Not so long ago farm-in work came in one form. It came from the large brick-and-mortar companies such as Carey, DavEl, Empire CLS, Music Express and Boston Coach, which sent their proprietary clientele to independently owned limo businesses serving second-tier markets.
Today, through networking and technology and a more mature marketplace of savvy business owners, there are more options for generating leads and subcontracting work.
That said, the old school terminology has become vague and confusing. It seems everyone is a “network” or soliciting for “affiliates” to work with. It’s time for clarity on who is really doing what to help you better understand the types of business relationships in the market and the ones right for you.
Networks: Traditional and contractual booking-to-trip relationships with internationally branded transportation companies for the purpose of outsourcing to smaller services in a distinct market, typically one to three companies per region. The companies willing to perform the services under the network brand are commonly called their “affiliates.”
Alliances: Strategic alliance is the term used for less structured peer-to-peer relationships for reciprocal work. Any company which has a client book and wishes to manage the “through trip” can have alliances or use their alliances for overflow work. The term “farm in/out” is often used to describe this you-help-me, I-help-you way of handling clients. Simply put, alliances are client “partnerships” between different companies. Alliances are made up of operators that know each other very well and tend to be a tight-knit group. To get into an alliance takes networking effort. Participation in shows, conferences and industry committees, and branding through advertising are musts.
Virtual groups (links): Managed lead or retail ride generators, usually Internet-based. These link relationships may vary from simple lead generators to active, ongoing ride-tracking and fare collection. This model works on a membership or “club” type of arrangement. Agreements between operators and virtual marketing companies tend to be structured and contractual.
As you set out to prospect for leads from within the industry and beyond your own sales efforts, I hope my refined terminology helps you clear the clutter. The good news is that the options for growing business through referral work is, well, growing!
On a side note, I leaned heavily on the LCT editorial advisory board for their input and consultation on this editorial. I thank them all for their fine work!