Each month, Alan Sipe, a contributing editor for Professional Distributor magazine, writes a sales skill article targeted to the independent business people who own and operate the various branded tool trucks you see parked at automotive repair shops everywhere.
As a mobile jobber for a major brand, you either have a set number of technicians on your route or a set geographic boundary controlling your selling efforts. Being an independent mobile jobber, your efficiency, selling time, and logic determine the ground you can successfully cover. Major or independent, there are limits on the number of customer opportunities and realistic hours in the day you can sell.
It’s always easy to think that you only need a bigger territory or access to larger dealerships to be a Top 100 dealer (but this is probably not going to happen). You could wish for lower prices, higher margins, and fewer backorders (I guarantee that this is not going to happen). And finally, you can hope that one of your competitors drops out of the business since he is a price-cutting pain in your wallet!
So, if wishing, hoping, and praying are not going to help, there is only one thing remaining. You are going to have to accept the cards (aka, technicians) you’ve been dealt and make the most of it.
This month we’re looking at ways for you to look at your customer and prospect base and build your revenues with the opportunities you have.
I imagine you have a good idea of who are all the absolute Tool Nuts, Good Customers, Sporadic Customers, non-customer prospects, and Dead Beats (cash only) that work in your area. I’m guessing that you have some document/spreadsheet/program with all the names of the technicians and shop owners in your area.
Let’s start with the Dead Beats (cash only) in your area. No matter how bad at bill paying these technicians are, they still need tools to do their jobs. Granted they are probably buying many of their tools at Harbor Freight or some other discount location, but there are still some specialty products they can only get from a true automotive jobber — like you. Don’t ignore these people. You never know if their financial missteps are over or they are now somehow currently flush with cash. Talk to them, show them your new cool tools, and discuss a way for them to potentially get in your good credit graces. Maybe give them a plan that if they buy x amount from you for cash, you will start them out with a small credit line. Talk openly but discretely with them about their issues, it’s often surprising what a little open communication can accomplish. Think of it this way, anything you sell them is 100% plus business, and additionally, you will probably sell to these people at full-boat list price.
Your next target group should be the people who are buying from someone but not from you. These are your prospects. Continue dropping off your promotional brochures and eye-to-eye thank them for looking at it and while you at it mention that you would appreciate a shot at their business. I’m sure in some cases these non-customers are mad at you, your predecessor, or the brand that is on your truck, and these issues are what you need to get past. Sometimes a simple request like “how can I earn your business back” may crack the ice and open a conversation. This conversation may not be all peaches and cream at first.
When they regurgitate whatever the previous sin (in their eyes) was, honor their statement with “I’m sorry that happened, and I’ll do my best to meet your needs as we move forward.” Sure, the prospect may be a knucklehead and never forgive you for not taking back the broken lugnut socket that he had welded to a pry bar for busting loose frozen wheel nuts. Just keep asking. If this guy is that odd, he will sooner or later become unhappy with his current supplier and come back to you. The successful action in this instance is to keep talking to them and asking for their business. Again, anything you sell them is 100% plus business.
The hardest nut to crack is the sporadic buyer. Are they maxing out their credit with every mobile who calls on them? Are they trying to spread the wealth and keep everybody happy? Are you their primary, secondary, or almost-nothing supplier?
Firstly, try your best to figure out where you stand with this sporadic buyer. Are you number 1,2,3, or four on their purchase scheme? You can mention to them that if they were to consolidate their purchases with you, you could give them something in return. Better terms, cumulative discount, the first shot of what’s new and exclusive. Something to make them feel special. Setting them up on a try before you buy it, one-week loaner program is a good way to get someone’s interest. There is no need to give away the store, just make them feel wanted and special.
The” tool nuts” of which I am one, will buy almost anything new that hits the market. The challenge here is that except when a tool is new and exclusive to your brand it is probably new and available from you and all your competitors too. In this case, it is often true that the first mobile in the door with this cool new tool gets the business.
A great idea for your Tool Nuts is to develop an email or text group list of these technicians and the day you learn of or get your hands on a new tool communicate with this group immediately letting them know about the product and that you will be bringing it to them shortly. You can even give the recipients of this communique the option of hitting reply and pre-ordering this product from you. Anything you can do to get them committed to you is the objective.
And finally, there are your Good Customers. The acronym KDWYD (keep doing what you’re doing) is your first line of defense. Keep treating them like gold, telling them every week that you appreciate their business, and always, always ask if there’s anything else you can do for them. As corny as it sounds the motivational phrase “you’re best kept rose will soon wither and die if left unattended” fits your good customers perfectly.
Now, go sell something.