LAKE FOREST, Calif. (June 7, 2004) — Hey, Mr. Tire Dealer, how well do your salespeople focus attention on the customer rather than the snazzy high-performance tire and wheel package the customer is eyeing?
In a day where everyone is watching costs, and with HP products offering promising profits, tire dealers and their salespeople need to be careful to make their margins on the sale, not the buy, a Lake Forest-based sales consultant told Tire Business.
If a customer walks into a dealership to look at HP or ultra-high performance tires and wheels, a knowledgeable salesperson need not try to negotiate the price, said Bob Bower, principal of Bower Group. A customer interested in spending thousands of dollars on custom wheels and performance tires already has sat down to consider all the variables. Beyond the price is offering a customer a professional experience, he said.
“Tires and wheels today are not just utilitarian products,” Mr. Bower said. “They're jewelry, and people buy out of a sense of want and not need. They'll tell other people where they had a good experience, because service and proper installation make a big difference.”
Many tire dealers call Mr. Bower and tell him their sales force needs a college-level course to improve their job performance. Mr. Bower said he often answers them by saying he teaches “first grade”—the fundamentals of taking care of a customer.
“Today's tire dealer in the high-performance market I view as not necessarily competing with the other tire dealer as much as the other retailers in the marketplace selling the same price-level item,” he said. “One of the ways I try to help people understand the importance of dealing correctly with a customer, of taking care of their needs, is I'll ask them a question: 'What happens in your household? What do you do before you go out and spend $1,000?'”
He pointed out that if a customer pulls into a dealership in a Cadillac Escalade wanting what's new and hot, a conservative estimate of the tire/wheel package would be $3,500. To spend that kind of money on his or her vehicle means the customer already has put some thought into it and is willing to pay, he said.
“Many times I believe the salesperson is shocked that someone will spend that kind of money…and I think they forget the importance of making sure the customer gets the full (sales) experience because that's the way to generate repeat business,” he explained.
Before a customer walks in the door, a salesperson should look at the vehicle and evaluate why that customer has come, Mr. Bower said.
“It's important for the customer and the salesperson to size each other up visually, mostly for the salesperson to size the customer up visually,” he said. “How are they dressed? What might you imagine they do for a living? Where have they come from? How do they carry themselves? How do they speak? It's the job and duty of the salesperson to get an understanding of what's going on.”
Then, the salesperson should avoid asking, “May I help you?” or any question that produces a yes or no answer, he explained. Instead, a salesperson should ask who, what, when, where, how and why questions that force a customer to express him or herself.
“There's a certain amount of awkwardness to the beginning words, the opening lines in any situation,” Mr. Bower said. “I put the responsibility on the salesperson to put the customer at ease as quickly as possible.”
Some examples of open-ended questions, according to Mr. Bower, are: “Why did you come to us? How did you hear about us? What did you have in mind for your vehicle?”
However, he cautioned that engaging the customer in this way can't follow a script.
“You have to look the customer in the eye and be real,” he said. “Be a person, and not just a salesman. Don't hide behind your faÃ§ade. Don't let them hide behind theirs. That's being duplicated every place they shop…. I believe it's important for them to know they're speaking to a real human being who is not just interested in the transaction. Otherwise, we'd have vending machines.”
Mr. Bower, formerly a sales and marketing trainer for B.F. Goodrich Tire Co., has been a consultant for 10 years and trains tire dealers on how to increase profits. Mr. Bower also represents a company that produces a consumer show for the off-road industry.
A seminar speaker as well as on-site trainer, Mr. Bower said he teaches his clients to ask smart questions and to listen to answers before spouting off more questions or comments. A customer may be fumbling around with a question because he or she doesn't know enough about tires and wheels. Or a customer already may have visited several dealerships and wants to know if a salesperson truly knows what he or she is talking about.
In the HP and UHP niche, a dealership needs advertising and a clean, professional-looking business to draw customers. But ultimately what will close the sale is if the dealership's staff can earn consumers' confidence, according to Mr. Bower.
“I frankly try not to focus on the tires and wheels,” he said. “I really believe strongly that if you're selling the tire and wheel, you're screwing up.
“You need to be selling the human standing in your shoes. That will produce the highest number of sales with the most satisfied customers and generate the highest number of repeat visits and referral visits.”