It’s the call many of you dread: You answer the phone, and the customer has only one question: How much? While it may seem as though the opportunity is lost before it even begins, it doesn’t have to be. Here’s what you need to know in order to handle a request for a quote over the phone.

  1. Get the customer to go online. A good place to start while you’re “looking up the price” is to ask whether the customer is online, according to Ralph Ebersole,’s director of automotive consulting and dealer training. “If shoppers are not, ask them if they can go online and look at the vehicle with you,” he says. “You’ll immediately learn if they came from your site, a third-party site or somewhere else. It also gives you a chance to slow down the call so you can ask other questions.”
  2. Open your inventory. According to research, only a fraction of vehicle shoppers purchase the vehicle they initially view. As you’re talking with the prospect, try to dig down and find out what the customer really wants. “When you boil it all down, there are a few basic factors that drive vehicle purchases,” says Noel Graham, internet director at North Hollywood Toyota in California. “Issues such as safety, performance, styling, gas mileage, etc. become the prime motivation. Your job is to try to figure that out and then open your inventory to match buyers to the car that will suit them best. For example, you can ask whether they need two or four doors. If the customer says ‘four’ because she just had a baby, you can congratulate her, then start talking about safety features of different vehicles because they will likely be a high priority.”
    Ebersole says the questions to ask on the phone are the same ones a good salesperson would ask on the floor. “Ask what the customer is driving now,” he says. “Then ask what he or she likes and doesn’t like about it. Is it a replacement or an addition? The more you know, the better able you’ll be to help customers find what they are looking for instead of just answering a question on price.”
  3. Couch the price in other factors. Even when you do provide the price — which you should do when asked — that number does need not to stand alone. There are other factors you’ll want to bring up that may have an effect on the price’s attractiveness. “More than 85 percent of buyers finance the vehicle to some extent,” Ebersole says. “Especially right now, credit scores and the availability of financing can override a $100 discrepancy between your price and another dealer’s. The value of a trade-in is also difficult to assess over the phone. The only way to know is to set the appointment.”
  4. Compare apples to apples. Having so much information available on the internet is good in some aspects because it makes for a more-informed customer at the start. Yet there can be all kinds of small variances that can have a significant effect on the final price. “Sometimes, when you give the price, the customer will say, ‘But I saw it on your website for this price,’” Graham says. “I take that to be an opportunity. I’ll ask, ‘Can we look at it together?’ I’ve never been stumped yet. There’s always something in the fine print or factors such as choosing the wrong transmission or a manufacturer not selling a particular configuration that allows me to give the customer a better perspective.”
  5. Show customers you care. The importance of caring about the customer can’t be over-estimated, according to Graham. It’s one of the cornerstones of building the customer relationship and surviving any momentary pitfalls. “There’s a big difference between simply saying, ‘You can’t have that’ and ‘You can’t have that and here’s why,’ ” he says. “We get a lot of leads, and it’s easy to look at the customer as just a number on a page. But you have to be more than an auto-dialing robot. Treating each person you call as an individual takes more energy, but it pays much greater dividends.”
  6. Set the appointment. Ebersole says one of the toughest adjustments salespeople moving from the floor to the internet have to make is the extended cycle in online sales. “Your goal isn’t to close on the phone,” he states. “Instead, you want to set the appointment and bring the customer into the store. So when you give a price, you can say ‘That’s the price I can give you on the phone, but the best price is here at the dealership.’ Remind them that no matter what price they’re given by anyone, it’s only valid with a manager’s signature. And you have to walk in the store for that to happen.”
  7. Plan your next steps. Sometimes when you give the price, you’ll be met by a deafening silence. That doesn’t mean the deal is dead. It could mean the customer was hoping for a lower price, has unrealistic expectations or may just be at the start of his or her search. “You can usually tell by the tone of customers’ voices if they’re excited or not,” Graham says. “If you give a price and they try to get off the phone right away, you know something is wrong. Put a note on their file and then try to re-engage with them another day. When they’ve had a chance to process things, you can find out where you missed the boat. If the expectations are out of line, you can dig a little more and suggest some alternatives that might work better.”

If you’re not used to it, quoting price on the phone can seem like a huge risk. But it doesn’t have to be. If you use the tips provided here – and the price you quote is in line with what internet shoppers can find on their own – you can make the customer’s request the beginning of a conversation instead of the end of the discussion.