Auto Service World
Feature   March 10, 2016   by Steve Pawlett

How to crank up steering, chassis, and driveline sales by exceeding customer expectations

When it comes to steering, chassis, and driveline parts, components change is a constant factor as original equipment manufacturers continue to move towards lighter, more fuel-efficient vehicles. This steady flow of design change not only means more SKUs – it also offers a constant flow of new opportunities for parts sales. The other key component of this equation is sales skills: ensuring that your relationships with service provider customers are such that they see you as their first-call jobber.
With economic indicators pointing to a steady upswing in aftermarket sales, there is no better time to re-evaluate your current sales strategies. Identify the ones that are working well and look for ways to make them even better. And, more importantly, identify any strategies that are outdated and no longer working effectively.
“I think the role of the counterperson is getting more valuable every day,” says Mevotech’s vice-president of sales and marketing, Scott Stone. “It’s more complex out there. Every manufacturer seems to call the same part by a different name. The counterperson’s role with technicians is more than just a parts order taker. It is really a service advisor/product advisor role. Those who can tap into that kind of thinking at the counter level can really drive a lot of value for the technicians, and value turns into sales.”
“When it comes to understanding product lines, experience has shown me that counterpeople have to have the discussion with clients about good, better, and best. There are product lines that are good, there are product lines that are better, and some product lines that are the best,” explains Bob Greenwood, president and CEO of the Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre.
“The conversation with the shop owner who is ordering should be, ‘What line are you looking for?’ Just throw out those words,” Greenwood continues. “Let them choose and also let them know the differences as far as warranty and product longevity go. Some may last three times as long, so they need to be aware of that. I find a lot of the weaker counterpeople are simply order takers; they couldn’t care less about the conversation. Then you end up having huge problems after the fact. I think that asking the right question is a front-line defence right off the start that has to be taken.”
Product knowledge is another key component of customer service. “It is extremely important for counter staff to understand the products they carry. The products are an extension of their company’s reputation, the reputation of the shop, and the professional technicians installing them. For example, in steering and suspension, there are many different brands to choose from. In order for the counterperson to provide the best recommendation to the customer, he/she needs to understand the features and benefits of the different brands, products, and the construction of the component,” says Bryon Osterland, general manager, Global Steering & Suspension, Federal-Mogul Motorparts.
“A client could be calling about a part number that sounds like it’s in distress. If you know a lot about those suspension systems you can anticipate that there may be another part in distress that should also be considered for service,” adds Stone. “You want to make sure that everything is dealt with and the job is done correctly. The one part may be the victim, but it may not be the cause. It may be that something else has caused the failure. That’s a big part of what the opportunity is. It’s more than just knowing part numbers. It’s a matter of knowing those platforms and how to fix them.”
“If you look at the really great jobbers out there, they have great counterpeople,” adds Greenwood. “Look not only at how they (successful jobbers) hire counter staff, but how they train them and the way they treat them. Customers speak to a counterperson more than they speak to a service rep. A good counterperson should be more of an advisor than an order taker. He should look at each part ordered for the job and ensure all the parts needed are accounted for. Make sure the customer hasn’t forgotten something: ‘By the way, if you’re doing that, then you will need to replace this as well.” Rather than the customer finding out later, when they are well into the repair job, that they have to wait for another part, so now the hoist is tied up until the part arrives. They need to have a discussion about the complete job or what it leads into.”
The Internet has allowed a lot of inventory pricing to be seen at the technician level, but the real magic is getting that vehicle serviced properly and getting it out the door. The real profit opportunity is not just the parts and the price, but whether the technician can book his full labour for what he’s doing. And a good counterperson, who works with the technician, will enable him to be more effective and more efficient.
For any business to be successful, it’s strongly recommended that you don’t try to be all things to all people. To understand the needs of your buyers, you must first do an analysis of your particular market. Identify the needs, and identify the limits as well. Once you understand your local business base of service providers, consumers, industrial, commercial, and seasonal business, you can then apply that data to your particular aftermarket sweet spot.
“Increasingly, the ordering task is being automated through web portals; therefore counter staff must transition to a role of product advisor and build strong relationships with their core commercial and retail customers. They must understand the products they provide and match them to the needs of their customers. As a product advisor, counter personnel must be knowledgeable of the industry, products, trends, computer systems, and their customers’ demands. They must also be able to quickly explain the differences between premium and value products and specifically why there is a difference in price,” explains Osterland.
A key method to exceed customer expectations each and every time is to build product knowledge by working closely with suppliers. Talk to your reps about upcoming training seminars/webinars and other product knowledge building clinics. Utilize free, online training programs that many of your suppliers now provide.
By working closely with suppliers you now have knowledgeable staff that understand and appreciate the high-anxiety environment that technicians work in every day, and you also have to have the right parts available. By tapping into your suppliers’ expertise, you can ensure you have the right inventory modelling.
“That’s where the magic is,” says Stone. “Parts proliferation is going crazy, and the trend line is crazy. Part numbers come in and out of their life cycle quickly these days, making it more important than ever for jobbers to be paired with manufacturers that can help them understand what they need to do in their own world – how they need to manage that inventory and manage the asset and keep it fresh, current, and moving.”
“Knowledge transfer is also important: training, for the counter staff and outside sales people. Again, that just doesn’t mean who’s got the cheapest price for parts. It’s the whole value package and taking it beyond the SKU level, and what can we do with our overall inventory dollar investment and service levels and things of that nature. Time is money. Techs are pressured not to hold up these jobs, so beyond the price, they are looking for ‘do I have the right part and can I trust it to do the job?’ So if you have the relationship with a jobber who has the right parts that are in demand on the shelf, then you take a lot of the price pressure off right up front,” adds Stone.
“Counter personnel must know the top two or three selling points of premium products vs. value products. Parts may look similar on the outside, but it is what the customer cannot see that is important. This is what the counter personnel must know. Because chassis parts are components of the steering and suspension system, they are safety-critical and customers need to understand the differences between premium and low-cost aftermarket products. For example, Federal-Mogul Motorparts still produces 85% of its Moog socket-style products in North America, and is the only manufacturer that can make that claim,” adds Osterland.
How can counter staff improve relationships with their customers? It’s a matter of slowing it down and taking the time to show that they care and making sure that they get the right part ordered properly. There are so many situations where the wrong part gets ordered, and that mistake costs everyone. It costs the supplier, and it costs down time, as well as frustration for the customer and the risk of losing that customer, because if it happens too often they are going to go somewhere else. Waiting for the correct part while the hoist is tied up is a huge cost to a shop. And the shop could lose their customer because they didn’t get the job done when they promised.
Supplier programs like the Garage Gurus training platform, offered by Federal-Mogul Motorparts, provide a good level of support for counter staff, technicians, and product sales specialists.
“Jobbers sell a wide variety of products and they must rely on their suppliers to provide accurate point of sales information to convey the features and benefits of premium products. Also, suppliers must work with jobbers to increase brand awareness and to help pull premium products through the supply chain. For example, Moog provides jobbers with wall posters, counter mats, Problem Solver informational bulletins, gusher bearing displays, and an interactive website to learn more about the specific features of the premium chassis products they are selling,” adds Osterland.
Another common challenge for counter staff is dealing with a customer who is price-focused. Does the counterperson understand the value their company brings to the table, and are they able to communicate that to the customer effectively? What training have they gone through? Do they understand how their shop differentiates itself from the competition?
“I find they are not even involved in those kinds of classes. The sales rep will be. But the counter staff will not. So how do I get a guy off price when I don’t know the value we bring to the table? They have to be trained properly and they have to be exposed to that. It’s up to the owner/manager, who is responsible for differentiating his business in the marketplace,” advises Greenwood.
That comes back to a word that is very well understood these days – culture. What is the culture at your store and how does it compare to any other store? What differentiates you? Is it professionalism, caring, looking after the details? All these attributes create the type of culture that attracts loyal customers.
So, what can you do to ensure you are the first-call jobber?
“From a shop perspective, I am dealing with a counterperson who understands and explains the value he brings to the table, so now I understand this, and damn it, he gets the right part to me fast. You have my loyalty; but my loyalty can change quickly when service drops. If the service isn’t there they are not going to stick around,” says Greenwood.
There are advantages to doing a large volume of business with a particular group of aftermarket manufacturer suppliers. They can provide various benefits to jobbers, such as product training for all staff, and they can help you beef up your value to customers; it should be a win-win relationship with your suppliers.
“There are too many jobbers that are just identical to their customers. They simply shop around for price and they don’t care about the quality. But as the market moves forward, these types of jobbers are going to have a tough time getting the better shops to be loyal to them and even buy from them. The better shops only want quality product and service,” advises Greenwood.
By building strong ties with suppliers and equipping your counter staff with product knowledge through regular product training programs, you will create a positive culture in your store that will ensure you stand out from your competition. nJN

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