‘Focus on what you can do for them’
This article by Jason Miller is the first in a multi-part series about how to land and keep new commercial truck tire accounts. Miller is a veteran of the tire industry with more than 30 years of experience, much of it in the commercial truck tire sector. He currently runs The Tire Consultants (www.thetireconsultants.com), an independent training and consulting firm that helps tire dealers get back to the basics.
In this installment, he discusses how to approach prospective customers, based on his own experiences. His book, “Selling By the Numbers,” is available through on-line booksellers, including Amazon.com.?
In this multi-part series, we’re going to take a look at the commercial tire selling process. In a way, the process resembles flying an airplane. Statistically, the most dangerous portions are the take-off and landing. If anything goes wrong during those two events, the results can be disastrous. It’s the same way when trying to land a new account.
How do you get off the ground? While it comes more naturally to some, anyone can learn how to do it. That doesn’t mean you won’t encounter resistance along the way. In my previous career as a commercial tire salesman, many of my long-term customers were challenges from the very beginning.
I faced a variety of scenarios and heard a lot of reasons why potential customers didn’t want to do business with me. Here are two memorable reasons and how I got around the roadblocks.
”I’m happy with my current supplier.” It was a hot, dry day in west Texas and the wind was blowing out of the west past the cattle feed lots. Among my prospects was a large tanker truck fleet. I decided to call for an appointment.
“Good morning. My name is Jason Miller. I represent so-and-so tire company. I was hoping I could stop by and briefly discuss your medium truck tire program.”
“I appreciate your call, but I’m completely satisfied with my current supplier,” the manager replied. “If anything changes I’ll give you a call.” Click!
A month later, I called the fleet tire buyer again. As if playing a recording he told me, “Still happy with my current supplier. I’ll call if anything changes.” Click!
By the third month, I knew I had to try a different approach. When he picked up the phone I said, “Hi, it’s Jason Miller calling again -- wait, please don’t hang up on me! My boss keeps asking about my prospects and I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t even met you. Can I meet you in the foyer of your office, shake your hand and leave so I can say I met you?”
His response? You guessed it: “Thanks for calling, but I’m happy with my supplier. I’ll call if anything changes.” This guy was tough!
I spent the better part of the weekend reflecting. Statistics show that four out of five salespeople would have given up by now. Not me. How was I going to get this one? Do I just keep calling until the incumbent supplier messes up?
Then something occurred to me, and it was a question that forever changed my approach to selling: who were my first three calls designed to benefit? Me!
My prospect isn’t supposed to spend his time helping me; I’m supposed to spend my time helping him. I sent him a card that read, “Thank you for taking time to speak with me each month. Please know that it’s my sincere desire to someday be a supplier to your organization and I’m available to help you with your tire program any way I can. If you think of any way that I can be of service, please call. I will continue to phone occasionally just to check in. If I become a pest, please let me know.”
When I called the following month, he invited me to stop by. He offered me a small opportunity to help his company and within a year I had secured the entire account.
It took my competitor nearly a year to realize they had lost the account! This customer was so loyal and problem-free that the incumbent supplier stopped checking in regularly. When they called trying to get the account back, guess what they heard? “I’m happy with my current supplier. I’ll call if anything changes!”
Most salespeople keep calling until a prospect is ready to change. When I make a call, I assume that no matter how good an existing program is, I can make it better. You must focus on what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.
”I’ve had a bad experience with your company.” If you’ve ever been to St. Louis, Mo., you can probably picture downtown nestled along the western bank of the Mississippi River. Downtown provides a stunning backdrop for St. Louis’ famous arch. Not far from the arch is a great place for fleet prospecting: an industrial area with an assortment of decent-sized trucking fleets, all in close proximity.
While working the area one day, I came by a nice-looking fleet. Walking past the bay, I saw a large man standing in the shop near a stack of tires. Between us was a yellow chain keeping me on the outside. I looked at him and said with a smile, “Excuse me, which door do I go in to meet the person in charge of tires for your fleet?”
“Depends on what company you’re with,” he replied in a gruff manner.
When I told him he said, “In that case, there is no door for you!” And he wasn’t kidding.
After a brief pause to digest this combative response, I said, “Let me guess — you had a problem with my company in the past and nobody would take care of the problem. Am I right?”
“This meeting is over,” he barked.
With my tail between my legs, I said I understood. Determined to make some shred of progress, I added, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name.”
“That’s because I didn’t give it to you,” he said and walked away.
I went to my car, took out a hat, walked back up to the yellow chain and said, “Excuse me again. I was just thinking — apparently our tires stink or our people stink, but have you tried one of our hats?”
He just stared at me. I reached across the chain, put the hat on top of a barrel by the bay door and said, “See you in a month.”
Exactly one month later, I stopped back. I looked through the bay door and there he was. I called out, “Hi, do you remember me?”
“Oh, I remember you,” he said with a sneer.
“I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name,” I countered.
“I didn’t give it to you then and I’m not giving it to you now” was his response.
“Fair enough,” I replied, and continued by saying “on my last visit we determined that our tires stink or our people stink. How’s the hat working out?”
He stared at me and quipped, “It’s fine.”
I held out a pen and said, “Great! Have you tried our pens?”
He shook his head. I placed a pen on top of the barrel by the bay door and said, “See you in a month.”
One month later, I stopped back, this time carrying a portfolio. When I saw him I said, “Hi, remember me?”
I could hear him mutter a faint “ugh” under his breath as he rolled his eyes. However, this time he was smiling. The brief conversation that followed went like this:
“Hat still working?”
“Pen still working?”
“How about trying the portfolio?”
His reply: “Will you shut up and get in here?”
It turns out I was right; he did have a problem with our company many years prior to my visit. It had to do with a tire that failed. Instead of handling the problem, a previous rep wouldn’t return his phone calls, hoping the customer would go away. He did go away -- for many years!
I find that frequently. Every company will have problems. Customers don’t expect perfection; they expect timely resolution. How you handle problems can make a bigger impact than whether or not you have problems. While not having problems shows how good you are, solving problems shows how much you care.
What I accomplished with my silly charade was to show my prospect that he couldn’t get rid of me. I kept coming back, even when he was upset and rude. I could not have done that with words -- only with actions.
They say it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. That’s not exactly true. Success is about who knows you. That doesn’t happen until you walk up, introduce yourself and start building a relationship.
Pick up the phone
You will have good days and bad days; that’s just the nature of this business. When you’re hot, make as many introductory calls as you can squeeze into the day. When you’re off (and it happens to everybody), call on your favorite customer and psyche yourself up for tomorrow.
If you’re reluctant to make cold calls, it’s probably because you feel like you’re intruding.
Once you realize that every fleet needs something, your posture, demeanor and energy will change.
Don’t make the first call more than what it is. Your initial call serves no other purpose than to make your prospect comfortable talking to you.
Subsequent calls will help you and your prospect determine how entering into a relationship may be worthwhile for both of you.
In the April edition of CTD, Miller looks at what to do once you get your foot in the door at a prospective customer’s business that includes how to sell your services.