Bob Petrilli is an independent mobile distributor based in Bradenton, Fla.
One thing I’ve learned since I started selling tools in 1971 is that you can’t take anything for granted about your customers. You have to provide information about the products you sell and make sure they have a chance to ask questions. As mobile distributors, one of our main responsibilities is to be educators. I had an experience several years ago with one of my best customers that drove home this point.
We can never assume how much our customers know about the tools, no matter how simple the tools might be or how experienced our customers are. We have to be prepared to answer any and all questions. And we have to demonstrate how the tools work as thoroughly as possible and take nothing for granted about the customer’s product knowledge.
What a 'class A' tech did
One of my best customers is a guy I’ll call Jim. Jim has worked close to 30 years as an automotive technician. He has long been a “class A” tech. He now owns his own repair shop. He keeps up-to-date on all the new tools on the market. In fact, he’s the guy I take my car to when I need something fixed.
Jim’s the kind of customer a tool salesperson is likely to talk to in a pretty sophisticated manner about tools.
I first met Jim when he was working as the lead technician for a Chevrolet dealership. One day when I stopped at the dealership, he bought a mag flashlight from me. Like most techs, he used flashlights mainly for underhood work.
When I stopped in at the dealership a week later, Jim told me his new flashlight didn’t work. We had not tested the flashlight when I sold it to him. But since it did not work, Jim assumed it was defective and needed to be replaced. I asked him if the flashlight had worked at all since he bought it, and he said it had not.
When he handed me the flashlight, I opened it up to remove the batteries, and I immediately saw why the flashlight didn’t work. Jim had put the two D cell batteries in the wrong way.
You can imagine the look on his face when I removed the batteries, turned them around, reinserted them in the flashlight, touched the “on” button and “voila” – the flashlight lit up Jim’s work station so brightly you could read the text of a magazine sitting on his toolbox four feet away! We both burst out laughing.
Jim had gone without the use of his new flashlight for a whole week simply because he hadn’t put the batteries in correctly. The battery chamber did not contain positive and negative signs indicating what end of the battery should go in first. Not all battery chambers have positive and negative signs. But one would certainly expect a technician to figure out how to insert batteries in a flashlight.
Humorous as it was, Jim was embarrassed. He asked me not to tell anyone about his oversight, and I agreed.
This incident demonstrates the fact that anyone can make a simple mistake, even a class A technician like Jim. Jim is one of my most technically knowledgeable customers. I have a great choice of shops to go to when I have a problem with my car, and he’s number-one on my list.
Flashlights are among the simplest tools I sell. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t demonstrate how to put the batteries in.
If an experienced, highly-trained technician can make a simple mistake with an easy-to-use tool, any technician can need assistance with any of the tools we sell. It is our job as mobile distributors to provide as much product knowledge as possible to our customers.
This experience was humorous, but it was also instructive. It reminded me that I should never assume a customer will know everything about a tool he or she has not yet used. It reminded me that it’s always important to make sure the customer has all the information they might need. It is better to give them too much information than too little. And it reminded me to be sure to always ask a customer if they have any questions about a product. A salesperson should tell a customer there’s no such thing as a dumb question.
Jim is still one of my best customers. I have never betrayed his confidence; I have told his story many times, but I have never mentioned him by name.
Jim appreciates the relationship we have, and I certainly do as well.