Menu-Driven Questions Can Add to Bottom Line

July 1, 2000
The often-used buzzword in consumer and retail marketing today is point-of-sale (POS). Marketing activities at the POS usually foster ideas of enticing

The often-used buzzword in consumer and retail marketing today is point-of-sale (POS). Marketing activities at the POS usually foster ideas of enticing the consumer with product-laden displays while they stand in the supermarket checkout line.

POS marketing is performed when consumers are made aware of additional product offerings after they have made their main purchasing decision. In the body distribution business, the end-user doesn't walk through a checkout counter; nevertheless, there are opportunities to present other valuable body-related options to customers after they make their purchasing decision.

The POS approach can be used to increase a body distributor's bottom line. The key to POS is to continue to inform the end-user of all the available options throughout the build-out, delivery, and even post-delivery phases that will make the vehicle more efficient for its intended use.

"POS mentality means every time you quote equipment to a vehicle dealer or talk to the end-user, you have to visualize a candy rack of options and inform the customer about each one that might be useful for him to use," says Mike Pitman, manager of POS services for Pitman Marketing and POS Terminals, Houston, Texas.

Some end-users aren't aware of the numerous options that can be added to dry vans, platforms, vans, or other commonly purchased bodies. These customers purchase one to three commercial vehicles a year. In some cases, they just aren't as sophisticated in their upfitting specifications as commercial buyers who might purchase a large number of vehicles.

"These are the customers that you can help if you can just get to them in time," says Pitman. "That's the real issue. Product distributors can't rely on others to sell their product. Light- and medium-duty body distributors must continually educate the unsophisticated buyer about all of the available upfitting options."

POS is an attempt to increase sales for the body distributor. Nevertheless, advises Pitman, POS efforts can be extremely valuable for the end-user who hasn't had the opportunity to visit with a body distributor. "A POS effort by the body distributor can actually save end-users from getting something that doesn't quite do the job they envisioned it doing," says Pitman.

In a perfect world, the body distributor would have access to the buyer and be able to present a full range of options that would increase the efficiency of the vehicle. But body distributing isn't done in a perfect world. "If you rely on intermediaries such as truck salesmen to sell your product, then POS strategies can still be implemented; however, it does become more difficult to move through the maze created by the third-party-to-end-user paradigm," says Pitman. "Very few intermediaries are going to put forward auxiliary body-component information that might make the customer's truck more efficient, especially when it might give the appearance of making his product more expensive than a competitor's."

Clayton Price, fleet sales for General Truck Body Manufacturing in Houston, has seen circumstances where making a last-ditch POS effort and possibly spec'ing a van body with more options would have saved the end-user money in the long term. "In one example, a company that started to transport their electronic goods by a van body truck continually tried to use homemade systems for securing the equipment. That caused some of the equipment being moved to get damaged," says Price. "The end-user didn't talk with a body distributor directly during the purchasing process."

After several situations of transporting equipment and damaging it, the end-user finally called a body distributor. "Eventually they realized that systems such as E-track would have prevented the equipment from being damaged," says Price.

Pitman says that this situation is where POS thinking has to enter the equation, if possible. "If a local body distributor can get through to the end-user, even after getting a solid order and during the building of the body, he should try to inform him of other options that will assist his upfitting needs."

Price agrees adding, "That's not always easy, but if you feel that something is lacking from the body that will help the end user, it's best to try and make them aware of it.

"My local business is about 65% or more of buyers that purchase one to three units a year," says Price. "My job as a sales executive is to inform them about what's available to help them make their vehicle more efficient. Without offering them options, even at the POS or delivery, their choices become very limited. After that, the customer has to decide if those options will help his business."

"Some end-users won't take a sales call during the year. If you can get to them just before vehicle delivery, or even just afterwards, there's a better chance that their attention is focused on their equipment needs," says Pitman. "That's the time to talk about all the available features. That's using POS mentality to perhaps get them to call you first on the next go-round."

When you have that opportunity to get one-on-one contact with the end-user, put your POS hat on. "Menu-driven, POS tactics really do work," says Pitman. "The candy rack of goods is one way of using POS marketing, but it's not the only form of POS strategies. The use of a menu of goods and services every time you talk to the end-user is highly effective. The key is to ask the end-user about each option on the menu at every opportune time. Every highly successful restaurant chain has the wait staff trained to ask one question of every customer, after each meal--- 'Would you like dessert?' Don't assume that the customer doesn't want dessert because it's not a festive meal or a dinner."

Pitman strongly advises keeping a checklist of available equipment options next to the phone. "Even though you or your sales people know every option that is offered, we sometimes don't ask all the right questions when we are talking to a buyer that might not be as sophisticated as we would like," says Pitman. "Create your own menu of items for your business. Make it simple to follow for every sales person, and make certain that everyone can explain the benefits and advantages for each item on the menu. But most importantly, ask every customer, every time. Don't just assume that since Mr Grump doesn't ever order dessert, that he won't do it today."

Pitman says that it's just like working in a place that delivers pizzas. You have to ask with every order if customers are aware of the deep-dish offering or if they want anchovies - which doesn't come with the "everything" pizza. "Don't just assume that the customer knows you offer salads for delivery. The key to remember is that you have to ask with each order."

About the Author

John Nahas