The Value of Qualifying Your Customers


by Rodger Bland

Who is your ideal customer?

Is it anyone with a broken transmission and the ability to pay to have it repaired? Do you target your ideal customer? Do you qualify your customers before or after they arrive at your shop? Do you ever qualify the car instead of the customer?

Truth is, in today’s connected age, your potential customers are targeting you and your shop long before you ever get the chance to qualify them.

From your web site and social media presence, to your involvement in your community and how your shop looks as potential customers drive by, potential customers are qualifying you as someone they would — or wouldn’t — like to do business with. And spending time with the wrong customers can be a costly mistake for both parties.

I was recently talking with a shop owner who told me that, ever since he started charging for diagnosis, his business’s bottom line had increased substantially, with fewer customers. More money and fewer people? Sounds like a pretty good combination, but how do you explain it?

“We found the right fit,” he replied. You see, before instituting his new diagnostic fee schedule, he’d deal with maybe 20 potential customers and sell nine jobs.

Now he deals with maybe 12 potential customers and sells 11 jobs. He was spending too much time diagnosing his competitors’ eventual jobs and not getting paid for it. Now he makes sure that those seeking his services know and understand how he runs his shop.

Understand that qualifying your ideal customer is different than qualifying your ideal car. If you’re like most shop owners, you understand that there are certain cars you will work on and others you’d rather skip. Some target a specific year range; others won’t work on certain nameplates for various reasons. Qualifying cars is as easy as knowing what the customer drives.

Sometimes it isn’t just the nameplate or year, but the condition of the car. Be careful there, though, as one man’s junk is another man’s treasure:

I remember a story that Jeff Johnson of Palouse Country Transmission told during a past Expo panel discussion on qualifying the condition of cars. He recalled a customer who brought in an old ranch truck that needed an overhaul. As Jeff described the truck, it was a pile of rust, with cracked windows and rotting interior. Not much to look at for sure.

But the rancher who wanted that truck repaired used it to get his mail and clear snow from his mile-long driveway in the winter. It’d been his father’s truck and it held great sentimental value. He agreed it wasn’t much to look at, but it was very valuable to him and well worth the cost of repairs.

So qualifying cars and customers is different: For the most part, cars are easy to qualify. Customers, on the other hand, can be a bit trickier, especially if you aren’t sure who your ideal customer really is.

Most shops tend to focus on a broad reach when marketing their services. If you spend time on their web sites you usually find a plethora of generic information on and about their services: domestic and foreign, 4WD, differentials, and maybe even general repair offerings.

You’re likely to find their hours of operation, phone number, directions to the shop, and how to schedule an appointment online. Some will feature an “about us” section and maybe even have photos of their crew.

Other features may include a nationwide warranty, free shuttles, certifications, and maybe even an introduction video from the owner. It’s all great information for potential customers to consider. And, if you did it right, that potential customer might call your shop.

Now what?

We design most of our marketing to get the phone to ring. When the phone rings our objective is to get the car into the shop. So far so good, right?

Well, sort of; most of the qualifying to this point has been solely from the customer’s perspective. He saw your web site or other marketing material (including perhaps driving by your shop many times so he’s already formed an opinion about you), checked some online reviews, made a phone call, liked what he heard, and decided to bring the car in.

Even your referral customers do some prequalifying on your shop. Don’t assume that, just because you’ve been referred, you and that potential new customer are a good fit.

Now it’s your turn: How qualified are the customers who make it to your shop?

Who cares? you might argue. The fact that they’re in your shop is enough. But here’s where that shop owner I mentioned earlier found that, by doing a bit of qualifying before they came in, he was able to increase his overall sales closing ratio.

Fewer people and more sales meant that he and his crew were spending more quality time with qualified prospects. And all he did was detail the diagnostic fees before the prospect made it into his shop.

As simple as that sounds, what he found was that the type of customer who understood the value of a proper diagnosis were much more receptive to a quality repair at a fair price.

The same thing held true for his wholesale business. As he explained it to me, some general repair shops focus on budget-type repairs to a certain clientele. When those shops referred their customers to him, the fit was seldom right and he found himself spending too much time with the wrong type of customers.

So you might consider spending a bit of time in your marketing effort detailing your preferred clientele. Don’t worry about the possibility of excluding potentially good-paying customers: Being up front and honest will always attract the right customers and even some that may just need a little more education.

Of course, as with most business models, this qualification process won’t work for everyone. You have to evaluate your market and decide whether your potential customer base will support this type of process. For some it might be the golden goose; for others it would just lay an egg!

Over the last few months, I’ve been making phone calls to your customers in preparation for a seminar I’ll be conducting at this year’s Powertrain Expo. The purpose of these calls is to determine how your customers made their decisions to come to you in the first place.

What I‘ve found out so far has been pretty eye-opening. Trust me: they all qualify you and your shop and they assume you’ve done the same for them.

Make sure they find the right fit when they get there… for you and them. You’ll both be happier and your business’s bottom line will look much better, too!

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