I recently met with a client to discuss progress on our marketing efforts. Because he has a mechanical shop as well as a body shop, he had both his service manager and his shop manager present. I have had similar meetings with clients many times over the years, so I was genuinely surprised when this client did something no one has ever before done during a meeting with me: Several times while we were talking, he picked up the phone and placed a call. This is not to suggest he was doing other business during our meeting.
On the contrary, he had left instructions we weren't to be interrupted. No, the calls he placed were to immediately implement marketing tactics and strategies that emerged from our conversation that he saw as important. Many clients take some notes. They may plan to make some calls later, or to give instructions to some employees to take specific actions. But I had never before seen a client leap into immediate action right before my very eyes!
I could see why this man had been so successful at beating his competition. While others were still thinking about putting a plan into action, he had already taken the first steps. And along with his instructions, he also specified when he expected people to report back on concrete actions taken.
The body shop business is not one that allows very many owners or managers to put aside the daily demands of getting jobs into the shop, parts ordered, repairs scheduled, jobs delivered and money collected. Not many can shift from business demands long enough to focus fully on longer term marketing and growth strategies.
But the failure to do so often dooms the owner or manager to having to constantly cope with uncontrollable ups and downs and even occasional crises. This owner recognized the need to seize on this immediate moment of inspiration and to act on it while it was fresh in his mind - before he had to plunge back into the chaos of the day's demanding business.
What could be so important?
Many shop owners have meetings with their key people, but most of the discussion centers on the current issues of the day along with, perhaps, a few short-term objectives. There is rarely time to focus on long-term objectives. But there is a special benefit to be had from bringing together several people who have different specialties and widely divergent points of view to focus on the bigger picture.
In this instance, the service manager mentioned some local commercial fleet vehicles they were already servicing. I asked if they had solicited this company for collision repair business as well. Surprisingly, they hadn't. The owner grabbed the phone and placed an immediate call to make it happen.
The shop uses PPG paint and had begun the process of joining PPG's CertifiedFirst value-added program to get new business from PPG's LYNX referral program. During the conversation it became clear the process had gotten bogged down. Potential business was being lost. The owner immediately placed a call to get the process moving. And so it went. One issue after another was raised that called for immediate action, and the owner made certain it would happen.
Managing through others
It's been said that managing is the art of getting things done through others. My client was apparently a master of that art. Many shop owners suffer from "owner-itis" - a tendency to believe no one can do it better than they can, so they should personally attend to all important matters themselves. This owner understood that it is better to get more done, even if a bit imperfectly through others, than to strive for the perfection that he alone might achieve, but knowing full well that he has no time to do it all himself.
Another concern is always: If I ask an employee to add on another daily task, will it cause him or her to devote less time to regular job responsibilities, and thus do them less well? In a busy shop there may be very little time to devote to these added marketing tasks. My client made it clear to his people that these actions were essential to bringing in more business and had to be done. Privately he probably understood that they might be done imperfectly and not very consistently, but we agreed that any effort was better than no effort at all.
What added tasks did he ask his people to perform?
Facilitate marketing strategies
To increase repeat customer business and customer referrals, he instructed his service manager to include a reference to the body shop in all maintenance reminder mailings. He pressed his office people to complete PPG's CertifiedFirst program, and then to take advantage of that program's ongoing CSI calling service. He also authorized a coupon offering a referral reward of a car wash or gas fill-up to customers.
To increase insurance agent referrals, he asked the shop manager to ask each customer for the name and address of their agent if they didn't put it on the customer information form. That way the monthly newsletter could be sent to all customers' agents. He also pressed his shop manager to watch for good stories for the newsletter we prepare for him monthly.
To get a better handle on whether or not the shop is reaching more drive-in and call-in prospects, he requested a report on any prospects calling or coming in as a result of checking out the website or seeing or hearing an advertisement.
To develop more local commercial fleet business, he told the shop manager to ask customers if their employer (or company) has company vehicles. This simple question could open the door to soliciting a service maintenance contract for his mechanical shop, plus collision repair work for his body shop. I knew getting shop personnel to do this one would be difficult, but I could see that this client was determined and might very well get it done.
To increase local business referrals, he called for a list of all local companies they do business with so we could check for the possibility of setting up some literature display holder exchanges. He also asked for a report on any jobs coming from local businesses.
To acquire more insurance business, he told his shop manager to be sure to ask even self-pay customers for insurance company and agent information. He also wanted a tally of the number of jobs done each week by insurance company, whether from assignments, drive-ins, claimants, or incidental self-pay customers. This information would be valuable ammunition to build a case for increased business from the selected insurance companies.
Keeping on top of it all
Today effective marketing must focus in many directions at the same time. To keep business consistent, it has to come from many different sources. My client realized that to get this done the one thing he would have to do personally would be to stay on top of the people responsible for each of the selected strategies. If his immediate action at our meeting was any indication of how well he would do this, I was confident he would be successful.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.