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.

Automotive Fleet (our sister publication) spoke with Ed Peper, U.S. VP of Fleet and Commercial Sales, and Jennifer Costabile, general director of Used Vehicle Activities, Fleet & Commerical Advertising and Marketing, about the new program and the changes GM is making.

“The new program will be called Business Elite,” Peper said. “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 said this revised program targets non-CAP (competitive allowance program) business customers. That said, a number of the changes could benefit any business that purchases a fleet vehicle through a dealer or that 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 said. “That’s the crux of what we’re doing here.”

GM’s Costabile said business customers told the automaker that they want an exceptional sales and service experience.

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

The new GM Business Elite logo.

The new GM Business Elite logo.

“Time is money for them, so they want the ability to get in and out,” she said. “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 explained 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 commercial sales.

“On the sales side, we’re going to insist that they go after commercial business,” Peper said. “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.”

GM’s Costabile said 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. 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.”

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 said. “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 of 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 explained that beyond the incentive program, GM will be offering its Business Elite dealers extra floor plan allowance on certain vehicles, for example those requiring upfitting that take longer to deliver. He added that Business Elite dealers may get some additional commercial vehicle allocation.

To help on the sales side, Peper said GM plans to share prospecting tools with its commercial dealers and to generate and give them sales leads.

Currently, GM is in the process of re-signing dealers up for the new Business Elite program. Peper said the automaker has signed up more than 180 dealerships and plans to have between 350 and 400 dealers on board by the October 31 sign-up deadline.

The official start date for the Business Elite program is Jan. 4, 2013. Peper said that 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 said. “Number one, 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.”

By Greg Basich