ARI’s Big Investment in Technology Pays Off for Clients, Company

Gene Welsh

Gene Welsh

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.

BIO

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.

gwelsh@arifleet.com

 

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