Counter intelligence: Just when you thought it was safe...

Feb. 14, 2013

This past week I got schooled by a grandmother. I’ve been either employed or involved in the tire game for over 30 years, and as a result, I get approached repeatedly for advice regarding tires. A friend of mine owns a local furniture upholstery business, and he sent me a text last week inquiring about a set of tires for his mother’s car.

Knowing his kids, I know she is now a grandmother. I texted a reply that I’d be happy to help and asked him for the standard make/model/year and the exact tire size, if possible. I had a picture in my mind of grandma crawling around on the driveway looking for her tire size. He later texted me the information: A 2004 Corvette with 245/45R17 front and 275/40R18 rear run-flat tires. I proceeded to gather some information to pass along. He indicated that grandma would like to save some money, so I took the liberty to offer him non-run-flats to offer to his mother.

This is where the schooling comes in; grandma ripped us both. She knows how to spell “Google,” and she also knows how to spell “Goodyear Run-Flat Tires” ... good ole’ grandma.

She proceeded to tell me more about run-flat tires than I ever knew. She was incensed that I would jeopardize her safety and offer a tire lacking all the benefits of a run-flat. She continued to school me on which brand is currently rated better than the other and where they stack-up on pricing, etc. She had either been on the Internet, or she has some very interesting ladies as part of her bridge club. Either way, she handed me my advice.

I started reading a book I purchased on New Year’s Day, “To Sell is Human” by Daniel Pink. He clarified a concept in the book that I have been aware of, and now with grandma’s help, experienced firsthand.

I quote, “We’ve moved from a world of caveat emptor, buyer beware, to one of caveat venditor, seller beware.” In this instance with grandma, she knew more than I. I attempted to make a recommendation without understanding the buyer. When researching tires, customers today go online; the marketing research says 66% of all tire customers start online. Thank goodness that their research continues by calling local tire retailers.


In recent training meetings conducted with a number of tire dealers, I’ve been ranting about the fact that we used to complain about how uninformed (stupid) customers were, and now we complain because these same (stupid) customers are now more informed. In my training meetings, I tell store owners and sales staff that they aren’t shutting down the Internet anytime soon, so as local service providers, we had better be better prepared.

The concept is simple, callers now have more information from their research online, and as a result, they may have retrieved fresh information that you, as a sales person, may not be aware of or abreast of. When I say we had better be better prepared, I don’t mean that we necessarily need to know more, but we need to know better how to research our customer while they research us.

If I had been face to face with grandma and paying attention, I would have known at the first suggestion of replacing all four tires with non-EMT tires that it was not going to fly with her. Her body language, her knowledge and her comments would have caused me to move on to a product that she had researched. At that point, it becomes more consultative selling than recommending or product selling.

In speaking with a veteran tire business owner a few days ago, he commented, “You can tell when people have been online,” followed by the comment, “Most of my callers have been online.”

His point was simple; the Internet is changing the phone conversation. Grandma is now zipping around town in her new Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 ZP’s feeling confident that her purchase was right for her.

Points to ponder:

• When grandma dropped the hammer on me, I did not get defensive. I simply agreed with her findings and asked if she would permit me to do some research, as well.

• I did not invalidate any of her findings, nor did I discount her opinions. I agreed with her and later made a recommendation that was in line with her beliefs.

• I apologized for my lack of understanding and thanked her for the opportunity to research and recommend a good solution.

• Tire consumers have more ways to research than ever before, and really, smarter customers are better than stupid customers.

Beware; we must all up our game!    ■

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