10/14 update: Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calls for more scrutiny of stretches nationwide.
There is a lot of luck and “being in the right place at the right time” involved in small business success stories, especially in the limousine industry. But getting corporate business requires an intentional and very consistent approach. Landing huge corporate accounts takes a lot of time and effort but also has a huge payoff. Let’s just say there’s a reason why most operators set their sights on getting corporate work.
These first steps are perfect for operators who have just begun to poke around in the corporate world as well as those looking for a way to stay competitive in what can at times be a cutthroat market, where price rules and a personal touch is mandatory.
GET TO THE DECISION MAKER Large corporations have travel managers or executive assistants that book travel for CEOs and other executives within the company. The first step to landing a corporate account is to find out who that person is and how you can get a hold of him or her. This may require cold calling, spending time on the company’s website, emailing, or even showing up at the front desk. “Utilize all your social and family contacts, or anyone employed by a corporation to get you in front of the decision maker,” says Lisa Ryan at Ultimate Class Limousine in Hicksville, N.Y.
Some savvy limousine companies will keep the contact information on last-minute calls from companies that are not regular clients so that they can quickly follow up with the person who booked the transportation. This is a golden opportunity to promote your company using the service you gave them. And the best part is, now you know exactly who to speak with in the future.
“Do not ask for all the business; ask for a small piece to get your toe in the door,” says Ryan. She says sometimes travel managers will give business to new companies when they have a couple of new employees or will designate a few of their existing employees for your service. This is the first step to acquiring the transportation of the entire company. This means your service should be distinct enough to get them to at least think about giving you more of their associates.
Michael Ellwanger, a marketing director for Create-A-Card in St. James, N.Y., suggests leaving the travel manager with a DVD marketing kit about your company. That way, they can share the video with their supervisors at a later meeting.
THE ICING ON THE CAKE A little good old-fashioned bribery never hurt anybody. And you want your potential clients to remember your company after you walk out of their office, so make sure you leave something behind.
Ron Stein, president of Exclusive Sedan in North Hollywood, Calif., served his potential corporate clients doughnuts and coffee in the parking lot of their buildings. This is a great way to sweeten the deal, so to speak, and get to know your potential clients on a personal level. These days it’s a little bit harder to get into those large buildings,” says Stein, “but if you’re just starting out in the corporate business, going after the small to medium-size organizations is probably a better route.” Stein says your business will snowball from there.
He adds that his company has a high client retention rate thanks to the service it provides and the fact that employees consistently show they care about each and every one of their clients. Exclusive gives out high-quality polo shirts and t-shirts to its new and existing clients and even has a special bottle of cabernet emblazoned with the company’s logo for its large accounts. These small reminders of how much your company cares for its clients will be the thing they remember when another transportation company tries to woo them with a lower rate. “There will always be other companies bidding against your accounts,” says Brandan Stein, Exclusive’s vice president. “The way to keep your clients is through great service and a commitment to upholding business ethics and being known for that.”
Money talks, says Russ Golyak, vice president of operations at Limo Express in Hackensack, N.J. “We have a number of clients that we upgrade to a different vehicle of greater value, at a sedan rate,” he says. “But most often companies like to receive a credit before they even try a service so that if they don’t like it their losses are minimal.”
GO TO THEIR WATERING HOLE The National Business Travel Association (NBTA) has a number of educational and networking events held all over the world every year. The association organizes expositions such as the Corporate Travel Conference and educational classes such as the Fundamentals of Business Travel Management.
These are the best places to meet travel managers and other people who may be able to give you a lead to a corporate account. Most of the time these events present opportunities for transportation professionals to network and promote themselves by purchasing booth space or sponsoring an educational seminar or other event during the conference. NBTA is also a great place for web advertising. Thousands of business travel professionals visit the association’s site every day.
“Purchasing a small banner or other web ad on a website like NBTA will without a doubt get you noticed,” says Pat Charla, creator of LEAP (Limousine Environmental Action Partnership). She adds that a lot of corporate travel managers are interested in green transportation. If that is something you offer, that may be a unique attribute that will get you the account over another company.
Joining your local chamber of commerce is another great way to get your company noticed and get you networking with other business owners in your area. You never know, that man in a suit next to you at the meeting may be the CEO of a company in your area. There’s no better way to get face time with a prospective client. Plus, this person knows you are professional and active within the community. In turn, he is more likely to give your company a chance. At the very least, your chamber of commerce should be able to provide you with a list of the companies in your service area as well. That way you can thoroughly target your market.
FOLLOW UP So let’s say you get the account. After the very first ride your company provides, you should follow up with the passenger’s travel manager to make sure they are completely satisfied with the service.
“This is one of the most important parts of stellar service,” says Ron Stein. “You want to make sure that person was happy with your company and that they will continue to use your service again and again.” He adds that in his experience, he was able to ask his first corporate account’s travel manager which of its associates traveled frequently and the travel manager gave Exclusive the names of other travel managers in the company that he could contact.
“From there,” says Stein, “we would give our proposal to the other managers, and before we knew it, we were providing transportation for most of the company.” Some operators call clients directly, and others send out thank-you cards with a customer satisfaction survey, but nothing really shows you appreciate your clients’ business more than providing great service.
“A stellar corporate approach is about giving clients what they want — an early car, a clean car, and a chauffeur who knows where they are going and who drives smoothly,” says Ryan. And everyone knows word of mouth speaks louder than any tip-top corporate proposal, a nice vehicle, or coffee and doughnuts do. Clients will refer companies that they really believe care about them. Making sure they are completely satisfied lets them know that.
“People in the corporate world discuss non-work related experiences like restaurants, hotels, or limousine services and may recommend a good limousine service to a colleague,” says Golyak. “Providing that one influential person with an outstanding experience might land a big account that would result in that whole corporation exclusively using one transportation company.”
Ron Stein knows this firsthand, as his first corporate account came from a situation just like that. The west coast regional manager of Morgan Stanley took a chance on his company and more than 20 years later, the corporation is still one of Exclusive’s largest accounts.
10/14 update: Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) calls for more scrutiny of stretches nationwide.
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