What practical steps can be taken by any heavy-duty parts business, manufacturer or distributor, that will lead to selling more heavy-duty parts?
At the heart of every business, there is a very simple question with a difficult answer that must be addressed if you want to have success.
What is the simple question with a difficult answer?
Step 1: Ask the Simple Question with a Difficult Answer
Why should customers buy from your heavy-duty parts business instead of the competition?
There is only one rule when answering this question:
You cannot use anything that your competition can do as well.
All too often businesses use generic statements that have no meaning to describe their supposed unique selling proposition. They talk about the basic things that are the barriers to entry as if they differentiate them in some way.
Let me give you an example.
“Hi, I’m from ABC Heavy-Duty Parts company, we’ve been selling heavy-duty parts for 150-years, we sell high-quality parts, at competitive prices, and we focus on providing excellent customer service and quick delivery. We also offer training to all our customers.”
None of these things can be used to answer our simple question.
The barrier to entry into the heavy-duty parts business includes experience, high-quality parts, competitive prices, excellent customer service, quick delivery, and training.
These things are important but do not meet the criteria to adequately answer our simple question because all serious competitors in the heavy-duty parts industry are doing all of those things as well.
The Difficult Answer
The reason answering this simple question is so difficult is because it drives at the very heart of a business and when you try to answer this simple question it can take you to a dark place.
What if you take the time to try and answer this simple question and you realize that there isn’t a good reason for customers to buy from you instead of the competition?
What if you realize that you are a second-rate business or worse, a third-rate or fourth-rate business?
What do you do then?
You need to approach this with what Michael E. Gerber calls “a blank sheet of paper and a beginner’s mind” which means that you have to look at your company from a new perspective. This is not easy but it is critical that you do the work because if you don’t your heavy-duty parts company will continue to be treated as a commodity.
Step 2: Identify Your Core Products and Your Ideal Customer
“The Pareto principle (also known as the 80/20 rule, the law of the vital few, or the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.”Wikipedia
This principle can be applied in almost every aspect of business. In the context of this article, we are going to apply it to identifying the core of your business.
Identifying Your Core Products
Your business sells heavy-duty products and services. If you check your sales you will find that roughly 80% of your sales come from 20% of your products or services. That means that if you sell 20 product lines, 4 of those lines or 20% will account for roughly 80% of your total sales. The same will apply to the services you offer.
Why does knowing this matter?
Because more products may not mean more sales. It can actually mean fewer sales. Understanding what your core products are will help you understand why people should buy from you instead of the competition.
Identifying Your Ideal Customer
Your customer is YOUR customer. They are ideally suited to do business with you. They believe what you believe, they buy what you sell and want to do business the way you do business, and they want to buy from you.
Conversely, there are customers out there that don’t believe what you do, they buy what you sell but are unwilling to do business the way you do business, and they really don’t want to buy from you.
It’s your job to understand what demographics matter to your business and recognize an ideal customer when you see one.
Do yourself a favor and spend some time looking at who your favorite customers are, the one that buys from you on a regular basis, you know the customer I’m talking about, you just love doing business with them. Make a customer profile and then search out all the customers that fit this profile and try to do business with them.
Pushing Customers Who Don’t Fit Away
It is just as important to develop the skill to identify a potential customer that is better suited for someone else.
I have always found that pushing customers who are a bad fit toward the competition is a very good strategy. It frees up your time and resources to focus on your customers while also giving your competition a direction away from your ideal customer.
Create a profile of every customer that you hate doing business with, you know who I’m talking about, your heart sinks a little whenever you get a phone call or email from them.
How to Fire a Customer
Use that profile to identify any existing customers or prospects that you really shouldn’t be doing business with. Then create what Michael Port calls a “red velvet rope policy” and kindly ask all the customers that don’t fit into your ideal customer list to move on.
Admittedly this may seem counterproductive, scary even, but if done properly it will transform your businesses results. How do you kindly ask a customer to move on? Rarely have I ever actually fired a customer, rather I just stop calling on them and most of them move on without any further communication.
The last few that keep causing you problems are notified (with a minimum of one month’s notice) that in the new quarter or calendar year they will receive a price increase and that there are new terms. You may get some push back but as long as you are kind and speak straightforwardly with the customer they typically just move on. Once a customer even apologized to me, accepted the new prices and terms, and became a good customer. You just never know with people.
On the rarest occasions, I have had to fire a customer outright. It has been my experience that the best way to do this is to honestly and in person via a phone call explain to the customer that although you really appreciate their business it just isn’t working for you. It is very prudent to have prepared a list of alternate suppliers ahead of time who you feel would be a great fit for this customer. Include contact information in a follow-up email so that it is easy for the customer to move on. They don’t usually like it but really what choice do they have.
This is one of the most important strategic jobs you have. Take the time today to develop your good customer and bad customer profiles and then take the necessary steps to increase your business with good customers and decrease your business with bad customers. This will increase your profitability and sales and decrease the challenges your business is facing.
Step 3: Examine the Competition
Your competition is a valuable source of information that can guide you to sell more heavy-duty parts. Think about it, your competition has “set the bar” so to speak, on everything from lead generation to customer fulfillment and satisfaction.
When you take the time to talk to your ideal customer you can ask them about their experience with competitors and this is where literally a gold mine of information can be found.
The point is that talking to ideal customers about what they like and don’t like about doing business with your competitors will give you a roadmap to long-term business success.
It’s such a simple strategy.
“Ask your customers what they want and give it to them.”
Because it is so simple, people underestimate the value of doing it consistently. Don’t make that mistake, take time to go talk to your ideal customers. Get to know them and learn as much as you can about what your competition is doing.
One way to organize the information you get is to create a Customer Buying Experience Map that shows each step the customer goes through from finding your business to becoming a repeat customer and referring you to others.
Next, put the information you get by talking to your ideal customers and analyzing what your competition is doing in the appropriate places. Ask yourself, “what does my ideal customer want at this point in the buying experience?” Once you think you know, verify your assumptions and do what you can to exceed what customers want.
Step 4: Use a Collaborative Sales System
In the heavy-duty truck and trailer parts business, most manufacturers have sales reps assigned to work with OEM’s, Truck Dealers, Aftermarket Distributors, and Aftermarket Retailers. The relationship is strictly B2B and the manufacturers rely on their customers to sell their products to the end-users.
Manufacturers want to work with the people who sell their products to the end-users. Sadly over the last 20 years, there has been a trend of declining interest in collaborative sales work. This is a mystery to many manufacturers as their only goal is to make the people and businesses who sell their products to the end-users successful.
I’m thoroughly convinced that collaborative sales work with heavy-duty parts manufacturers is an essential part of creating a successful strategic sales plan for heavy-duty parts distributors.
When I was a Sales Account Manager my system included using an email autoresponder, a calendar scheduling app, a detailed itinerary including dining and hotel recommendations, a comprehensive list of the customers to be visited, detailed information about the market potential of each customer, training requirements for our staff, and an optional in-store promotional sale and social media promotion to drive traffic to our store and website generating new sales opportunities.
Innovation Brings National Attention
What I didn’t expect was the national attention this system created.
My collaborative sales system has been considered by the industry to be very innovative and has gotten the attention of many executives of manufacturers around North and South America.
Cooperation at every level of the supply chain is necessary and as the digital revolution continues to dramatically change the business landscape collaboration between manufacturers, distributors, and technology companies will be essential to long-term success.
Step 5: Dealing with Price Pressure from Competitors
One time when I was a Sales Account Manager, our delivery driver brought to my attention that one of our top 5 customers had purchased some product from a competitor. This, of course, got my attention so I made a sales call as soon as possible and I discovered that this customer had indeed purchased a skid of brake shoes and a skid of drums from a competitor. Then I got a shock when one of the mechanics told me that they had purchased the product for approximately 50% less on the shoes and 20% less on the drums than what I had been selling our products for.
My first reaction was panic!
A swirl of questions ran through my mind:
- If this product is comparable in quality we are in big trouble and at risk of losing all our brake business, what will we do if that is the case?
- What had we done to lose their business?
- Had I failed to service the customer properly?
- Did our service level drop and I hadn’t noticed?
- Is the sales person who sold them this product better than me?
I’m a sales professional so I did my best to not let my initial reaction show and I calmly asked a few questions about the new products they had purchased. Additionally, I asked if I could take a look at the brake shoes. I found the code printed on the side, made a mental note and I thanked the customer for their business and left.
When I got back to my truck and out of the customer’s view I pulled over and did some research into this competitor’s brake lining. Then I called our manufacturer to discuss the differences in quality between the products I had sold them and the product the customer had purchased.
One fear was immediately put to bed, the product they had purchased was not even close in quality to the product we had been selling them.
Why had the customer purchased such a dramatically less quality product?
In a subsequent meeting with the customer, I discovered that they had a specific highway application that did not require the higher quality brakes that I had been selling them and they decided to test this alternative product because it was so much cheaper and should reasonably do the job they need it to do.
At least the customer had thought this through and had a legitimate reason for trying a cheaper and lesser quality product.
Are there any other reasons they went with a cheaper product?
After asking a few more well-placed questions I discovered that our customer was indeed unhappy about a few things. We discussed their concerns at length and took necessary action to correct the issues that had been brought forward by the customer.
After addressing those issues I then asked the customer if I could submit our prices on a comparable product, at a comparable price for the specific application that did not require the higher quality brakes. The customer agreed and after comparing our product to the competitor’s product the customer agreed that the quality of our product exceeded the competitions and we would be awarded the next order.
In the end, I was able to win the business back and in the process, we uncovered a few unrelated product and service issues that I was able to quickly address.
Was the competitor’s salesperson better than me?
I give full credit where it is due, this salesperson took advantage of an opportunity that we created. The customer typically would not have given a competitor the opportunity to “get their foot in the door” as it were but we opened the door with a drop in customer service. Now, in the end, I was able to take appropriate action and get the business back but it never should have happened in the first place.
This teaches a vital lesson to all sales professionals and heavy-duty parts businesses alike.
“Never take your customers for granted, because your competition is waiting for an opportunity to take them away from you.”
As a sales professional who works for either a manufacturer or a heavy-duty parts distributor, it is imperative that you keep measuring your own performance with your customers, reviewing their accounts, and asking them well-placed questions to uncover any issues long before those unresolved issues leads to the customer looking to a competitor for a solution.
The price will continue to be an issue, but as any sales professional knows, a price objection typically is just a symptom of a larger issue and can be a signpost that will lead you to the sale. I hope this story gives you some insights into what to do when confronted by a dramatically reduced competitors price.
Let’s review how to deal with price pressure:
- Don’t panic, ask questions about the competitor’s products, and take careful note of exactly what the competitive product is and what it is not.
- Do your research and enlist help from manufacturers, suppliers, and your company.
- Be proactive and meet with the customer to discuss why they have purchased this cheaper competitive product. Don’t assume anything.
- Go deeper and make sure you uncover any issues the customer has unrelated to the most recent purchase.
- Resolve those issues immediately.
- Ask the customer to give you a chance to present a competitive product that is both comparable in quality and price.
- Ask for the business.
- Internally do a review of what leads up to this and then visit all of your other top customers to ensure that there are not similar unresolved issues.
- If you follow these steps and you still lose the business don’t take it personally, you have done all you can and you are conducting yourself like a professional. Get back on your horse and earn your customer’s business back. Be the better sales professional and win the war despite losing a few battles along the way.
These 5 strategies will help you sell more heavy-duty parts. The industry is facing new challenges all the time but by focusing on these fundamentals you can adapt to changes in technology and customer buying habits and you can succeed long-term.
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