Chassis parts command the attention of virtually everyone in the aftermarket parts supply chain. After brake friction, no other parts category has as many pricing options, suppliers, quality levels and, well, you get the idea.
Consequently, it allows for as many sales approaches as there are ball joints on your shelf. But this is not the same as saying that every approach is the right one.
As in all sales conversations, the key is in balancing the needs of the customer–which may not be exactly aligned with his wants–and the needs of your business to generate sales and profits.
Having the Conversation
This is true whether you are selling chassis parts or change purses, but for the harried counterperson it is important to add that first, you must commit to the possibility of having that sales conversation.
Often in the hustle of the day it can be easy to hear only the application information and offer the most convenient answer at hand.
If Joe wants a ball joint for a 1994 Mustang, wouldn’t you ask if it was a well-kept car or a beater? Of course you would, but would you ask the same of a 1994 Oldsmobile Delta Eighty-Eight?
While you cannot always engage your trade customer in a lengthy sales conversation on every call, it takes a only a few seconds to ask about vehicle condition on some of these older applications.
Every month manufacturers release new parts into the aftermarket. Keeping up to date on them is not only important for your business in terms of serving the customer; it is a competitive issue in your marketplace.
Ensure that you have the latest catalogue updates. Whenever you have an “application not found” situation, take the time to check your supplier’s website to see if a new part has been released, or if that application is in fact covered by an existing part you have on the shelf. This is especially true if you’re still relying on paper catalogues for much of your information.
Do this even if you checked yesterday and came up empty-handed. Hundreds of new applications are released every year, and it may take a while even for the e-catalogues to get the updates.
It is important to note to your customers the various levels of pricing and product you may have available to sell. While the quality of the part is certainly a key point to communicate, the additional value-added features and benefits that may accompany your premium and mid-range products, but that may not be available with the price-fighter or entry-level option, should also be emphasized. Warranty is like insurance: you begrudge having to pay it, but are pretty happy to have it on the rare occasions when something goes wrong.
Counterpeople should know their market and be able to identify those customers who demand quality products and the ones who are focused on lowest pricing. The customer may already feel he knows which group he falls into, but a good counterperson should always make the customer aware of all premium-brand options. Premium brands/technologies will give the best product performance. Lesser-quality levels are driven by price pressures. If a customer plans to keep the vehicle long-term, the premium is recommended for exceptional performance, durability, and ease of installation. If price is the primary customer focus, entry-level technology can be considered as a short-term repair solution. Fleet or commercial vehicles, vehicles with snow plows, or those that pull heavy trailers should always be recommended for the premium product.
Selling the difference between quality levels is not easy to do when the customer is on the phone looking to get a job finished and the car off the hoist.
When you buy a premium part, you are buying everything that is behind it. You have to know what is behind the name and be able to take the time to communicate it.
Manufacturers generally have quite a bit of material to help you do this.
For outside sales people, do not just drop off flyers and posters; talk about how to use them to help the customer effectively communicate the points covered to the consumer.
Don’t assume the service provider will know how to communicate the engineering benefits to the consumer. Wherever possible, focus on the benefits of the parts to the service provider and his customers: “These parts are actually better designed than the OE and will last longer, plus the car owner will notice that it’s easier to steer.”
Don’t guess about the parts or warranty. Know your stuff and know that warranties can vary for branded and private-label product, even when the manufacturer is the same.
Always speak in positive terms. Trashing the value-line products or those of your competitor reflect badly on you and your company. If asked what you think about the competition, simply say that you believe that your company and your product offering are superior.
Understanding An Ever-Changing Landscape
Besides new vehicles arriving in the marketplace, applications that never used to have problems are having problems now, and those that used to make up a tidy little market are suddenly trouble-free. Why is that and why is it important?
The short answer is that things change. While a pickup truck may still be a pickup truck, the demands of the consumer for ride and for qualities such as reduced steering effort have made pickups more car-like in many ways, and this affects the longevity of the parts taking the brunt of the on-road (and off-road) beating.
A good example is the increase in wheel and tire sizes, and the higher ride heights that are a consequence. This puts much more load on the vehicle suspension, particularly the ball joints.
Take the perennial best-seller, the Ford F-150 pickup. Many older members of the aftermarket may remember the hard sell regarding twin I-beam suspension. Many technicians faced with complaints of rapid tire wear and tough wheel alignments will also remember them, perhaps less fondly.
Today, the F-150 is a different animal. A rack-and-pinion steering system has replaced the old steering box. In addition, both the 4×2 and 4×4 models of the 2007 F-150 use coil-on-shock, long-spindle, double-wishbone front suspension.
This approach was unheard-of only a few years ago, and will undoubtedly drive a different product mix in your inventory.
Know Your Options
In addition to the fact that many aftermarket parts include enhancements that address the shortcoming of an original equipment part–a shortcoming that might have caused it to fail–there are also aftermarket enhancements to parts that can really help a customer become more efficient or effect a better repair.
Years ago the split CV boot provided a quick repair option when a boot was torn; it was much quicker than having to remove and reinstall the CV shaft to install a one-piece boot.
In this example, a customer looking for a ball joint may be better served by the combination of a ball joint and control arm. If the installer is encouraged to check to see if the ball joint has been replaced in the past, he may find that the hole in the control arm has been distorted into an oval shape by the rocking motion of the ball joint.
While some OE ball joints will be designed to have a one-position-only installation and are non-adjustable, aftermarket units may have a different construction that can allow for easier installation (round instead of notched, for example) and allow for adjustability.
For example, the single-piece upper ball joint and control arm found in 1997-2003 Ford F-150 2WD pick-up trucks are split into two components in the aftermarket, and technicians will appreciate an adjustment cam kit when looking to perform a related alignment.
“Better than OE” should be a phrase you are comfortable with when you have confidence in your offerings.
And that is the best tip of all: if you believe in what you have to offer, the customer will sense your sincerity and be inclined to have confidence too.