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Proper prospecting leads to a golden bottom line

Steve Jones, Columnist
February 13, 2012
Filed under Columns

Editor’s note:
Join Powersports Business in welcoming our latest addition to the Solutions section, Steve Jones. Jones is well known throughout the industry as senior projects manager at Gart Sutton & Associates. He has worked in the powersports industry for more than 30 years, for dealerships, manufacturers, and as a consultant and trainer. To say that he’s done it all is an understatement. He’s worked in dealerships as a service technician, service manager, parts manager and sales manager. He’s also worked for powersports manufacturers as a field technical service advisor and DSM prior to joining GSA in 2003. An avid rider, Jones has raced motorcycles in various off-road competitions for more than 20 years. Jones presented a dealer educational session at Profit Xcelerator in 2011.

In the current economic climate, one of the main issues most dealers have been facing is a lack of floor traffic.

I’m not going to get into the advertising end of attracting customers. Frankly, as many of you have recognized, there are very few traditional advertising venues that are working for most dealers. Rather, I’m going to look at a much more reliable method of bringing in customers: “old school” prospecting. While some of you are already doing many of the things I will discuss, I hope I can provide you with a new idea or perhaps get some old processes back on line in your store.

Where do I find prospects?
The first place you should be looking is your traffic log. Whether electronic or paper, this is the key source for prospects. Your sales manager should be going over this log every day with the sales staff, looking for follow-up opportunities. Are you certain this is happening in your store? If the log isn’t being used properly, get it going today.

The next source is your customer database. I’m not talking about this year or even last year — go back several years. You don’t know who might be a prospective buyer or who might give you a quality referral. We recently had a dealer tell us that he significantly increased unit sales in November and December during the worst of the recession while every other dealer we knew was decreasing in sales. When asked what he did to achieve this increase, he said he got his salespeople on the phone, calling every prospect on every list he could come up with.

“We even went back 10 years into our customer database. In some cases salespeople were making 100 calls to end up with one sale,” the dealer told me.

It didn’t matter. He was doing whatever it took to get customers in to his store so they could sell inventory.

This is the kind of aggressive, positive attitude it is going to take to make it work. You need to get everyone working to find and follow-up with every prospect possible.

Shows and events are also a key way to source for prospects. Always include a gift certificate prize drawing to solicit prospect information. Require basic customer contact information plus the key question: “Are you planning to purchase a motorcycle, snowmobile, ATV or PWC in the next six months?” These are your top priority follow-up calls.

Another source of prospects is cooperative mailings with other businesses. Talk to local businesses with related demographics. Ask them if they will mail your promotion (with drawing entry attached) to their customers in exchange for you mailing their promotion to your customers. This has been very effective for some dealers. You both get access to new customers without actually taking each other’s mailing lists.

I’ve found them — now what?
We like to say: “A salesperson who is not face-to-face with a customer or on the phone with one is temporarily unemployed.”

This is certainly true if they are paid on commission. Good salespeople will be on the phone calling prospects and following up with customers anytime they are not occupied with a customer in your store. Is this true of your sales staff? If you walked out on the floor today, would they all be with a customer or calling a prospect?

Your sales manager should be setting goals and providing incentives for prospect calls and kept appointments. Develop contests related to prospect calls. Salespeople need to be trained in effective telephone techniques to increase the number of kept appointments.

Internet, email contacts
People who contact you through social media, your website or by email are also strong prospects. However, these contacts have very short attention spans. If you don’t respond to them quickly, they will find someone else who will. If the prospect has supplied a phone number, he or she needs to be called. If the reply is via email, the person who replies needs to have solid writing skills. I recommend that you assign one person who has the proper skill set to the task of responding to Internet and email prospects. The goal should be to get an appointment or at least get their phone information so you can make a follow-up call.

It used to be said that an average of 10 calls would bring two kept appointments. Expect this to be much lower today. The main thing is to make as many calls as it takes. Measure the results. See who has the best appointment ratio and find out how they make it work. Teach this to your other salespeople. On average, about half of the solid appointments will show up and become kept appointments. The closing ratio for kept appointments is generally pretty high.

The bottom line is that you can increase sales if you will put more effort into prospecting. The tougher times get, the more important this tool becomes.

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