BY RAYMOND CHENG
Crafting the story of your company is not an easy task. When my business partner‚ James‚ and I decided to move into building relationships with the corporate travel world‚ we wanted to be sure that we differentiated ourselves in the marketplace by creating a living‚ breathing story about our company‚ Black Pearl Transportation. As we scoured our creative minds‚ Cheap Trick’s ’70s pop anthem “I Want You to Want Me” kept creeping into my head. This tune‚ used nowadays in Diet Coke advertisements‚ inspired me to create a sales process that told the story of our company as we pursued relationships with target clients. How do I get you to want me?
One of the early disciplines we committed to was the development of business through corporate relationships. As business owners‚ we tend to go about our days filling the roles of development managers and customer care representatives‚ and‚ of course‚ sales professionals. If you’re lucky enough‚ you’re at the point where you have hired additional staff to handle the daily chores and emergencies that come with 24/7 chauffeured transportation so that you can dedicate your time to sales. While personality and charisma are traits seemingly natural to a sales professional’s persona‚ it is equally important to realize that everyone may not be equipped with them.
We realized that a repeatable process was the most valuable tool we owned in attracting clients. Our sales process was and is the backbone by which our value proposition is heard and our brand is managed. My definition of a sales process is “the collection and organization of thoughts‚ ideas‚ knowledge‚ and company collateral into a repeatable presentation which we deliver to prospective individuals that represent a possible client.” Each company will have loose definitions of what this may be. And really‚ there is no right or wrong answer. Through this sales process‚ we have a better chance at communicating our goal. That is to deliver a compelling message to our prospective clients and differentiate ourselves through effective and passionate delivery.
The temptation‚ of course‚ is to dress up your company using vehicles such as websites‚ business cards‚ brochures‚ and other eye-catching collateral. To whom and where do these really end up? Sadly and most likely‚ they either exist in a drawer that is barely opened or were deposited directly into the trash bin.
The key to being different is to pair it with an advantage for your client. Think about the most successful brands out there.”
As the travel management vertical expands into mobile applications‚ one of the challenges we face as transportation vendors is to stay relevant amidst consolidation of travel data. Data and information are being pushed across multiple platforms‚ and often the sad consequence is lost connectivity to those who we service in our vehicles. It would stand to reason that our old-school practices would amplify the reputation of our industry and its representatives as being a step behind in comparison to other members of the travel management world—and if we’re honest with ourselves‚ we should admit that we are. In order to overcome this perception in our marketplace‚ it is our responsibility to find the most linear way to get our message to the proper channel if we want to increase our sales and maintain our valuable corporate relationships. The irony in all this for us was that the most linear method was the oldest of techniques—we picked up the phone. As every cold calling cliché goes‚ our goal was to sell not tell. Each call was designed to sell a solution‚ not tell prospects about our company.
Creating Your Identity
Going into every call‚ it is imperative to develop an identity that would alleviate the normal fear and anxiety of inevitable rejection. Before a single phone call was placed‚ I looked over the people in our business. Despite the size of our team‚ we had a clear vision of who we were and what we represented. We were then able to develop a value proposition that we could sell with passion. It sounds like this: “We are dedicated professionals existing to service individuals and organizations that require chauffeured ground transportation.” I wrote an introductory letter that I still use stating this‚ and it was the only piece of collateral I would present to someone willing to learn about us. It was my way of saying to the prospect that the conversation you’re having with me is the only thing that matters. I am only writing this letter to you. Before I can really learn about a corporate travel program‚ I need to learn about you.
Selling into corporations has become a laborious and costly process with the emergence of purchasing requirements. It is easy to get lost in the shuffle (as I’m sure anyone who has participated in a request for proposal must know) in the day and age of The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX). In order to be compliant with SOX‚ its governance over publicly held companies often has forced us into producing statements of work‚ term‚ and condition agreements; service-level agreements; and other time-consuming exercises. I decided on an unconventional approach to help us through these processes. As a company of two‚ I wrote about the sensitive relationship of independent operators and our company‚ how we existed because we needed each other to survive as business entities‚ that we were an ecosystem of entrepreneurs‚ and more importantly‚ communicating just what winning a prospect’s business meant to our bottom line. Within the bounds of these intricacies‚ we found who we were. We developed our identity.
De-Commoditizing Your Value Proposition
In the competitive landscape of corporate travel and where chauffeured transportation fits‚ we are easily lost in the shuffle of airlines‚ hotels‚ and destination facilities. Most‚ if not all‚ of us have been playing this game of catch-up‚ attempting to render the style and verbiage of these large organizations. Especially now‚ with the attention the industry is getting due to app-based networks‚ you will come across the question‚ “What differentiates you from the rest?” The more we try to sound like everyone else‚ the farther we get from winning business. Rest assured‚ your audience is waiting to hear exactly what your competitors told them.
In our approach‚ we decided to go out on a limb and embrace our alternative state. In essence‚ we took a step backward. I collected “experience” from all points of our company: ownership‚ dispatch‚ accounting‚ greeter‚ chauffeur‚ maintenance‚ etc.‚ and I dissected them with backgrounds‚ life goals‚ formal education‚ immigration‚ cultural integration‚ socioeconomic ascendancy‚ financial stewardship‚ betterment‚ and the school of hard knocks. We all share these common traits within our companies. I had to ask myself why I would try to sound like these big‚ homogenous companies when that was absolutely the last thing we were. We chose to embrace not only what we do‚ but also what we were made of. Instead of trying to fit in‚ I simply stated that we do not ... fit in‚ that is. We have the tremendous opportunity to win business‚ whether it be through preferred vendor status or similar agreements‚ from some of the largest‚ most visible companies on the globe. For us‚ connecting with these global companies meant promoting the extremities and diversity that existed within our business and the way these characteristics benefited our clients.
After all of that data gathering‚ this is what I discovered differentiates my company from the masses: “We differentiate ourselves because we are a cult of experience committed to excellent service. We are comprised of people at the intersection of life and work in a business supported and valued by you‚ our client. We are just wired to do a better job and support you in your efforts to reach your goal.” Our difference was and is our collection of people who have a breadth of experience.
Time after time‚ these untracked characteristics of human connection simply make an optimal customer experience. Sales is really nothing more than connecting with a representative of another company. It is in this transient‚ non-verbal space that exists between operator and passenger where magic is unlocked. As we transact ride upon ride‚ we are hoping to reverse the paradigm of homogeneity that can exist in any industry. The closer our people are to themselves‚ the greater the likelihood of success. [CD0814]
Why is it so hard to be different? Probably because you were told your entire life that you need to conform, to fit in without causing a ruckus. Even in the business world, you have to follow the leader and make sure you have all the proper permits, the right vehicles, and that your chauffeurs always act a certain way. It’s that hard, but it’s also that simple.
The key to being different is to pair it with an advantage for your client. Think about the most successful brands out there. For example, Dyson’s vacuums offer the same thing as its competitors, but prices them higher and delivers a better device. All will clean your carpet, but the Dyson product has the smart technology behind it. Being different, however, wasn’t special enough without the advantage; customers are willing to pay more because it delivers on the promise and the company constantly has to provide newer and more ground-breaking products so as not to be a one-trick pony. That’s how you build brand loyalty and don’t go bankrupt.
The same goes for a company like Apple, which can spark a passionate debate for many techies. Apple offers well-designed and innovative products that are generally offered by its competitors shortly thereafter, but people are willing to wait in line overnight to purchase the newest Apple products usually at the highest cost. There are a million different MP3 players or tablets from which to choose, but to many, Apple just gets it right.
Closer to our industry, why has an app like Uber continued to be so popular with consumers? It’s not just convenience and seamless connectivity. It’s because the traditional alternative—taxis—is generally everything but.
There is no right or wrong way to be different as long as your strategy is appealing to your targeted customers and you are meeting the challenge that attracted them to you in the first place.