For other installments in this 12-part series, click on the corresponding number: 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12.
It seems that members of direct-repair programs belong to a special club. What’s a girl without access to the secret handshake to do? They can say you earn your way in with good work all they want, but that’s simply not true. Sure, there are DRP shops performing superior quality work, but there are just as many independents doing quality work that have tried and failed to enter the “private” club.
But going after DRPs wasn’t our first attempt at trying to get in somewhere without knowing the secret handshake. Our second month in business, we went after a few fleet contracts. Some people frown on fleet work, but the profitability depends on your current business model, i.e. your current overhead, production time and expected profit margin,
just as the decision to go DRP depends on the
We needed a predictable flow of work to come through our doors to cover small overhead costs. Even though we had only fixed a handful of customer cars, we were able to sign up with two of the major car rental agencies in our area.
So how does a shop with absolutely no track record make a deal? Hopefully the same way we plan to get a few DRPs under our belt.
Like I said, we didn’t know anything about how to get fleet work, so we relied on our other business experience. If we learned anything in college, it was how to clean ourselves up, figure out what they want to hear and humble ourselves enough to request work. The process is a basic job interview.
The first rule in a successful job interview is research, research, research. We began by finding our targets. We checked out the car rental agencies in the phone book, picked up the phone, found out where the wrecked cars were repaired and checked out their Web site. With a few more calls, we found the correct manager to contact.
Some people prefer actually setting up an appointment, but I happen to think that’s futile. Very few people set time aside for someone they don’t know. When you’re live and in person, it’s impossible for a gatekeeper to hang up. So we focused on getting face time with the decision maker instead. The ultimate goal was to get a second meeting, preferably a shop visit. But to do that, you’ve got to get past the gatekeeper.
However, a good gatekeeper isn’t easily persuaded. You need the correct attitude. The key is to try to plan your sales calls before you desperately need the work. People can sense desperation.
You’re going out to offer a service, not to ask for a favor. How you walk and talk send out signals. If they catch a whiff that you don’t belong, they’ll sniff it out. And odds are that you’ll be out the door before they even fully understand your intentions. Just don’t get confidence confused with arrogance.
Of course, even with the right attitude, you have to have something to say. So you fix cars, right?
So what! Who doesn’t? Everyone they speak to fixes cars. Believe me, fixing cars isn’t what got us the contracts. (Remember, we’d only had a handful of customers at that point.) What they want is for you to fix their business concerns. They don’t want to know the ins and outs of how you lay paint, not yet anyway. They simply aren’t interested. That’s why they hire someone. What they want to know is if they can work with you — because if they can’t, the rest really doesn’t matter.
We started out with a rigid laptop presentation, but we soon found that no one has the time. Instead, my husband — our resident salesman — began with an opener that quickly stated to the gatekeeper who he is and why the decision maker could benefit from speaking to him. The results varied, and once he got through to the decision maker, he would just repeat the sound bite. The rest he would play by ear, listening more than he spoke and closing by scheduling another appointment to discuss what his facility could do for them.
Now these are tips based on what we did when visiting rental agencies. Insurance companies are a different beast, but we figured business is business so we used the same approach to visit our first three insurance companies.
So how did it go?
Insurer No. 1: At the first stop, the gatekeeper shut us down cold. No problem, we plan to try for their other location on the next trip.
Insurer No. 2: The company had moved (looks like I dropped the ball on planning). About an hour was burned just looking for the new location. This gatekeeper wasn’t very pleased when she realized a non-employee had found her hideout — I mean office. She did loosen up a bit when my husband remained friendly and gave her his information. The door is now open for a followup.
Insurer No. 3: At the last stop, my husband saved a long day. He was able to speak directly to the decision maker who recognized the CollisionWorks name and scheduled a shop visit. The goal was accomplished. Yahoo! It still remains to be seen if the insurance company is truly on our side, and we won’t know that until the shop visit — another topic for another day.
Writer Monica Dorsey is a partner at Classic CollisionWorks in Philadelphia, Pa. You can reach her by e-mail at [email protected]