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Q&A: Steve Tomlinson, Mazda Motors UK

Driving dealer engagement and streamlining processes centrally are the start point for a more customer-focused fleet programme at Mazda Motors UK, explains head of fleet Steve Tomlinson.

Tomlinson

Steve Tomlinson, head of fleet, Mazda Motors UK.

This year marks the launch of important new models, including a new CX-5 and updated CX-3; how did you find the fleet market last year, and how have you laid the foundations for these newcomers?

We achieved our plan [in 2016], which was always a good measure. As a brand we don’t chase share, what we do is we come up with a plan and look to flawlessly execute it, and within our fleet channels that’s what we managed to achieve, which is rewarding and satisfying.

One of the major events that took place was we changed our white label contract hire provider. This enables our network to sell to businesses on contract hire. We had our best three years since we launched that product 12 years ago, and from that perspective ALD was a fantastic partner, but a challenge was always getting our network to be more engaged in B2B activity. We felt that maybe having a field force that was larger, and that the network was familiar with, would ensure contract hire was on the agenda every time they visited.

By partnering with Santander, who are also our retail funding partner, we felt that would give an opportunity to leverage the existing relationship and gain at a higher degree of dealer engagement. The zone managers for Santander have picked up the contract hire responsibilities, so they’re on first name terms with dealer principals, sales managers and salespeople. Their sole responsibility is to promote different funding methods to our dealer network.

Santander is new to the contract hire and leasing world. We have the opportunity to develop a class-leading white label product, because they’re open to suggestions we make, and I’m looking forward to developing the relationship over the coming years. We haven’t planned for any additional volume this year through that channel, but if we see an uplift then we’ll look to see if we can secure production to fulfil demand.

Have you had any changes within your own team?

We’re in the process of putting a slightly different team structure in place. We’ve had quite a bit of churn in our corporate team, over the last 12-18 months, and we have I believe a very strong, capable, professional team of individuals. It’s important because when talking with end users we try to bespoke our offer to make sure we are putting the right car in the right grade at the right price to meet what the end user wants most.

We’ve also just decided to take a slightly different approach to the way in which we manage leasing companies and end-users. We had a contract hire managers for north and south and we divvied up the leasing company relationships between them, and four regional corporate sales managers looking after end-user relationships. We’ve now gone to five corporate sales managers and one contract hire manager, who will look after the major leasing companies. We’re going to give our regional corporate sales manager teams responsibility for the ones local to them. They’ve got fewer end-user accounts each, so they can spend a bit more time with end users, and provide a bit more of a consultancy service. Hopefully that will give a better customer experience but also perhaps sell a few more cars too.

Are you widening your dealer support?

We increased our fleet specialist dealers from six to seven, midway through 2016. It’s not something we’re proactively looking to do, it’s more of a reactive process. If a dealer feels they have too much capacity to achieve their retail targets and deliver a minimum of 200 fleet units, then I’d welcome them as a fleet specialist dealer.

What I would like to do is improve the overall network’s B2B selling capability. I am looking to introduce a six-month pilot this year for a select number of dealers. There are a lot of dealers in our network who sell a lot of fleet cars, but not necessarily for Mazda. We’re looking to tap into that expertise, but also develop some of those dealers who have a desire but don’t have the knowhow.

What standards would you expect?

It isn’t set in stone, it will be activity based. It’s making sure someone is responsible and doing the activity, not whether the person is employed specifically for it or dedicated to Mazda.

Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 14 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. Natalie works across the magazine portfolio and updates the company websites with daily news, interviews and road test content.