Eye on the Industry: Defining the ideal outside parts salesperson

Outside parts salespeople play an important role within your dealership, distributorship or service garage because they represent your business when they sell the products and services you offer.

They are responsible for building relationships, acquiring new business, maintaining existing accounts, taking orders, delivering parts, informing your customers about pricing specials and new products and resolving your customers’ problems.

In order to perform all of these tasks, outside salespeople must possess a unique array of attributes. Dave Dawson, parts manager, Portland Freightliner, Portland, OR, said that outside salespeople must be able to establish a rapport with different types of people.

“We sell many of the same products and services that our competitors sell, so the personal relationships our salespeople build can be the deciding factor in a purchasing decision,” Dawson said.

One of the keys to building relationships is to visit customers on a regular basis. Doug Johnson, parts manager, Kenworth Spokane, Spokane, WA, said his outside parts salespeople contact their customers at least once a week. “It’s imperative that our salespeople visit their customers regularly so they can maintain the relationships they’ve established and deal with any problems that creep up,” he said.

Outside salespeople usually run regular routes and see the same people on the same day at the same time. “Many customers rely on the regularity of their salespeople’s schedules. If the customer is out of our regular delivery area, he can call the day before to ask the salesperson to bring him something he needs instead of calling another supplier. It’s also easier for customers to show their salespeople what they need rather than describe it over the phone. If the customer knows his salesperson will be stopping by on his regular route, he can show him then,” Dawson said.

The types of tasks outside salespeople perform are dictated by their customers’ needs, which could change with each visit. The key to anticipating and meeting your customers’ needs is to have your salespeople visit them on a regular basis and maintain weekly sales reports of those visits.

You then can monitor their job performance through the results found in these reports. “I review my salespeople’s monthly sales reports, profit goals and weekly sales call reports,” Dawson said.

Johnson said he looks at his salespeople’s volume of business on a monthly basis. “I want to see an increase in sales from my team, either through account growth or the addition of new accounts. I also review the reports for consistency,” he said.

Because visiting customers is key, most parts managers want their salespeople on the road 100% of the time, however, that isn’t very realistic. “Our salespeople spend most of their time seeing their customers or looking for new ones. But there are times when they need to be at the facility to process paperwork or to deal with any problems that may arise,” Dawson said.

For example, a customer could be using a product that isn’t performing as he expected. The salesperson then must find an alternative product. Sometimes they also may be asked to return items, get copies of a credit memo or to check on a warranty claim that a customer has filed. Many of these tasks require salespeople to communicate with certain departments within your organization they may not otherwise have contact with.

The best outside salespeople are those who utilize their inside parts and service personnel. “Our outside salespeople depend on our inside salespeople to assist them with a number of things including answering pricing questions, preparing their orders, tracking shipments, communicating with their customers when the salesperson can’t meet them face-to-face and informing the salesperson if anything out of the ordinary is happening with their accounts,” Johnson said.

Because the relationship between the outside salesperson and the inside salesperson is instrumental to serving your customers, one should complement the other. “We want our customers to know that they can contact either person and get the same results,” Dawson said.

Not only should your outside salesperson enjoy working with your inside salespeople, but he should enjoy working with people in general. “He should be willing to go the extra mile. This is not an eight-to-five job. Our salespeople often work late and on weekends to help our customers,” Dawson said.

Johnson said that having a good attitude is a must for outside salespeople. You want your customers to be happy that their salesperson has walked through their door. They also should be reliable so that you always know your customers’ needs are met,” Johnson said.

Another characteristic salespeople must possess is the ability to manage time wisely. “I want my salespeople to make as many sales calls as they can. And in order to do that, they need to get the most out of the hours they’re working,” Johnson said.

Although most salespeople have established routes, they always should be looking to increase their customer base. When they see a new business opening, they should make a cold call to promote your products and services and start building a relationship.

“We give our outside salespeople quality incentives to sell all facets of our operation,” Dawson said. “We pay them for service shop parts sales as well as body shop parts sales. We also pay a percentage on service labor sales for any new customers they help establish with our service department.”

Johnson added, “There’s no cap on the amount of money a salesperson can earn. The harder they work, the more money they’ll make-it’s that simple.”

Because an outside parts salesperson’s job is one of the most important positions within your company, you must have the right person doing the job. “The person performing this job must understand the inner workings of your company as well as grasp common trucking industry terms. They must be knowledgeable about the products and services that your company offers and be able to convey that information to the customer confidently,” Johnson said.

Most outside parts salespeople are promoted from within after they have obtained the knowledge and experience that’s necessary to serve customers.

“Our outside salespeople have graduated to this job after they’ve spent several years in different positions within our parts department learning our processes and our manufacturers’ processes,” Dawson said. “This gives them the experience of answering many questions, solving problems and knowing who to contact for problems they need help resolving.

“Our five outside salespeople collectively have 57 years of experience,” he added, “and this doesn’t include the number of years they were with our dealership before they moved into the outside sales position.”

Years of in-house training are essential, however, salespeople should attend sales seminars to assist them with their time management skills and sales techniques. Good time management skills include arranging their routes so they can see the most customers in the shortest amount of time. The less time your salespeople spend driving around, the more time they have to spend with their customers.

“In order to make the most of their time, your salespeople may need to come to the store early or come by late to gather information or pick up a last-minute delivery of needed parts,” Dawson said.

To assist your salespeople in making sales, make sure you offer the types of services your customers need. “We work hard to establish relationships with our customers, therefore we offer conveniences such as a large inventory, delivery service and we’re open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Dawson said.

Outside salespeople also must receive ongoing support and assistance from their parts managers. “We provide them with the tools they need to be effective and productive. We send them to training seminars, provide information and sales literature to keep them up to date on products, support them with inventory and inside sales and provide them with a van, which acts as their office,” Dawson said.

You may need to change internal procedures to serve customers more effectively. “We’ve added additional delivery support to enlarge our delivery area and altered routes to make them more effective,” Dawson said.

In order to meet your customers’ needs, you must be flexible and offer them services that will increase their efficiency. “We try to accommodate customer-invoicing requests such as additional copies,” Dawson said. “Also, large fleets often request one inside salesperson to be assigned to them, which creates another relationship-building opportunity for us.”

Relationship-building is what outside sales is all about. It’s perhaps the most important thing they do. People do business with people they like and trust.

Outside salespeople do more than just visit customers, take orders and deliver parts. They are problem-solvers, facilitators and advocates for each department within your operation.
–By Lauri Lyons

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