As a woman in the fleet management industry for almost 40 years, I’ve seen a lot of change with technology, globalization, and consolidation, but what’s most surprising is how much this business has actually stayed the same. From a sales perspective, it’s still a relationship-based business. It’s far from transactional – it’s a complicated decision for your customers to make and it’s a complicated process to manage. My role is to help my customers make the right choices and manage their budgets like they’re my own. I still have customers that I’ve had since the beginning – that’s what keeps me going.
Almost 40 years in the industry
I started in 1978 at a global company, not unlike Sasser Family Holdings, where I worked in the truck sales department as an administrator. Eventually, I moved up to be a product manager and it was then that I started the very first truck maintenance program – this would be the first of many “firsts!” After various roles in inside sales and marketing, I started the industry’s first client advisory board, where we would meet twice a year to share feedback on business practices and discuss topics like processes and reporting with the goal of improving client experience. This model was replicated in Europe as well. Soon after, I helped start the first accident management program and forklift management program – these were both firsts in the industry.
Always taking the customer's point of view
It was in 1997 that I started doing outside sales for the first time. Let me tell you, there weren’t a heck of a lot of women working with fleets – particularly on the truck side of things – back then. Still aren’t. Regardless, I take a consultative approach to selling and ask all the right questions to get at the heart of all their needs unique to their industry and business. I always take the customer’s point of view and strive to be flexible enough to provide a solution for their specific needs. I always like to say, “Yes, we can put a square peg in a round hole.”
Everyone is different and has different needs – and we aren’t simply providing vehicles or financing. There is the specific industry and its regulatory requirements to consider, vehicle types and upfitting, not to mention operating costs like fuel management and maintenance, and total cost of ownership. I’ve seen CFOs on the client’s side want to make a decision based solely on a quarter point of interest without factoring how to manage the operating costs because fleet management is only a tiny part of what they do – it is not their main focus or responsibility. This is the kind of scenario where I can provide my expertise and point out some very important details they might be overlooking. People can sometimes get fixated on the up-front financial aspects, so there is a level of education I need to provide to the client’s decision makers to help them make the best choices for their business.
Leasing company or fleet management company
Customers often see us as just a leasing company, not a fleet management company. We work hard to show them that we are more than that. What I really like about Union Leasing is that we specialize in small to mid-sized fleets. And the smaller the client, the more help they need. The fleet management role might fall to the head of finance or HR or Operations – it’s only one of the many things on their plate. I try to advise them on the essential components of fleet management and take as much off their plate as they’d like. And I don’t just disappear once the sale is made or only meet with them once a year for a review or courtesy call; I make sure that I am available whenever they need me. I’m the first point of contact. The integrity of the sale is always stronger when you live with it.
What is driving the industry
A lot of change in our industry is currently being driven by government regulations. For example, complying with fuel efficiency and carbon emissions regulations is going to be achieved by lightweighting, so manufacturers are making trucks out of aluminum now. And the FASB accounting standards could also have a big impact on our industry. Also consolidation of industry means there are fewer sales reps calling on the same clients, which means fewer company cars are required.
A piece of advice
If someone were to ask me for advice on joining this industry, I would tell them they have to like helping people. What I can do for businesses and how I can help people – that’s what keeps me going. I am a consultant as much as I am a salesperson – I know the business and I can help them manage the whole process, from title to renewals to taxes and insurance. It’s a big deal to them and it makes me happy when I can help them through it. If you don’t like helping people, you’re not going to stay in this business for long. And I sure must like helping people!