Senior Vice President of Sales & Marketing, ARI
Gene, tell us about the company’s focus right now with respect to the sales and marketing efforts that you lead.
Over the past decade, ARI has been guided by a strategic plan that was developed internally and designed to ensure we consistently highlight the things that truly differentiate us from our competitors – our absolute commitment to superior customer service, our drive to hire the very best people, and our belief in investing in processes and technology – and use those key differentiators to drive genuine value in our targeted markets. We felt that if we truly distinguished ourselves according to our company’s core values, then customers and prospects would come to see us as a leader in the industry who can be relied upon to deliver whatever services they may need.
So what are some of the features about ARI that does make ARI unique?
Quite simply, it is our commitment to investing in people, processes and technology. If you looked at ARI over the last few years, our investment in our people has been incredible. We are deeply committed to ensuring all of our employees regardless of tenure have access to a wide variety of training and professional development programs through ARI University and we encourage every employee at every level of the company to reach their highest potential through learning and continued education. I think the investment we make in our people, along with the significant investment we have made and continue to make in technology, is creating the company we are today.
Technology has allowed us to offer better, faster products to our customers. But it has also allowed us to reevaluate some of our own internal systems and find efficiencies that, in turn, allow us to provide our customers with even better service, improved total cost of ownership, and enhanced driver productivity, among other things. By bringing new technologies to bear both on our own internal processes and on the products we offer our customers, we have been able to work harder and smarter on behalf of our customers and that – along with our people – is what makes ARI unique.
How do you help your clients manage these costs with the data that you have? Manage the higher fuel costs? Manage the rising acquisition costs? How do you help your clients keep those costs down?
There is no question that we are living in a time of having to do more with less. But, truly, when was there ever a time when we weren’t asked to do more with less? This not likely to change – everyone is faced with having to provide the same level of service and meet the same demands with fewer people, in shorter time frames, with less capital. But technology is changing the way we do things – we have tools like email and mobile phones that help save us time. And, it can help fleets manage how they do things too.
At ARI, we have sought to employ technology and develop tools to help our customers find solutions to all of the various challenges they may face, so they don’t have to do more with less – they can just do more. Whether it is managing acquisition costs, or controlling maintenance or fuel spend, we have found that with technology, we can help manage all of the data a fleet manager is faced with from day-to-day to help distinguish trends and identify savings that bring true value to their bottom line. From reporting, to analysis, to recommendations on how to maximize a fleet’s value, we find that technology helps us provide our clients with better tools, better reports and better solutions in a shorter amount of time.
ARI has been known as a company with a loyal, long tenured client base. What do you think goes into that?
Relationships are very important to our company and to our employees. Understanding who your client is, what their goals are, and how you can help them get there is critical to our business approach. When your customer understands that you are invested in their business – that you are in the same boat with them rowing towards a shared, strategic goal – that means something and it’s very important.
At the end of the day, though, it comes down to customer service. It’s about being able to provide our customers with the support and guidance they need as their business changes over time. We work to stay ahead of the curve so we can always offer our clients the most innovative, most efficient, most cost-effective programs – programs that meet their business needs and exceed their expectations.
That can mean looking at a new way to offer an existing program or considering a new approach to a common business practice – but not always. It is not necessarily about new programs – it’s about aligning yourself with your customers strategically and being able to adapt to their changing business needs. We could spend all the time in the world thinking of new ways to deliver services or develop new programs that our customers might need – but at the end of the day, if those programs don’t help the customer reach their objectives, they’re no good to us.
What are clients telling you are their most pressing needs right now?
For the most part, our clients are asking us to understand what their total cost of ownership is today and help them develop strategies to get the most value out of their fleet. There are a multitude of variables that go into determining total cost of ownership, and adjusting any single one – let alone more than one – can change the entire equation. From choosing the right vehicle selector, to putting an effective maintenance program in place that will keep that vehicle up and running, all the way through to the end of a vehicle’s life cycle, when it will need to be remarketed, there are a wide variety of decisions a fleet manager must consider when trying to maximize TCO. We help them identify which variables are really the most important to them and their business, and help them understand each one individually, so they can consider the complete picture more strategically, which in the end helps them to make better decisions and get the most value out of their fleet.
You have a highly regarded sales team; what is the key to a successful salesperson?
I think we are very unique because ultimately there is no difference between a member of the sales team and anyone else in the company – it doesn’t matter whether an employee is working in compliance, or in remarketing, or as a customer service representative. Every employee is focused on the same thing and around a common goal. This is due in no small part to the culture of our company, which we take very seriously and work very hard to maintain. Our parent company, Holman Automotive, is a multi-generational family owned business, and the values that our company’s founder, Steward Holman, established as a core part of our business model more than eighty years ago are still very important to how we operate today. It is those same values that unites every employee in the company, brings a common sense of purpose to our work and creates the culture that serves as our company’s foundation.
I think that in addition to our culture, to be successful at sales, you have to believe in what you are selling. It simply will not work any other way. You have to understand and believe in the products you are sharing with a customer, and you have to believe that those products will provide the best, most effective solution for them. Our sales team believes in what ARI has to offer and I think that is what has made them one of the most tenured in the industry.
Our sales team is also responsible not only for finding new opportunities and building new relationships, but for maintaining relationships the company already has. Some are relationships the company has had for many, many years – they can predate the sales rep. But each member of our sales team is tasked with understanding every client’s business and their respective goals – and with ensuring that we are aligned with those goals. Asking for this kind of commitment from a sales rep – asking them to partner with every client and invest in each client’s vision – leads to a team that is invested in the company. And when your team is invested in the company, they are more likely to stay with you.
Let’s talk about your recent technological advances.
ARI has made a tremendous investment in technology – as a matter a fact, it is one of the largest things we have ever done. We feel it is not only a game-changer for our customers, but it is a game-changer for ARI internally as well. It is going to help us do more in less time, so we not only will be able to provide data and analytics to our customers in record time to help them make better decisions, we will be able to do the same internally as well.
We’re also looking at it from a global standpoint. For example, we’re looking to maximize efficiencies across all of our offices – from the U.S. to Canada, from Mexico to the U.K. and Europe, and anywhere our employees or clients may go. Technology is helping us do this. We’ve been able to identify best practices we had in one office and institute them company-wide with ease because of technology.
By doing this we’re able to maximize our intellectual capital and provide better solutions and enhanced customer service for our customers. And, with the implementation of our new in-memory technology, we have been able to develop even more opportunities for ARI to provide faster, better recommendations for our customers, which at the end of the day goes back to total cost of ownership and having a meaningful impact on a customer’s bottom-line.
One of the first clients that adopted our new technology was actually a beta tester for us and was part of our customer technology advisory group for many years. The customer had found that it took him a few days, sometimes up to a week, on a monthly basis to provide reports to his senior management on fleet operations. With this new tool – which we call ARI analytics – the time investment he must make in creating these reports has been brought down to a matter of hours and it has created opportunities for him to do other work and make better, more insightful recommendations to his operations group now that he has more time.
What sort of information can you give to a client?
Today, our customers are able to look at all of the data that comes in to ARI in a simple, intuitive layout which they can customize to suit their preferences and needs. We also help them breakdown what the data is trying to tell them so they can make better, more informed decisions. Whether they are looking to make a comparison between two different vehicles during the selector period, or are trying to do a vendor versus vendor maintenance analysis, we can help them get that data quickly and we’re able to provide it in a simple, logical format. No matter what a client is looking to do, our technology can help them do it. For example, maybe a fleet manager is looking to remarket their vehicles, but the fleet is decentralized and the fleet manager has contacts all over the United States. Our tools and technology can help them make sense of what seems like an impossible challenge, and get those vehicles to market. Or, maybe a fleet manager is being asked to focus on the bottom-line, and they want to really concentrate on operating costs. The tools and technology we offer can give them instant access to all of their data and allow them to make instant recommendations on their fleet’s operations.
Tell us about your product development team.
As I mentioned, ARI has always sought to align our goals with that of our customers, so that we can meet their needs and help them achieve their objectives. And, more often than not, it was in partnership with our clients that we developed many of our best programs and products. Whether it had to do with supply chain issues or maintenance, fuel spend, compliance or remarketing, we have sought to understand our customers’ strategic needs and worked to develop ways to meet those needs. When you approach it that way, your product development team is really your entire workforce.
Whether you are processing a state change or are in IT, if your focus is on the customer and making their experience better, then really you are part of the product development team. We encourage all of our employees at every level to constantly look for ways to improve the customer experience – and in that way we can be sure we are maximizing every opportunity to provide the best service and advice.
In terms of what we are hearing in the marketplace, one of the hottest areas today is probably safety. Many of our customers are asking how they can influence driver behavior, because safety is about changing driver behavior in order to ensure a fleet is operating responsibly and, more generally, to reduce liability and risk. We have some very talented, dedicated people within our organization that have managed these types of processes on day-to-day basis working to develop programs that could answer this need. But ultimately, most of our ideas come from the people within our organization that interact with our customers every day.
Gene Welsh is Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing for ARI. He joined ARI in the fleet management services area in 1987. After spending time in the billing and truck acquisitions departments, he moved to the Chicago sales office, where he began a steady path of advancement from District Manager to Regional Sales Manager, eventually assuming the role of Vice President of the Northern Sales Zone, and then, Vice President of Sales. Today, he is responsible for the sales and sales support efforts of all U.S. sales offices, including the Marketing and Strategic Consulting teams which oversee ARI’s Sustainability Program.