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Counter intelligence: You better get better, and then better again

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Counter intelligence: You better get better, and then better again

In last month’s article, I asked the question “Is retailing getting harder?”  I used a quote from Steve Jobs from when Apple was announcing it was planning on opening its own retail stores. He said, “Retailing is hard.”  I thought to myself, “He has no idea.”  Well, he did have an idea, and a big one at that.

The very nature of retailing makes it challenging; it’s where it all comes together, where product design, engineering, packaging, pricing, advertising, marketing and so much more meet the marketplace. It’s the point-of-contact, if you will; it’s the end of the line where, win or lose, it’s a challenge.

So often our job is about managing the expectations of the marketplace. By that I mean the expectations of consumers, expectations of the retail operation, itself, and expectations of vendors and tire manufacturers. 

Aligning expectations

My conversations with tire dealers indicate that it has become more challenging to align expectations across all channels, mainly due to consumers’ increasing access to information. The consensus is that more consumers today call armed with additional information obtained from their Internet research, and yet few are fully informed, resulting in the need to align expectations. The challenge is so often to sell around the consumer’s foregathered information. Let’s face it; people like to be right, don’t we?

Here’s the biggest challenge today: Aligning expectations. 

Don’t think that aligning the consumer’s expectations with yours is the big challenge; that’s only half the battle.  The other half is aligning your expectations with the consumer.

Let me say that a different way.  I often hear the counter salespeople in our industry trying to align a consumer’s thinking with their own thinking, almost wrestling on the phone to convert the consumer’s thinking to align with theirs. You must allow the consumer to be right, to be heard, to be validated.


That’s right; you’re not the only one who wants to be right. The consumer has invested time and effort into their research and you need to validate some of their findings. If you consistently fight-to-be-right, you are going to lose. Winning is a combination of listening, aligning, affirming, confirming, aligning, listening some more, fact finding, asking questions, re-affirming, more listening and aligning, etc.

We must deal with the new reality that consumers call on the phone and arrive at our counters with more information than ever, and it’s our number one job to sort through it all and align our thinking with both their needs and their thinking. Let me say it this way:  Aligning your thinking will require mirroring your customer; mirroring is aligning. 

As I said earlier in this article, retailing is where it all comes together, or not. Every customer is different and requires special handling. The Internet is rather impersonal, and this is our big advantage. The Internet, though packed with information, facts and figures, prices and offers, reviews and opinions, is still not personal.

Personal professionalism will win the sale, not the sales person with the fastest answers, the $100 rebate or the lowest price. The winners will be the professionals who align with the customer, not just aligning expectations enough to get the sale, but aligning expectations to the point of earning future business, earning word-of-mouth referrals and, of course, digital referrals in our new digital world. 

I was trained and grew up on old sales techniques: 

• the five steps to a tire sale,

• don’t be afraid to ask for the order,

• feel-felt-and-found, along with the old mantra of

• the ABC’s, an acronym for Always-Be-Closing. 

Today it requires a more customer centric approach; it requires a more aligned approach. Today the marketing buzzwords are transparency,  pathway to purchase,  consulter selling, and more. 

To me, it’s just good, old-fashioned selling.  The goal is the same, results. We get paid for results, selling tires and service, and making customers happy.

I remember reading Stephen Covey’s best seller “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” As a sales person at the time, this habit made a lot of sense to me, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  I leave you with this, “First align yourself, and then align your customer.” 

Old school ABC’s: Always-Be-Closing

New school ABC’s: Alignment-Balance-Closure

Next month we’ll take a look at balance in the sales process. Aligning will make you better; balance will make you better again.     ■

Wayne Williams is president of ExSell Marketing Inc., a “counter intelligence” firm based in La Habra, Calif. He can be reached at

For more Counter Intelligence articles from Williams, see:

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