The Internet has changed our lives in many ways, and tire dealers have not been immune to its transformative power. More customers than ever research their tire purchases on the Web, joining the ranks of readers who for years have relied on Consumer Reports and a variety of car publications for tire guidance.
What hasn’t changed is that vast majority of tire buying decisions are still made at the sales counter. Most customers are simply not interested enough in their tires to do much research before they show up at your shop. Far from being a problem, their lack of interest is a series of opportunities for you and your team to fill in the gaps.
Even the customers who do care enough to do some homework are almost always looking for more information when they come into a dealership and want help in making their final decision.
Customers’ typical inattention to their tires adds to the reasons you should be well-versed in the products your shop offers. Tire manufacturers spend a lot of time and money developing and distributing product information. Do yourself and your customers a favor – know what’s available and understand the features and benefits of the different tire lines. That knowledge will help you excel in guiding customers to the right tire choice.
In addition to excellent product information, the major tire manufacturers all have well-designed sales training programs. Most are a variation on the GQPC idea: Greet, Qualify, Present and Close. A healthy dose of product information is added to the sales training because they, obviously, want you to sell their tires.
Self-serving though they may be, the manufacturer programs can provide you with a lot of valuable information and give you the product expertise necessary to advise customers.
Rather than try to compress the entire GQPC process into too short of a space, let’s instead focus on what many believe is the most important part of the process for retail tire sales: Qualify. It’s a simple process (but be warned, it’s not all that easy) that starts when the customer first approaches the sales counter. This is where you start finding out as much as you can about the customer and his or her car.
Aside from the obvious questions about what kind of car they have and how many miles it has on it, ask a series of questions to find out who usually drives the car, how it’s normally used, how long they plan on keeping the car. Find out what they liked about the tires that are on the car now, and (more importantly) what they didn’t like. Ask what they are looking for from the new tires. What’s important to them?
Pay attention to what the customer tells you. Listen for clues about areas of concern. You may find out that the 10-year-old Focus is about to head off 800 miles to college with the family’s only daughter. Do you think that car might be a candidate for a higher level maintenance and repair than the typical beater? These opening questions should begin to give you a feeling for what kind of customer you’re dealing with.
Undoubtedly you’ll run into some who only seem focused on getting the cheapest tire. Don’t immediately assume that there isn’t anything you can do to move them towards a more considered decision. Work through this process. Your patience and persistence may just be rewarded with a satisfied customer, and a larger sale than you expected.
The conversation at the counter is fine, but it’s not the whole story. Here’s the hard part, especially if the weather isn’t cooperating. Go out and look at the car. Not just glance at it, look at it carefully for more clues about the owner, the car and how the car is used. Start out by noting the tires that are on in now, and their condition. That will likely give you are very good idea of what the owner will expect from the replacement tires.
What’s the car’s general condition? Is it clean and well-kept? Look for oil change stickers and other indications of its maintenance history. You’re not only gathering information for your eventual tire recommendation, you’re getting an idea of what the car may need besides tires.
Other things to look for: child seats; “Baby on Board” signs, vacation destination decals; is there a trailer hitch? If so, does it look like it’s used frequently? The presence of NASCAR, NHRA, other racing or car club decals ought to tell you something about the owner and the kind of information you should provide. An AOPA (Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association) decal may indicate an even higher level of technical sophistication.
What are the worst possible driving conditions they expect to drive in? Do they have a separate set of winter tires? You’ll want to carefully take into consideration the customer’s typical driving conditions. If they usually drive on congested city streets or busy roadways during rush hour, you may want to consider recommending a more responsive tire. If they generally drive on long stretches of interstates, a quiet, smooth-riding, long-wearing tire may be the best recommendation. If they drive on winding roads, or are into performance driving, you’ll want to offer better handling tires.
What you’re trying to do is ensure that their new tires will meet their needs. Not only the typical conditions they drive in, but also the worst conditions they foresee driving in. Make sure you understand what performance criteria they are looking for. For example, is wet traction more important to them than cornering capability on dry roads? The more you can find out from your customer, the easier it will be to recommend the right tire for their needs.
On your way back into the store is probably when it’s best to mentally firm up your recommendation. If you believe they are primarily seeking comfort and handling a touring tire with excellent dependability on wet and dry pavement is probably the way to go. Since touring tires typically offer the best balance of smooth and quiet ride with performance handling they are most likely to best fill the bill.
If they drive in with a sports car or performance sedan, or you’ve picked up clues that their focus is handling and performance; you’re probably going to want to recommend high-performance tires. Emphasize to the customer how performance tires are designed for use at higher speeds in dry and wet weather. Explain how they have a softer compound for improved grip, especially on high-speed cornering. But don’t forget to discuss the trade offs in treadwear and cold weather performance.
What about pick-up trucks or SUVs? Most pick-up and SUV drivers are probably best served by P-metric tires. But you need to aware of when an LT-metric tire is necessary to help provide additional load capacity, durability and traction in adverse conditions. Similarly, off-road type tires, with their stiffer sidewalls for greater puncture resistance and more aggressive tread patterns, may be ideal for drivers who take their vehicles off the road and do limited on-road driving.
Most drivers, however, will find the high inflation pressures and often noisy tread patterns of LT-metric or flotation tires are less than desirable for primarily on-road, comfort-focused SUV applications.
Most tires today are all-season tires for good reasons. For most sedans, SUVs and crossovers this is what you’ll recommend most of the time. The reasons are simple. All-season tires satisfy the needs of the most drivers of the most vehicles under the most road conditions. You can point out that they have deep water channels for wet traction and harder rubber compounds for longer tire life and lower rolling resistance and better fuel economy.
A fair question may be, “why go through all these questions and walking out to the car if I’m most likely going to end up recommending standard all-season tires any way”?
There are several reasons. First, although they may be the most common recommendation, standard all-seasons won’t work for everybody. If you fall into an automatic all-season recommendation you’re definitely going to be off-target at least part of the time. Perhaps dangerously so. You’re also going to miss out on the opportunity for number of entirely justified up sells.
What carefully qualifying the customer does is establish in the customer’s mind that you are taking the time to find out what they need. You can show that you are knowledgeable about tires generally and that you know your products particularly well. You can also make it clear that you know cars, that you know the tire manufacturers, and that you have expertise that your customer can rely on. You’re going to be able to justify the value of your recommendation and the customer will look at you as someone they can rely on.
Try out this technique. You just may be surprised how well it works.