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July 20, 2015

The following article was provided courtesy of the United Motorcoach Association‘s bi-weekly trade publication Bus and Motorcoach NEWS. This industry bible is filled with timely legislative, regulatory, and industry news. BMN is a value product included with UMA membership.

LOS ANGELES – Even in a marketplace where “price, price, price” is the customer mantra, motorcoach operators who stress value over rock-bottom prices can attract new clients, close more sales and attain higher profits.

That was the message Peter Shelbo, president of Tour West America in Phoenix, and Gladys Gillis, CEO of Starline Luxury Coaches of Seattle, delivered during the UMA Motorcoach EXPO here last month.

“I can’t sell to this guy because he just wants this bus too darn cheap. How many of you deal with that?” Shelbo asked a roomful of operators at a talk on “Coverting Price Shoppers to Value Buyers.” 

The problem is pervasive enough that Scott A. Riccio, president of NorthEast Trailways in Lewiston, Maine, devoted part of another session, “Smart Ways to Raise Prices,” to ways to combat it.

Peter Shelbo speaking during the education session

Peter Shelbo and Gladys Gillis share advice for converting price shoppers to value buyers.

Here’s advice from both presentations:

Be certain a live person takes sales calls. “If you cannot send your call to a live person to help deliver the sale, you’re way behind,” said Shelbo. “Please do not have your valuable, gold caller go to an answering machine.”

Said Riccio: “We get probably 15 email inquiries a day and we usually follow-up via email, and then I make the sales people pick up the phone. You can’t create a relationship via email. Pick up the phone. It makes a tremendous difference.” 

Be diligent and listen to your customers. “Ask questions, build a relationship. Have a conversation,” Riccio said. “‘Have you traveled with us before?’ ‘How did you hear about us?’ Do they have any special needs or requests? Driver guides, coolers, maybe WiFi is important.”

Follow the formula: Feature + Benefit = Value. Teach your sales staff to show how your company’s features, such as a good safety record or professional drivers, will benefit the customer.

“The benefit (of professional divers) to the person on the other end of the phone is that the drivers know where they’re going, where the pick up and drop off locations are, that means you can have confidence in the driver’s ability to meet your needs while you’re out there,” Gillis said.

Lead a sales training session on “bridge statements.” Phrases such as “that means” and “this ensures” can be used to link features and benefits.

Gillis offered these examples: “We have professional drivers… that means you can always count on them.” Or, “We have a diverse fleet size… that means we can help you manage your budget.” 

Know your market. Try to anticipate supply and demand, and price accordingly. “Is there a high season and a low season? Are you busy on the weekends, not so busy midweek or vice versa? Know where your price should be before divulging the quote,” Riccio said. “Shoot high, settle average, know when low is too low and you’re better of leaving the coach in the yard. Don’t be afraid to say, ‘We can’t offer that rate. It’s just too low.’”

Encourage your sales staff to ask for the sale. “That’s a tough thing to get your salesperson to say. I don’t know why that is, but it is,” Shelbo said. ‘The perfect bus is here for you… can I reserve it for you right now?’”

Follow up if the answer is “no.” “Even if you don’t make the sale, send the potential customer a note, saying thank you for the opportunity. It’s a good way to build a relationship for the next time. I know a company that has a three-by-five index card that they’ll send with a handwritten note…. Everything else is pictures of their equipment or people, whether it’s charter bus, school bus. Minibus, weddings (which can) give them ideas for next time,” Riccio said.

Attendees listen in during the marketing session.

Feature + Benefit statements communicate inherent value to consumers.

Check with your customer after the trip. Make sure their expectations were met.

“Before you do this, you should do your own diligence and check with the driver and dispatch or maintenance to make sure the trip went OK. Did they have an A/C malfunction? If they had a bad experience, pick up the phone and say, ‘I’ve talked to maintenance, I’ve read the report, I talked to the driver and I understand we had some issues, I’m hoping we can talk about that and make it right for you.’ That can make a big difference,” Riccio said.

Be part of your community. “When they call us for a quote, we invite them to our shop. Come look at our equipment, let me take you around, meet our staff, meet our drivers,” said one operator attending the session.


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