Get a Second Opinion on Big Changes
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about being a consultant is watching a client waste a lot of money. Instead of heeding advice, they rely on their so-called gut instinct. As a marketing and sales professional for more than 40 years, I can tell you the kind of person a hotshot salesman likes best of all is a buyer who relies on his or her gut instinct. That salesman knows that if he can control that person’s emotions, he can sell them any garbage he chooses to.
I’ve known a few gut-instinct-loving sales guys like that. The best was a guy in Pennsylvania who excelled at running a prospect’s emotions up and down like a thermometer. He’d tell a joke to get them laughing, and then a sob story to get them nearly crying. By the time he finished with their emotions, all they asked was where to sign. Their gut told them this was the guy to buy from.
So why does a shop owner or manager need a consultant? Like a patient being advised to have surgery, it’s always wise to have a second opinion for your gut instinct—especially if you’re about to spend a lot of money.
Finding the Right Consultant
So assuming you agree that sometimes it’s wise to have a consultant, your first question should be, “Will he or she cost me more than I stand to make or save?”
The second: Is this guy or gal familiar with our industry?
If you’re considering buying costly equipment and you want to save significant money, make sure this consultant has many years dealing with collision industry equipment.
Avoiding the Wrong Consultant
Some of the worst consultant choices I have witnessed were Internet and website consultants. If the consultant doesn’t have a half dozen or so successful shop websites, stay away. The key word here is “successful.”
Many website sales people these days are just brokers, touting business for a number of website developers. They assume the role of go-between communicators. So far my experience with these folks is that they delay contact with the actual programmer and add unnecessary lag times in getting a site developed.
Another stripe of consultant to avoid: marketing consultants who try to get away with generalities. Make sure they ask for specifics. They should want to know everything about your past marketing efforts: What ads, signs, calls, emails, mailings and more have you done and what were the results for each action?
The worst consultant already has in mind the marketing action he plans to recommend, regardless of what you have tried. You may want to find out if the consultant has previously worked for a specific publication, a sign company, a broadcasting company or some other specific medium that could prejudice the recommendations you get.
The Best Consultants
The best consultants I have met in our industry have owned their own shop. Other great consultants have spent years working with a paint or equipment provider, gaining in-depth experiences with hundreds, if not thousands, of shops for many years.
The greatest benefit a good consultant brings to you is a broad-based knowledge of what is going on in many other shops. You may know a few other shop owners yourself or you may meet a few at your local autobody association meeting, but it’s unlikely you have the time to check out a wide range of shops. And some of the ones you could most benefit from visiting may be competitors who definitely wouldn’t welcome your visit.
Can’t you just be your own consultant? Of course you can. Set aside the time to check out and weigh your options in depth, and you can be a do-it-yourself consultant. Industry publications, like the one you’re reading right now, provide great in-depth interviews and articles that allow you to take a look at the thinking behind the strategies in play at other shops and the choices other owners and managers have made. The Internet also provides you with a huge volume of articles to review.
If you have the time, do it yourself. Chances are, you can compile information about whatever decision you’re facing, consider your options, and make a good choice.
But don’t discount the value of having a live person to do the leg work and discuss the many options. And especially if you have a tendency to make a gut decision, your wisest course of action is to have someone knowledgeable around to offer you a more objective second opinion.
Tom Franklin, author of Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth, has been a sales and marketing consultant for more than 40 years.