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Split decision

Mercedes increased its van sales by 21% last year in the UK, double the overall market growth figure, taking the firm to more than 30,000 van sales for the first time. Now, with the launch of M-B Vans, the company wants to put even more focus on the entire customer experience, from choosing and purchasing the new van, through service and maintenance, to finance, parts and Service24 roadside recovery.

To achieve this the company has changed its internal organisation, bringing together all of the van-related team into one. All 77 of these staff will undergo the FTA’s Van Excellence training to ensure that they are up to speed with van operation and legislation.

This doesn’t mean a split within the dealership and vans will continue to be sold through the same premises as trucks, with all of the benefits of extended opening hours and service that this brings. It will however push the retail experience for van buyers.

Mercedes has launched a Van ProCenter programme across the UK, under which its van dealers will have to achieve more than 50 standards across the business. This includes expertise to ensure that specialists are capable of dealing with customer enquiries, both in terms of sales and service.

‘We mustn’t make the assumption that everyone who walks into our dealership knows what he wants,’ says Mr Bridge. ‘We looked at all of the competition and analysed the best bits of all of their van operations to fashion Van ProCenters around them.

‘We are not massively proscriptive about what a dealer- ship should look like, or where it should be. It doesn’t matter, as long as it offers the people and the processes. They have to be the best-in-class in new vehicle sales, used vehicle sales and aftersales. Most of it involves people, getting the right people in the right place.’

To date, two dealers have achieved Van ProCenter status, Ciceley Commercials and Mercedes-Benz Truck and Van Northern Ireland. However, 60% of the dealer network is currently participating in the initiative, working with Mercedes and with independent consultants to meet the criteria. The biggest investment is in time spent changing and refining their customer offer.

‘Multi-site management is also a big consideration for some of our dealers,’ says Mr Bridge. ‘Providing consistency across multiple locations can be difficult.’

The benefits are already clear though. Since achieving Van ProCenter status, the two dealers have seen new customer sales rise by 54% and 34% respectively. This is not a one-off achievement either, as Mercedes will audit the Van ProCen-

ters on an annual basis to ensure continuing standards. Mercedes-Benz Vans has also set up an in-house Van Talent Development Programme with its dealers, to bring new people into the van sales business. A two-year programme, involving 26 learning modules at M-B UK, the Van Talent Development course results in an Institute of Sales and Marketing Manage-

ment Level 3 Diploma in sales and marketing. The first 60 candidates have entered the programme,

though Mr Bridge reports that applications for this first year intake were more than 50 times oversubscribed.

Of course a sales force can only be as good as the vehicles that it is marketing and Mercedes has a strong range to offer at present. Sprinter remains the mainstay of many fleets across the UK and Citan is gaining momentum, particularly with the all-important SME market. A new Vito, that will be shown later this year at the Hannover Show, will complete the refreshed line-up.

‘So far this year Citan registrations are up 62% over 2013,’ says Mr Bridge.

Mercedes also intends to increase its presence in the ready- bodied market, in an attempt to attract more service engi- neers, construction and facilities management companies.

‘In the second half of this year we will be bringing to market an extremely robust bodywork offering under our Drive Away Solutions brand,’ says Mr Bridge.

‘We have had a less well publicised one-stop-shop oper- ation for six years now, but we haven’t gone down the same route as other manufacturers. We sat back and watched what others have done and we will make a big play in that market.’

Expect the offering to include dropsides, tippers, cage tippers, a box body and a Luton. This year’s Van Experience will also show the diversity of bodybuilders with which Mercedes is working to develop its pre-bodied range.

Mercedes-Benz has a very strong relationship with national fleets, particularly with Sprinter. By developing the retail experience and the range of vehicles on offer, the company is hoping to capture a growing percentage of the SME and retail van markets.

‘The customer journey doesn’t stop once a vehicle has been purchased,’ says Mr Bridge.

‘It’s down to us to ensure that every customer enjoys the benefits of our complete offering. LCV traffic is set to increase by 38% by 2020, with customers more focused than ever before on efficiency, downsizing, rightsizing and pricing.

‘With a new management team, tariff-led pricing and new customer service options, Mercedes-Benz Vans is set to continue its record-breaking trend.’