Aaron Vaal (left), a fleet salesperson for Uebelhor and Sons, makes an onsite call for a client, Jasper Lumber. “We’ll call on a fleet 90 miles away, price out [the vehicle] and have it delivered, and they’ll never set foot in our dealership,” says Tony Uebelhor, owner. Uebelhor and Sons has signed on to be a Business Elite dealer.

Aaron Vaal (left), a fleet salesperson for Uebelhor and Sons, makes an onsite call for a client, Jasper Lumber. “We’ll call on a fleet 90 miles away, price out [the vehicle] and have it delivered, and they’ll never set foot in our dealership,” says Tony Uebelhor, owner. Uebelhor and Sons has signed on to be a Business Elite dealer.

General Motors is in the process of revamping its commercial dealer sales program in order to give businesses improved sales and service experiences and to give dealerships more tools to effectively sell commercial vehicles. 

“The new program will be called Business Elite,” says Ed Peper, U.S. vice president of Fleet and Commercial Sales. “The folks think it symbolizes the idea that they are special and that we’re going to do something special for them. I think the whole experience is going to be really nice for customers.”

Peper says this revised program targets non-CAP (competitive allowance program) business customers, and that a number of the changes could benefit any business that purchases a fleet vehicle through a dealer or brings a vehicle in for service.

“There are certain things we want our customers to have, there are certain things that we (GM) are going to deliver, and there are certain things we want our dealers to deliver,” Peper says. “That’s the crux of what we’re doing here.”

Jennifer Costabile, general director of used vehicle activities for Fleet & Commercial Advertising and Marketing, says business customers told the automaker that they want an exceptional sales and service experience.

Sales and Service Enhancements

One of the major areas the program overhauls is how GM’s commercial dealers handle service. Peper says that business customers asked for priority service and says there will be new service-related requirements for Business Elite dealers. 

“Time is money for them, so they want the ability to get in and out,” Costabile says in regards to the needs of the business customer. “They want a loaner if a vehicle is down. They want special service hours — similar to a Costco or Lowes — because they need to drop off their vehicles very quickly and get their people back out to work. They told us that service experience is extremely important. We can deliver on that promise through our Business Elite dealers. They can give them all the things they want, priority service, 24-hour towing and work-ready loaner vehicles, for example.”

The other part of the equation is sales. Peper explains that GM is revising its sales incentive program for business customers, Business Choice, and that it will also require its Business Elite dealers to focus on and pursue commercial sales.

“On the sales side, we’re going to insist that they go after commercial business,” Peper says. “In the past we haven’t really insisted on that, but we need people out chasing the business. Then we’ll need a commercial sales manager at each of the dealerships that want to participate.”
Costabile says business customers provided a great deal of input as to what they are looking for in a sales experience.

“They wanted a sales experience where salespeople come out to them,” she says. “They also want to sign on the dotted line. They want a very time- and cost-effective transaction because these folks know what they want already. They want people who understand their business and can help them figure out what kind of vehicle they need for their business. By having these outside salespeople who can deliver on that, that will help create a great sales experience as well.”

Revamping Business Choice

Dealer feedback on the previous version of the Business Choice program told GM that the program was difficult to administer and overly complex. GM’s program revisions are designed to make it easier to manage and to incentivize Business Elite dealers to go after commercial business.

“The Business Choice program will be much easier to administer,” Peper says. “If we had eight choices before, there will now be about four. In addition, we will have a special sales recognition incentive. Instead of having a couple programs a year, we want to have Business Elite dealers striving to hit a sales goal every quarter. If they participate in the program and hit their goals, they will receive cash rewards.”

Peper explains that beyond the incentive program, GM will offer its Business Elite dealers extra floor plan allowance on certain vehicles, for example those requiring upfitting that takes longer to deliver. He added that Business Elite dealers may get some additional commercial vehicle allocation.

To help on the sales side, Peper says GM plans to share prospecting tools with its commercial dealers and to generate and give them sales leads. GM completed the enrollment process of re-signing dealers for the new Business Elite program on Oct. 31. The company said it signed up 479 dealers.

The official start date for the Business Elite program is Jan. 4, 2013. Peper says this date gives newly signed Business Elite dealers, and GM, time to get everything in order to create a great sales and service experience for customers.

“There are two big takeaways,” Peper says. “No. 1, we need to continually focus on what the customer wants. The things we are asking the dealers to do are the things the customers want. The second takeaway is that if something isn’t working at the new GM, then we’re going to get customer input and figure out how to make it right.”

GM Dealers Ready for Small Fleet Demand

While General Motors’ commercial-minded dealers have new stringent requirements to get into the Business Elite program, they’re excited that it allows them to better service their fleet customers.

“We all needed a little fine tuning and [this program] will help us to get more focused on our commercial business,” says Tony Uebelhor, owner of Uebelhor and Sons, a Jasper, Ind. new and used car dealer with Cadillac, Chevrolet and GMC sales, service, parts and financing.

The new program’s requirements and incentives for dealers, such as increased commercial inventory allocation, floor plan assistance and a quarterly incentive program, will hone that focus.

“The components that GM has added to this program show without a doubt that they are serious about capitalizing on this [small fleet] business,” says Mike Bowsher, owner of Carl Black Automotive Group, serving suburban Atlanta.

This becomes especially important in light of the need for fleets to replace high-mileage trucks coming out of the Recession.

“We are seeing an uptick in commercial business, especially the small fleets,” Bowsher says. “There is this gigantic bubble of fleets that need to replace. These trucks have 250,000 miles on them and they’re worn out.”

Business Elite dealers will be able to meet that demand with more vehicles in stock. “Inventories have been tighter in the last couple years, so this additional commercial allocation will be a key piece to success,” Uebelhor says. “It is important to have the vehicle on the ground, upfitted and ready to go. Those guys are doing a job, and if a transmission goes out in their van, they need it tomorrow because it’s costing them money.”

While the new Business Elite program will help them get there, these dealers know when it comes to small fleets, it’s still all about the relationship.

“During ‘Armageddon’ (the Recession) they’d come in and say ‘my trucks need servicing, and can you help me through this,’” he says. “We’ve done that. They remember you when the tide turns.”

View more articles here from Business Fleet's November/December magazine issue.