The difference between doing something proactively and doing it reactively is obvious.
From vehicle maintenance to our own personal health, there are myriad reasons why one may spend time on proactive prevention instead of dealing with the results of procrastination.
Perhaps Benjamin Franklin said it best when he said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
If we were going to talk about vehicle maintenance, you would probably roll your eyes and move on to the next article. (Obviously you know and appreciate the need for preventative maintenance and being proactive in the longevity of your fleet.)
If we started discussing personal health you would, in all likelihood, again roll your eyes because you already know that eating well, exercising and getting adequate sleep are essential aspects of good health.
Another example of preventive medicine, a proactive step, is trying to control the outcome of your future health.
Good news, though: we are not going to be talking about any of those things. We are here to talk marketing. Proactive marketing.
If an ounce of prevention is indeed worth a pound of cure, then in this case, an ounce of proactive marketing is worth a full dispatch sheet.
Proactive marketing is probably one of the single most overlooked aspects in the motorcoach industry today.
While we are, as a group, remarkably good at taking phone calls and doing on-demand sales and quotes, most of us drop the proverbial ball when it comes to looking beyond the “right now” and finding ways to boost our sales numbers.
One of the quickest ways to make this happen is to look back and make sure we book as much repeat business as we possibly can.
Consumers are a fickle bunch. Just ask United Airlines after one little video gets posted on YouTube.
Sometimes, as in that case, consumers take information and make buying decisions based on it (“I would prefer to choose an airline that probably won’t drag me off a flight on which I am already seated, so I will book with another airline”).
Other times they are less sophisticated and make buying decisions based on things that, from the outside looking in, make no logical sense to the people trying to sell them a service.
Take, for example, the “Google factor.” While Google knows nothing about motorcoach travel, safety ratings, customer service, maintenance, vehicle fleet age or other factors related to being a good operator, it still determines which companies get most of the traffic from people searching for our service in any given market.
How? More than 75 percent of the total clicks go to the top three search results. While this makes little sense, we are all guilty of this in our day-to-day lives, as we look to Google when we’re searching online for recommendations of providers, services or products.
Some years ago my family was driving through Idaho on our way for a summer visit to my grandparents. We stopped at a truck stop and I saw a truck driver up on the back of his semi-truck tying down his tarps over a full load of potatoes.
I remember watching him as he was carefully checking each tie down to make sure not even one potato could jump out the top of the truck.
As he was exiting the parking lot, his tire hit a curb and the truck jolted a bit as it fell back down to the road. When this happened, a little door opened on the back of the truck and potatoes started pouring out.
As he drove away, he left a line of bouncing potatoes behind him. I am sure, to this day, that all the while as he drove down the road losing potatoes, he felt assured that his tarp was secure and nothing was being lost.
Like this truck driver, we in this industry spend a lot of time believing that our tarp is secure. We believe that customers who have used us in the past are, to their dying breath, loyal to us, and that if they have transportation needs we will be their first call.
But like in the case of the potato hauler, that confidence can often be misplaced and simply equate to a false sense of security as we line some backcountry road with our truckload of potatoes.
So, you may ask, how do we patch the holes and make sure that all of our potatoes get to the factory and come out as delicious tater tots? Great question.
It is important that we do two things as providers of services to the buying public. First, it is critical that we do what we say we are going to do. That is a given.
If you say you are a luxury transportation provider, be one. If you promise world-class service, provide it. No amount of marketing or sales can overcome a bad experience for your buying public.
Second, assume that no customers will ever remember you and work hard to get them to buy from you again.
I think the “biggest hole in the truck” of our industry is the assumption that if someone used us once, they will automatically use us again. The truth is a bit more humorous than it is sinister, but consumers don’t remember that kind of thing.
Chances are they found you in a Web search or somebody over coffee said to call you. They called and booked their family reunion and you did a one-day move for them two years ago.
When they have another need today, they’ll go right back to the beginning and start with a Google search for “bus rentals” or “charter buses” in your local market.
Most companies I talk to do very little to stay in front of their buying public. An occasional email or a few social media posts are about the extent of most companies’ plans to get in front of those who have purchased from them in the past.
The truth is that it is six times more expensive to get a new customer than it is to retain an old customer. This is, in large part, because you already know where the person who bought from you is, you know how to get in touch with them and they have already experienced your product or service.
So, what do you need to do to close that little door and keep those potatoes in the truck? It’s actually pretty simple. I recommend two things.
First, build a viable outreach program to your buying public. Use email and direct mail to keep your brand at the top of their minds on at least a quarterly basis (monthly would be better, but don’t let more than a quarter go by without getting in front of them).
The second—and perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle for booking more charters in the short term—is look where you have been in order to go forward more effectively. Print out your bookings for the next three months, as well as your bookings over the last three years. I know this is a big list for some, but with an hour or so of time it can be a gold mine.
Next, sit down and look at the list. Highlight any bookings that could (or should) be recurring activities (family reunions, parking lot shuttles, employee outings, corporate retreats or large events are all good candidates).
Once you have the list, start your outreach campaign. Phone calls, personal emails, and even handwritten notes mailed the old-fashioned way will go a long way to stopping the inevitable “search” this year when people are looking for your services.
These simple efforts will put potentially lost bookings back on your dispatch sheets where they belong.
We need to assume less when it comes to consumers. We can’t believe they remember us and will book with us again, and we certainly can’t simply hope that the phone will ring.
We must look for ways to shut that proverbial potato-spilling door and plug the holes that are costing us valuable bookings. Our ability to reach out and touch the people who could, should or would book with us again will go a long way toward keeping our bookings up and our customers loyal.
Selling more charters, to more people, for more money starts with little decisions to be better at marketing what we have to those who need what we are selling. This ounce of prevention will help drive profits up and create a customer base of people who are loyal and less sensitive to price.
These are the folks that end up booking with us again and again.
For more information about the Motorcoach Marketing Council and its programs, go to www.motorcoachmarketing.org.