Scouting the Territory

Scouting the Territory

The competition is getting intense in the wholesale auto parts world. The outside salesperson is the one who needs to blaze a trail towards the dealer to discover new opportunities.

During the lull between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I inevitably spend some time watching old Western movies. I love the old black and whites and the early color movies made through the early 1960s. These movies have a kind of honesty about them we seldom see today. Especially, the ones with the old pioneer scout guiding the wagon train across the open prairies. The old scout, of course, is the one who always makes first contact with the Indians to negotiate a safe passage for the wagon train. Better still, he’s also the one who knows where to find the watering holes and the shortest routes of passage.

Getting back to the modern world, we have to contemplate new ways of getting business done. The wholesale auto parts market is becoming more competitive by the day. We keep searching for a new paradigm or operating model that will stimulate current sales and open up new sales opportunities.

Now let’s look at the past. "Guiding the wagon train," sounds like an apt job description for today’s outside salesperson, doesn’t it? Like the old pioneer scout, the outside salesperson makes first contact with the new shop in town, negotiates the terms of sale and, hopefully, sells the lifts and diagnostic equipment. The outside salesperson sets up the first dealer inventories. He keeps the jobber-dealer relationship happy and productive. And, just like the old pioneer scout, nobody knows "the territory" better than the outside salesperson!

Although most store managers understand that the outside salesperson should have a dynamic and out-going personality, the job is often left to a parts delivery person who may not understand that his job is to guide his store toward growth and opportunity. But, instead of becoming a promoter and seller, the outside salesperson becomes an order taker and fry cook. Instead of being dynamic, he becomes static, steering toward maintaining the status quo. If you haven’t already guessed, that’s why it’s important for any jobber to reinvent the position of outside salesperson on a regular basis. How does one go about reinventing the role of the outside salesperson? Let’s begin by looking at it from the dealer’s point of view.

Let’s be perfectly clear about the relationship between a dealer and his outside salesperson. On the downside, a static or status quo outside salesperson can easily become just another salesman coming to waste a shop manager’s time. On the upside, a dynamic outside salesperson can make his visit become a constructive use of both his and the dealer’s time by helping solve problems.

For example, does the shop have a problem with excessive returns? Does it have problems receiving all of its return credits? Does the shop have any unresolved warranty issues with the distributing warehouse? Now’s the time for the outside salesperson to become the problem solver! Yes, sometimes it’s a tough job, but it’s the price of being proactive versus being reactive in one’s approach to issues.

On a broader scale, it’s very important for an outside salesperson to remember that he’s really selling solutions to problems. To illustrate, let’s imagine the shop’s customer has a problem with tire wear on his pickup truck. Although the idler arm has been replaced once before to remedy the problem, the shop finds itself recommending still another replacement to cure their customer’s tire wear problem.

But, once aware of the problem, the astute outside salesperson recommends a new part number that is more durable and precisely made for the truck’s original equipment design. What was the result? Score one for the shop, one for the customer and, of course, score one for the outside salesperson!

It’s always been my opinion that an outside salesperson should keep track of current trends and developments in tools, shop equipment, replacement parts and service marketing. Sure, that sounds like a lot of work but, after all, nobody can sell what the dealer already has. Many shops, for example, have purchased automotive scan tools from their local jobber. As we know, the scan tool is used to diagnose the computer-based operating systems found on today’s vehicles. Each year, the scan tool needs a new software update worth three hundred – perhaps a thousand – dollars in order to keep up with the most recent model years. Here is an example of a built-in sales opportunity many often forget. But, for the astute outside sales person who happens to remember the original scan tool purchase from the year before, it’s just another notch on the gun barrel.

Currently, many dealers are changing their service focus from being a repair-based shop to becoming a maintenance-based shop. In most cases, a repair-based dealer must buy updated wheel alignment equipment and various coolant and lubricant flushing machines in order to become a maintenance-based shop. In addition, the shop may also buy tire repair and tire balancing equipment in order to make the complete transition.Here again is where an outside salesperson’s "scouting abilities" come into play. First, because the outside salesperson is "scouting ahead of the wagon train," he’s usually the only person to recognize the unique sales opportunities presented from a shop making the change from a repair to a maintenance-based operation. Second, the outside salesperson is the only one uniquely qualified to introduce the parts inventories and equipment to a dealer, so he can make the transition. Lastly, the outside salesperson has the capability to modify existing inventories of automotive parts, chemicals and fluids to fit a maintenance-based operation.

Although most distributors do employ product representatives to promote their product lines, the most effective promoter of the product is the outside salesperson. Product knowledge, quite obviously, is the key to selling products. After all, who else but the outside salesperson would know how to solve a particular problem in a particular shop with a particular product?

To illustrate, many suspension part lines have many different hardware kits designed to help adjust wheel alignment angles and provide better-than-original component life. Many brake friction manufacturers offer linings designed to eliminate brake squeal on specific vehicle lines. In other cases, a lining may be designed to eliminate brake lock-up or provide superior resistance to brake fade. Similarly, many drive belt manufacturers are now supplying idler pulley and tensioner kits to expedite timing and drive belt installations. But, there’s one catch to all of this: the outside salesperson must keep up to date with his product lines in order to make the sale!

Obviously, the outside salesperson is the "point man" in the quest for increasing sales. Of course, we know the point man is leading "the wagon train through the most dangerous territory," which in this case, is the service bays of the typical repair shop.

Outside salespersons are, for example, the experts on individual shops in the jobber’s base. It takes months and perhaps years for an outside salesperson to learn the quirks and preferences of the members in a dealer and wholesale account base. In fact, an outside salesperson usually develops a very close relationship with the person making the purchasing decisions at any shop or wholesale account stop. Just like those of the pioneer scout, an outside salesperson’s negotiating skills and knowledge of the territory are one of the major advantages a jobber may have when competing in the modern wholesale environment.

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