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The paradigm of auto shop sales needs to change

“Customers want to believe that an estimator cares about their problems and needs. They want to know that someone is explaining and educating, not selling.”

Editor’s note: Steven E. Schillinger is a P.E. and PBE consultant in addition to being “actively retired.”

Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Death of a Salesman may be decades old, yet it feels like a modern-day comparison as we watch the changing behavior of customers in the coronavirus era.

Steven E. Schillinger

As automotive parts and paint distributors are moved further and further away from participation, the era of social selling supported by content marketing is not only upon us, but the time is now to act or risk fading into the sunset.

The ‘Willy Loman’ Story

Nielsen’s “Global Trust in Advertising” reported that buyers’ trust in advertising has dropped, while trust between business-to-business is the most credible form of advertising among consumers.

As someone who has been working in the automotive business for more than 20 years with suppliers that are over-weighted in salespeople and under-weighted in marketing expertise, I have seen how painful the shift is for many suppliers.

Much like the play’s main character, Willy Loman, the majority of shop owners I speak with are exhausted from trying to keep up, and generally think if they just keep doing what they have always done, things will change. While Willy’s dissatisfaction is his inability to meet the high ideals set for himself, that doesn’t have to be so for shop owners today.

The Art of Using Social Media

Everywhere I turn, shop owners are saying that their customer is usually halfway through the repair process with an insurance carrier before they visit the shop.

Potential customers also use search engines, blog posts, websites, webinars, podcasts and myriad online tools to help them self-serve and self-educate before they shortlist choices. So, if the evidence is so clearly in front of us, why is it taking shop owners so long to get on board?

Having worked with direct repair program (DRP) providers in the last 10 years, I believe there are three reasons consolidators and shop owners are not embracing new requirements:

1. Alliance: Sales and service responsibilities are still separate functions and work poorly together. While shops are building their website, they fail to engage the vehicle manufacturers in what they are building.

2. Cash flow: Shop owners are afraid to spend money because investments to date have not paid off. Things like pay-per-click or SEO did not generate meaningful leads. It feels safer to have salespeople than software programs.

3. Structure: Shops lack a structure for building content that engages and builds trust rather than sells, so they don’t share, connect and communicate.

Where to Spend Money

We have a bit of a hangover from the last 10 years in the digital space where we saw the rise of pay-per-click and shop rating system tactics that worked well in the insurance claims space.

Shop owners jumped on board and paid for services that they hoped would drive leads and business to their shops. But the overwhelming choice that customers have, combined with a poor understanding by shop owners of new technology, meant spending money on these things was throwing money away.

This, plus an outsourcing mentality of those services — which means that the insurance carrier never had to take responsibility for sales results — meant a lot of time and money was getting spent but there was little to show for it.

The Right Structure for Social Selling

To be successful today with social selling, the paradigm of auto shop sales needs to change. You can’t take what you did offline for the last 10 years and apply it online. If you still believe the role of an estimator is to “sell” something, then you won’t succeed in the era of social selling and automotive service and repair marketing.

The role of shop owners is to create trust: During their journey, customers want to believe that an estimator cares about their problems and needs. They want to know that someone is explaining and educating, not selling. The context of service and repair sales then needs to evolve to a point where estimators are not compensated for the sales they close, but rather for the people they bring to the table and their ability to be a recurring customer. The depth and strength of the work they do to build trusted relationships online should be just as important as the deals they close.

The New Social Sales Channel

Parts and paint sales are no longer about writing brochures and chasing down leads. The new sales channel is about sharing valuable content that car buyers care about and creating meaningful connections with them. At its most basic level, social selling is about selling the same way shop owners and employees buy.

Social selling allows you to create relationships with consumers in social media outlets where the primary goal should be earning trust and building a relationship, not trying to sell something. Social selling is not tweeting about a product promotion or specials you are running. Social selling is taking part in the community in which your customers participate to listen, understand, share and engage.

Community selling includes the responsibility of a safe and healthful workplace. A shop owners’ role is to help ensure these conditions by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education and assistance. Visit BECCA’s Online Training for employee respiratory protection and certification.

If Willy Loman had been selling during Coronavirus, the ending of Death of a Salesman would have been quite different. Instead of wandering off into the sunset, Willy would have been a master salesperson sharing valuable content online — practice social distancing.

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