How to recruit customers from rival brands

Updated Oct 16, 2018

Brand loyalty is a big deal in trucking. Committing to an OEM is more than accepting its product; it’s also embracing its financing, warranty, dealer channel, service structure and customer service processes.

In many instances a carrier’s relationship with its OEM is the most important partnership in its business. When a fleet finds an OEM or dealer who solves its problems, it will rarely shop for alternatives. But while spending marketing dollars to woo a local carrier away from a rival brand may sound fruitless, allegiances do change. And when it comes to marketing, there is no greater ROI than a campaign that flips a customer from a competitor.

Any successful conversion of a fleet customer from another nameplate begins with a local market study. No two customers are the same and the strategies used for identifying, contacting and turning a competitor’s customer should vary based on its fleet size, makeup and duty cycle needs.

When looking at large fleets, experts say some of the best targets are sometimes already in a dealer’s contacts list. Dean Martin, president of sales at AMG Peterbilt, says his dealership recently earned order exclusivity with a major new truck customer. Martin says the fleet had previously purchased trucks from a trio of OEMs, but after experiencing a high-level of quality service from AMG and Peterbilt, Martin’s team was able to convince the fleet to order 100 percent red ovals in 2018.

Martin says the win was something AMG had been working toward for years.

AMG Peterbilt was founded in 2014 and has five locations in Ohio.AMG Peterbilt was founded in 2014 and has five locations in Ohio.

“They always felt they weren’t buying right,” he says. “I told them we could build a plan for them around Peterbilt that would give them fewer parts and service troubles. They decided it was the right move.”

Martin’s tactic was the correct one. Whether communicating with a current customer running multiple nameplates or a competitor’s customer, bringing in new customers from a rival brand requires careful strategy. Martin built his relationship with his customer to better understand why it was using three truck brands to begin with, and why it felt the arrangement was no longer working.

During this phase, Martin says his team studied information it acquired and the fleet provided to determine how AMG could improve the fleet’s asset management strategy. They discovered inefficiencies and developed recommendations before submitting the plan to the customer.

Even then, the plan only worked because a relationship existed.

Building a relationship with a customer a dealer is attempting to pull from a rival brand also requires careful messaging and tact. Coming on too strong with a fleet that is satisfied with its dealer and OEM can make a dealer appear disreputable, while fleets will quickly forget messaging that is too infrequent, uninformative or bland.

From a marketing perspective, a dealer should be steady and unobtrusive, providing features, benefits and solutions it offers that touch on the customer’s biggest needs and show the carrier that an alternative option exists.

This can be done many ways. Conventional marketing campaigns such as mailers and email blasts are simple, cost-effective methods to maintain space in a customer’s consciousness but come with obvious drawbacks. Because they are mailed at specific times, these materials require customers to be available at the moment of delivery to generate legitimate engagement. They also are limited from a content perspective. A 5-by-7 postcard can only hold so much information and remain eye-catching to a reader.

Maudlin International operates seven facilities in Florida.Maudlin International operates seven facilities in Florida.

Many dealers are beginning to abandon traditional marketing campaigns for the new frontier of digital advertising. Online marketing techniques such as social media or search targeting enable dealers to connect with customers of any truck brand with any message at any time.

Maudlin International Vice President Mike Maudlin says his company has enjoyed recent success using search campaigns to distinguish itself and its services to customers in the company’s central Florida area of operation. Maudlin says the strategy has been successful because it enables the company to get in front of customers that might otherwise be unfamiliar with the dealership. These online techniques also allow Maudlin International to track customer engagement, which, when coupled with available fleet population data, give the dealership a good idea of the carriers who would be most open to a conversion conversation.

“Fleets don’t jump around from dealer to dealer every year,” he says, “so we want to make sure our people spend the majority of their time focusing on the customers who do seem the most apt to switch.”

But no matter what marketing message dealers use, it is only as valuable as the sales team supporting it. A fleet considering leaving one OEM or dealer group due to poor service will not even acknowledge a dealer whose service isn’t any better. Fleet customers want a total solution, says Martin. They want a partner.

“You have to think about how you can add value to the people you are selling a truck to,” he says. “How can you take the burden off of them? How can you take care of their situations and their needs?”

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