Auto Shop Coaching Blog

How to Sell to a Dishonest Customer

“People don’t have money problems; they have priority problems.”Larry Winget

“Michelle” drives a Mercedes E350 and is on her way to the mall. She will spend over one thousand dollars on Christmas presents for her family. Later in the evening, she will meet with her husband Bob who is a partner at his law firm.

They will go to Ruth’s Chris Steak House and partake in an upscale dining experience. I didn’t have to introduce you to Michelle because you’ve already met her. And when you met, she lied to you.

Michelle was just at your shop driving the Honda Accord with 110,000 miles on it. (Didn’t you notice the Mercedes key on her keyring?) She’s the one who came in for an oil service and you presented her with a $500 estimate to address her original request, safety and maintenance items.

She’s the one who called back to let you know that she didn’t have the money to have the work done. What you didn’t know, is that she’s the one who spent over a thousand dollars at the mall and then Ruth’s Chris after telling you she couldn’t afford to get the work done.

Why would she lie to you? If she had the money to spend at the mall and the restaurant, she certainly had the money to fix her car.

Before you throw Michelle “under the bus,” consider this: Money is usually a question of priority and not availability. Michelle had the money available. She didn’t feel that spending it with you was a priority.

Have you ever stepped in and sold an estimate to a customer after they rejected the very same estimate that was presented by your service writer?

Did that customer suddenly remember that they had the winning lottery ticket? NO. The reason you succeeded where your writer failed was that you helped the customer to understand what was in it for them to invest in their car.

Every shop in America has a customer like Michelle, who has the money but is waiting to feel the value. So how do you sell to a “dishonest customer?” Stay with me to learn the truth.

Align Your Expectations

Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard University professor, conducted an interesting experiment at a San Francisco elementary school. He told the teachers that a specific sampling of students tested as gifted and talented based on a test that he administered.

He stated that these kids were about to experience dramatic growth in their IQ scores. He then tracked the students over the next two years.

As predicted, the students he singled out experienced the biggest gains in their intelligence scores when compared to their peers. Here’s what’s interesting: Rosenthal lied to the teachers. 

The “gifted and talented” students were actually names that were randomly picked out of a hat! Rosenthal concluded that the teacher’s expectations affected how they interacted with the students which led to their improved scores.

The teachers gave the students whom they expected to succeed more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval, than the rest of the class.

Do you treat the customers you expect to buy different from the ones you don’t?

It’s possible that your customer says she doesn’t have the money, because you don’t expect her to have the money. Your expectations of her ability to pay will show up in how you present the estimate.

For example, I’ve overheard service writers ask, “You don’t want that Road Hazard protection on your tires, do you?” The reason she didn’t buy, was because you treated her like you didn’t expect her to buy. Therefore, you must align your expectations with your goals.    

Account for Your Blind Spots

There is a famous story told of two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the opposite way, who nods at them and says, “Morning boys how’s the water?”

The two young fish swim on for a bit without responding until one looks over at the other and asks, “what the heck is water?”

Sometimes it takes another set of eyes to keep you from overlooking the obvious. There may be an obvious aspect of your sales presentation that’s causing a dishonest response from your customer.

It could be something as simple as using filler words like “uhmm” and “you know” that’s creating doubt in your customer’s mind.  You may be blind to it, but it would be obvious to your ATI classmates, or ATI Coach.

When it comes to accounting for your blind spots, feedback is your friend. The late great Peter Drucker described feedback as “The breakfast of champions.”

Whenever I tell a service manager that their sales presentation will be video recorded during the ATI advanced sales class, I notice that their smile instantly changes to a frown!

It only gets worse when I tell them that the other class participants will give them specific feedback on how they’re selling. This is a golden opportunity for you to become aware of your blind spots.

The best way to account for your blind spots is to assume that every time the customer says no, it’s your fault. By embracing this level of ownership, you will become open to receiving feedback that will help you to improve.

For more information on how to overcome your blind spots, click here to watch an instructional video.


So, there you have it. If you align your expectations and account for your blind spots, you will be more likely to receive an honest response from your customer. If you consistently practice these strategies, you may have enough money to buy a Mercedes and eat at Ruth’s Chris!

P.S. Email to receive a listing of the Five Selling Blind Spots that encourage a dishonest response.

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Eric, the Accountability Coach, is an Executive Coach at ATI and has coached since 2009. Eric came to ATI having managed over 60 different automotive repair facilities and having supervised over 500 employees at a given time. He loves seeing members progress beyond what they thought was possible and improve their shop to the point where they can leave for weeks at a time and come back to a business that's better than when they left.