Off the Shelf
By Susan Hitchon
Spending a few days a month with manufacturers’ sales representatives is a time commitment, but it can pay real dividends to learn about the latest automotive products and taking them around to visit your clients.
Unfortunately, those “detailing days” have been put on hold due to the Covid-19 crisis. When the pandemic lifts and the world goes back to normal, I think we’ll find that the industry quickly resumes this activity. Like auto repair and haircuts, there will be pent-up demand that just has to be addressed.
The reason detailing is so valuable to jobbers is that it can boost sales and improve a store’s reputation with its clients. The reason it is valuable to manufacturers is it allows for direct communication with its customers, helping them know what works and what doesn’t, and how they can tweak their offerings to meet changing market demands.
Like anything, however, detailing can be done well, and it can be done badly. Making the most of your detailing days starts with careful planning and attention to the needs of your client.
Here are some things to keep in mind when detailing work starts up again – likely later this year.
Do your homework
If you are presented with an opportunity to spend a day with a direct manufacturer’s representative to visit your clients, make sure you’re prepared.
Do your research ahead of the appointment. Know what the company offers, what’s new, and what’s popular in your area. Be sure of your inventory capabilities, and your sales history with that company. And be clear on what the purpose of the day will be.
If your main goal is to go on sales visits to introduce a new product or promotion, know who you’re going to see and what they’re likely to need. If you think product knowledge is an issue, have a plan for clinics or training. If you need to address technical issues, product failures, or complaints, have examples ready, and solutions in mind.
A conversation with your representative ahead of time to clarify the purpose of the visits will help you determine which clients really need to hear the message.
Plan quality visits
There may be a temptation to put your best clients at the top of any visit list. But they may not be the best target. Be sure to take your rep to see the clients who have a keen interest in the product offering and who are likely to get the most out of the day’s message. The idea is to move the sales needle. Some of the smaller shops or niche service providers may, in fact, have the best potential to be successful with the product or knowledge that’s being presented. Some of your less-regular clients may benefit most from your visit. It might turn them into more-regular clients. Be prepared to acknowledge that your highest volume clients may not be the best fit for the presentation.
Respect everyone’s time
It goes without saying that you should formally schedule your appointments for the day. Make sure all clients have agreed to your visits. No one likes a pop-in visit. And don’t assume that they will see you just because you have a great relationship with them. In truth, that kind of assumption can damage your relationship. Interrupting them during a busy day without an appointment won’t win you any brownie points, will create an awkward visit for the manufacturer’s rep, and will make your next visit that much harder.
Before you arrive at any shop, give the rep a brief summary of the client. Let them know about the clientele they serve, what makes them distinct in the market and their purchasing history. Try to avoid any surprises during the visit!
Develop a rhythm
The best sales pitches are well-rehearsed, have a good pace, and don’t meander aimlessly. Take the time to develop a cadence with the manufacturer’s rep. Talk about how long each appointment should be, and be clear on what products you will cover.
A lot of manufacturers have a wide range of products and services that could, each in their own right, be fruitful topics of discussion. The trick is to know what you’ll cover, and what you won’t. Agree on a format for the presentation, and then stick to it. That includes knowing when the rep should “take the lead,” what you should contribute, and who will wrap up.
While the manufacturer’s rep is talking, be quiet and listen carefully. Not only will that set the tone for your client to follow, but you may learn something new yourself, no matter how many times you’ve heard the presentation.
There is also a give-and-take that can be particularly effective, where you lead the conversation with focused questions that they can answer.
Work with each other’s strengths and learn to make a presentation together where you complement each other’s style. This is not just about sales. This is about making sure your client gets the most out of the visit.
Don’t settle for unprofessionalism… ever! If a manufacturer’s representative is behaving unprofessionally during a visit, cut things short, apologize to your client, and try to reset before the next appointment. Explain to them exactly what your feelings are about their behavior and ask them to immediately take corrective action to avoid a repeat. If they can’t do that, then cancel the rest of the day.
Your detailing appointments are a reflection of your values and your company. You can’t afford to let other individuals negatively affect your reputation or relationship with your clients.
Similarly, be prepared to “call an audible” if your client is rude, disrespectful, or inappropriate. Stop the presentation to find out what’s going on. You may find out that your client is having a particularly difficult day, or that some personal crisis is interfering with their ability to concentrate. It is better to cancel or reschedule the meeting than press ahead fruitlessly
This is an opportunity for you to tap into a manufacturer’s resources for a day. Use it well! You’ve got the rep’s undivided attention for four to eight hours. Ask a lot of questions, forge a good working relationship, and listen carefully to their answers.
Remember, these meetings are as much for you as for your clients. Don’t just leave them with your client, while you go to the back room to check stock. Even if you’ve heard the same presentation multiple times, you’re bound to miss important questions and answers that will be helpful to you. You may learn something new about your client’s business or the unique challenges they face. Your input may be necessary. Don’t be M.I.A!
Finally, follow up with the manufacturer’s rep after your detailing day is done.
Ask for their feedback on your operation, your clients, and how they felt the day went.
Don’t forget to provide them with constructive feedback in return. They need to know if they hit the mark or if they need to change or improve their presentation to be more successful.
And if you feel that the detailing day was a huge success, share that with the rest of your team so that they can also benefit from working with that individual.
Also follow up with the clients you visited. Don’t let the presentation be forgotten the moment you left the shop. Find out what their biggest take-away was, and don’t forget to follow up on any commitments you made.
Detailing has always been a big part of the automotive aftermarket. Done poorly it can be a waste of everyone’s time. But done well, it spurs sales, answers questions, and keeps everyone on the same path.
Susan Hitchon is Ontario business development manager for the Automotive Aftermarket E-Learning Centre. You can reach her at email@example.com