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The tight market upended by transportation network companies (TNCs) means operators can gain clients by joining groups from industries that overlap with the limousine sector.
Where Is Everybody?
Unfortunately, not many operators do so. At last month’s Global Business Travel Association Convention (www.gbta.org) in Denver, for example, fewer than 40 chauffeured vehicle companies exhibited, while reps from several more just attended.
“Many operators don’t even know a lot of the venues geared toward their buyers,” said Lenore D’Aznieri, chief strategy officer for Limo Alliance, and an industry consultant. “If you are mostly leisure, then why are you not at luxury travel shows, bridal shows, or cosmetic shows?”
Many corporations now rely on strategic sourcing, defined as a formal way for travel managers to gather information and combine their purchasing power to get the most value from vendors. That makes groups such as the Institute for Supply Management (www.instituteforsupplymanagement.org) all the more vital for operators who would like to provide transportation for big firms.
“This is where people go to buy product,” D’Anzieri says of such groups. Operators should realize other vendors in these groups target the same clients, so why not cross-sell into all business channels?
Often, D’Anzieri sees only a few operators at even local chapters of major trade groups, such as a GBTA chapter meeting in New York this year where reps from Lyft and Airbnb attended but only a handful of operators. And this in one of the busiest markets for chauffeured transportation.
“If I see one ground transportation company at a meeting, it’s a surprise,” she says. “If I see two, I’m jumping for joy. However, now I see Lyft at every meeting.”
Many Group Choices
Operators seem to not fully appreciate the potential for networking, and how over time it can lead to new business, D’Anzieri says. At GBTA, for example, an airline salesperson will talk to a travel manager or procurement department. It’s the same with car rental. “You create relationships to cross sell.”
Another must-group is Meeting Professionals International (MPI) (www.mpiweb.org), a national fulcrum of potential group transportation clients. “So many companies are investing in buses, TNCs can’t compete there. Why not go to more MPI meetings?” D’Anzieri asks.
Other worthwhile groups for operators to join would include the Association of Corporate Transportation Executives (www.acte.org), International Meetings Expo (IMEX America) (www.imexamerica.com), Hospitality Sales & Marketing Association International (HSMAI) (www.hsmai.org), Women In Travel (WINiT) (www.womenintravel.org) and local Convention & Visitors Bureaus (CVBs).
How To Be A Joiner
To get started, or restarted, on inter-industry business leads, D’Anzieri advises operators to show up regularly; mingle without doing any hard-core sales pitches; pick and choose from agenda items that will benefit your company; and join committees, which can get you noticed and allow you to work on mutual projects with other businesspeople who will learn to trust and like you.
Social media and online discussion groups are helpful, but limit your time spent with them and focus on direct benefits. Social media should be used for sharing knowledge, not as a selling platform, D’Anzieri says. LinkedIn is the preferred venue for many business travel managers.
“Operators need to make sure they have a very tight value or worth proposition,” D’Anzieri says. “For the most part, everyone tells the same story: ‘My chauffeur is professional, I have a new fleet, and great insurance.’ Everything sounds the same. I encourage every operator to sit down and understand their product, its features, and its benefits. Derive a very cohesive, compelling and passionate story to tell. The biggest gift [a potential client] can get is: ‘How are you different from the last ground transportation guy I spoke to?’”
If operators don’t fully understand their own business and what it means to clients, they won’t communicate well, she says. Before going to meetings, learn about the audience and get a list of attendees beforehand. “Understand who you are talking to and their thought processes.”
Operators who take time to join and support outside industry groups can vouch for the payoffs.
“For us it was a matter of rebirthing,” said Steve Levin, the former owner of Sterling Rose Transportation in Escondido, Calif. Levin, now the San Diego chapter president for MPI, sold his company to CLI Worldwide Transportation of Irvine, Calif. in June and now works there as a sales director.
While running Sterling, Levin joined MPI in 2009 and gradually transformed his small operation, which won a 2008 LCT Operator of the Year Award. “We were in Temecula and our business was retail, wedding, and wine tours,” he recalls. “I got involved with MPI and learned about meetings and events, and the business shifted from retail to corporate.”
Levin at first networked and volunteered on chapter committees on his way up to President. He earned his Certified Meeting Planner (CMP) and Certified Meetings & Management (CMM) credentials. “We acquired some companies that did corporate work,” Levin recalls. “The more we got into this, the more we learned about managing events, meetings and groups.”
Levin also belongs to the Society for Incentive Travel Excellence (SITE) (www.siteglobal.com), HSMAI, the San Diego chapter of GBTA, and the San Diego Tourism Authority. “We attend events of other associations from time to time even though we are not members,” he adds.
Unless you have an unlimited budget and time, you have to choose the associations you want to be involved with, Levin advises. “The fact is you can’t be all things to all people. You have to determine what you want to focus on, where you want to excel, and the things that are important.”
The key is to get membership lists from which you can find contacts to talk to and develop relationships with, Levin says. “It’s not a silver bullet, not instantaneous. If you go there and seek someone to ask for business, you will shoot yourself in foot and no one will talk to you. We just picked up an account in San Diego and the comment made was, ‘Do you know why I’m giving you the business? Because you’ve never asked for it. You’ve always developed a relationship and never asked me to do business with you.’”
“A lot of people are very loyal,” Levin adds. “It may just be a matter of time before an opportunity presents itself. You have to be patient. If you go and start being aggressive, then it’s all over. Take an interest in the industry and ask questions.”
“If you handle corporate work, there are opportunities to find clients beyond the typical sales process and sales calls,” Allen says. “At GBTA, many corporate accounts are here, see me, and see my involvement in an industry they are passionate about. That’s invaluable.“
At the Virginia GBTA, Allen sponsors meetings, raises funds, helps find speakers, and provides free shuttle transportation when chapter members have a meeting outside of Richmond. Allen also belongs to local winery associations and the National Association for Catering & Events (NACE) (www.nace.net), which puts him in touch with wedding planners.
“I know I have improved relationships with many prospects and customers by networking,” Allen says. “Relationships mean everything. You’re not there to sell. When you’re with clients or buyers, you try to contribute and support the group any way you can and bring value that builds some loyalty to your brand and company.”
“If you go in there and ask directly for business, you make yourself look desperate,” Duncan says. “I’ve seen people running around giving business cards to everyone. The boss must have told them to quantify contacts and come back with a return. That’s not going to happen. It’s about talking to people and making friends.”
Duncan, who has worked in the limousine industry since the 1980s, has seen each company he’s worked for grow because of ties to associations.
“I learned a long time ago, especially with today’s environment, to have face-to-face time to reach travel managers or their assistants,” Duncan says. “Often they don’t take calls and emails will go to spam. If you belong to associations, you just don’t go and stand in a corner. You have to get on a committee and participate. And keep it low key. You can’t push these folks. They are inundated by hundreds of Ralph Duncans.”
Related Topics: building your clientele, business travel, client markets, corporate business, corporate travel, Global Business Travel Association, group transportation, How To, Lenore D'Anzieri, marketing to corporate travelers, marketing/promotions, meetings and conventions, networking, Randy Allen
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