Thursday, 30 September 2004 17:00

Boost your business by developing Olympic-class salespeople

Written by Tom Franklin

During the many years I have consulted with body shops, I've noticed one major difference between the most successful and those that are just getting by. The best shops always have at least one outstanding estimator that I would rate as an "Olympic-class" salesperson. 

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With the summer Olympics just held in Athens, Greece, magazines and newspapers are full of articles on how Olympic stars train and work on getting the proper mind set to win. I couldn't help noticing how many of the techniques they use also apply to the best salespeople. The estimators I see that are really turning out the numbers use Olympic-style methods to keep themselves in shape to make their most powerful presentations.
Overcoming doubt

Today sports psychologists are an integral part of Olympic training. A Los Angeles Times article quoted James P. Reardon, the sports psychologist previously assigned to the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Team. He noted that the content of the athlete's thoughts can make or break a performance. He says: "We all have conversation dialogues with ourselves about what we are doing and what we are about to do. The content of that dialogue is so important to performance." Mental training is added to the physical training to eliminate doubt and any preoccupation with what might go wrong.

When I talk to shop owners, managers and estimators about improving sales skills to sign-up more drive-in business, many almost laugh at me. They say the days of building business by attracting drive-in customers are gone. They tell me today business must come from insurance companies, agents, dealerships, fleet management companies and other referral sources. Without these, they say, marketing and sales efforts are futile.

Is this true? Is there no reason to strive for excellence in the selling of collision repair services? Apparently not every shop owner shares an attitude of futility. I know of several multi-shop companies that regularly train their estimators in sales skills, and base a portion of their pay or bonuses on how well they convert estimates to jobs. Their sales statistics show a healthy stream of revenue from jobs obtained from drive-in customers and customers who have come in as a result of advertising or word-of-mouth.

If large shops, with revenues over $3 million, are building business through the use of effective estimator-salespeople, why shouldn't it be possible for any shop to increase business by developing their estimators into "Olympic-class" salespeople?

Getting Olympic-class performance

Take a look at your business-writing performers and see if some Olympic training techniques could vault their sales into a silver or gold medal category. What are the skills they need to develop to deliver top sales performances?

• Prospect observation and evaluation skills

• Questioning and probing skills

• Listening and comprehension skills

• Rapport-building skills

• Estimate presentation skills

• Conversation control skills

• Physical control skills, such as body language

• Negotiating skills

• Closing skills

Now let's see how some trainers get Olympic-class performances from contenders and imagine how these might apply to body shop estimators.

Setting Olympic-class goals

Your first task is to get your estimators to set "Olympic-class" sales goals. During the cold war, it was reported that the Russians had runners carry sandbags so when they ran without the added weight, they would easily outstrip lesser trained competitors. The best sales training puts estimators under more stress than they would generally encounter in a real estimating/sales situation. Then the real thing seems like a cinch by comparison.

Another quality sought by Olympics trainers is a 100% focus on performing so that no external elements distract the contender. Sports psychologist Reardon said in the L. A. Times interview: "The ideal performance is what I call "no think" - a state of mind in which you are so immersed in what you are doing that you aren't thinking about much of anything." He points out that what he calls "no-think" is a rare phenomenon except among the most elite athletes.

He added: "This goes against a lot of our training which teaches us to be more conscious about what we are doing rather than less conscious. . . When I talk with a lot of track and field athletes who have set world records, what I hear over and over is 'Gee, I really don't remember it that well. Everything just sort of fell into place.' They are so immersed that they transcend self-consciousness and self-observation."

Professional sales-trainers emphasize the importance of setting goals. They know that the performer who sets high goals always achieves more. But Reardon says of Olympic athletes, "The temptation is to be focused on the outcome and not focused enough on the process. The outcome focus creates anxiety which impairs performance."

Apparently the trick is, once the goal has been set, to no longer focus on the sales quota or the incentive bonuses, but rather to concentrate 100% on the customer and the sales process itself. Can this be taught? Can an estimator achieve this Olympic-class concentration in a sales setting?


Control is the "key"

As we watch the Olympics, we marvel at the incredible control demonstrated by the Gold medal winners. Apparently the key to winning is to stay completely in control of the process, but how does this translate into the selling situation? The Olympic trainers and psychologists tell us that mental and emotional control are just as important as physical control.

To better understand how to develop this Olympic-class level of control, let's look at what I see as a combination of three aspects of control.

1. Begin: To direct a prospective buyer's attention to his or her immediate needs, and to direct the sales conversation in a direction that will result in getting the car repaired in the estimator's facility.

2. Proceed: To regulate the elements of the estimating process, from inspecting the car, to writing and presenting the estimate, to discussing the cost and how the repairs will be paid for.

3. Conclude: To bring to a successful close the entire sales process that results in getting the keys to the vehicle and the desired signature to approve repairing it.

The consummate Olympic-class estimator executes these phases of control as smoothly as an American gymnast walking away with the Gold Medal!

Olympic-class physical control

Olympics star performers know that they must micro-control their bodies. Winning or losing can be determined by a fraction of a second, or a fraction of an inch. James Loehr is a sports psychologist with LGE Sports Science, Inc., in Orlando, Florida. Loehr's "mentally tough" training program helped speed-skater Dan Jansen finally attain the Gold Medal in 1994. Loehr was also interviewed for an L.A. Times article, in which Loehr tells us: "It's a special situation at the Olympics because they can train for eight years and the difference between achieving their dream or not achieving it comes down to fractions of seconds in some cases."

Salespeople who are star-performers are also able to micro-manage their bodies and faces. They know that their facial expression must tell the same story their words are telling. They use carefully planned facial expressions, body movements, standing, sitting, gesture matching and sometimes occasional physical contact to shape the emotions of the buyer. From the moment a prospective customer meets a top estimator/salesperson he or she senses the confidence of firm control.

Watching close-ups of top Olympic gymnasts, you can see the firmness of their grip on a bar. The firm grip is a major element of control. Consider some of the definitions of grip: "1. To grasp and keep a firm hold on. A firm hold or grasp. 2. Power and strength in holding firmly." These obviously apply to the physical performance, but consider two other definitions of grip: "Understanding, mastery" and "To attract and keep the attention or interest of," as in "keeping a reader glued to a gripping story." The proficient estimator keeps a firm grip in every sense of the word.

Olympic-class mental control

In 1928, Olympic runner Betty Robinson, age 16, was so nervous before the competition, she brought two left shoes to the field. She quickly retrieved her right shoe and narrowly won the 100-meter sprint, becoming the first female track winner in the games.

Sports psychologist Loehr says of the Olympic performers: "It's easy to let nerves short-circuit everything. But when they do well, it's an enormous testament to their mental and emotional powers." Your major task is overcoming negativity, doubt and nervousness in your own sales superstars.

Many estimators have a tendency to pre-judge drive-in prospects. If the car is a bit old or the driver seems evasive, they may jump to the conclusion the prospect is just shopping estimates, not really planning to get the car repaired at all - that he is probably not worth wasting much time on

Like Olympic superstars, the super- salesperson needs to clear his or her mind of these pre-conceptions and to approach every selling event with an expectation of winning.

Track and Field Team psychologist Reardon trains athletes to visualize their performances and practice relaxation exercises to control tension, conserve energy and filter distractions in the days before the event. Both Reardon and Loehr agree that the content of the athlete's thoughts can make or break the performance.

The best salespeople rehearse their sales presentations in their minds over and over, so that when they are actually dealing with a prospective customer, their performance is as smooth as that of any top Olympic performer.

In part two, we will continue to discuss ways to develop an Olympic-class sales team.

Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: tbfranklin@aol.com.


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