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Shhh! Are You Listening?

We all tend to talk too much when we’re in front of customers. Often, the best policy is to shut up and let them talk.


Last month, I had the opportunity to shadow a store outside sales rep for a day. It was a great experience, as I got to witness first-hand how these important field sales reps operate. You may joke with them that it’s all golf and three martini lunches, but let me tell you, it’s not. They earn their keep, and they’re an essential way to keep your store at the forefront of a service writer’s or technician’s mind when they think about their parts sourcing options.


This experience will serve as the basis for a feature article about outside sales reps the Counterman staff is putting together. It will be an interesting read, so look for the article in an upcoming issue.

What I discovered on my little field trip is that the best outside sales reps are not necessarily the best talkers. Oh sure, they are sales professionals, of course, and their primary function is to communicate the products and services of the stores and warehouses they represent to the repair shops in their territories. But then, beyond that, they are (the best ones anyway) great listeners, a lesson I quickly learned. Sure, they need to get in front of their existing (and potential) installer customers to tell them about all the great promotions they are running and all the great lines they’ve picked up. That stuff has value. But what really has the most value for both the outside sales rep and the stores he represents is what happens in between the conversations about a new line of brake pads or a new box top promotion. When the selling stops and the conversations start, that’s when relationships are really forged.


On one of our sales calls, we stopped at a local shop on the east side of Cleveland. It was a nice shop and the owner had dumped everything he had into it.

We waited around while he talked to customers, telling us he’d be right with us as he ran by to put out yet another ‘fire.’ Once the outside sales rep got him, he started his spiel about a new line of clock springs and a new promotion his warehouse was holding. The shop owner listened patiently. Then the rep asked the shop owner how his business was going. And then he listened.


The shop owner talked about troublesome customers, troublesome applications and problems with the local utility. He lamented the VIN lookup capabilities both he and his parts suppliers lacked. And like a proud father, he showed off his brand new flash programmer and new waste oil heating system. Without saying a word, the rep walked away with a deeper understanding of this customer’s wants, needs, desires and dreams. Some of them the parts vendor can address, some he can’t. Of course, that’s not the point. The point is to be viewed as a partner, not necessarily just a vendor.


You have to know your customers. And there’s no better way of doing that than getting eyeball to eyeball with them as often as you can. And when you do, sell – but just a little. And then be quiet. Let them talk. Listen. Really listen. You’ll be amazed what your customers will tell you.


Travelin’ Notes: A special hello to everyone at GMSPO, ACDelco and Greening Labs in Detroit, MI, where I got to see the D3EA brake test in action.

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