When you take an ASE P2 Parts Certification test, you are often asked to answer hypothetical questions involving Counterman A and Counterman B. It seems these two people seldom agree on anything. They often make conflicting statements about a topic and you are supposed to figure out who is right. Is it Counterman A? Counterman B? Both? Or neither?
Real life isn’t much different when it comes to comparing the sales techniques and parts knowledge of different employees who work in an auto parts store. Some are really sharp, know how to interact with their customers and consistently rack up higher total sales than “order takers.” Here’s a typical scenario:
Counterman A is fairly new to his job. He likes cars and thought working in a parts store would be cool and a good way to get a discount on any auto parts he might need.
When a customer walks into the store, Counterman A greets him and asks him what he needs. The customer says he needs a set of brake pads. Counterman A asks the year, make and model of the customer’s car, then looks up the application on the store computer, sees there is one set of pads in stock that fits the car, and quotes the customer a price.
The customer says “okay,” buys the pads and leaves the store.
On the surface, it seems like a pretty routine sale. Quick, simple and not much discussion other than what’s needed to look up the application. So what’s wrong with this scenario? Counterman A did his job, right? He greeted the customer in a friendly and businesslike manner, he found the correct replacement pads for the application, and made the sale. The boss should be happy, right?
Unfortunately, Counterman A missed some things. He missed any related sales opportunities such as brake fluid, brake lubricant, rotors, calipers, brake hoses or any other brake-related parts that the customer might have needed.
Counterman A also made no effort to find out why the customer wanted new brake pads, if the customer was having a brake problem he needed help figuring out, or if he might be a prospect for a different grade of replacement pads. In other words, Counterman A totally missed the chance to truly help his customer fix his car.
COUNTERMAN B’S TURN
Let’s repeat a similar scenario with another brake customer, except this time Counterman B will handle the sale. Counterman B is the “old timer” who’s worked the counter for years. He knows his stuff and is the “go-to” guy when anybody has a question.
As before, the customer is greeted when he enters the store. Counterman B offers to help him, and the customer says he needs some new brake pads for his car.
“Are the pads worn unevenly or contaminated with brake fluid?” asks Counterman B.
“Now that you mention it, the inner pad on the right side is worn a lot more than the outer pad,” says the customer.
“You probably have a brake caliper that is sticking,” says Counterman B. “Does the car pull toward either side when you step on the brakes?
“Yeah, it seems to pull to the left when I apply the brakes,” says the customer.
“You probably need to replace the right caliper, too,” says Counterman B. “New pads alone won’t fix your problem.”
Counterman B looks up the car, finds the various pads that are listed for the application, and asks the customer another question. “Are you happy with the wear and feel of your original pads? We do have some better pads that should provide longer life, quieter operation and less brake dust than the standard replacement pads. They’re a little more expensive, but I think you’ll be much happier with the premium pads.”
The customer ponders Counterman B’s suggestion, and asks what the price difference is. He’s surprised that the premium pads are only about $30 more than the standard replacement pads, and decides to buy the better pads.
Counterman B also looks up the replacement caliper for his car, and suggests that both calipers should probably be replaced at the same time, since both have the same mileage and the other may develop problems down the road. Replacing both now can save the time and effort to replace the other caliper later.
The customer again ponders Counterman B’s suggestion, and decides his logic makes sense. Chalk up a pair of calipers on the sale.
Counterman B then asks the customer what shape his rotors are in? The customer says the rotors are probably okay.
Counterman B asks, “How many miles are on the car?” The customer says close to 75,000 miles. “Have the rotors ever been replaced?” No, responds the customer. “Have you measured the thickness of the rotors?” No, responds the customer.
Counterman B says new pads require a smooth rotor surface for proper break-in. If the rotors are relatively smooth (no deep scoring or cracks), they are probably OK to reuse assuming they are not worn too much. He tells the customer that all rotors have thickness specifications, and that when a rotor is worn down to the minimum thickness they must be replaced for safety reasons. Worn rotors are dangerous rotors. The same goes for cracked rotors, or ones with hard spots that cause uneven wear and pedal pulsations when braking.
The customer says, “Now that you mention it, there is a little vibration in the pedal when I apply the brakes. It isn’t bad, but it does seem to be getting a little more noticeable.”
Counterman B tells him that the uneven wear will only get worse as the rotors continue to wear. He recommends bringing in the rotors so they can be measured, and resurfaced if they are still in usable condition. If the rotors have cracks, hard spots or are worn too much, however, they will have to be replaced.
The customer asks how much a new pair of rotors cost, and is surprised that new rotors are not that expensive. Add a pair of rotors to the sale.
Counterman B continues, telling the customer how important it is to also change the brake fluid when the pads are replaced, and to inspect the brake hoses, brake lines and entire brake system for leaks. He then adds a can of brake fluid to the sale.
Counterman B also tells the customer he’ll need some brake lubricant for the caliper mounting slides and bushings so the calipers will work properly. He advises the customer on how to lubricate the calipers, and that applying a little grease to the backs of the pads will help prevent vibration and brake noise.
By the time the customer leaves the store, Counterman B has tallied up an impressive sale: a new set of premium brake pads, a pair of remanufactured rotors, a pair of rotors, a can of brake fluid, and a tube of brake lubricant. He’s also won the confidence of his customer and impressed the boss with his salesmanship.
The following day, Counterman A’s customer returns (the guy who bought the pads earlier but nothing else). He says, “I need a set of rotors.” Counterman A dutifully looks up the rotors, checks the inventory, sees they have a pair in stock, and quotes a price. The customer says “okay,” buys the rotors and leaves the store.
Counterman B asks Counterman A if he asked the customer how his brake job was going? Did the customer need anything else, like brake fluid, brake lubricant, calipers or hoses? Counterman A shakes his head, and says he forgot to ask the customer about any related sales.
The following month Counterman B gets his name on the “Employee of the Month” award plaque. He also finds a nice bonus in his paycheck for the fine job he’s been doing helping his customers and increasing overall store sales. Counterman A decides flipping hamburgers is an easier way to earn a paycheck, and goes back to his old job at Burger King. He’d rather wear a paper hat than have to sell anything.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
Counterman A and B were both employees selling the same friction products at their store. Yet Counterman B did much better than Counterman A. This undoubtedly created some friction between the two because of their differences in sales techniques and sales results. Counterman A should have tried harder to be like the more experienced and savvy Counterman B. Instead, he failed to learn anything and continued to make sales the same we he had always made sales. Just give the customer what he wants and get him out the door. But with a few changes in attitude, Counterman A could have raised his performance to the same level as Counterman B.
Sales Tip 1: Counterman A could have stopped being an order-taker and tried harder to be more of a real salesman. You don’t have to be pushy to make additional sales. All you have to do is talk to your customers and find out what they are replacing and why. From that, you can often determine other related parts they may need and make some suggestions. The key to making the sale is explaining WHY you think something extra might be needed, and how it may actually save your customer money, time or trouble down the road. That’s usually all it takes.
Sales Tip 2: Be more than a “parts looker-upper.” Be a parts specialist. The more product knowledge you have, the easier it is to talk intelligently with your customers about their repair problems and what their alternatives may be. Essentially, you sell yourself as the friction expert who can help them solve their problem. That means being familiar with the different brands and types of friction your store carries, and the replacement recommendations of the friction suppliers as to what type of pads may be best suited for various types of applications. Semi-metallic pads are great for high-heat, hard-use applications, but may be noisy and increase rotor wear. Ceramic pads are usually a good upgrade over NAO pads, providing longer wear, quieter operation and less brake dust. Some pads have special features such as integrally molded shims or special profiles or coatings.
Sales Tip 3: Learn how to upsell the bargain shopper. Many customers will tell you they want the cheapest replacement pads you carry. They don’t want to spend a dollar more than is absolutely necessary or so they say. The reality is, many of these customers will buy a better grade of replacement pad if you can explain the advantages for doing so (longer pad life, less risk of brake fade, quieter operation, less dust, etc.).
Sales Tip 4: Don’t just sell friction. Sell the importance of brake safety and the need to do a thorough brake system inspection and a “complete” brake job. The goal of any brake repair should be to restore like-new braking performance rather than doing a patch job.
Many cars can get by with nothing more than a set of brake pads the first time the pads are replaced. But others can’t. Most high-mileage vehicles and those that are having a second or third brake job done typically need rotors and calipers, drums and wheel cylinders, and new brake hardware. The vehicle may also need some brake hoses, brake lines or even a new or remanufactured master cylinder. Many also need parking brake cables. And every brake job can benefit from a fluid change!
The industry needs more employees who are salesmen like Counterman B rather than Counterman A. That won’t help you any on the next ASE P2 Test, but it can help your career as an automotive parts salesperson.