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HONDA is targeting SMEs with its virtual sales programme, helping to take away the strain of running a small fleet.

In the 12 months since the scheme has been running, contacts with SMEs have increased dramatically and has won Honda Business Motoring’s best company car programme award.

Fleet Sales Operations Manager Marc Samuel said: “We realise that many small businesses have just one person dealing with the company fleet, so 12 months ago we set up our our Virtual Account Manager Programme.

“This has completely revolutionised the way that Honda does fleet sales and is transforming the way SMEs do fleet procurement. Fleet managers have become more time-poor and often have more responsibilities than they had 10 years ago.

“We aim to help answer fleets’ queries quickly and shape future policies through digital platforms, and our virtual fleet managers are the start of this.”

The account team is based in Nantwich and the past year has seen a 28% increase in customers and a 26% rise in the number of interactions with clients year-on-year. The number of customer contacts that Honda makes with customers every year has increased by 350%.

Samuel said: “Our salespeople are not spending ‘dead’ time travelling to client meetings. It has become a significantly more successful way of engaging with our SME customer network and is driving our agenda to help people in business focus on what they do well in their day job, as well as looking after their fleets.

“This demonstrates the success of a full package of fleet management support by telephone and video conferencing,as an alternative to traditional face-to-face meetings.”

Many businesses have made the traditional, professional fleet manager job redundant in recent years,augmenting the position to be responsible for multiple other areas as well as vehicles.

This means there is less time dedicated to face-to-face meetings with vehicle manufacturers during and after initial vehicle procurement. Instead, fleet managers are looking for a self-service approach to gathering product information via the Internet and now are more amenable to video or teleconference to share information with salespeople.

Samuel said: “The Virtual Account Manager Programme makes it easier for fleet managers to access the professional fleet support and advice they need from Honda without having to spend too much of their  time on fleet procurement.

“Our is always available to support the sub-400 fleets and individual SME customers. They liaise with customers to host quick 25-30 minute conversations by phone or Skype for Business with the fleet decision-maker.

“We took the role of the traditional area fleet manager and digitised it.”

The support provided to SMEs goes even beyond the virtual account management programme.

Samuel added: “To create further opportunities for our customers to try the Honda product, we also designed an innovative web-based test drive platform, which is being used by hundreds of Honda dealers across the UK network.

“This system complements our virtual account manager programme and has allowed the test drive fleet to be moved from a single central location to local dealer provision, resulting in an increase of vehicle availability to customers and prospects by 328%.”

Honda also has a unique interactive whole lifecycle costs (WLC)  calculator. The tool, which is accessible through the new Honda Fleet website, enables customers to calculate how much a vehicle will cost throughout its entire lifespan under their ownership.

This enables SMEs to compare Honda models to other manufacturers to predict real life savings.

The Honda dealer network is playing an increasingly significant role in fleet sales through the Honda Platinum Programme, which was set up to build closer relationships with small fleet customers and user-chooser through retailers.

Dealers that are part of the scheme are actively incentivised to provide user-choosers with a targeted number of 48-hour test drives regardless of whether or not they end up supplying a car.

Samuel said: “This gives user-choosers the opportunity to  experience a Honda car, rather than having a cursory 20-minute test drive as is standard from most manufacturers. It also gives our dealer network the opportunity to look after our fleet customers for subsequent servicing, repair or warranty work, even if they did not supply the vehicle.”