The concept of the 9-5 workday can be a pipe dream for many in the automotive aftermarket. With so much to do and so little time to do it in, sometimes the people most affected by your harried schedule are the ones you never want to be-namely, your customers.
I’m amazed at how often owners get so wrapped up in the day-to-day operations of running their aftermarket business that they stray far from the one thing that will ensure their success-the ever-important contact with customers.
Be assured, the importance of focusing on taking care of employees’ needs, paying bills, and finding new ways to market your business are all important. But the communication tools that connect you to your clients, be they B2B or B2C, need to always be in check.
These days, Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter and other social media outlets offer more ways than ever to stay in touch with your valued customers. But nothing can replace verbal communication.
If you’ve strayed from, or never fully embraced, verbal communication as the number one way to connect with customers, it’s time to tune up those vocal cords and start talking.
The customer is the beginning, middle and end of a business. Yet, too many managers and aftermarket business owners assume they know what the customer wants, so they never bother to ask.
They think that they are providing customer service or serving their needs, but how do they truly know what the customer wants? Think of your employees, jobbers and links to suppliers, manufacturing conduits and the end-user. Have you ever asked your customers what they wanted, or have you just assumed or sold your wares without asking?
Answer this simple quiz with honesty without thinking about each question for more than a second:
- Who is the most important person in your business?
- Who pays your employees?
- Who designs your products and services?
- Who determines when it’s time to grow the company to the next level?
If you haven’t guessed by now, the answer to each of these questions is the customer. This article is centered on why this is so and the long-term relationship building process that will greatly increase you business success potential.
Understanding Customer Needs
Is there a secret to understanding the customer? NO! In a word: ASK!
Yet, interacting with customers is something many businesses do poorly, if they do it at all. There are two fundamental reasons why:
They assume that because they started the business, they must know what their customers want.
They assume that if they are getting their products or services out on time and with good quality, they have done all they need to do to satisfy the customer.
Today, just keeping your customers satisfied is not enough. Remember, loyalty is only a seven-letter word. You have to build long-term relationships with people inside your work environment and in your extended work environment.
You might ask why? Today’s customers are jaded because they are bombarded with an endless variety of products and services-so many, in fact, that customers end up frustrated and ultimately choose based on price or the emotional need to just be done with it and buy at the first opportunity.
This situation is one that most businesses can’t survive. Competing on price alone is a no-win situation for everyone. You have to demonstrate to your customers that dealing with your company offers intangible benefits that make it a better choice than dealing with your competitors.
Again, the ability to communicate verbally is the relationship-building tool of choice.
Your customers are eager to do business with people who they can reach out to on a regular basis and with frequency as needed. After all, the customer is in need of that steering unit, rebuild kit, or do-it-yourselfer electrical loom, but the catalog only stimulates the need to buy from you to the extent of the photography and written description.
This again gets back to the verbal communication solution. This is difficult to match in any competitive environment. Customers want to believe they are benefitting from their purchase. Direct communication links them to your business and also the product.
It’s up to you, or your representative, to provide the enthusiasm that pushes past the printed message and shows the benefit. I recommend you think like a customer in terms of benefits, and not only in regards to products or features.
Building the Relationship
How do you know what customers want and expect from your parts or services business if you don’t ask? Think about how much easier it would be to sell a product or service if you knew that you had a ready and willing customer.
Impossible, you say? Do you invest time, engineering, capital and heart to get your product into the market only for the end-user or jobber to say, “nice, but no cigar?” Most businesses can’t afford to play this game of chance.
This is where the secret tool of communication fosters your track to success. It isn’t only about communication, but enhanced by understanding the need, the likelihood of the success, and the sustainability of establishing your ROI.
The “ask” is the key in the building of the relationship. Relationship marketing is about connecting trust and satisfying customers in a way that results in shared customer and company goals. In short, you are developing the customer as part of your team of advisors.
Owning Your Market
To be successful in today’s competitive market you have to create your own niche. Think of industry icons with familiar names. People tend to look up to them as leaders. It could be a person or a company name-either way, they carry a symbolic notion of success and how they got there.
By developing such factors, and equating your name with a niche, you have an automatic edge over your competitors. You’ll also set the standards in the market and can encourage others to develop products and services that are complementary to yours. (That certainly was Microsoft’s strategy when it carved out a niche in its operating system.)
Clever marketing and positioning are ongoing strategies to creating your position within the industry. And the idea doesn’t have to be large-maybe your goal is simply to fill the need of providing conversion kits, induction components and electronics for do-it-yourselfers.
Package properly, read the customer, evaluate, measure your market, be tactile and ask questions. Creating is what the aftermarket industry does. Study the market to win as you create your niche product or service. But listen closely, for the customer holds your roadmap and will provide you the secrets to success.
Position Your Company
Products come and go, but doing it right will enhance your likelihood for sustainability. Therefore, it makes sense that investing more time in positioning your company in the market with customers than you do positioning your products and services will provide a good return on investment.
Positioning is simply attempting to control the way people perceive your company and its products. Taking a proactive approach to positioning your company is important, because if you don’t position it, your customers, distributors, suppliers, and competitors certainly will. And they may not position the company the way you intended.
With positioning, perception is reality. Understand that the fact of what’s in a company’s name has to be understood and precedes the products you are offering.
Thus, it’s critical that you ensure that perception of your company and its products is a positive one. If you study the rise and rebirth of companies, you’ll note that not all companies’ growth was perfectly vertical. Expect peaks and valleys as you ascend to the top of your ladder.
Yes, I said your ladder. Consider your passion as your number one attribute as you communicate your message to your customer. Without passion within your enterprise you may be in the race, but lack passing ability.
Establishing your communication system is not easy. It requires thought, practice, reflection, peer communication and ongoing tweaking for the betterment of the company image.
Consider it a constant work in progress. After all, the aftermarket is a creature of change and ongoing development.
Think of the process of growth as a sandbox having four corners. Consider all corners friendly as you would when you were a kid. You are at one corner, your product or service is at another, your team/messenger is at yet another, and your customer is at the fourth corner. Now enjoy playing in your sandbox with your friends-your customers.
As the Professor Files moves into a sixth year, you, the Performance Business reader, are at the forefront. We thank you for coming along for the ride. Cheers ‘n gears!