Every year, I tell myself I will make time to go out and visit more customers. It’s a constant challenge every manager faces, as our desks pull us into spending more time in the office while the pursuit of sales is out there where the customers are. While the PC I keep at my desk is my central depository for the work I do, I have become very adept at decentralizing my communications via mobile devices and multiple PC’s with remote access via the cloud. Getting out more has been a most rewarding experience for me, as I can free myself from the desk a lot more than I used to, thus allowing for more customer visits.
Lately, it has been great for me for being out on the field making sales call. Nothing solidifies the relationship with the customers like a face-to-face visit. This year, in particular, I was able to attend several open houses for different customers that have supported us over the years. Anthropologists study human behavior in the field, and for me, open houses are an excellent opportunity to see your customers in action in their natural habitat; I often feel like I’m wearing two hats: one as a sales guy and one as a scientist observing our clients. Most of the open houses I attended were during regular business hours, so you get to see your customers in a focused sales atmosphere, where they are showcasing all the stuff they do right; handling the additional traffic the open house brings to their places of business. I especially enjoy seeing our customers’ countermen doing what they do best: selling more parts.
One aspect of being a counterman that has clearly changed is how omnipresent mobile technology and access to the Internet has become second nature to perform that job. I’m not just referring to POS systems and Web-based catalogs. I’m talking about countermen using their own mobile devices as a communications hub; always handling customers’ request via cell calls, texts, Whatsapp. Sharing pictures of parts or images of catalog screens by using the camera on their phones. And, sharing videos on sites like YouTube to enhance the customer’s experience. While the debate rages on about allowing employees access to their smartphones while at work, for me the train left the station on that one a long time ago – at least for countermen who need to engage the public daily.
A few times this year, I saw several countermen pointing out to their customers how to install a part by doing a search on Google and showing their customers the installation video on YouTube. Often, the videos that come up as the top search choices on Google are not the ones produced by the parts manufacturers, but videos uploaded by regular folks who just want to share an installation tip or two.
I remember one counterman trying to do an upsell on cabin filters. They were running a special at their open house on all filters. Their customer knew he needed to replace the cabin air filter, but at one point someone had told him that filter “was impossible to reach.” The client shared this fear with the counterman, and he simply searched for cabin air filter installation for his 2007 Toyota Camry on YouTube. Turns out the cabin air filter was easily reached via the glove compartment. The customer asked the counterman for a link to the video, which he quickly shared via WhatsApp. The customer bought all the filters, including the cabin air filter — upsell accomplished by video!
Video is very powerful, we all know this. As an industry, we need to create better videos and access tools so that countermen everywhere can share information at the point of sales. More and more, I see this is done via YouTube using our phones, so we need to make sure that’s how we do this for everyone else. Spy novelist John le Carré is credited with saying, “A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world,” and I cannot agree more. So, get out there and become an auto parts anthropologist, as we all need to learn how our customers are using technology so we can shape the direction of the technology we develop to best match their needs. It’s the old axiom: “Learn all you can about your customers.” Counterman behavior is changing. We need the technology that matches those changes, too.