Eventually, every vehicle on the road needs some sort of maintenance and repair.
Sooner or later, some automotive service provider in your area will sell those services. Shouldn't your business be the one selling that work?
During my 25-plus years writing this column, I've repeatedly emphasized that successful salesmanship involves identifying needs and then meeting those needs. In our specific industry, obviously, those needs include tires, repairs and maintenance.
I've also mentioned that I began working in full-service gas stations in their heyday—the late 1960s. Back then, I saw firsthand that visual inspection was essential to identifying these automotive needs. Taken to another level, the more often service providers saw a given vehicle, the greater the odds of identifying one or more of these needs, including tires, repairs, etc. This conclusion or philosophy is still true today.
During my high-school years, there were numerous new-car dealers, tire dealers, independent repair shops and full-service gas stations within a 15-minute drive of my employer's place. Repeatedly, these ravenous competitors gobbled up repair opportunities that we simply overlooked, could not sell or were too lazy or busy to sell. Since then, in my time crisscrossing the country and reporting on this industry, my contacts reinforce that the competition is still plentiful, hungry and opportunistic.
The stakes are higher, the challenge greater in today's enormous auto service sweepstakes. The main reason is that changing technologies have made obsolete so many of the once-popular underhood and undercar services that put bread on the table.
Fewer and/or less-frequent maintenance and repair opportunities per vehicle keep leading me to the same conclusions. Namely, service pro¬viders must make the most of every motorist's visit. That means identifying and then prioritizing as many service sales opportunities as possible per visit. What's more, it's a must to try to increase the frequency of customers' visits.
So, attract motorists, inspect their vehicles as well as practically possible and prioritize the findings. When you ask for the order, some motorists will buy now, others later. And still others won't buy at all.
You'll also encounter the same response we did back in the 1960s. Some people will assume that you're trying to hustle them while others will recognize and respect your intentions. Selling anything—including auto maintenance and repairs—requires knowledge and skill. (Salesmanship equals successful persuasion.) If this was so easy, everyone would do it well. Realistically, relatively few do the job well.
A manager at a large tire dealership operation recently sent me a thoughtful letter (see Mail Call, page 6), assessing service sales techniques and challenges. The gentleman said he doesn't want his workers to come across as the worst elements of the business—ravenous hustlers or sleazy charlatans trying to empty the motorist's wallet. Therefore, they take a relatively low-key approach to the inspecting/prospecting process I've described.
This manager described a short, sweet process that he's convinced builds customer trust. Namely, his crew only inspects the area(s) of the vehicle closest to the component or system they're repairing at that time. Bravo! This fellow's paying closer attention than most to his workers' abilities as well as motorists' reactions to them.
I agree with him that every vehicle doesn't need a 100-point inspection on every visit. There's a realistic and practical “comfort level” for inspecting/prospecting. In other words, there's a fine line between your own comfort zone and the tactics of the over-aggressive hustlers. My experience has been that this nebulous line differs from one auto service facility to another. Capable managers fine-tune the service sales approach accordingly.
I welcome your comments on the service sales do's and don'ts that experience has taught you. As I stressed a moment ago, someone's going to get the business. Asking for the order seems to be a good way to move the odds in your favor.