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Business Opportunities: Use ‘Em or Lose ‘Em

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u. The quick fix is to get them to take a closer look at your people. In fact, fleet managers should be encouraged to spend time talking with your tire experts to see which ones can really help them.

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Ideally, a good fleet manager will strike up a long-term relationship with someone from your staff, a person he can turn to for answers. Why? Because nobody knows everything there is to know about technology, equipment, procedures and systems. The idea is to supplement what the fleet manager knows with what your expert knows.

On balance, such a relationship shouldn’t be viewed as some sort of shortcut that’s less than thorough. At the end of the day, the fleet owner is still counting on his manager. When he needs answers, his fleet manager will get the call, not your expert. In other words, make sure the fleet manager doesn’t get tangled up in the chain of command. Let him take the credit for a job well done.

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This type of reasoning, while not dominant in the trucking industry, is gathering strength and presents opportunities for forward-thinking commercial tire dealers.

Recent trends are clear indicators of things to come. It is not uncommon to see more outsourcing of equipment maintenance, added vehicle system electronics, and more sophisticated tire repairing and retreading.

Rapidly evolving hardware, software and processes requiring detailed information and control are also outside the comfort zone for many fleet managers. Once again this is more good news for commercial tire dealers looking to build stronger customer relationships.

In many cases, the most knowledgeable person a fleet manager can find is already working for you. It’s your job to let the fleet know you have the solutions it needs. Become a professional at putting people together. Build a reputation for recognizing needs and tailor-making the perfect fit.

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Information Central

Is it really that easy? Of course not. There will be occasions when you need more specific input from fleet customers than they have historically offered. Don’t be shy, ask for the information.

Your fleet customer is always on the clock. He’s not going to waste time withholding information if you need it. He’ll tell you how he uses the tires and services he buys from you ®“ including expected takeoff mileage, performance levels, residual value, retreadability, warranty, etc. ®“ and where he may need other assistance.

Keep in mind that the selection of a specific product and matching it to the intended application is the most critical step in assuring customer satisfaction performance.

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Tell your expert to put himself in the fleet manager’s shoes. Then ask him this question: To keep the boss happy what product decision(s) should I make? This can’t be done in an information vacuum. That’s why sharing of information, including realistic assessments of the customer’s expectations and your company’s capabilities are essential.

Partnering Science

Progressive fleets want someone outside their company to act as a business partner. Several levels of this type of relationship are worthy of mention. A traditional "good supplier" is a minimum expectation and may be sufficient for commodity items. Reliability, competitive pricing and timely deliveries are expected benchmarks here.

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The next level of supplier involvement may be termed "standard/preferred supplier." A supplier who fits this profile will offer a single product brand or service, or may work with a single supplier that handles several brands. It’s all about a narrowing of choices, in the interest of simplification, that can enhance the competitiveness of the fleet operation.

A standard/preferred supplier must be able to deliver outstanding tire performance and more reliable delivery service. Additionally, the commercial dealer in this category must maintain inventory for the fleet’s unexpected short-term needs, on-site technical consulting, routine monitoring of failed product, and timely tire replacement.

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Standard supplier relationships don’t necessarily exclude other vendors, but require a higher level of commitment and support. Fleets typically reward preferred vendors with additional business, or at least an assured consistency of purchases.

At the highest level of fleet involvement, the dealer becomes a true "business partner." The fancy definition is, "a vertical integration of choice that allows the business entity, such as a fleet, to be more competitive."

Tell the fleet owner, or his fleet manager, why one tire/wheel combination is better than another. Tell him why a super wide application is better than dueling. Tell him why one retread system and service supplier is better than another. But make sure you have the data and performance results to back up your recommendations.

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These types of relationships require mutual trust and genuine understanding and support of each partner’s business plans and goals. Quarterly reviews of business conditions and economic forecasts assist in efficient planning for both partners. Joint development of new products and services can positively distinguish and create growth or profit opportunities for both partners.

These relationships usually develop steadily, as each partner builds trust and confidence in the other. Long-term commitment must develop over time, since even normal business cycles will test the resolve of each partner.

The bottom line is that there must be realistically deliverable benefits to each side. Both supplier and customer must realize "win" situations, although not necessarily at the same time.

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Tailored Relationship

Fleet managers and their suppliers should each understand the options available in different business relationships and tailor them for best results. Some considerations include whether the expertise required is short-term or on-going; if the degree of in-house vs. outsourced expertise available meets requirements; the impact of disruption/expense that product performance or delivery shortfalls cause; and if they are willing to share risks and rewards with business partners.

Well-chosen suppliers are critical to the success of nearly any business. But becoming an industry leader in a multi-faceted enterprise, such as today’s transportation business, requires vertically integrated partners willing to share expertise in their specific fields.

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Like all relationships, the ones that don’t benefit both parties over the long run won’t last. The good news is we often have choices and lots of highly qualified people to help build lasting relationships of trust. Opportunities are there for the taking!

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