How to convince customers to buy what you’re selling — even if you’re the “little guy”

Often a company uses dealers or resellers to get their products to market. Enabling the seller in this situation means influencing someone who does not work for you to deliver your message and sell your product. This makes it more complex for the person responsible for supporting the sales team. Continental Tire has found a way to engage their dealers.It’s just past 9 a.m. on a soon-to-be-scorching June Thursday on the southern edge of Texas hill country, and Chris Kunz is making a Ford Mustang squeal. Kunz, a 28-year-old assistant store manager for Discount Tire in Houston, is comparing a set of General Tire G-Max tires with four Goodyear Eagle GTs. It’s looking bad for the Goodyears, which is exactly what Continental, the company that owns the General brand, hoped.

Kunz, who works for the second-largest independent U.S. tire retailer, is one of about 950 tire salesmen Continental brings to its Uvalde proving grounds for 10 hours each year, as the world’s fourth-largest tire maker tries to maximize its marketing budget by influencing some of the most influential men in the business. Tire stores are a bit of a holdout in the world of big-ticket retail, where Internet research is supplanting salesmanship. The word of the guy working the tire-store counter still matters in as many as 80 percent of retail tire purchases, tire sellers say. That’s not small change: Americans will spend $13 billion at tire retailers this year, up 6.6 percent from 2010, according to researcher IBISWorld.

The Uvalde events have helped Hanover (Germany)-based Continental’s U.S. business gain market share over the past five years, boost profits and increase average selling price by 20 percent. “We’re a huge company that basically is lacking brand awareness in the U.S.,” says Travis Roffler, Continental’s marketing director for North America. “We have the technology and the capability. We just need the recognition of these products and to grow this brand to the point where people on both sides of the counter will give us a shot.”

Continental, which sponsors soccer and racing but doesn’t do tire advertising on TV networks, spends about $1 million annually mounting 4 weeks of daily Uvalde events. That’s about 15 percent of its marketing budget for its biggest dealers. Included are dinner and drinks at a ranch, transportation and two nights of room, board and open bar at the Quality Inn. That comes to about $1,000 per tire guy—a guy who typically makes about $40,000 a year. “This is a huge investment we do for our dealers to get them to experience the product,” Roffler says. “We track sales before and after, and we know it pays off.” Continental says its top dealers, the ones whose salesmen are invited to Uvalde, have increased unit sales by 30 percent each year since 2007. It attributes most of that increase to the Uvalde program.

Think about ways to ensure your dealers and resellers can experience your product. It may not be a day at the track, but it may be a dealer conference and an evening event where everyone can socialize and discuss the value of your service.

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photo by Katrina Snaps

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