you, you gain their appreciation by having the answers they want - and that appreciation can be deepened by supplying additional information and making offers that respond to their needs. Building a better understanding of customer preferences also can aid in up-selling additional repairs and services. The shops that are most successful in terms of customer-closing ratios are those that learn to create solutions for their customers. Instead of waiting for the customers to figure it out on their own, they offer a complete packaged solution for the customer's problems related to the accident. In other words, for your shop to gain this advantage, your entire organization must make it easy for the customer to do business with you.
Another reason that your shop needs to "qualify" prospects is to ensure that your shop will clearly meet their expectations. Your shop's reputation and image are at risk when your products and services do not satisfy the customer's requirements. Prospect qualifying will help you close more sales faster, save time, and save money.
Every time a customer crosses the threshold of your door, contacts you by phone, or sends you an e-mail requesting an estimate, this presents an opportunity to sell. What do you have to sell? Your company must be poised to sell itself. The customer's first impression of your shop must be positive and memorable: your front-line staff and their professionalism must be a benchmark of exemplary customer service - not just industry average or a little bit better.
It's been found that only 3 percent of our office staff in the collision repair industry, for example, has had any formal training in the area of sales or customer service. This provides a whole new window of opportunity for you and your staff to capture more customers in your marketplace with the right training and sales process implementation. Your shop can gain a real competitive advantage by training and enhancing your staff with professional sales training and customer service workshops.
Make sure your company and your staff are positioned to grow a strong and loyal customer base. Taking a deliberate and concentrated approach to achieving customer service excellence throughout your company begins with creating a new level of awareness about the customer's wants, needs and expectations.
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