Auto Service World
Feature   March 1, 2005   by Andrew Ross

Turning the Upsell Upsidedown

Tune Up Your Selling Approach

If you’re still working the upsell, it’s time for you to tuneup your approach.

With the proliferation of ignition, emissions, and engine control products on the market today, starting at the lowest common denominator and moving upward through the quality spectrum can not only be confusing, it can be time-consuming.

When it comes to considering the effectiveness of a sales approach, keeping it simple often means hitting the top rung first.

“Usually I start at the top and work my way down,” says veteran counterperson Ron Cann. With 25 years of experience at Dial Auto Parts in Toronto, Ont., Cann has seen the ebb and flow of customers and quality over the years. He says that the pull of original equipment fit and function is unmistakable.

“A lot of the customers, they want the OE stuff, especially when it comes to GM and Ford. As far as going further down, I discourage it.”

“There is a good opportunity for everyone to take advantage of premium products,” says Megan Currie, product manager, Honeywell Consumer Products Group.

“People have always taken pride in their cars. Those who take pride in their cars are interested in looking at a step-up offering. You can generally tell who they are by the way that they talk about their car.”

Currie says that any product that is part of a step up over a standard item can be considered a premium product. She says that it is also important for managers and sales people to recognize the important role that the added profit of premium product can play.

“Really, the market from a unit standpoint isn’t growing for most parts, but you are seeing a shift in the various opportunities within any product category. You can go with a branded products, or a house brand product, but you can make more dollars selling that premium product and the customers will feel more confident in it. That is the power of the premium brand offering.”

Recognizing the true benefits to the service provider, and the legitimacy of performance claims, are important tools in the counterperson’s favour

The first rule of being successful in terms of sales is having an educated customer, says Doug Morrison, technical service manager and national race coordinator for NGK Spark Plugs of Canada Ltd.

“Let’s take a look at the mid-grade cars. On the average they came out with double platinum plugs, but the customer says they can’t afford to put the same in. So maybe the garage puts in a copper core plug. Then you get a shorter life, gas fouling. The plugs don’t even last 15,000 km without a seven to eight thou gap growth. That’s bad.”

He says that during clinics he hears all kinds of reasoning for not putting platinum or double platinum plugs in, including the desire to get the customer back in more often.

“I tell them, ‘You guys all expect repeat business. How many times do you see a ’98 car coming back in?’ Once you’ve done a tune-up with lousy plugs, the guy isn’t going to come back.”

At least part of the scepticism is the result of old information. In the early days of platinum, the technology wasn’t as robust and there were some problems with some aftermarket products, says Morrison.

But that is in the past and today you simply cannot expect anything but the appropriate alloyed plug to last. This is a key part of Morrison’s clinics.

“What we basically do is a history lesson on plug requirements. We explain the transition of ignition systems. We talk about the changes to the fuels, which a lot of people don’t realize. So that’s why you have to go to even better metals. It is a whole learning process. It is not simply ‘Here’s a plug,'” he says.

The results are traceable, he says. In areas where he has done more clinics, the relative proportion of platinum plugs is higher than in areas where there have been fewer clinics.

And it goes beyond just spark plugs: lose the customer because the wrong plugs were installed and you’ll lose the O2 sensors, exhaust parts, etc.

“And we get a lot of women from the counter showing up [at the clinics]. They want to be better than the guys are. When the education is done, it changes the way people look at it.

“Plan for the future instead of trying to retain the past. Get recognized for all the new stuff. Let the guy down the street get recognized for having all the old stuff.

“You have to change with technology.”

And the approach has to change. Jobbers and technicians alike must both be aware that more parts are being purchased from the automakers’ service parts organizations than ever, especially when a repair concerns emissions and ignition components. Relying on the lowest priced parts “that fit” does not help improve the lot of the aftermarket.

“Premium technology products set the standard for excellence in the automotive community. Backed by sophisticated and highly advanced technology, premium technology products are designed to meet the increased demands of today’s vehicles–and of installers and motorists that demand better quality, improved performance and longer product life with fewer comebacks. Most importantly, premium technology products create growth opportunities for all involved in the automotive aftermarket–jobbers and retailers, shop owners, and technicians,” says Chuck Ruth, director of product management, engine management systems for Bosch.

Not every customer will take to this right away, however. Owners of high-end vehicles–performance or luxury imports for example, even if they are a few years old–may be more inclined to appreciate the need for the proper technology.

“While most customers who work on those high-end and exotic cars might automatically veer towards selecting top quality products, there are many who need to be made more aware of the benefits available,” says Ruth.

He advises that a brief but targeted pitch highlighting the benefits premium technology brings to the customer’s specific needs, accompanied by the benefits to motorists, are normally convincing arguments that can tip the decision to premium technology products.

Of course, in addition to ensuring that the car owner has a job that has the best chance of lasting the expected service interval, which has climbed to 160,000 km in some cases, it also delivers benefits to the bottom line.

“Premium technology products, with their better margins, help create a distinct profit centre for jobbers, installers and retailers. Marketed appropriately, they build steady sales and customer loyalty through quality service, reliability and durability. Premium technology benefits the entire aftermarket,” says Otto Stefaner, product manager for spark plugs for Bosch. “It’s a win-win for all.”

The High Service Approach

The approach your business takes to premium products is really all part of a high service approach for the entire business.<

“If you take out a calculator and see that your average invoice is, for the sake of a number, $100,” says Norman Rose of Calgary-based Excel Sales Consulting. “If you’re selling some belts and hoses, what goes with that? You ask for that order for clamps. If you’re selling a battery, is the counterperson asking for the terminals?

“At successful companies, they count the cumulative dollars that they can add just by asking for that extra product. That’s not a selfish thing. That helps everyone,” says Rose.

He says that everyone in the supply chain can benefit from a taking a more measured approach, including the delivery driver.

“Everyone is living in a rush-rush lifestyle, but it helps everyone. What’s he got to do at 4 p.m. on a Friday? He has to drive back with the additional parts that were needed but not ordered.

“And it helps the service provider too, because he can do a more thorough job.”

Slowing down has its benefits.

“A lot of people think that they’re being pushy or over-aggressive, but they’re not. People don’t really know what they need on their car. They have to start recommending more and not make it activity-based, taking the call and hanging up.

Rose says that service advisers, technicians, and counterpeople can mistake people’s impatience for the need to rush.

“People don’t want rush service, they want efficient service. Sometimes that takes a little extra time.”

Tools for the Job

Having the information to get across to the customer, whether he is a technician or a car owner, is a counterperson’s best tool.

Manufacturers have a wide assortment of merchandising materials–sell sheets, point of purchase materials.

While the importance of such visual aids cannot be underestimated, the best tool in the counterperson’s selling toolbox is his own understanding.

Counterpeople should be encouraged to pursue training from parts suppliers and to be confident enough in their own knowledge to advise customers of the benefits to the job and their reputation by using premium ignition and emissions components.

The current catchphrase is “fit, form, function.” Spend time learning what your current suppliers’ strengths are and communicate these time and time again to customers.

For many components, the key competitor is not another jobber, it is the car dealer. If you check ignition and emissions parts demand in terms of pre-1996 and post-1996–the year that saw the introduction of OBD II systems–you may find some evidence that customers are not coming to you as readily for those OBD II parts.

Building the confidence of the service provider in parts that they are not accustomed to buying in the aftermarket is a long-term process. If your investigations reveal an issue, the time to start remedying it is now.

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