Published in Fleet Management Weekly, July 7, 2014
W. Edward Pierce, Principal, It’s The Arts
As any great sales person will tell you, sales is not about a great product or service, it’s about the customer’s perception of value.
For fleet decision-makers, value is helping to maximize the contribution of his fleet to the company’s strategic goals as well as the savings derived from controlling costs.
The more meaningful the value story, the better the chance that a fleet service or product provider can begin or move along the sales process with a fleet decision-maker.
Even if the company has been an industry leader for 100 years, insists that every manager earn a Six Sigma Master Black Belt, regularly wins prestigious “Best of” awards, and reports fantastical total customer savings every quarter … even with all of that, it’s important that you understand how to differentiate your value proposition in terms that are meaningful to the customer – because that’s the real key to winning and keeping business.
As explained in the last column, “earned media opportunities” — print and digital advertising, public relations, trade shows, direct mail – are important tactics for telling the value story. Yet, many times that story gets lost in translation, especially in advertising.
Here are three common examples readily identifiable in most trade magazines representing every industry:
1. Smugness (The “Top of the Mountain” View) – The message: “We are XYZ company, the industry leader, with the best people, the best service, and the best technology.”
The Hype: The name says it all! A fleet manager can be confident that this company’s “star-power” will rub off on him or her. It is the safest bet even without substantive proof.
2. Product “Featurette” – The message (an exaggeration): “Our G-Wiz gizmo uses a proprietary motionless thermo-nuclear generator that snatches free energy from a vacuum to deliver pre-real-time data.”
The Hype: Dazzling product features will blind fleet managers into thinking a company has the best product or service despite the lack of benefits or real-world application.
3. Buzz(word) Kill – “The message: “Our inclusion of industry buzzwords reflects our high level of industry knowledge! TCO. Telematics. Lifecycle. Bottom line. Analytics. 360 degrees. Web-based. Real-time. Predictive. Big data. Excellence. ROI. Look how many we crammed into this ad!”
The Hype: Buzzwords sound exciting, especially as they echo inside the halls of the vendor. However, in the marketplace, they quickly become clichés used by every advertiser, confirming prospective buyers’ belief that the products or services are undifferentiated commodities.
Most assuredly, every fleet product or service company offers value for companies and other organizations with fleets. Yet, when it comes to promotion, the value is too often lost in the hype.
Meanwhile, fleet managers are on the hot seat every day, in need of real-world fixes for day-to-day problems:
– How do I stanch the flow of fuel as pump prices continue to climb?
– How do I find time to counteract the complications resulting from staggered OEM production schedules?
– How do I deal with personal-use non-compliance?
– How do I address the forecasted downturn in resale values?
– How do I manage the new corporate-mandated reduction of vehicles?
– How do I dispose, relocate, re-assign, or store a quantity of vehicles in the next 30 days?
I will discuss form and style of promotional messages by specific media tactics in next month’s column, but reaping the benefits of “earned media opportunities” begins with a clear message, a declaration of the product/service/company value from the fleet managers’ point of view.
How is that value expressed? How-to articles (problem-solution). Success stories. Testimonials. Blind case studies. Thought leadership (from the customer point of view).
The more specific the problem description, the better. The more detailed the facts, the more believable. The more numerous the cases, the broader the relevant audience.
Reaching out to a single target market, like fleet decision-makers, with a single message doesn’t work. As seen in the ineffective examples above, generalizations obscure value.
At the start I noted that any great sales person will tell you: it’s about the customer’s perception of value. Note that reference is singular!
Micro-marketing aims to get marketers to the individual level, but it is expensive, and most business-to-business companies have yet to address the much more viable approach – market segmentation. Again, I will make this a topic for a future column!
I welcome feedback, questions, suggestions, experiences and differing points of view from fleet product and service providers as well as from fleet managers, corporate buyers, consultants, trade association and media representatives who want to help build better connections.
Just send an email to EdPierce@ItsTheArts.com. If you have a specific marketing issue or question, call me at 610–585-0801.