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Business Management

It’s The Product Silly

What Your Customers Want You to Know

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Campaigns for public office get mired in many issues, to which the media and the electorate make one universal cry: “it’s the economy, silly.” Why? This is most often the fundamental issue on which voters are interested.

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What is the one fundamental issue your customers are interested in? Why, it’s the product, silly.

When most customers enter a dealership, they are greeted with the abysmal, “May I help you?” After all the articles, books and training sessions, why do salespeople still ask this ineffective question?

Author Michael Gerber thinks he knows the answer. It’s not that they don’t know that this question isn’t a useful method to starting a customer exchange; rather, to the contrary, they know it won’t work. (Insert record scratch here.) What?

That’s right. Gerber says most salespeople ask this question because they know customers will respond with, “No thanks, just looking.” And salespeople know, perhaps subconsciously, it gets them off the hook from engaging in a conversation they are likely ill-prepared to have.

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To engage more customers effectively, salespeople need to be confident. One facet of creating salesperson confidence is their degree of product knowledge. This is great news, because in my opinion product knowledge is the one universal desire all customers want from their dealership experience — quality information about available products.

Have the baffles been improved on an exhaust system? Has there been special testing on this wheel system that assures me, the customer, that this product is sound? Is the helmet material lighter, making for better long-distance riding?

When your people know the answers to questions like these, they will engage more customers more effectively and sell more products as well. Here are some ways you and your salespeople can acquire product knowledge.

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Product Literature

One of the time-honored methods for obtaining product information is printed materials. A great example is the new Vance & Hones Preferred Dealer Product Guide. John Potts, marketing director for Vance & Hines, elaborates, “One of the biggest things we’ve done this year to assist the dealer is we’ve made the preferred dealer product guide. It (details) every single Vance & Hines product that’s available, and gives them a full visual, a retail price point — everything so that the dealer has a very simple, easy-to-use point-of-sale piece to educate the consumer with, and at the same time to educate themselves. We’ve mailed out 8,000 of these across the country to all different dealers. It’s been one of the biggest successes for us.”

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Product literature is great because it’s immediate, easily available, and typically can be shared in the store with customers. There are drawbacks as well. Space is limited, so elaboration on information is difficult, and it’s static — in a short period of time, it could be obsolete.

Product Reviews

Trade publications (like MPN) or consumer publications are great places to look for product reviews. You should create tear-sheet folders for every business unit in your dealership: vehicles, parts and accessories, riding gear, and any subset that might be appropriate. Then, every month, you should review your trade publications and your consumer publications for product reviews that are relevant. When you find them, you should tear them out and share them with others in your dealership. Take it one step further by having one person lead a staff meeting segment around the review and the product itself. This helps the person leading the session learn about the product, while also educating others.

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Online Learning

Just as Gutenberg’s printing press created an information and social revolution in the mid-1400s, when it allowed ideas about art, science and religion to be more broadly communicated, the Internet has created a similar movement.

Richard Kimes, director of marketing at Helmet House, talks about how his company has embraced web delivery of product information. “We have recently instituted something called Shoei University Online, where we take a version of our live seminar, and we’ve produced a bunch of high definition video segments that allow a parts manager to take the courses at his own pace, at his own time, via the web. He’ll walk out of there knowing everything there is to know about how a Shoei Helmet is made, what the features are on each helmet, how to sell helmets effectively at retail. We’ve already trained hundreds of dealers.”

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Vance & Hines puts incredible effort into delivering useful product information online. When asked about how dealers can best learn about their products, Vance & Hines marketing director John Potts responds simply, “Vanceand Hines.com.”

“We have videos on how to install the products, to sound clips, to high-res photos for everything,” says Potts. “We’re constantly updating our website.”

Face Time

Catalogs are good, but online content is better. Still, nothing takes the place of quality face-to-face interpersonal communication. The live give-and-take with a product expert gives irreplaceable immediacy. Here are two types:

Manufacturer (or Rep) in-Dealership Guidance: “Our whole business model is built around being experts on products,” explains Helmet House’s Kimes. “It’s not only understanding the product, it’s understanding as completely as possible what the user’s going to be doing with it. We’re trying to really give them information and tools rather than just showing them a good time.”

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Vance & Hines’ Potts says, “We spend numerous hours educating all the reps and doing seminars with them to make sure that they’re well aware of our products, and we do ride-alongs with them to make sure that they’re on top of it so that then when they go to the dealers, they know everything about our products.”

Manufacturer and Distributor Sponsored Training Workshops: Harley-Davidson offers a “Basics” product knowledge session covering H-D products past and present. They also host a “Back to the Track” session where salespeople ride their products and those of competitors and analyze strengths and weaknesses. If you’re thinking of attending a session like this, always ask if there is a product engineer or product manager available at the event. When I do sessions requiring product knowledge for Harley-Davidson, I’ve been fortunate enough to incorporate Harley-Davidson product experts Peter Michael Keppler and Lance Onan into our curriculum. The knowledge these two possess is encyclopedic. Dealers find time with them invaluable.

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Personal Experience

Have you ever noticed how you can sell what you ride? Or wear? Or use? First-hand knowledge is important, so be cognizant of these experiences. If you get an opportunity to demo or test ride a different bike, do it. And don’t mindlessly blast around the block thinking about what you’re going to order for lunch. Take this opportunity to really think about what you’re doing.

How does the motorcycle feel? It is balanced? Does it fit you? What kind of riders might like this machine? What does it do well? Are there any drawbacks?

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You don’t necessarily have to know the molecular structure of every motorcycle, but a basic understanding and first-hand experience go a long way.

Customer Feedback

Feedback from riders is a great way to learn about products and to nurture relationships with your customers. Don’t think about every little thing you can ask. But talk to customers about their bike, their hard additions (performance or accessories) and their riding gear.

Then use the rule of three for feedback about the product. What do you like? What don’t you like? Would you buy it again?

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Do this with customers, and in a few months, you’ll have a ton of information. This way, when a customer asks about a product, you can say, “I haven’t used that personally, but I just talked with another customer about this very item and they said …”

Coworker Feedback

Your coworkers are excellent resources. Because they have (or should have) a broad knowledge base and can offer positives and negatives, they should be able to give you an idea of how it compares with other available products in terms of price points, warranties and construction.

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Communicating Product Information

Just spewing out a list of features is no way to communicate product information. As a dealership professional, you must link the feature to a benefit — what’s really important to your customer.

A feature is, in general, a physical characteristic of a product. The advantage is what that feature enables or does, and the benefit is what’s in it for the customer.

A feature of this 2009 Harley-Davidson FXDC is its 96-cubic-inch Twin Cam engine. The advantage it provides is it produces 92 foot pounds of torque at 3000 RPM. What this means to you is aggressive acceleration. Add to this combination a powerful punch: Saying something like, “I test rode this model last week and the acceleration was impressive.”

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Want to hook the customer more quickly? Try this approach: “Want aggressive acceleration? This 96-cubic-inch Twin Cam Motor provides a whopping 92 foot pounds of torque at 3,000 RPM.”

And yet another variation on that theme is to mention how some find this product advantageous over other offerings. You don’t want to disparage other products; you never make yourself look good by making others look silly. So offer this up: “Many customers tell me they prefer this to other engines.”

What’s The One Thing Customers Should Know?

This is one of my favorite questions to ask someone about their business. With product manufacturers, this is especially important. It forces them to codify their efforts, and it gives you great information to communicate to customers.

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Performance Machine wants their customers to know they provide “quality beneath the surface.”

John Potts wants sales professionals selling Vance & Hines products to know, “This is the product that I can feel confident in selling because they have the engineering and development behind it. They are a company that’s going to stand behind their product. The dealer should feel confident in selling any Vance & Hines product, and the customer should feel like they got the best product out there in the industry.”

“We want you to know what’s not obvious,” says Helmet House’s Kimes. “What that means is there’s going to be some things there on that product that are engineered and designed in that you probably aren’t going to notice by wearing a helmet for a couple of minutes in a store. But if you’re on a 400-mile day on a twisty road, its lightness, its structure, its ventilation, the quality of the shield, the quality of the liner, is going to make it a more comfortable helmet. It’s going to be lighter to wear, so it’s going to be less stressful on your neck.”

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Customers who purchase the right product enjoy motorcycling more, ride more and become great customers. And they can only do that when sales professionals can match and communicate the right product with the right customer. At the end of the day, what’s the one common denominator for customers? It’s the product, silly.

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