How to sell scan tools to heavy duty customers

May 4, 2017
While there are some similarities to light duty repair shop customers, there are key differences to note when selling aftermarket scan tools to heavy duty truck shops.

When it comes to commercial vehicle aftermarket diagnostics, the biggest hurdle for heavy duty truck shops has been the lack of tooling available to work on these types of vehicles.

Notably, there has been little standardization on heavy duty vehicles when it comes to diagnostics information, compared to the OBD-II emissions standards set in 1996 for light duty makes and models.

Because of this, many heavy duty truck shops are just beginning to use aftermarket scan tools in the bay. A mobile tool distributor may be the first representative to provide a tool to help these customers diagnose and service heavy trucks more efficiently and thoroughly.

While the approach to selling heavy duty aftermarket scan tools is similar to other diagnostic equipment, there are some key differences.

Mac Tools distributor Brian Davis says his heavy duty customer base is primarily small independent shops with between one and six employees. These shops are generally competing with the larger truck dealerships and need a comprehensive scan tool to diagnose a variety of truck types and systems, akin to many light duty independent repair shops mobile tool dealers currently service.

“The style I’m selling to, the owner is usually an owner-operator style of owner,” Davis says. “The guy that owns the shop is usually also working on the trucks. The guy making the financial decision to buy the unit is also normally the person that’s going to be using the unit.”

Another key item when selling scan tools is the relationship a distributor has with the customers already.

“When it comes to diagnostics, it really starts with the relationship you have with the customer first,” says Matco Tools distributor Kelly Chancey. “That’s everything. Anything you sell – number one, it will be the relationship with the customers. If you have a good working relationship and they buy a lot from you, they’ll buy from you first.”

Approaching the customer

It’s important to first evaluate the customer base. Are heavy duty shops already being serviced?

There are a variety of customers to approach on the heavy duty side. Some may not use a heavy duty scan tool at all. Others may rely on some OE scan tools, but have limited diagnostic capabilities for other vehicle makes and systems they may see come through the shop.

“The first thing you have to do in these shops is observe,” says Matco Tools’ Chancey. “You really have to pay attention to what they’re using, if you see anything at all.”

Mac Tools diagnostic tech representative Ron Hambrick agrees.

“The first thing I look for is another competitive unit,” Hambrick says. “If I don’t see one, I’ll ask ‘What do you do for diagnostics?’”

Hambrick follows up this question by reaching out to the key technician in the shop who handles diagnostics.

“Who is the A-tech in the room? The go-to guy?” he says. “I’ll have a conversation with him about what he uses to diagnose problems. How does he identify wiring problems, and wiring diagrams?”

Some shops aren’t familiar with or may not be using any type of heavy duty aftermarket scan tool at all. Other shops may already have a heavy duty scan tool, but may not be using the tool to its full capacity. Get the conversation started on what kind of coverage their existing tool offers.

Once a distributor determines the tools used in the shop, it’s important to figure out what the customer appreciates about his or her existing tool, and the features or functions he or she would like it to complete that it may not currently.

“‘The tool you have, do you like it? And does it do what you want it to do?’” Chancey asks his customers. “Generally, a lot of the time – and it’s the same on the automotive side – a lot of [customers] are using tools that are not doing what they would like them to do. At that point, you’re going to ask them, ‘What would you like it to do that it doesn’t do?’”

“I ask them what kind of software they’ve been using, to communicate with vehicle. Will it do forced regens? Will it do injector coding?” says Cornwell Tools dealer Nate Miller.

Once he establishes a customer owns or uses a heavy duty scan tool, a key question Cornwell Tools district manager Ken Hansen asks is if the tool has the most current software update available.

“Say they already bought something we would have sold them – a CanDo or Autel or Bosch tool – How updated is it, and can we help you with updates?”

While less of a sales-heavy approach, Matco Tools distributor Vasil Vasilev says he keeps his heavy duty scan tool demo units in a high-visibility area of the truck, to stir conversation.

“The easiest way I’ve found to have a customer tell me about their diagnostic equipment, is if I just set a scanner out somewhere in a high-traffic area [on the truck], usually somewhere around my desk because that’s normally where folks tend to hang around … That usually gets them talking about it and them telling me what they use for diagnostics,” Vasilev says.

Show off the tool

Product demonstrations are a key step in selling a scan tool. It may only take showing the customer the tool briefly while visiting the shop. Other times, it can require a more extensive review of the product. In this case, some dealers hold separate one-on-one meetings to showcase all the features of the heavy duty scan tool.

Mac Tools’ Davis says he does a combination of both approaches.

“I would bring in a tool [to the shop],” Davis says. “And, I would set up demonstrations with the tool in an independent timeslot with the customer, one-on-one, and do a hands-on demo with it.”

Cornwell Tools dealer Pete McCann says he takes a more spontaneous approach.

“If we have a vehicle right there, we just plug it right in,” McCann says. “Try to find if they’re working on something, anything in the yard, and just literally plug-and-play. That’s the simplicity of the Autel system, anyway.”

It’s also important to utilize available resources. Most scan tool manufacturers are open to educating mobile distributors on the heavy duty scan tool options available. Some franchises also have an additional department aiding dealers with selling scan tools.

“I’ve got a great diagnostic rep, I can bring him in and set up a time to do a demo for about an hour and show what we all have to offer in that scan tool,” explains Mac Tools distributor Bobby Commerer. “We get that lined up and we get the tool hooked up to a couple trucks. I just step back and let Ron (Hambrick) run it. He’s got the guys right there with him going through his presentation.”

After the sale

Follow-up is key, and many heavy duty scan tools provide software updates to ensure the coverage is optimal for users.

It’s also important to make sure the customer understands the full capabilities of the unit. Or at least has the resources available to learn more about the tool.

When Cornwell Tools’ McCann sells a scan tool to his customers, he places a card with the tool manufacturer’s website information inside the unit box, so customers can find additional information and know where to find how-to videos for using the tool.

Many distributors will walk customers through the tool setup process as well.

“We sit down and register the tool for the customer,” Cornwell Tools’ Hansen explains. “Then, we help them start the download process. Most of the tools nowadays require a download. If they’re really comfortable with it and say, “Hey, I don’t need your help. I can get this if I need it.” We give them our information, our phone number as well as the tech support number for the tool we’re selling, just in case they do have any questions. Help is just a phone call away.”

About the Author

Erica Schueller | Editorial Director | Commercial Vehicle Group

Erica Schueller is the Editorial Director of the Endeavor Commercial Vehicle Group. The commercial vehicle group includes the following brands: American Trucker, Bulk Transporter, Fleet Maintenance, FleetOwner, Refrigerated Transporter, and Trailer/Body Builders brands.

An award-winning journalist, Schueller has reported and written about the vehicle maintenance and repair industry her entire career. She has received accolades for her reporting and editing in the commercial and automotive vehicle fields by the Truck Writers of North America (TWNA), the International Automotive Media Competition (IAMC), the Folio: Eddie & Ozzie Awards and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE) Azbee Awards.

Schueller has received recognition among her publishing industry peers as a recipient of the 2014 Folio Top Women in Media Rising Stars award, acknowledging her accomplishments of digital content management and assistance with improving the print and digital products in the Vehicle Repair Group. She was also named one Women in Trucking’s 2018 Top Women in Transportation to Watch.

She is an active member of a number of industry groups, including the American Trucking Associations' (ATA) Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC),  the Auto Care Association's Young Auto Care Networking Group, GenNext, and Women in Trucking.

In December 2018, Schueller graduated at the top of her class from the Waukesha County Technical College's 10-week professional truck driving program, earning her Class A commercial driver's license (CDL).  

She has worked in the vehicle repair and maintenance industry since 2008.

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