Auto Service World
Feature   March 10, 2016   by Steve Pawlett

The Big Fish

With 2015 firmly in the rear view mirror, it’s probably a good time to take stock of the things that worked well for your business last year, and those things that did not. Every business is looking for growth, but not every business looks for growth in the right places.
In fact, I might argue that the difference between a successful growth approach and an unsuccessful one is often less about huge differences in capability and more about how those capabilities are deployed.
Reaching into my past for an old-school technology tale, I remember some years ago when leading jobbers were looking to connect their customers for online ordering. In those days, building those connections was more difficult and expensive than today, so most went to their largest, most loyal customers and tried to convert them to the new way of ordering.
Most had a dismal success rate, as those customers felt that as loyal customers they could expect personal service and that a counterperson would be available any time they picked up the phone. They also tended to be, ahem, among the more mature operators, and may have covered their lack of comfort with technology through such protestations.
Conversely, those jobbers who targeted customers with more care, choosing those who were looking for an alternative, for those who might not have a strong connection with that jobber, and who would be good candidates as customers if the cost of handling that customer were brought down, did much better.
Certainly there are all manner of experiences from those days, and it is also interesting to me that only recently has online ordering capability become a near-imperative for jobbers to conduct business with the trade. It is also notable that this has not resulted in the elimination of the counterperson, but rather the redeploying of their expertise, where it can be pressed into use with more value than just punching in standard order after standard order – allowing their valuable capabilities and knowledge to be deployed more effectively, filling the gap when a drop-down menu and inventory query aren’t enough.
It is also true that there is the temptation, when viewing opportunities for growth, to look for the whale: that large, lucrative prospect that every salesperson wants to harpoon. While there is nothing wrong with calling on those prospects, they can become such a focus of energies and resources (in the attempt to wrestle them away from the competition) that other higher-probability opportunities can be left untapped.
The problem is that many of those large, successful prospects are very loyal to their current suppliers, and if your competition has done its job right, regard them as partners. Breaking that bond is incredibly difficult.
The key then is to, yes, call on those large operations to let them know what you have to offer, but to also balance that approach with understanding where opportunities may exist as a result of your competition keeping that key customer happy. What are they missing? Where are they dropping the ball? Where have they left you an opening?
Taking advantage of that will grow your business, their business, and the aftermarket.
In 2016, there will be lots of opportunity for growth at all levels and enough profitable business for all who are willing to work for it.
Here’s wishing all in the automotive aftermarket a healthy, prosperous, dynamic, vibrant, and competitive year ahead. nJN

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