November 1, 2014
Walking in to my local chain coffee shop I am greeted with a very typical, “What can I get you this morning?” On this particular day I was ordering coffee for a couple of people at the office. I told the barista my first drink order, “I need one grande, soy, vanilla latte...” Then, I politely paused as she was entering the order so I wouldn’t confuse her with my next drink request. But before I could continue she blurted, “That will be $3.45.”
I explained that I actually need to order a couple other drinks. She had an annoyed look on her face as she got back into the order to add to it. I finished telling her my drink orders and again before I could ask for anything else she gave me the total price for the drinks. At this point I was quite exasperated and I told her I would also like to order some food. I felt like I was inconveniencing her by adding to my order. It was a very uncomfortable situation. I left the coffee shop that morning wondering how much money this particular multi-billion dollar company loses because their staff isn’t trained to ask for more sales.
You may wonder what ordering coffee has to do with auto parts, but sales are sales. Almost every day I am on the receiving end of customer service and, whether good or bad, I take a moment to reflect back on my own business and how I can apply what I have learned to improve our sales.
My uncomfortable experience at the coffee shop, which happens more often than I would like, has me thinking about one of the most basic principles of the sales profession, but often the least practiced: asking for the sale. If you don’t ask for the sale the answer will always be “No.”
When we hire and train our sales people are we training them to sell? Do you train them to ask for the sale? Many of us, myself included, have hired sales people and trained them on nothing more than how to answer the phones and enter orders thinking that the sales part takes care of itself once you get a customer on the line. The sad truth is it doesn’t. Even though we are blessed not to be in an industry where we are trying to convince someone they “need” to buy some luxury item, we can’t count on the customer to close the sale, we must train our sales people to do so!
Following are my five quick tips for training your sales people to ask for the sale:
1. Get the customer to acknowledge that the part has value to them. This is one of the oldest sales tactics in the book but remember that sales is a game of psychology. You need to get inside your customer’s mindset and help them see why ordering the part from you is better than any other option they may have. In the case of used auto parts, getting the customer to see the value in the part they are after usually has to do with learning about what they are repairing and why. Whether it is an individual or garage you must ask questions about the job. This will help you better understand their needs and then in turn comment on why the part you have in stock will help them get the job done.
Often in our industry one of the biggest values to the customer is the lower price of used OEM parts versus new. You can almost always get the customer to agree that the part will save them money, this is a first step. But even so, your customer probably has many options for used OEM parts, which is why you also need to stress the value that your company has to offer. This can be many things including a more competitive price, a better warranty, the right color body part, low mileage, quick delivery, etc. Pick your strongest selling point and get your customer to agree that this will help them get their job done.
2. Don’t blurt out the price and then wait for an answer. If price must be discussed, follow it up with a question and guide the conversation into closing the sale. If you blurt out the price and wait for the answer you are only rolling the dice and hoping you will win. Yes, there is a slight chance that the customer will immediately agree to purchase and proceed, but there is a much greater chance that they will not and then you have lost control of the sale. I find that price is a hard thing to avoid in our industry because we price on supply and demand. Many customers realize that the price of our parts fluctuates depending on the market. Often a customer calls specifically letting me know they are checking the price. If this is the case, my favorite thing to do is to wrap the price up in a question that will get the customer to state a positive affirmation. For example “Yes, I have that engine in stock for $650, you wanted the one with 80K miles correct?” or “Yes, I have that front door in stock for $150, you were looking at the red one on our website correct?” The customer will answer with a “Yes” because you are really just confirming something that you already knew about what they were looking for. You then have the opportunity to set up delivery for the part by another engaging question “When do you need the part by?” and then use that answer to get your order in and close the sale.
3. Always ask if there is anything else that the customer needs. This is one of the simplest and least invasive questions you can ask your customer that can lead to more sales; yet again it is often forgotten. If you took the time in the beginning of the conversation to understand the job they are working on you might already have an idea of the other parts they might need and can make suggestions without asking.
For example, if they called looking for a rear quarter panel, they might also need the tail light, bumper and trunk lid. Do not assume that the customer would think to ask if they need it. Many times shops are working off of repair estimates that have not taken into consideration that vendors have more of the required parts than originally written. If nothing else, make sure you wrap up your sales with a simple “Can I help you get any other parts for this vehicle?” or “Do you have any other jobs right now that I can check on parts for you?”
4. Make it easy for your customer to order from you. In the case that you were not able to close the sale on the first phone call you must outright ask what it will take for them to decide and then give them a reason to reach you or confirm that you will follow up. If you don’t have information about what is driving their decisions, you will never efficiently make sales. Most people are either searching for pricing or availability. Find out which it is and then make your pitch based on what they need.
If the customer tells you that they do not know if they will get the job, you need to ask when they will know. Then offer to call them back to make it easier for them. Also make sure you are using your quote system to its fullest potential. We know that quotes are useful for our sales people to remember details of a request but they are not used as a selling tool often enough. Make sure your sales people tell the customer they have the part request in a quote. Have them offer the quote number or a faxed or e-mailed copy of the quote.
Even just verbally communicating to the customer that there is a record of the request on file helps to solidify in the mind of the customer that their business matters to you. If you discussed special pricing or requests during the conversation make sure you confirm that, too. It shows the customer that you are paying attention and gives them a reason to call you back.
5. Stop fearing rejection. One of the hardest parts of asking for the sale is being rejected. I have read countless articles on sales that remind me that a rejected sale is not to be taken personally. The customer is not saying “I do not like you,” they are just saying that they are not ready or willing to give their money in exchange for your product or service.
However, many of us, myself included, can feel like it is a personal offense when a customer outright tells us why they won’t purchase our parts. Some customers feel it is necessary not only to refuse the sale but add insult to injury. I will never forget during my first year in the business I was on the road making customer visits to local body shops and garages. I had my little speech prepared and my visits were going well until I got to one Mom & Pop shop where the owner came out to talk to me. I introduced myself, thanked him for his business and offered up the free pens, notepads, and food that I had brought with me when he told me outright that he hated buying used parts, he thought they were all junk and only did so when he had to for insurance jobs.
He then went as far as to hand me back my pens and notepads but said he would keep the food. Being new to the sales side of the parts business I think I turned five shades of red, apologized profusely for bothering him, and walked out the door with my tail between my legs. I will never forget how rejected I felt and I have thought about it a lot since then. I learned a couple of things that day. First, his rejection of my product was not a personal insult, but him verbalizing frustrations with past experiences. Second, it was an opportunity to engage him in a discussion of why he had that opinion about used parts and to possibly change his mind, or at least convince him that when he had to buy used parts that he should buy them from us.
If you take sales rejection personally you will always be paralyzed in fear. Ask for the sale and be prepared with information that will help you make the sale when there are doubts from your customer.
Taia M. Cesana, a second generation auto recycler, is Vice President of East Coast Auto Salvage, Inc., in Higganum, Conn.