Auto Shop Coaching Blog

The Secret to Successful Selling at Your Shop

"We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less."Diogenes

My interviewer threw me a curve-ball! I had just graduated from college and was interviewing with a sales manager named “James,” for an outside sales position with a major copy machine company.

“Sell me this pen!” James demanded, as he slammed the pen on his desk in front of us and awaited my response.

I responded by creating an imaginary list of all the features the pen had to offer, to include special ink that lasted a lifetime! “This will be the last pen you ever buy in your life!” I confidently exclaimed.

I felt good about my selling performance as the interview concluded. I was sure that I aced “the pen test” and was looking forward to getting a callback. As I sat by the phone waiting for it to ring, the only sound I heard was the sound of the crickets outside of my window!

Where did I go wrong? All of my sales training up to that point had stressed the importance of clearly communicating the features and benefits of the product.

Several months later, after reading Jeffrey Gitomer’s book, The Sales Bible, I realized where I went wrong. Gitomer wrote the following statement that forever changed how I viewed the sales process:

“Listening is the first commandment of selling.” And then it hit me. I had nothing to listen to because I never asked James any questions related to his need for a pen!

Was he in the market for a pen? What did he like about the one he currently uses? How specifically did he plan to use the pen? I was so focused on talking that I forgot about listening.

Have you ever been so focused on talking that you forgot to listen? Well, you aren’t alone. Consider the following research findings of Dr. Ralph Nichols, a pioneer in the field of listening:

“While participating in a conversation, the average person forgets 50% of what the other person is saying immediately after they finish speaking.”

In most conversations, when one person is talking, the other is mentally rehearsing his response, while he waits for his turn to talk.

Think about your own life for a moment. How many people can you name that actively listen without interrupting, and give you their undivided attention while you are speaking? For most people, it’s a short list.

Since the failure to listen is such a prevalent problem, becoming a masterful listener can give you a competitive edge. This makes listening the secret to successful selling at your shop. Stay with me to learn two specific ways that you can benefit from becoming a better listener.

Listening Builds Trust

Imagine taking your car to a shop and you tell the writer that you have a 2010 Ford Fusion. As he is writing you up he asks you, “What kind of car was that?” Later in the transaction, you instruct your advisor to replace the two rear tires, only to find that he has the two front tires circled on the work order!

You ask him to call you on your cell phone number with updates and realize later that you have three messages on your home answering machine letting you know that the job won’t be done today as promised! Based on this interaction, how much trust would you have in this shop?

Sadly, this scenario occurs every day in shops across America. How can the customer trust you to be “her mechanic,” when she can’t trust you to remember what she told you about her vehicle? To build higher levels of trust I recommend that you embrace the habits of notetaking and restating.

When the customer is calling, you can use your phone log to write down the necessary details of the conversation. When she is at your location, use a note pad to write down what she’s saying.

After she has told you about a specific problem, review your notes and restate the problem back to her to confirm that you were listening. Embracing these habits can make you her shop of choice because you will have established the right level of trust.

Listening Builds Connection

The story is told of a young woman in England who had the opportunity to dine with two political rivals who were running for the office of Prime Minister: William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli.

She was later asked to compare her encounters with both gentlemen. What she reported confirms the value of being a great listener.

“When I left the dining room after sitting next to Mr. Gladstone, I felt like he was the most interesting man in the world. After sitting next to Mr. Disraeli, I felt like I was the most interesting woman in the world!”

Disraeli won the election by a landslide, because of his ability to listen and connect. He allowed her to talk about her favorite subject.

Your customers and the young lady have the same favorite subject: themselves! This is why going out to the vehicle with the customer is such a critical step. You get the opportunity to listen as she talks about herself.

Asking the right questions is the starting point of the listening process.

For example, after asking her how long she plans to keep the car, you get to listen as she tells you about how well she maintains it. After asking about the toddler car seat in the back, you get to listen as she tells you about how well her little son is doing in soccer.

When she feels like she is the most interesting customer in the world, she will vote for you as her shop of choice!  Your ability to listen will build that connection.


So, there you have it. The opportunity to build trust and connection makes listening the secret to successful selling at your shop.

I have mixed emotions about failing the pen test. On the one hand, I wish I would have asked the right questions to start the listening process. However, if I had gotten the copier sales job, I may have never started my career in automotive and I wouldn’t be in a position to listen to the recordings of you applying the secret to successful selling!

Email to receive the 7 Secrets To Becoming a Masterful Listener!

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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.