As the owner of a small operation, Tony Talia, president of SB Chauffeuring & Tours
in Santa Barbara, Calif., has to work at many roles. When it comes to sales, he must apply a successful formula for his market. “With us as a small operator, we focus heavily on customer service and make that our primary selling point.”
He offers complimentary beverages during limousine trips, makes sure to follow up after every ride, and keeps track of special birthdays and events so he can keep in touch with clients long-term. He also stocks a fleet of three-year or newer model vehicles and keeps them well maintained.
Regardless of fleet size, limo operators who want to succeed in sales need to find a strategy that emphasizes company strong points while tailoring their marketing pitches to specific client needs in their service regions.
Tony Talia, president of SB Chauffeuring
in Santa Barbara, also uses his sales techniques on the local client destinations. Making a large portion of revenue from local wine tours, Talia sells wineries on his “Wine Tour Policy” which keeps alcoholic beverages out of the vehicles during wine tours, so guests can focus on the wine itself. “The wineries appreciate it because too many people were showing up intoxicated and not buying wine from the wineries. Now, it’s more focused on the actual vineyard experience and quality of the wine. For this reason many of the most popular wineries will give me priority scheduling.”
Talia, for example, is diligent about client prospecting, handing out business cards at restaurants and hotels and explaining what his company offers. He says marketing and sales are intertwined, especially for a smaller operator. Once he receives inquiries from prospects, he makes sure to listen to their needs and then offer creative solutions.
At times, customers will call asking about a limo tour for eight passengers, Talia says. He’ll maybe only have a 14-passenger stretch limousine available for that day, and he’ll decide to discount the ride for eight passengers to keep the price reasonable and the vehicle moving that day. “It’s less money than it would be if it was a party of 14, but it’s about being accommodating and matching the right need,” he says.
Meanwhile, Paul Thompson of Accent New Mexico stationed in Santa Fe, gives an example of the kind of creativity needed to stay flexible with a budget-conscious client and ensure a sale. “I had a job for a non-profit with 62 people to go from a hotel to a theater that was about 1.8 miles away,” says Thompson, who like Talia, is owner and sole sales agent. “The client wanted to transport them all at once but could only afford one bus.”
Paul Thompson, president of Accent New Mexico
in Santa Fe, handles a lot of group travel and large wedding events. He says of his sales tactics, “If you’re good at your service then you don’t have to be that good at sales. Just describe what your service is. I’m very particular about the way this company is presented to clients. I tell them the truth about what we do and how we do it, and I’m flexible. Tell me what you’ve got and what you need and we’ll find a way to make it work.”
With his experience, he knew that with the short trip distance he could easily have a single bus make both trips with little wait-time. “Getting that many people together takes time,” he says, recalling what he told the client. “It can be like herding cats. So I said we’ll have the bus get there early, and once it’s full with 32 people, we’ll drive to the theater and drop them off and head back. The other guests will be just getting to the front of the hotel for pickup when the bus pulls up again.” The job went off without a hitch, and he credits his experience and ability to communicate this option to the client beforehand as essential to the sale.
Corporate Sales and Commission Structure
For larger operators, the sales department receives its own focus and has dedicated people working full time on acquiring new business. Javaid Chaudhury, CEO of NY Global in New York City, says he values both mature salespeople who have been in the industry, and new sales employees who can learn his style. “Most of my team are newbies,” he says. “I train them for six months and then lead them out.”
The training has to do with the specific markets involved with NY Global’s business, such as the consulate work, hotels,
Javaid Chaudhury, president of NY Global
in New York City, has been in the industry since 1997, starting as a chauffeur driving a Cadillac stretch. He now owns a fleet of 45 vehicles. His sales experience leads him to explain fully what his company offers to clients. “We don’t sell them a sales sheet,” he says, but instead shows proof and paperwork of all the company’s key selling points such as insurance, backround checks, random drug tests, vehicle models and year, and most importantly, their on-time record.
and corporate accounts. “The key word is follow up,” he says. “You follow up until you get that account. Nothing is going to fall into your lap.” Chaudhury keeps his sales associates on a regressive commission for large accounts so they stay motivated.
Sami Elotmani of Destination MCO in Orlando, Fla., uses a structured and consistent evaluating process for sales employees. The SEARCH Method, which stands for Skills, Experience, Attitude, Results, Cognitive skills, and Habits, is used for assessing prospective applicants.
“This is a refined process that allows our team to judge candidates on objective criteria, and it promotes consistency,” he says. The checklist keeps managers from hiring based on gut feelings, or character assessments, which Elotmani says can be misleading when hiring.
“A bad sales hire can costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, not just on cost but also lost opportunity. MCO will often use headhunters as well, to locate quality salespeople.”
Sales Techniques And Relationship Building
Sami Eltomani (L), VP of operations for Destination MCO
in Orlando, Fla., prefers to have sales associates on a regressive commission, but with a lucrative incentive on new business. “We’re always attracted to people who are focused on commission, as well as their disposition to consultative sales, which takes longer and requires more relationship-building.”
Techniques for selling limo service can vary widely depending on the market the salesman is prospecting, Elotmani says. “For example, if we’re doing meetings and events work, then being able to speak the meeting planner language per se, allows you to establish credibility early on. On the flip side, for hotel work, you need to have a leisurely approach and remember it can take years to play out. You can’t call a luxury hotel and expect to be in discussions in the first couple months. It takes longer.”
The sales cycle of each market determines the approach, Elotmani says. But he notes that the best ROI comes from relationship-based sales with accounts that prioritize high-quality service and accountability. For these accounts, sales associates emphasize the quality of fleet vehicles, the thorough training of chauffeurs and background checks, insurance coverage, safety, and more. “For these types of accounts, it can take time to finally establish the sale,” he says. “You have to be patient and cultivate the relationship as you build the brand over time.”
Maintaining good relationships is the primary competitive advantage for a limo company, Elotmani says. “You can lose your advantage in technology, in fleet quality, and other areas, but relationships that you‘ve built can sustain you long term. We put a premium on the value of establishing new business relationships because they are the best investment.”