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Thinking Outside the Box: The Key to Higher Car Counts

Regardless of how much name awareness your company carries, one thing is for certain: You sell a service, not a product. In a category not subject to impulse buys, tire dealers must think like customers in order to improve their businesses.

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Institutional advertising programs, like print media, TV and radio, and electronic media, all have their place. Clearly they can help you keep the name of your company top of mind with your customers, which, in the world of advertising, is a good place to be. But regardless of how much name awareness your company carries, one thing is for certain: You sell a service, not a product.

If you sell an inexpensive commodity, like a box of soap, then you can bet that the overwhelming majority of your customers are going to make impulsive purchasing decisions. Unfortunately, that’s not the case when it comes to purchasing an intangible, regardless of whether it’s a service being provided by a doctor, an accountant, an attorney or someone who is going to take care of your automobile.

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There is no doubt about it: When people have to choose a service provider, their level of anxiety goes up, which gives them pause in making their decisions. So how do you influence people who are looking for a service provider? Do what so many shop owners fail to do as often as they should: Think like a customer.

First of all, your customers are no different than you are. They are most influenced by their friends and family. General Electric commissioned a study in which they discovered that word-of-mouth advertising is twice as effective as any other media when it comes to influencing customers’ purchasing decisions. Why? Because people can be leery when it comes to believing what they read in paid ads, but they believe their friends. They have learned to trust that their friends don’t have hidden agendas.

The second point you’ll need to accept is that people do business with people, not with businesses. The more you can “humanize” your company, the more credible your brand will become. This is why so many of the Fortune 500 companies like to show supposed employees in their ads (You may remember such ads from Walmart, Southwest or McDonald’s) and why many of these very same companies will air ads with the chairman or CEO speaking to the camera (GM has had success using this approach). These are the companies that understand that people do business with people.

So, here’s a list of four outside-the-box marketing strategies that will help inspire word-of-mouth advertising, and bring in more of the right kind of customers.

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1. Humanize your business. Use images of you and your employees whenever possible. This will help transform your targeted customers’ perception of your business from a brick and mortar building, to a group of friendly service advisors and technicians who want to help them fix their vehicles. Also, seeing your service advisors repeatedly in your advertising can actually create a sense of familiarity for your customers, in that they’re now receiving their service recommendations from a smiling face that they’ve seen before. Not only will your ads more effectively draw your customers in, but the images will humanize your business. Remember, you’re in a service business, not a product business.

2. If you haven’t already done so, get involved with at least one community organization. Regardless of whether it’s your Chamber of Commerce, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, etc., you need to become an integral part of your community. When you’re “off the clock” at these events, you pose no sales threat to the people you’ll meet. This will allow you to build relationships in a matter of minutes that otherwise would take considerably longer. Every person you build a relationship with is another person who will think of you when it comes time to have his or her vehicle repaired.

 3. Get involved with your local schools. You’ll find that there are plenty of opportunities to speak about auto safety, maintenance, choosing a repair facility, career opportunities, etc. Not only can this involvement have an amazing impact on both the faculty and the parents, but you’ll have a powerful impact on the students, who are your future customers. And don’t forget: If the student recognizes you as the “expert,” when they hear their parents talking about auto repair, they’ll become a salesperson for you and your shop.

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4. Hospitals, fire departments and police departments are what I call “communities within communities.” You need to find ways of showing your appreciation for what these community heroes do for the town you live in. If you do, your name will become a household name within these smaller communities, and will eventually extend throughout your entire community as word of your support inevitably spreads.    

In conclusion, if you were looking for a good doctor, you may very well search for one online. However, I suspect that before you made any final decision, you would ask your friends if they knew a doctor who they would recommend, or if they knew anything about the doctor who you were considering. In either case, the doctor who you would ultimately choose wouldn’t be the one who has done the best job of dumping money into advertising programs, but the one who has done the best job of touching the lives of other people.

If you agree with my conclusion, then why would you expect that things would be any different with a service business like yours? The best-kept secret of marketing an auto service business is to never forget that people do business with people, not with businesses, and people will always refer their friends to people…not to businesses. With every customer panel we’ve done at Elite, each panelist has always said the same two things: They are most influenced by what their friends say, and they are always drawn toward companies that are actively engaged in their communities. So, if there’s one recommendation I can leave you with, it’s to make a point of meeting as many people as you can, and touching as many lives as you can along the way.

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By Bob Cooper, president of Elite Worldwide, Inc. (www.eliteworldwidestore.com), which offers shop owners sales, marketing and employee management audio training courses available for instant download. The company also offers coaching and service advisor training services. You can contact Bob at [email protected], or by calling 800-204-3548.

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