Big data is a big deal. Marketers around the globe have turned to data as a powerful ally in finding new customers and cross selling to existing ones.
Big data, an umbrella term that refers to all the data points available to marketers, includes everything from what you buy at the grocery store to what you watch on cable TV. Almost everything we do these days has a digital footprint, and those footprints are, in most cases, available to marketers to try to decide if we’re the perfect fit for their products or services.
While big data is a really popular buzzword in the marketing ecosphere, I believe that small data is the single most overlooked marketing tool in the motorcoach industry.
Small data, at least for the sake of this article, is the data that exists inside your business. You can track that data and use it to grow your business by consistently focusing on (and answering) four important questions.
- What do your customers buy from you?
This may sound simple, and for the most part it is. Knowing what people buy from you is the first step in understanding how to sell more of it.
You don’t just want to know that they bought a line-run ticket, a charter or a school bus move. You want to know what they did with it, what time of day they needed it and how often they may have that need in the future.
Imagine that you own a grocery store and you’re trying to increase profits. The answer to growth wouldn’t necessarily be to add more products or expand the size of the store. At some point, you have to utilize the shelf space you have to increase profit.
For example, you might notice that you have half an aisle devoted to pickled pigs feet, but you only sold 10 jars last month. In contrast, though you only sell two types of beef jerky, you moved hundreds of units in the last 30 days.
This data helps you replace product that isn’t moving with product that is, thereby increasing your sales inside the confines of existing space.
We have the same opportunity in the motorcoach business. If you have a piece of equipment sitting or empty seats on a line run, that’s your “existing shelf space” and you have to figure out what product to put in it.
In bus terms, the question is this: What type of customer are you most likely to talk to that will fill those empty seats? Perhaps you know that your line-run customers are primarily professionals in their 20s and 30s, or you’re selling a lot of work to local businesses that need shuttles due to major road construction projects.
Intelligence-based selling allows you to market to the people who are most likely to be your customers by selling them a product you already know they’re interested in.
- How did a customer hear about you?
If you have ever read an article I have written, you know this is something near and dear to my heart. Why? BECAUSE IT MATTERS MORE THAN MOST THINGS A BUSINESS DOES!!! (Sorry, I get carried away sometimes.)
Most motorcoach operators I’ve worked with over the past 10 years employ some kind of a shotgun approach to marketing (throw it all against the wall and hope that enough of it sticks to pay the bills). Some do very little, others do a lot; some spend hardly anything on true marketing while others spend, spend and spend.
The one thing these operators have in common is that most of them don’t know what’s actually generating their results. Is it the ad running in the local magazine, the radio spot, the website, Google search, busrates.com, or something else they’re doing?
They don’t know, which means they’re afraid to assess and refine the money spent on marketing. (What if they cut something that’s actually generating results?)
So, the marketing budget grows year after year until someone comes in with a broad-stroke machete, hacking it apart while the owners clench their teeth, hold their breath and hope it doesn’t hurt too bad.
Knowing how your customers found you gives you the super power to eliminate all of that nonsense, and it gives you the intelligence to spend less and do more.
And it makes sense, right? If nine of the 10 things you’re doing aren’t generating any results, you can stop spending money on them and, instead, invest it where you’ll get a return. This is something I’ve shared with countless operators. If you’ll do this one thing, I promise you’ll spend less and get more results than you’re getting right now. (For the record, I have yet to have anyone prove me wrong on this.)
If you’ve ever made advertising decisions based solely on what you think, feel or believe, try this instead: Ask every single customer who calls you, regardless of whether they book or not, how they heard about you. Be as specific as you can and record the data.
You can’t imagine how empowering it is to make decisions based on what you know is actually working.
- When are you busy?
This should be a no brainer. Should be. You should have a color-coded calendar on your wall: green for days you want more business, yellow for days that are almost full and red for any days that are sold out.
Using a calendar system allows you to (eventually) have a working calendar for the current year and a forecast calendar from last year. As the years stack up, you’ll be able to use those calendars to identify clear patterns, and those patterns can quickly be turned into bottom-line dollars.
This is simple supply-and-demand economics. On days when you traditionally have very little demand and an abundance of supply, you want to sharpen the pencil, get competitive with pricing and market more aggressively to those who traditionally consume your product during those times (see question 1).
On yellow days (or days that are traditionally yellow year after year), you want to limit discounting and consider peak-demand surcharges.
And on red days? They’re your cash-money days. Don’t discount or charge peak surcharge rates, and make sure you’re only booking customers who pay on time and won’t cancel at the last minute.
The calendar approach, along with the data from question 1, gives you the ability to fill up slow days and make busy days more profitable. And it’s probably the easiest way to increase bottom-line revenue.
Remember, this doesn’t come from what you think, feel or remember. It comes from hard data.
- Why did someone choose NOT to buy from you?
I went to a farmers market recently and bought a delicious watermelon that weighed 25 pounds. I probably walked by a dozen melon stands, and to an untrained eye they all looked exactly the same.
Many were handing out samples and calling potential customers into their booths, some claimed they had better melons than any of the other vendors and still others were offering discounts (one even had a two-for-one deal).
So how, you may wonder, did I choose where to buy my juicy, delicious, red-seeded watermelon? Simple. I chose the vendor closest to the parking lot. (Because who wants to carry a watermelon that heavy a quarter of a mile to the car?)
I imagine that once the market closed at the end of the day, vendors talked about ways they could sell more next time (reduce the cost, offer a three-for-one deal, give away bigger samples, etc.).
The expensive vendors may have thought they didn’t sell as many melons because of price, or maybe they wondered if there was a quality issue. But here’s the thing: I bet none of them considered that proximity to the parking lot could be the ultimate buying factor.
We do this same thing in the bus business all the time. We see the difference between the charter quotes we send out and the business we actually book, and then make the same assumptions the watermelon vendors were likely making. (“It must have been price. Maybe our equipment is too old. They must not like our drivers. If only we could sell at more of a discount, we would fill up those dispatch sheets.”)
But often, like the melon vendors, we’re just plain wrong.
Reaching out to customers to ask for the sale after issuing a charter quote or ticket price for a line run is good business. I don’t think anyone can debate that.
But the few companies that do that often stop when it comes to being told they didn’t get the work, and that’s unfortunate. One of the most important pieces of small data available to any company is the follow-up question: “May I ask why you decided to book with our competitors?”
The data that comes from that will give you a level of business intelligence that you probably never thought possible. You won’t have to give away melons, provide samples or offer discounts. Instead, you can address the real issue and move your booth closer to the parking lot!
These four data points are a foundation you can use to radically improve your business. But like any data, gathering it is only the beginning of the battle.
You must begin to reshape what you do based on the information that you get. Use the data to inform how you spend marketing dollars, when and how you discount, what you charge and whom you market to.
At the end of the day, I can make you this promise: If you’ll focus on these four questions to gather and use small data in your business, you’ll sell more charters, to more people, for more money.
For more information about the Motorcoach Marketing Council and its programs, go to www.motorcoachmarketing.org.