What is keeping you from being great?

Blogs Jason Cannon February 15, 2014

There are thousands of heavy-duty aftermarket suppliers in North America.

Thousands.

Yet when Truck Parts & Service sought nominations for its Distributor of the Year award, upwards of only 40 businesses were nominated.

I don’t have the space here to detail those 40, so for the sake of a little business exercise, let’s assume your business wasn’t one of them.

What could you do to crack the Top 40 this year?

And what could the industry as a whole do to turn the Top 40 into the Top 400?

In a customer service driven business like aftermarket sales, the litmus test is customer service.

Ed Neeley and his team at Truck Supply of South Carolina were awarded the 2014 Distributor of the Year award late last month, and they were selected from an elite field business.

Attendees of the awards presentation were given a printed program where Neeley and his team were profiled in-depth.

One of Neeley’s quotes in the handout struck a chord; “If a customer calls and asks for a cheeseburger, we’ll ask what he wants on it. Then we’re going to get it for him exactly as he ordered it. It may cost him more than going to a McDonalds, but when [a customer] comes to us he knows he’s going to get exactly what he asked for.”

Part of me wonders if he would really go get a cheeseburger for a customer. But another part of me recognizes that when they did, they’d have a customer for life.

Back in the 70s and 80s, the band Van Halen had a concert rider that was full of absurd demands, one of which required concert organizers to provide a bowl of M&Ms with all the brown ones removed.

While that sounds like rock stars gone amuck, it served a practical purpose. If the concert organizer could meet such a small and seemingly unimportant request, the important technical aspects of the show were likely to be spot-on.

Those requests may seem meaningless, but they’re a stress test. How far are you willing to go to be great?

No one is suggesting that menial errands are the key to sales growth. Those examples simply showcase a willingness to go the extra mile with unrelenting attention to detail. The devil is in your willingness to be the best. To provide the best service and be at your best when your customer under duress, or even unreasonable.

“If I had a truck break down in South Carolina and called Edward Neeley, I know he would move heaven and earth to get my truck fixed and get it back on the road again,” says Tim Kraus, HDMA president and COO. “That’s the kind of business he has.”

And that’s the kind of business you want. You don’t want your customers thinking, “Where I can I buy this part?”

You want them thinking, “Who can get me back on the road?” and “Who can come to my rescue?”

The aftermarket is a competitive business, and at the beginning Neeley was an outsider. He was as outside as outsiders get; an outsider’s outsider.

But in just more than 10 years, the outsider became a well-respected insider with a wealth of knowledge that people with three-times his longevity envy.

And that reputation was built on a willingness to get cheeseburgers at a customer’s request.

Everybody has parts. Everybody has some level of knowledge and experience. But a willingness to fetch a cheeseburger could be what separates a good distributor from a great one.

Jason Cannon is Online Managing Editor for Truck Parts & Service.

You can follow me on twitter at @By_Jason_Cannon