Watching a fleet customer expand can be a nerve- wracking experience.
On its face, a growing customer base is great for business. But when a customer grows through consolidation, growth comes rapidly.
Expanding fleets can grow not just in unit size but also in geographic area. For an aftermarket distributor rooted to a specific location, watching a customer grow out and away from your business can cast doubts on your ability to con- tinue servicing that customer.
In these situations it is important to remember you don’t have to do it alone.
You have options. You have resources.
An expanding customer can make business tougher; it doesn’t have to make it impossible.
“Fleet consolidation tends to change the dynamic of a customer-distributor relationship,” says Tina Alread, director of sales and marketing at HDA Truck Pride, “but there are programs out there to help keep the relationship going.”
One option is the national fleet purchasing programs offered by buying groups HDA Truck Pride and VIPAR Heavy Duty.
Designed to allow multiple indepen- dent distributors to serve a single cus- tomer as a team, national fleet programs are a wonderful resource for distributors in the battle to maintain business with growing fleets.
You might not be able to service a customer that has expanded out of your state and into the three market areas — but your buying group can.
Take advantage of the opportunity these programs can provide.
When a customer starts to grow out of your control, let them know. Tell them you need help.
Buying groups create relationships with the growing fleet at a national level, and then delegate purchasing orders and inventory demands to the distributors capable of servicing the fleet, says Jim Pennig, VIPAR Heavy Duty’s director of business development.
You might not be able to grow with a fleet, but a national fleet program ensures you preserve as much business with that customer as you can possibly handle.
And Alread adds a distributor who brings a customer to HDA Truck Pride is identified as a ‘sponsoring member’ when a national account is formed, and factors heavily into the relationship- building process between the buying group and the fleet.
“We work to build off of that relation- ship and make it better,” she says.
Technology also provides an advantage. There is a multitude of inventory, service and general business software available to help aftermarket companies record their work. These are great resourc- es when dealing with growing customers.
Service management systems allow you to quickly access the maintenance records of your customers’ trucks. They allow you to see how the trucks operate, which allows you to identify the compo- nents you need to stock.
When a customer adds new trucks to their fleet, that’s a great resource to have, says Michael Riemer, vice president of products and channel marketing at De- cisiv. Rather than tracking down the fleet manager or the previous service provider for the fleet’s vehicle, you can simply input the unit’s VIN and its maintenance history is immediately provided.
“You can put any asset type into the system, too,” says Riemer. “Anything you service can be recorded.”
Karmak’s Adam Madsen, manager of product management, says a willingness use technology should be something you promote when trying to keep a consoli- dating customer.
Growing fleets want efficiency in all aspects of their business. If you can offer them ordering and purchasing efficiency due to a business system, that’s some- thing you need to promote, he says.
Customer service is still the most important factor to winning a large fleet’s business; the service just comes in a different form than it once did.
So make an effort to offer it. Don’t try to handle consolidation alone.