Friday, 31 March 2006 17:00

Essence of marketing is the courage to communicate

Written by Tom Franklin

Many of the body shops I have called upon are located in neighborhoods that have slid downscale over the years. In these areas, most of the people who come in for autobody repair travel quite a distance. They are old customers who keep coming back or those sent to the shop through an insurance or other referral program. 

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Owners and managers with shops in these neighborhoods can easily come to the conclusion that there will be little to be gained from an aggressive marketing campaign in their immediate area. During a recent election season, I was surprised to hear of a manager who challenged this "obvious" conclusion and reached out to the people living in this seemingly downscale area.

Not only was I surprised that he opened his doors to local residents, many of whom were non-English speaking immigrants, but I was completely unprepared to hear of his innovative approach: He volunteered his shop reception and waiting areas as a voting center on election day! He even played patriotic music and hired a model to wear an Uncle Sam uniform and greet people as they came in. Those who expressed interest were shown around the facility and told of the quality of the repair equipment and personnel. This relatively small effort brought nearly 1,500 people through his shop.

A skeptic might say that "most of those people will never bring their car in for autobody repair." But when I thought about the percentage of the population that actually votes, I realized that doubt might not be justified. Voters are more often mature citizens, property owners or business people with a stake in maintaining the quality of the neighborhood despite demographic shifts. If there are any people in the area who could afford to buy a good car, maintain quality car insurance and wish to keep their cars looking good, they would likely to among those who come to vote.

This aggressive marketing move was costly in terms of time, money, inconvenience and employee distraction. It was a calculated risk that took courage to try. This manager had the courage of his convictions and his risk paid off. New business was a result of his initiative.

The courage to reach out

The bottom line in marketing is having the courage to reach out and communicate abundantly. Sending someone around with brochures, candy, flowers, or donuts to call on agents is a good start. Sending letters to DRP coordinators is also a good start. And sending information to local commercial businesses, dealerships and fleet management companies is a good beginning. But it will always be more effective if the owner or manager of the shop has the courage to make an appointment for a face-to-face communication.

Why does it require courage? We live in a time when most business people are pressed for time. Salespeople are often viewed as an imposition, an interruption in an already busy day. Full time sales people generally experience a great deal of rejection. But if a shop owner's visit is carefully arranged with a solid appointment time and a planned presentation that offers a benefit for the prospect, as well as benefits for the shop, rejection is a lot less likely.

One good approach

Local commercial business can be one of the most profitable, consistent sources of on-going business. Insurance executives come and go, and a new manager might have a buddy at a different facility, dropping your shop off the program. Or the company might adopt a new policy that throws you off the program. But if you form a solid working relationship with a local business that has a small fleet of vans or light trucks, that relationship can go on for many years. Furthermore, monthly payment is usually predictable, and these companies are rarely as demanding as insurance adjustors.

But establishing this kind of relationship requires a fair amount of face-to-face negotiation in the beginning. A few calls and letters may determine if a company is a prospect, but then the shop owner or manager has to take the time to go and seal a deal.

Courage to speak plainly

What does courage have to do with it? We've all had the experience of opening our mouth at the wrong time and putting our foot into it. After a few such experiences, it's easy to come to the conclusion that it is safer to not communicate at all much of the time. The end result of this policy can be customers who don't know what to expect, employees who don't know exactly what they're supposed to do, and prospects who go away or say "no" because they weren't adequately informed.

When you communicate, there is always a risk being misunderstood. Some people speak a different language than you and struggle to understand your language when you talk to them. Some people have difficulty hearing but don't like to announce that fact. Some people are just in a hurry and don't take the time to really focus and listen to what is being said. Some people are clearly antagonistic and seem to put up a wall to all communication.

Probably fear of failure is the reason many people are reluctant to reach out and communicate. It can take courage and determination to go out and cut through the many obstacles to get a message across. But the effort to do so can pay off very profitably in the long run.

Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: tbfranklin@aol.com.


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