LOUISVILLE, Ky.-Far from being a ``no brainer,'' sharp marketing is an art form which some successful retreaders have honed to near perfection. Two such practitioners-armed with similar ``whatever-it-takes-to-please-the-customer'' approaches-addressed retreaders at the American Retreaders' Association's recent tire conference. They gave marketing advice laced with experience gleaned from years of ``cold calls'' and sitting across from stony-faced potential customers.
``If I could see from my customer's eyes, I would know why my customer buys.'' Bob Piagentini, commercial sales manager for Avenel, N.J.-based Babek Commercial Tire Services, repeated those words to his seminar audience, letting them sink in.
The self-professed ``people person'' explained that dealers and retreaders sell more than just tires. Their sales arsenal includes technical knowledge, price, service, products, applications and locations. That may help carry a sale, he said, but ``we still have to deal with the person in front of us.
``Know your customers and why they need something. Then sell them what you-and they-need.''
Successful marketing blends the analytical with the motivational. Examine not only a competitor's strengths and weaknesses, he advised, but take a ``painfully honest and objective look'' at your company and yourself.
``Carry a message to your accounts. They want to hear what's going on, how it applies to them, any new products or technologies available, or something happening with the law that affects them.''
Mr. Piagentini believes a direct approach-not only to answering questions, but to asking for an order-is preferable. Address real as well as phony objections when finalizing a sale, he instructed.
``But if (a customer) perceives an objection to a product, it is reality. Acknowledge it and address it in a positive manner.'' Then ask, ``Can I have the order?''
He offered several other suggestions, as well:
Try a ``weighted'' approach to a sale-``Here are the benefits of our products/services. Do you see them and understand them?''
Don't sit around idly talking with a customer after closing a sale-``Sometimes you can talk yourself out of the order.''
Follow up to insure customer satisfaction-Was the service good? Did you get the tires you wanted? Do they perform as they're supposed to? ``Let them know you care and that you want to work to earn their business.''
And, he concluded, ``be a leader. Don't just follow others.''
Jeff Wilson, director of sales and marketing for McGriff Treading Co. Inc., Cullman, Ala., recommended showing ``excitement-about your business, your product. It will be the cement that bonds you'' to a successful operation.
With so much sameness in the marketplace, retreaders need to point out the uniqueness of their business, product, process or services, he said.
Determine a marketing area-be it local, regional or national-in which to continually build a customer base, Mr. Wilson said, warning, however, against small operations' seeking more territory if they lack the capacity or sales force to adequately serve them.
A business should target its market by type, size and volume, he said, and ascertain just what type of customer it wants. Snaring a bigger customer is not always better. ``The larger they get, the more difficult they are to work with and still maintain profitability.''
Good business, he said, is rooted in a diverse mix of trends ``which comes through strategic planning and a good marketing plan.''
``What we have as a company or as an individual is not really important if the customer doesn't know it,'' Mr. Wilson declared. ``It all comes back to the customer's perceived value (of your product). He needs to have that perceived value instilled in order to separate you from your competitors.''
Establish a value before price is ever discussed, he continued, and be prepared for potential objections. Answer questions-include them in your marketing plan-``before the customer asks them.''
``You'll always make more money solving problems than selling products.''
Mr. Wilson discussed several marketing methods, including: direct mail-the ``best bang for the buck'' for firms on limited budgets; media advertising-which he called a ``shotgun approach to marketing''; and telemarketing, direct contact, trade shows, and special promotions.
``Direct contact'' is the most popular method used by retreaders, though it's often not cost-effective, he said, and suggested, ``through your marketing plan, you need to determine if the prospective customer can be taken to the sale before your expensive salesperson ever gets on the road and pulls up to a customer's door.''
On the other hand, use of special promotions can be very productive. ``Put a set of retreads on a customer's vehicle,'' he proposed. ``Let him see for himself all the benefits you say are there.''