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Selling to auto dealers

Four steps to finding other clientele and revenue sources.

February 25, 2014
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To build retail business, most detail shops depend on a combination of word-of-mouth referrals and a little advertising. But, ask them what they do to get more business from auto dealers, body shops, or repair garages and they tell you it is all about price; nothing else matters.

That may have been true in the past, but things are different today. Yes, price can still be a factor in getting more dealers and other commercial business, but it is not the only way. Personal selling — calling on dealers and others in person and giving them solid reasons to let you do their detail work — can be highly successful if you do it right and follow a few simple steps.

STEP 1: Know thy customer

You know your detail service, but how well do you know the potential customer? Before you can sell anything to anybody, you need some basic information about the customer.

Who makes the decision? Who is the person to contact that would send cars to your shop? In a dealership, it might be the used car manager, the fixed ops manager, the service manager, or even the general manager in smaller dealerships. You need to find out whom that person is, then make them your best friend. If you are not sure, butter them all up! It cannot hurt to get as many people on your side as you can.

Second, find out what they want. The dealer has in house needs and may also sell retail details to customers, and farm them out to shops like yours because they do not have staff qualified to do the retail work; or because they are too busy to handle them quickly enough to make the customer happy; or because they do not want to mess with the whole issue of detailing. If you can determine why the dealer sends work to outside shops, you are more than halfway to a sale. So ask them!

STEP 2: Sell them the benefits of using your shop

When you visit the dealer, or any business, it is essential that you make it worth their while to see you. That means you not only have tell them what you are selling, but what is in it for them if they buy from you. Do not tell them your detail work is the best in the state — they probably do not care. If you explain why his or her used car buyers will be ecstatic when they see your work, that will matter. That is why you need to determine their needs early in the sales process and build your pitch — including any brochures or other material — around those needs. You have to set yourself apart from other detailing operations trying to get their business.

When you satisfy their needs, you are delivering a benefit to them. What kinds of benefits can you promise? Prompt delivery. Most dealers want used cars on the lot quickly. They cannot sell them it they are not properly detailed and on the used car lot. Working on Saturday will get you business. If the dealer gets a trade in on Saturday and then get it to you, it can be on the lot, ready to sell on Sunday. 

If they have an in house detail department, show them you can improve their profits by lowering their expenses and giving you the work. Why should they invest in additional equipment, people and supplies when you can assume those costs?

And don't forget the intangible benefits like customer satisfaction. When the person who bought the car from the dealer is happy, the dealer is happy. If your work puts a smile on the car buyer's face, the dealer gets to take the credit and sell that buyer another car next year. Pointing these benefits out makes a compelling, persuasive sales presentation.

STEP 3: Overcome the objections

"You're too expensive."

Ever heard that one? Of course you have — probably on every sales presentation you have ever made. Unbelievably, though, it is a good sign! When the prospect starts talking about your price, it means there is some interest in your service. Why else would the buyer want to talk about the price?

There are only two questions the dealer or business owner needs to answer in order to buy: "What's it going to do for me?" and "How much does it cost?" If they do not like the service, then the price does not matter. Would you buy a locomotive just because it was cheap? Of course not. Therefore, when the prospect says your price is too high, welcome the objection with open arms — it means you have almost made the sale.

So how do you manage a price objection? The first step is to assume the dealer or potential customer complains about the price automatically to every detail person who calls on them. And since they do not lose anything by asking for a better price they would be foolish not to.

Your job, on the other hand, is to ignore it. That is right: Just skip right by the price objection. Acknowledge the statement the dealer makes and get on with your pitch.

You might try a reply like this: "I can see how you might feel that way. Now, the major benefits of my proposal are ... " and go right back into your presentation. You have plenty of time to answer the price objection later, but you will only have to answer it if the prospect brings it up again.

If you hear the price objection a second time, you can figure the prospect is serious about it and has some reservations about the value received in return for the price paid. However, do not start talking yet — listen instead. It is imperative that you know what type of price objection you are dealing with before you answer.

There are several different kinds of price objections, each requiring a slightly different strategy. Is your price going to leave the dealer/customer room for a reasonable margin? How do your prices compare to your competition? Know which one you are dealing with before you answer. And the only way to know is to listen.

One thought to keep in mind is never to tell the prospect "no" without giving them an alternative at the same time. "No, I can't lower my price, but I can make the cost lower if we do a one-step on the paint."

This helps you conduct the price discussion in a positive tone. And this attitude will help you turn the price objection into an opportunity to close the sale and deepen your relationship with the dealer.

STEP 4: Ask for the order

A good estimate is that 50 percent of all successful sales are closed by the customer, not the salesperson. But if half of your sales just happen, the other half do not — the dealer/customer will not say "yes" until you ask him to.

All you have to do is ask a simple little question: "Do you want to give us some cars to detail now?" and it is all over but the shouting.

Salespeople get uptight and nervous about closing because they spend too much time figuring out which set of magic words will trick the prospect into saying "yes.” They build motorcycles when a bicycle will get them there just as well.

Sometimes, the direct question needs some assistance to move the prospect along the path to the buying decision. One thing you can do is go over all the benefits that you offer to the dealer, pausing after each one to ask the dealer how they feel about it. Each time you get a particularly positive response, ask for the business. If you get a negative or neutral answer, do not try to counter it or argue; probe for more information. You will accomplish your goal — moving the closing process along either way.

Persistence pays off

This all seems pretty simple, but it is not. Getting the business is not an event; it is a process. And, like any other process, one of the key components is time. It takes time for you to get to know the needs and desires of the dealer. Time for them to learn to trust you. Time for them to comprehend the benefits of adding your detail services to their collection of marketing tools.

Very few sales happen the first time you see a new prospect. It generally takes three or four — some experts say as many as 12 — meetings where proposals are made, before an order is secured.

This is where many salespeople fail. They give up after their first few attempts to get the business. It is tough to hear a prospect say "no" to proposal after proposal. It is even harder in many ways to deal with one who repeatedly says "maybe”. Therefore, after two or three seemingly fruitless meetings, the sales person gives up on that prospect. But, that is a major mistake.

Avoid it by keeping the door open. If you get a turndown, make sure the dealer/customer understands that you will be back, soon, with another proposal. There is nothing wrong with saying, "Since you did not care for this proposal, is it ok if I come back with another one?"

After every meeting, review what you learned about their needs, and likes and dislikes so your next proposal will meet them better.

Manage your own expectations. Do not look on calls that end with "no" as defeats, but rather as learning experiences for both you and the dealer.

Finally, keep the pipeline full. Always have a number of active prospects at various stages of development — some new ones, some who have seen a few ideas, and some who are just about ready to buy. Constantly putting new prospects on your calendar will help keep your enthusiasm up.

Successful, personal selling is often a numbers game; the more calls you make, the greater your chances are of finding somebody who needs your services. For example, the number of new car dealers and body shops are declining, so you cannot afford to overlook even one. And don't forget the used car dealers and wholesalers in the area. They are prospects too. You may also develop business with commercial accounts, like car and truck rental companies, as well as local government agencies.

R.L. “Bud” Abraham is president of Detail Plus Car Appearance Systems, Portland, OR, and a nearly 40-year member of the car care industry. He is the founding member of the International Detailing Association and its first executive director. He is also a member of the Western Carwash Association Board of Directors.

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