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The Tool Truck

A Technician’s Perspective

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As a former automotive technician, I’ve spent a lot of money on tools that came off a tool truck. Over the years, I have come to realize that no matter how big the truck or number of pages in the catalog, it came down to the consistency, efficiency and integrity of the driver. If a driver couldn’t deliver on these three items, chances are I did not buy his tools.

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I’m not saying that I’m a tool truck or sales expert. But, if you’re going to build your business, you must look at it through your customer’s eyes.

While you may think that you’re a sales person, you’re a lot more than that to your customers. To the technician, a tool truck driver can help them spend their money and time more wisely.

Polar Opposites
I once worked at a shop servicing high-end European automobiles. We had the usual franchise and independent tool trucks that would visit weekly. Most would show up within a usual 20- to 30-minute window.

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Some of these drivers knew my toolbox better than I did. Their weekly visits had a professional rhythm and flow. It was a friendly exchange of what’s new, what do I owe, sales and promotions and sometimes warranty returns.

There was time for small talk, but that was always with the goal of finding out what I needed and what I was working on. One tool truck driver even found out that I was going hunting that weekend and sold me a buck knife.
I could have spent all day on the tool truck, but there were more profitable things that both of us could have been doing. Most drivers respected my time and I respected theirs.

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Then there was Pete, a tool truck driver who did not know the meaning of consistency or consideration. He came whenever he wanted and stayed as long we could tolerate. He was like an ice cream truck that goes around your neighborhood a little too slowly and with the music too loud. Sure, you want some ice cream, but you hated to encourage him.

Pete would wander around the shop, never really trying to sell tools (he never really had anything new in his inventory), he just wanted to gossip and waste our time. I must confess, he was a good source for the latest rumors, like who dropped a car off a lift or who was looking for a new tech. But, some of his conversation starters were not the most appropriate things to talk about in the workplace.

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One visit, he interrupted me as I was replacing spark plug wires on a V8. The interruption caused me to cross two of the wires and it took the better half of the morning to find the mistake.

After that visit, the entire shop finally had enough of Pete. It was a unanimous decision not let him in the shop anymore. When he honked at the backdoor two weeks later, no one opened the door or went out to greet him. He proceeded to get out and walked to the front desk where the owner told him that he was not welcome, and we would call him if we needed something. Pete was not too happy.

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In all honesty, even if Pete had carried the best tools on the planet at the lowest prices, chances are I wouldn’t have bought from him because he lacked the three most critical characteristics of a tool truck driver — consistency, efficiency and listening skills.

Consistency
Two questions usually asked by a technician on his/her first day at a new shop are, “What tool trucks visit?” and “When?” You should always arrive within the same 30- to 40-minute time window for your scheduled visit. This is a big deal to technicians. Some technicians will anticipate your visit and make sure they are free.

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In the mind of the technician this creates a sense of trust, because they know you’ll be there if something breaks.
Consistency not only speaks well of your products, but of your professionalism and integrity.

Efficiency
As stated previously, the typical sales call should have a set rhythm and flow. A technician will respect you more if you respect their time. This doesn’t mean you have to be “all business,” but be aware that there is a fine line between providing a service and being a distraction.

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If you sell scan tools, know when a software update is available and which customers own that tool. If you can save a technician any down time, they’ll remember you when it comes time to buy another piece of diagnostic equipment.

It may be difficult for some technicians to make it out to the tool truck. If they owe you money, make it easy for them to pay. Before you get to the shop, make a print out of their account statement. Also, wireless credit/debit card machines make it easy to pay right in the bay without having to go to the truck.

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Listening Skills
The ratio of speech between the technician and driver should be 65% technician, 35% tool truck driver. Let the technician create his own need to buy a tool that he might not know exists. Tell him how you can help and the sales will follow. This is especially true for special tools to repair chassis, driveline and electronic components.

Also, stay current with current industry trends and how they are affecting your customers. Make it a habit to check out magazines and websites that technicians read. There is a wealth of information out there that can help you service your customers better.

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There is no greater tool than knowing the customer. Make notes in your database or records about the customer after your visit. It’s one of the greatest advantages that you have over retailers and Internet sites.

Selling tools on-site will never go the way of the milkman or diaper delivery. For the technician, the tool truck is an island of quality, service and integrity in a sea of spam marketing and “buffet line” service. The tool truck and technician relationship has stood the test of time because it’s a business model that works not just for economic reasons, but for emotional reasons as well. 

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