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Article > Mitch’s World

These are Legitimate Questions


11/17/2008

Questions lead to more questions when defining the role of outside sales reps.
 
I have a question for you. It isn’t a “trick” question and this isn’t a setup. It is a legitimate question that I feel compelled to ask because I really don’t have the answer.

I feel somewhat awkward and even a little foolish asking because it is something I think I should know;
especially after a lifetime of interacting with jobbers, warehouses and manufacturers. But, I don’t and feeling awkward and even a little foolish doesn’t accomplish very much. It certainly doesn’t get me any closer to what I feel I need to know. All it does is leave me feeling, well, awkward and foolish!

On the surface, the whole thing seems somewhat obvious because the answer is just about embedded in the question. But, based upon my own experience I’m not so sure that is the case. I am, however, relatively certain it is a question that I need to have answered, if not just for me, than for just about every other shop owner in the industry.

The question seems simple enough: What role is an outside sales representative supposed to play? Put another way: How is the job description that best fits that position written? What are the responsibilities inherent in that job? What specific tasks is the individual who accepts those responsibilities charged with?

I’m not being funny and this is certainly not an attempt at sarcasm. It isn’t a “slam” against the outside sales representatives who call on me or on my shop either. Three individuals come to mind immediately and they are terrific! But, I’m not sure if being “great” or “terrific” is even mentioned anywhere in their job descriptions. Nor, am I sure they clearly know or understand what it is expected of them anymore — by me or people like me or by their supervisors. I am sure that with everything else that has changed in our industry over the past 25 or 30 years, there is very likely a disconnect between what is needed by the repair community and what too many warehouses, jobbers and manufacturers have made available.

One of the reasons I’m having so much difficulty with this is the traveling I’ve done and the experience I’ve had with warehouse and jobber operations all across the country. I have witnessed firsthand the incredible range of involvement that exists when it comes to outside sales professionals. Some act as if they understand their role as an informational lifeline: a conduit for the training and information necessary to keep their customers strong, and react accordingly. Others act as if the only thing that matters is the personal relationship they have built with a client – and, I am not going to be the one to suggest that personal relationships have become irrelevant. They haven’t, at least, not yet! A select few choose to become more than either, electing to partner with their shop owners instead – managing inventory, training, marketing and even sales.

It isn’t any wonder that with variations like this existing all across the industry, the ideal response is somewhat unclear. To add to the confusion, not all shop owners want or need the same level of involvement from you or your companies that others might demand. So, what do you do? What are you supposed to do?

Frankly, I’m not sure I can help you. After all, I’m the one with the questions. But, I’ll bet there is an answer and I’ll bet that answer begins with a definition – a job description of what the ideal outside automotive aftermarket sales professional could be or should be. And, I’ll bet the companies that begin the difficult and uncomfortable work of writing that job description achieve exponentially greater success than those who don’t. Successful companies have looked into the very heart of this relationship and recognized what each side wants, needs and expects from the other and then made the attempt to deliver it.

So, if you’re an outside sales professional in this industry, help me out here. How would you describe what it is you do? What are your job responsibilities? What should they be? What are you doing and why? Is it working? Working for you and for your clients?

If it isn’t, why isn’t it? What could you or should you be doing to be more effective? 
  
And, perhaps, the most important question of all: What can they do, what can we do, to meet you half way? What can we do to make you more effective? What can we do to help you help us become more successful?

Mitch Schneider co-owns and operates Schneider’s Automotive Service in Simi Valley, CA. Readers can contact him at mschneider@babcox.com.
 
  Previous Comments
avatar   DAVE ELLIOTT   star   10/15/2009   1:06 PM

I think an outside salesman's job is to be the liason between the customer and the store. He has to be a non partisan mediator sometimes. He needs to handle labor claims, new programs, new products, training classes, visit accounts with vendors, keep up with their inventories, be a listening ear out there to keep up with what the "other guys" are doing. keep their eyes open for opportunities and otherwise maintain the relationship between customer and store, because after all, its nothing but a relationship that makes people decide where to buy. Sure price factors in, but if you have a quality product at a fair price, the "other guy" is gonna be similarly priced, so it's the relationship that keeps the business















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