Diagnose Your Diagnostic Sales

Computers in the auto repair industry have become as common as cellphones ringing during a movie.

"Basically, with any tool that a tech or shop owner would go out and buy, the ROI depends on how well they understand the equipment," said Brown. "The better they understand the equipment, the more effectively they can use it.

"There is going to be a little learning curve, only because it's something they've never done before; it's always gone on the OEM level." said Brown.

Some of the more sophisticated equipment comes with help tools, such as software that guides users through the entire reprogramming process from start to finish. But most of this equipment does not come with training. The more expensive the item is, the more likely it is that training is provided by the manufacturer.

"It is important to know if training is provided onsite," said Steve White, president of Electronic Specialties. "It's always smart [for the distributor] to check into training options before talking to the customer about any test equipment."

Updates are also a constant occurrence with this equipment.

"Software is [usually] updated four to five times a year and the hardware updates as necessary," said Horak. "It follows the computer model; we have quicker time to market, and we also have faster and more rapid reaction to issues with the tool such as bug fixes, gaps in coverage and finally with the hardware being reflashable and updateable. This allows the customer to have very little down time."

Most often, however, it's up to the technician or shop owner to find out whether updates are available when they have a vehicle come in for repair.

"There's often no way that shop owners or anyone on the aftermarket get notified from the OEMs that there are particular updates available for the vehicle," said Brown. "Technicians and shop owners can find out that information by using reference sites that the OEMs have available."

Pushing the right buttons

When a mobile dealer really knows his clientele, he can better help each shop make sound buying decisions.

"'What do you work on?' That's the number one question from us when people ask us about the tools that any manufacturer provides. That's generic conversation," said Horak. "If you're going to buy something, you have to understand what your needs are first. Don't buy a European tool if you work on domestic cars."

White said that things like warranty and accessories are especially important to buyers. They also should know whether updates are available if software is involved.

"Many customers want to know about certain specifications, testing capabilities and testing ranges, for example," said White. "Sometimes they are right in the middle of a repair job and they need the answer immediately."

Though many technicians will shop and compare, White mentions that distributors should try to give their best possible advice because "if [a tool] does the job, some techs will go and buy the item that same day."

Besides matching shop needs to equipment functions, White had another suggestion to get conversation flowing … the weather.

"I think the best way to approach selling test equipment to the owner or shop manager is to look at it from seasonal standpoint," said White. "You know, battery testers in the fall/winter, A/C testers in the spring/summer, etc. If you approach it that way, then you have a good way of opening the discussion."

Talking cost

Test equipment prices range from under $100 up into thousands of dollars. "It's a good idea to be aware of what kind of accessories come with the item," White said. "For example, with digital multimeters, an amp probe adapter can be a great compliment. Amp probes are normally sold separately and most of them will also work
with a handheld scope, too."

Brown explained that most aftermarket companies provide the hardware in order to do the reprogramming.

"Our hardware is running right around $1,150. And then above and beyond that, you have to go purchase the OEM data subscriptions to have access to the
calibration information. Those are provided on several different levels; DVD-based, CD-based and web-based formats," said Brown.
Ford and Chrysler, for example, both have web-based subscriptions set up where users can access the information on a daily, monthly or yearly basis. The cost ranges anywhere from $20 a day to $1,500 a year, depending on how they want to purchase it.

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