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Curtis Hutchinson: It’s good to talk

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Volvo’s product-led revival puts it in an ideal position to grow its fleet business, which is why it has recruited virtual sales managers to talk to more SMEs, says Curtis Hutchinson.

Hutchinson says Volvo is actively targeting ‘true fleet’ and sees the SME sector as ripe for growth

Volvo is back. Recent years had been tough for the brand with a spell in the wilderness following Ford’s disposal of the business to Geely back in 2010, followed by the inevitable lag in building a new product pipeline.

Now the brand has one of the freshest car ranges available. To illustrate the pace of change the XC90 is now the oldest of its new-generation models built under Geely ownership.

The new look, expanded line-up and enduring high quality are serving Volvo well with UK sales crashing through the 50,000 mark last year, its highest total in 28 years. Volvo now has 60,000 units in its sights.

Fleet should be an easy sell for Volvo. Discerning user-choosers enjoy the differentiation in a sector dominated by German marques, while fleet managers appreciate the brand’s record for safety and reliability; the trouble is there’s never been enough converts.

Last year, fleet accounted for 56% of total sales; on the face of it not a bad mix but only half of those were in ‘true fleet’. So, there’s plenty of room for improvement; especially in the SME sector.

Volvo’s aspirations here will be helped by the launch of the new S60 this spring and the facelifted XC90 later in the year. Electrified versions of the XC40, its popular entry into the compact SUV sector, will follow, making Volvo’s business case even stronger.

Buoyed by its current sales success, which saw year-on-year registrations grow an astonishing 80% in January alone, the brand is actively targeting ‘true fleet’ and sees the SME sector as ripe for growth. Leading the sales drive is Steve Beattie, who joined Volvo as head of business sales in 2017 after a 12-year career at Vauxhall where his positions included fleet sales manager and national contract hire and leasing manager.

Drawing upon his experience in the process-driven Vauxhall fleet department, Beattie immediately set about restructuring and expanding Volvo’s fleet team. A key change was introducing demarcation, with business sales managers now dedicated either to SMEs or fleets running over 50 cars, not both.

“It was important for each team member to focus on one specific area of fleet, determined by size, rather than trying to be a Jack of all trades,” he says.

The brand has also increased its daily rental buybacks from 72% to an impressive 90%.

“It’s important for us to support and control our residual values by repatriating daily rental cars back into the dealer network, which in turn supports the growth of the brand.”

However, drumming up new SME business meant pretty much starting from scratch as Volvo had dropped out of contention. Beattie said new product, particularly the arrival of the XC40, presented the brand with an opportunity to start talking to SMEs which prompted a ramping-up of its telesales operations.

“There’s probably 100,000 SMEs out there with fleets of six to 49 cars, so we really needed to turn up the dial,” he adds.

With SME sales served by a network of 30 dealer-based business centres, giving the brand an optimal spread of key geographical locations across the UK, he then looked at how to drive more sales. And this is the really clever part.

Recognising that Volvo was not talking to enough SMEs, he created a virtual sales team tasked to build relationships and sales.

“We’ve recruited three virtual sales managers to drive SME sales. Customers are time-poor which means they’ll research online, deal with brokers and might end up at a dealer for a test drive. I wanted to capture them in this buying cycle earlier to make sure that we are one of their brands of choice; I want us to be on everyone’s shopping list,” says Beattie.

Telesales leads are now passed through to the virtual sales managers, who each cover a geographical region. They will then arrange between five and 10 meetings a day on the phone or using Skype or FaceTime. Face-to-face meetings are also offered but Volvo recognises these can often be too time-consuming for busy SME managers where running the fleet is only a small part of their job.

The virtual sales managers will use the meetings to understand the SME’s requirements, offer a demonstrator for a couple of days, agree a price and place the order. After which they will work closely with the supplying dealer.

“Volvo’s trying to make life less complicated and we’re certainly aiming to do that in fleet and business,” finishes Beattie.

Chances are if you haven’t heard from Volvo for a while, then you soon will.

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Curtis Hutchinson

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