An informed sales staff is the backbone of any tire dealership or service shop. My field experience tells me that if I repeated this tenet 100 times, I still wouldn't be overstating the point to most readers. In other words, if every owner or manager really understood the importance of informed, confident salespeople, everyone in this business would be fat and happy. What's more, the blunders I witness at some service facilities would be nonexistent.
Every chance I get, I'm out in the service bays doing homework, getting a bird's-eye view of how a service facility actually works. One factor I've learned to watch is the relationship between service writers or counter salespersons and the technicians.
Simply put, I watch how the front of the business works with the back end. Usually it doesn't take long to figure out the working relationships of these people.
Let me state two possibly foregone conclusions before I proceed.
First: We work in a highly technical, rapidly changing industry. Many of us have been around long enough to see the pace of change increase from a gait to a gallop.
Second: Good help—sales or service—is hard to find. So more bosses I meet are taking the "Pygmalion" approach of grooming their own talent.
That said, I worry about service salespeople who seem to make a career out of quizzing techs about things they're supposed to know.
Granted, teamwork between the front and back ends of the dealership is essential to success. Plus, you can't realistically expect salespeople to be techs. (I think ex-techs often fail as salespeople simply because they're so technical by nature!)
Too often, service salespeople get themselves and the dealership in trouble by opening their mouths before they know the score. They draw a conclusion or recommend something without consulting a knowledgeable tech. When in doubt, salespeople must ask now, not later!
Veteran shop-watchers would likely agree that teamwork between the two parts of the business should occur so smoothly it's almost transparent to a third-party observer. Allow me to coin a possibly new, but polite phrase here: "underinformed worker."
That person often disrupts this vital working relationship I just described by asking too many questions. After all, asking questions takes time. If you expect your techs to maximize productivity, they can't be gabbing too much with service writers.
If you think this isn't an issue, observe how much time each salesperson spends talking to techs every day. Or clock it with a stopwatch. I'll guarantee the underinformed worker is taking more of your techs' time than the rest of the staff combined.
Many service salespeople are shameless about pleading ignorance. "You can't expect me to know that stuff, 'cause I'm just a salesperson," they whine. One colleague calls this the "Bones defense," named for the ship's doctor in the television series Star Trek. Bones would often tersely answer Captain Kirk: "I'm a doctor, damn it, not an engineer!"
Wake up, sales people! At some point you must learn at least a minimum about automotive maintenance and repair.
If I can walk into a vision center in a mall and hear a clerk speak intelligently about eye care, then I can expect a service writer to "talk the talk" about auto care.
At the least, competent service writers should convincingly sell the technical reasons for changing brake fluid, replacing timing belts and other forms of preventive maintenance.
At some point, these conversations with the techs have to sink into the head of the service writer. Furthermore, underinformed service salespeople must realize that, like techs, they need ongoing training. If nothing else, soak up all the information possible from videotapes and support literature provided by aftermarket parts, chemical and equipment suppliers. There's also a wealth of information to absorb around the dealership.
Last but not least, service salespeople shouldn't be afraid to take technical training classes alongside their technician co-workers. Instructors at both FMC and Hunter Engineering, two major names in wheel service equipment, have told me they're seeing more and more service writers in their alignment classes.
They've come to get the knowledge needed to confidently sell those big-buck, four-wheel alignment jobs, the instructors explained.
I've also noticed more service salespeople showing up in my seminars. The wife of one shop owner I know in northern California has become a regular attendee. The woman, who's the shop's only service writer, admitted that if she learns nothing more than a few technical buzz phrases or concepts, she's ahead of her competition.
"Knowledge begets confidence; confidence builds sales," she said.
Confidence builds sales—what a concept! It's easy to state; difficult to implement.
But if you allow salespeople to continue excusing themselves from learning anything technical, you're limiting your store's potential.