Words by PBMA president James Stanfill
I had this thought in regards to a question someone posted on Facebook. They asked the group the following:
“Customer just called. He has a 4-5k budget on a mountain bike. Wants to pick my brain for advice. Talked for 20 minutes already. Considering a Stumpy or even a Canyon. I told him about a Yeti I am borrowing. At some point, I should charge him for my time… How to hand this professionally and make it profitable?”
This got me thinking about some questions which this person should ask of themselves, such as: “What is the value of this customer to me? Do they have a history of business with me? I know the retail dollars on the bike aren’t going to put food on my table. Are they good bike owners (i.e. they bring their trusty machines for regular service from their favorite mechanic)?”
So, to address the idea of charging for “consulting” time, we should consider the following: a consulting fee is relevant and fair but should also be disclosed up front. “We can help you choose just the right bike, including X/Y/Z”, but it should absolutely be on your menu at the get-go. Otherwise we just look greedy for specifying after the fact. Each and every store out there bases their labor on some matrix of value, or we should hope. Why not simply post it; consulting fee, we don’t care if you buy here, but if you’re going to value our opinion, (which takes time) this is what it costs.
Why be afraid of that? Time is money after all. If this is a customer their long-term value is greater than the retail profits offered by the slim margin you receive. Think about that. Perhaps the consultation fee is a percentage of your actual hourly charge but it should be there.
Not being able, or willing, to put it out there up front creates just the situation this question from Facebook poses… how to go back and handle asking for money for your time and still look professional? If it was on your pricing board to begin with, neither you nor your customer would question the subject at all.
Why are we as an industry so afraid to value the skills involved in knowing what we know? This case in particular is a mobile operator who clearly has a client base, or they would not have called and asked for his valued opinion. We seem to openly value the time of engineers, product managers, marketing departments and sales reps, but what about owners, mechanics and sales people? After all these are the people who work directly with the customer to convey your true marketing message.
It doesn’t really matter where the customer ends up purchasing their product, it seems we are steering people to our online stores more every day. What happens where there are no educated mechanics, sales people or owners to answer those questions the product description cannot?
Value your time… as an owner it’s up to you to make sure this is happening especially in the internet age. As professionals working within an industry, we have the knowledge that others seek. They are coming to us because the Internet can’t solve these problems, it can’t help them with a true bike fit or genuine knowledge. Opinions matter and consumers will gladly pay for professional knowledge when it comes to decorating their houses, seeking therapy, or so many other professional services, so why not their $5,000 bike too?
Those are my thoughts on the subject. And perhaps the more who think this way, the better off we’d all be.