For many years, the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) trade groups have been telling the business world that General Aviation is a viable business tool, using the slogan “No Plane, No Gain”. The message is often considered to be aimed at larger companies, but its logic applies to all companies, regardless of size. It’s a catchy slogan, but what are some real-world ways to turn your airplane into a cash flow-producing business aircraft tool, instead of a deduction that makes your accountant cringe every tax filing?
Consider this: You have a client that needs a product your company sells and after-sales support is extremely important to her. Including your company, she has three firms from which to choose. One is a multi-million dollar conglomerate with a worldwide footprint. The second is a very small operation with a product line that pretty much matches yours, but it can sell at a lower price because it has less overhead than your company. And then there’s your sole-proprietorship company: 25 employees, a brilliant but small engineering team, and two sales people including you. Oh, one more thing; you own a cabin-class airplane.
How about you button-hole an engineer with good people skills and encourage him to take an airplane ride. You call up the client and ask if she can meet you at a restaurant which happens to be near a General Aviation airport and her company’s office. Over lunch, you introduce the engineer and casually remark that if she has any after-sales support issues that require onsite support, he can be at her location within a few hours via your company airplane. Later, during a quick look at the airplane, the engineer makes an off-hand remark that he’s going to install a firmware upgrade on another client’s machine on the way home. Without belaboring the point, you’ve just proven the superior after-sale support claim you made at lunch.
How does the competition match that level of support? First of all, the large company won’t match it. Its legal staff has long since banned employee-flown airplanes due to perceived liability issues. The low-overhead company isn’t going to ruin its meager profit margin by allowing anyone on the staff to submit an expense report with a rental aircraft on the sheet, and the head honcho has zero interest in buying a company airplane for the same reason: a misread of the impact on SG&A costs (Sales – General and Administrative).
Result? You get the order.
Your company has introduced a new widget to the marketplace. Unfortunately, you know from past experience that a press release and a few phone calls aren’t going to result in a quick sale because customers want to see the product actually work. You need to prove the widget really is better than anything on the market, but your customer base is scattered out in cities large and small, within a circle roughly defined by a 500-mile radius from your office. You could drive to some and fly commercially to others, but doing so would mean three weeks on the road. You can’t use the airlines exclusively because they only serve 50% of your market. What to do?
You start with a press release heralding the imminent availability of the new widget and within the press release you mention you’ll be utilizing a company aircraft to demonstrate the product to your customers. You send emails with the press release attached to all your current customers as well as some of those ‘tough to crack’ potential customers that you’ve tried to reach in the past.
You follow up the email with personal-invitation phone calls and set up your schedule. You have pictures taken of you and some staff members in front of your airplane and, after the Dog and Pony show is over, you do a follow-up press release praising the immediate acceptance of the product and mentioning the ability of your company to “react instantly” and “turn on a dime” since you can be onsite within hours at any customer’s location, because you have a dedicated company aircraft. You casually mention that no competitor has made a similar commitment to customer support.
Along these same lines, you write an article for a trade publication explaining what makes your company exceptional. Once again, you can pitch how your customer support cannot be equaled – both before and after the sale – because your company is different; it has an airplane and uses it to benefit the customer.
In “churn and burn” sales, you can often make money by having the lowest price and selling without regard to after-market support. Many online web-based companies use this very approach and when you’re dealing with commodity products and serving the consumer directly, you’ll be hard pressed to overcome the reality of “Give me the lowest price and I’ll give you the order.”
When selling capital goods and targeted services, though, sales are made based on friendship, fair pricing and after-sale support. Use of an airplane can put you in a position to develop friendships AND provide superior support after the sale.
The Wow Factor
In spite of what the mass-market print and broadcast media reporters think, non-pilots are still fascinated with people that fly. When you make an appointment and then climb into a private airplane to appear at the customer’s location two hours later, you’re viewed as different. And because the general public believes even an elderly Cessna 150 costs more than their house, you are also thought to be successful; how else could you afford an airplane? People naturally gravitate to those they perceive as successful; it’s a trait you can use to separate yourself from the others trying to get the same order.
Given the opportunity, you can mention that you have 6,000 airports to choose from, versus the airlines’ total of slightly more than 600. You can tell customers you know everyone on board your airplane and none of them are terrorists – which always brings a smile. And you can gleefully point out that airport delays are not something you’re familiar with.
All of this plays into your customer’s frame of reference: “Did you see the story about the passengers that were stuck for 4 hours on a fully-loaded Regional Jet last week, due to airport delays?” They will ask a question like that as soon as the subject of air travel comes up. They will recall rude airline employees, uncouth passengers, knees-tucked-under-their-chin legroom and too-small seats. That’s the average person’s frame of reference when you mention the utility of air travel.
Since 90% of your customer base doesn’t realize how much a vendor with an airplane can improve their operation, you should help them understand. Tell them your firm is not just another company trying to book an order. Yours is a company that considers the customer to be a partner. To support that concept, you have an airplane available to make sure they receive frequent consultations and fast, reliable, on-site expertise if there are ever problems. Your company is mission-oriented, which is why it uses a private airplane to maximize the customer’s success and reduce the number and magnitude of problems. And isn’t that what everyone wants; someone to help them succeed while making their problems go away?•T&T
John Loughmiller is a freelance writer, commercial pilot and CFIIMEI-A. He retired from the business world a few years back and is now living the dream as a contract pilot flying various piston and turboprop twins.