The sheer number of solicitations that pour in to corporations on a daily basis via phone, fax, mail and e-mail has turned sales into an uphill battle. To improve their chances, operators are using the Internet to research potential clients before making contact and finding ways to differentiate themselves from their competitors with unique promotional items.
But it’s not easy, according to Jon Simon, president of A&O Limousine in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill.
“The corporate world is still upside down right now,” he says. “They are looking to cut spending and often shut you down before you even get a chance to speak. Prospecting a company is a job in itself. It’s almost never easy to figure out who you should be talking to promote your service.”
Good Luck or Good Sense?
The first step to selling transportation services to corporations is finding out who books their travel. Depending on the size of a corporation, it could be the executives’ secretaries, travel managers or the travelers themselves.
Operators often must work hard at tracking down the correct person, but sometimes it’s as much about knowing when good information has fallen into your lap as it is about persistence.
The reservationists at Baltimore’s American Limousines are instructed to pass contact info onto the company’s sales staff any time a last-minute call comes in from a corporation that is not currently a client.
“It often means their current provider made a mistake or was unable to handle a request,” says Gary Day, American’s president. “Either way, you’re in a good position. You have discovered someone who books their transportation and they are probably dissatisfied with their current [vendor].”
It’s important to respond quickly with a follow up, Day adds. Find out how the ride went, ask if they would consider using your company for additional jobs and tell them what is unique about your company, whether it’s vehicle selection, national service through a network, online reservations or special corporate programs.
Gus Sertage, sales and marketing manager for Personelle Limousine LTD in Ontario, Canada, will often get behind the wheel to personally drive a high-level executive or decision maker who has called for the first time.
“With a CEO of a big corporation it’s about opportunity and relationship building, it’s not time to hit them with a big sales pitch,” Sertage says. “But I may ask who books their transportation for them and then call that person and say, ‘Mr. X gave me your name and asked me to call you.’”
Sweeten the Deal
Whether his salespeople are showing up at a location unannounced or doing a sales presentation for a group by request, Day makes sure they arrive bearing gifts. His latest promotional items cost $3 and look like a bug catcher. They are filled with hard candy or gummy worms and feature a card that reads, “Thanks for letting us bug you about our business.”
When Day’s salespeople are visiting a location where they are not sure who books the transportation, they hand out small bags of candy to everyone in sight. Salespeople staple their business cards to the bags, which lists American’s contact info. The cost, including the candy, bag and business card, is about 10 cents.
Every year, Day buys different gifts and promotional items. One summer he gave out dollar flying discs with every limo ride. For bigger clients, he has given out $10 clocks with his company’s name and logo on them, with a note saying, “Thanks for doing business with us. Keep us hanging around.”
“I’m a big believer in chachkis,” Day says. “People will see the bag or gift sitting on their desk for a day or two, and will think about you. It’s all about name recognition.”
Chris Hundley, president of Limousine Connection, a company with bases throughout California, often offers to sponsor meetings at local travel agencies. In return, his salespeople are allowed to do a brief presentation. They always bring plenty of doughnuts, coffee, pens and note pads with his company’s contact info on them.
“You’re always a hit when you bring treats,” says Hundley. “It makes doing the presentation much friendlier.”
Cold Calling Still Works
Though simple in concept, cold calling can be difficult. People are bombarded everyday with solicitations by e-mail, fax and phone, and often don’t want to be bothered. Hundley saves recordings of what he considers good and bad phone messages that solicitors have left for him and reviews them with his sales staff. To further improve their chances, his salespeople are instructed to target corporations that already use chauffeured transportation.
Salespeople who cold call corporations must act like detectives when trying to find out who is in charge of a corporation’s transportation.
“You never know how it is going to go, so start by asking the first person who picks up the phone [and say something like], ‘I was wondering if you could tell me who books your ground transportation?’” says Hundley. “Chances are it won’t be that easy, so keep trying.”
It’s likely that salespeople will face dead-ends, unanswered phone messages and frustration, but it’s a numbers game, so persistence eventually wins out, Hundley says. Just don’t be discouraged by rejection.
Visit Them on Their Turf
A limousine company’s best salesperson is often the boss. While Jon Epstein, president of Royal Coachman in Orange, N.J., has salespeople who cold call on a regular basis, he prefers to network at business travel trade shows and through organizations like the National Business Travel Association or the Association of Corporate Travel Executives.
The per-lead cost can be expensive when factoring in thousands of dollars each year for membership, dinners and events, but the upside can be huge. Epstein often meets people who are in charge of transportation for dozens of business travelers.
“As a vendor with these organizations, you get right to the decision makers,” Epstein says. “It allows you to get on the list when they put out their RFPs.”
Sertage belongs to many similar organizations, and recommends supporting client fundraisers and events. “If you find out one of your clients is making a speech, go and support him or her,” Sertage says. “You don’t need to be conspicuous and sit in the front row. Instead, send them a note later telling them how much you enjoyed their presentation.
Before picking up the phone to make a sales call, a compelling presentation should be created. The person who picks up on the other end just might be your target audience.
Sertage starts by researching potential clients on the Internet. He visits their Web sites and uses search engines to look for stories about them. He wants to know what they do, how they do it, where their offices are located – basically anything that relates to how and where they travel.
“I don’t go in with a sales pitch, I go in with solutions,” he says.
Sertage, who has a degree in Psychology, has compiled a list of common questions, arguments and barriers, and scripts out answers that will allow him to overcome them.
For example, if they say his service is too expensive, he’ll want to know what they are comparing it to. Are they comparing it to a cab service or a rental car?
“It’s important to be flexible in your approach and listen carefully to what the client is telling you,” Sertage says. “Sometimes you don’t talk much. You try to understand what they are looking for and then offer it to them.”
He commonly asks, “What would be the ideal ground transportation service for you? What would they offer you and how would they handle your needs?”
The key, he says, is to be patient, truthful and honest. Focus on building long-term relationships. If they think you are looking for a quick sale, you will be blown out of the water.
The Follow Up
There are varying schools of thought on just how tenacious salespeople should be in their efforts. Invariably they will be given the run around and promised call backs that never come. So when is it time to give up and move on? Day puts names in a tickler file and calls once a month for up to four months. He always tries to offer new information. Depending on the time of year, he may promote holiday light tours, vacation travel specials or night on the town packages.
“I never leave messages, no one returns them,” he says. He will call someone up to six times in a day until he gets a live person.
The best time to get someone in their office is five minutes before nine in the morning or five minutes before five in the afternoon because they are getting ready for their day or ending it, he adds. Never call people at lunch time.
Hundley will call twice in the first week, then once a week for a month. His final message will be, “If you need us in the future, we’re here and we’re ready to serve you.”
Epstein advises his salespeople to leave information on a voice mail if they don’t speak to someone directly when cold calling. They then follow up after two weeks.
“If the client didn’t respond, they’re obviously lukewarm, so you don’t want to be in their face and make them hate you,” Epstein says.
The third call will come after another three weeks. Then a Royal Coachman sales person will contact them every two months, indefinitely.
“As long as you have the time, keep doing it because you never know when they are going to come around,” he says. “Every two months wouldn’t be perceived as overly pushy. If they tell you they don’t want anymore calls, then you’re done.”
Joseph Cirruzzo, Sr., president of Brooklyn, N.Y.-based A Elegant Limousine tells his salespeople to simultaneously send out a package when they make their initial call. The package includes a company brochure, business card, rolodex card and a pen.
When the first follow up call is made, the sales person has a hook. They can say, “I wanted to make sure you received our package and wanted to know if you had any additional questions.”
If they get no response, they will call one final time a month later.
Expanding Your Horizons
A steady client can be a launching pad to reach other clients, Epstein notes. In large corporate centers that house multiple companies, Royal Coachman salespeople often approach potential clients and say, “We do business with so and so and just wanted to introduce ourselves. We’d love a chance to show you what we can do.”
Cirruzzo, who runs an international network, finds out if a company has multiple bases of operation in other cities. His salespeople will call and say, “We have served you in New York, but did you know we can serve your needs nationwide.”
More Than a Common Courtesy
Following up to thank clients and make sure their trip was a pleasant experience is not only good manners, it’s good business. Some operators call directly, some send out thank-you cards, and others follow up with mailed or e-mailed customer satisfaction surveys.
Cirruzzo’s salespeople follow up quickly after every job is completed, particularly if it is a new client. They ask how the trip went, make sure there were no service issues, and find out if there are other ways they can serve them. They also ask, “How did you hear about A Elegant?” This enables Cirruzzo to better focus his marketing efforts. Was it the yellow pages, a response to a direct mail piece or an affiliation with an organization like the National Business Travel Association?
Cirruzzo’s advice: Be willing to try new things, but make sure you track what works and what doesn’t so you can spend your time and money wisely.
An Effective Sales Brochure
The brochure is perhaps the most flexible marketing piece in a company’s arsenal. You can mail it out, leave it behind at sales calls and keep it in your vehicles to introduce clients to your other services.
A corporate brochure should offer an overview of the company, list out its services and use plenty of imagery to display its vehicles and employees. The following are tips for creating an effective tri-fold brochure:
Keep the cover simple: You don’t want too much text on front of the brochure – just the company name, phone number, Web site address and a tag line or enticement to use your service. Try something like, “Call ABC Limo… The leading provider of corporate ground transportation.” Use only quality photography: Photos that are too dark or blurry will ruin the impact a brochure can have.
Professional shots can make the difference between a good and a great piece, but they can be expensive. If you don’t have access to decent images, it may be worth hiring a professional photographer for between $300 and $800 to take some shots.
People are important, too: Chauffeured transportation is as much about courteous drivers as it is about clean vehicles. Include photos of professionally-attired chauffeurs with your vehicles.
Use headlines: If you choose to list more than simple bullet points of information, make sure to highlight important areas with headlines. Break the brochure into sections like services, vehicles and about the company.
Other key points to attract corporate business:
Corporations are concerned about safety, service and want to know you can handle all of their needs. If you work with a network, promote worldwide reservations. Include information about your chauffeur training programs. Let them know if you offer online reservations.
Use appropriate colors: If you are pursuing corporate work, use corporate colors like blue, gray and black. Even brown, hunter green and burgundy can work. Other colors can be used to liven up the piece, but florescent or overly bright colors should not dominate.
Use a mailer panel: You can save envelops if you set up a mailer panel on the brochure with your return address and contact information. Leave plenty of room for an address label and stamp.