Although online ordering has greatly improved the efficiency of parts distribution, there’s still no substitute for the personal touch delivered by a good outside salesperson. A good outside salesperson, for example, should be the first to spot unfilled needs in a shop operation or suggest more efficient methods of performing the myriad services a shop must offer in today’s highly competitive markets. In short, he must become an asset rather than a liability in any shop operation.
To become an asset, a salesperson must practice what I call “good outside sales etiquette.” To define outside sales etiquette in practical terms, the good outside salesperson must keep in touch with the needs of his shops. He must understand that his sole purpose for visiting a shop is to “take care of business.” He must be a man of his word and he must not confuse the needs and desires of the owner, service manager, service advisor or technician. Violating any of these basic rules in today’s fast-paced business environment can mean returning at the end of the day with an empty order book.
KEEPING IN TOUCH
To emphasize how modern shop operations are changing, let’s remind ourselves that many independent shops have become sophisticated operations that employ service managers and advisors to supervise and coordinate the activities of their technicians. Many shops also go out of their way to provide customer conveniences, like offering quiet, comfortable waiting rooms in which customers may relax or pursue online business activities while having their vehicles serviced.
More importantly, many “average” auto repair shops are exceeding $500,000 per year in gross sales. Larger shops are easily exceeding $1,000,000 per year in sales and the number of large shops doing that is growing by the day. One-million dollars in gross sales represents at least $200,000 in potential annual replacement part purchases.
It should be obvious to any successful outside salesperson that he must keep up with changes in his wholesale market. At this very minute, technicians and shop owners are using the Internet to discuss many different issues affecting their industry. Online networks, such as the International Automotive Technician’s Network (iATN), are redefining how the automotive service industry will conduct its future business. Other smaller and more private automotive management networks are shaping the future of the industry as well, by sharing marketing and management techniques that help shops survive in an increasingly competitive consumer market. So the operative words in parts distribution should be “keep in touch!”
TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
It’s now considered bad etiquette to hand out supermodel calendars or to use off-color language near the service desk. The reason is simple: the majority of vehicles brought into a shop are driven by women. Good shop owners and managers are acutely aware of this fact and the modern outside salesperson should be aware too.
It’s also bad etiquette to take care of business in a haphazard manner. It’s no secret that dealerships and OE parts distribution systems are actively pursuing the independent market. To provide but one example of their outside sales etiquette, dealership parts delivery people always ask if I have any parts returns. I rarely do, but sometimes a customer cancels a service or solving the problem didn’t require replacement of the part. But the very idea that the OE delivery and sales force is focused on “taking care of business” is impressive, to say the least.
DOING WHAT YOU SAY
Most of us remember the Charlie Brown comic strips where Lucy pulls the football away just as Charlie swings his foot to give it his hardest kick. Unfortunately in the real world of parts distribution, too many outside sales people hold the ball and pull it away right before the kick. Remember, the idea of outside sales is to keep in touch with your customers by communicating what your jobber store can do to maximize a shop’s profitability. Promising an action and failing to follow through is the same as pulling the ball out from under the kicker.
An outside salesperson fails any standard of etiquette whenever he fails to follow through on a promise. Sure, the shop owner, manager or service writer may not make any outright comment about a failure to follow through, but he certainly understands that the promise didn’t carry enough weight for you to act on it.
DELIVERING VERSUS SUPPLYING
There is a huge difference in operating philosophies between stores that deliver parts and those that supply parts. Parts delivery stores do just that — they deliver parts but fail to understand the needs of their wholesale accounts. Parts supply stores, on the other hand, align their sales techniques with the needs of their account. Parts delivery stores often say, “We don’t stock that item.” Parts suppliers, on the other hand, say, “Give me a little time to see where I can source that item.”
This attitude carries into outside sales. Good outside sales etiquette demands that the outside salesperson pursue the issue at hand. If, for example, the distribution doesn’t carry the part in question, the outside salesperson should either find another supplier or recommend a company that can furnish the part. Whatever the situation, the message is clear — the outside salesperson is there to either help his customer succeed or not. If the outside salesperson is operating in a proactive manner, then he is committed to the overall success of his wholesale accounts.
SPEAKING TO THE RIGHT PERSON
Outside sales etiquette can become quite complicated when trying to determine what the managerial hierarchy might be for an individual shop. In some smaller shops, the owner makes all of the purchasing and managerial decisions. In larger shops, the owner may not be engaged with the day-to-day affairs of the shop, so the shop manager, parts manager, service advisor or lead mechanic might make purchasing recommendations or make final purchasing decisions.
It’s obviously most effective to speak to the person who has the most influence on the decision to purchase a part, service, tool or equipment product. It’s important not to confuse the roles of a shop’s employees. So try to sell parts to the parts manager, service equipment to the shop manager and hand tools to the technicians!
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
The most important point of outside sales etiquette for a salesperson is to make a sales presentation at the appropriate time. Of course, the job description of many outside sales people may also include delivery or counter duties, so the distinction between appropriate and inappropriate timing might be blurred. On the other hand, it’s extremely important for anybody doing outside sales to recognize the most favorable time to make a sales presentation.
Peak customer load times for most shops are Monday mornings when vehicles are delivered for service and late Friday afternoons when they’re being delivered for the weekend. Similarly, most early mornings, lunch breaks and closing times are the busiest for most shops. While timing may vary from shop to shop, mid-mornings and mid-afternoons are usually the optimal times for lengthy presentations.
In other cases, the person with whom you need to speak with might be involved in a customer or personnel issue that precludes being interrupted with a presentation, no matter how short. In these cases, it’s best to return at a more appropriate time. And a good outside salesperson knows that there’s a time to talk and a time to move on. Good outside sales etiquette requires no less.