Leveraging the Internet to Boost Sales

UMA Expo Seminar

Leveraging the Internet to Boost Sales Notes

Orange County Convention Center
South Concourse
9899 International Drive
Orlando, Florida 32819
Room S-230 F-H

More and more charter orders, contract work, corporate shuttles and other lucrative pieces of business are coming through the internet. Even the most seasoned (read old) group planner is using the Internet to search for motorcoach companies. But are you tapping into the best resources available so that next search finds your website? Are you optimizing search engines so your company comes out on the top of the first page on a Google or Yahoo search? Mark Greer of BusRates.com will show you how to boost sales by learning what big companies do to make sure you find them when you’re searching for one of their products or services.

1. Leveraging the Internet to Boost Sales for Your Bus Company

 

2. Overview

* Main ways to pull traffic from the internet
* Methods for building your traffic
* Tracking and assessing your traffic
* Case studies
* Other techniques that are working
* Optimizing your ads
* Tips for selling via email

 

3. Internet Use

* 75% of adults use the Internet
* 93% of teens 12-17 use the internet
* Building a website is not enough
a. Apply methods of bringing traffic to it
b. Convert that Traffic into Bookings

 

4. What is the number one piece of advertising real estate on the internet?

* [The top results of Google shown]

 

5. Focus on Search Engines

* 70% of users find websites through a search engine
* 28.11% of internet users visit Google.com
* 0.13% of Internet users visit Yellowpages.com

Search Engine Market Share:

* Google 62.9%
* Yahoo 20.2%
* MSN 8.5%
* Ask 4.3%
* AOL 4.1%

* There are over 2 million bus-related searches per month on Google.

 

6. [Google results shown again]

* Paid Placement
* Google Maps Business Listings
* Organic Placement
* Directories

 

7. Ways to Capture Search Engine Traffic

* Paid Placement
· Pro: Immediate Results
· Con: Very expensive

* Google Maps
· Free

* Organic Placement
· Pro: Free
· Con: Takes a lot of time and money to develop with uncertain results

* Advertise on Sites found in the Results
· Pro: Immediate Results; Less expensive; Develops links
· Con: Must monitor cost and quality of traffic

 

8. Targeting Organic Traffic

* Taking natural first place on Google for a broad term like “bus charter” is difficult, capturing niche terms is easy.
i. [Search Results for “Charter Coach Redwood Falls MN” Displayed – Thielen Coaches]

 

9. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a website from search engines via “natural” (organic or algorithmic) search results.

* Download the Google toolbar to your browser
· Get page rank info from each site as you visit them

* Exchange links with relevant sites that have good page rank
* The older your website the better
* Update your site every 5 days can help
* Make sure you have integrated relevant keywords into the text and tags
* Make sure you tag photos with relevant keywords
* Reprogram your site in CSS
* Google Sitemap
* Google Site Search
* Google Webmaster Central
* Your website designer is probably knowledgeable enough on SEO to help you.

 

10. Link:www.yoursite.com

* [Link:www.busrates.com results shown]

 

11. Advertise on Sites Found in Results

* Run searches for your relevant keywords to find great advertising value and link building opportunities
* [“Minnesota bus charters” results shown]
* BusRates.com
* Partypop.com
* MagicYellow.com
* Alltimefavorites.com

 

12. Assessing Quality and Cost of Traffic

* Alexa.com – Download their tool bar for traffic ranks as you browse.
* Tracking Software – Google Analytics is free
· Where your traffic is coming from
* Cost per visitor (25 cents per visitor is good)
· The number of page visits per visitor
* Eliminate sites that are sending you one page visits.
· Lead conversion tracking
* Determine the ultimate cost of your quote request.
* Requires 165 visitors to visit BusRates to yield 5 quote requests (About $70)

 

13. Server-Based v/s Web-Based Tracking

* [Tracking examples shown]

 

14. Case Studies

* Gene of B & W Charters of Grand Rapids, MI
i. Has been mentioned in trade magazines for his success with online marketing

* Ray Land of Fabulous Coach Lines, FL
i. Featured in trade magazines as the industry’s youngest operator; has the best approach to responding to internet leads.

 

15. [Fabulous Coach Lines Traffic Sources Shown]

 

16. [Fabulous Coach Lines Referring Sites Shown]

 

17. Other Ideas and Resources

* Video Introductions for your Website
* Example for Richfield Bus, MN was built by Rick Busch

 

18. [View their video from RichfieldBus.com BizStory link towards the bottom of the page. ]

[Snapshot of the video playing shown]

 

19. Other Ideas and Resources

* Post a video on YouTube.com; Link it to your site.
* Online Customer Service Management: such as Kayako, e-tickets,
Live Chat, Meebo and Live Person
* Implementing Quote Request Software through services like RBS and uTrack
* Posting your DOT registration link on your homepage and message to charter directly with the operator.

 

20. Staff Bios

* [West Coast Tours example shown]

 

21. Optimizing Your Ads Online

* The way you display your ad online affects the amount of traffic you receive. Sometimes why one company receives much more traffic can be explained, often, there does not seem to be a reason:
* Rank
· Top listings usually pull over triple the traffic of a company at the bottom of page 1
* Proximity
· Companies posting in out of area cities receive about 30% of the traffic a local company would
* Description
· The rewording of a description triple the traffic of a posting
* More Equipment
· Larger companies receive more traffic than smaller ones usually

 

22. Tips for Selling via Email

* Selling via email isn’t easy at first
* Do not reply with just a price
* Write up an email template that focuses on the factual selling points
* Set up your auto-reply email to give a thorough overview of your company
* One saleswoman who consistently books 90% of her emailed leads

· Sends a personal email
· Includes options
· General information about the company
· Attaches photos of the bus
· Attaches promotional information
· Responds within 4 hours if not immediately
· Says a large part of her success is the lack of response from other bus companies

* Follow up every 7 days – 33% success rate reported
* Email their quote out in a ready-to-sign proposal

 

23. Quote Reply Content

* The 2 Most Powerful Marketing Tools are
· Product demo (show them the bus and driver)
· Testimonials

* General Company Info
* Customer Service
· 24/7 emergency line, office hours, Driver attire, driver cell phones, GPS to
avoid having to ask directions during the trip, Part of an association that will
aid in the event of a break down, on-time record, movies, hostess.

* Equipment
· Amenities, Maintenance, Fleet

* Safety
· Compliancy, Insurance, accident record, inspection record

* Extras
· Association memberships
· Certifications
· Photos of the bus
· Promotional flyer PDFs
· Pricing options
· Proposal

 

24. Sales Tips

* Build Value, not a Bidding War
* Avoid selling on price
* Instead of answering the customer’s questions, show the customer what questions they should be asking.
* Point them to your DOT registration, your record with the BBB.
* Post clear rates and policies
* Honesty, transparency, diplomacy will ultimately prevail over gimmicks and manipulation

Are You Paying Attention to Your Customer Service?

Are You Paying Attention to Your Customer Service? Are Operators in Touch?

SAN FRANCISCO — Laura Maki wanted to hire a motorcoach to pick up and drop off her wedding party at a local hotel for the rehearsal dinner, the wedding, and sightseeing trips.

Simple enough, she thought. Talk to a few companies, get a few quotes, make a decision.

What she experienced, however, was weeks of frustration because coach companies would not return her calls or provide quotes over the phone or by e-mail. In the end, she would rent vans and ask many of her guests to drive their own vehicles.

“I did always hate that about my wedding — that I made people drive around in a strange city,” says Maki, is lives in Louisville, Ky., and is a server in a barbeque restaurant.

Is Maki’s story an isolated example of bad service, or an indication of an industry that somehow has lost touch with its customers?

It depends on who you ask.

Most industry executives, when informed of Maki’s tale, expressed disappointed that a potential client didn’t get the help she needed.

“I don’t think much of that,” said Gale Ellsworth, president and CEO of Trailways Transportation System. “That’s the best way to lose future business. … I think it’s rude and a great way to lose business.”

“That frustrates me,” added Steve Klika. He’s president of International Motor Coach Group Inc.

“(Customers) have got to struggle through the system to get through to a human being. The first person is the one they connect with. Your level of frustration gets so high because the human factor is not there.

“You have fewer owners who have personal engagement, (and) a newer generation (focused) on technology and efficiency. People in sales can’t shoot down calls. … That is so sad. I just cringe when I hear that.

“It’s just that the motorcoach system has broken down. There’s probably a lot more out there than we would like to think. Owners may think it’s going well, but if they’re not hearing about it, sales is in a total disconnect.”

 

On being responsive

Many factors come into play when a potential client calls, say industry executives. Is it a busy season? Are there special events that weekend? But: “It’s still no excuse that people didn’t call (her back),” says Ellsworth.

You can’t commit a year out, or even eight months out, but “what they should be doing is giving an estimate,” insists Ellsworth. “What we have to encourage the operator to do is to give the client an estimate for today.”

 

The whole story?

One official wondered aloud if Maki gave enough information for a quote.

“I think the specificity is important,” said Victor Parra, president and CEO of the United Motorcoach Association, of the information given by Maki. “It’s surprising to me they wouldn’t give her quotes. (But) the customer needs to look at the value of the sale and not the price of the sale.”

Brian Crow, president and CEO of Motor Coach Canada, points out that bus service isn’t a commodity; it can’t be sold like bushels of wheat. There are so many factors in deciding if a company is the right choice. Prices in the motorcoach industry are more complex than the price of gasoline at the pump.

“It’s many factors. Were you safe on the trip; were your expectations met, if not exceeded? Not getting a telephone call back, that’s not meeting her expectations,” says Crow.

“You’re always going to get people who want to get a price; they’re going to try to get the lowest price, but if you get engaged in the community, price isn’t a big issue. It’s: ‘I know them,'” says Klika.

Klika points out that paying for a bus is so much more than the best price you can get. You have to look at safety, the human connection, high standards in general. “Am I giving up safety, or am I giving up peanuts on the bus?”

“I’m very disappointed that she couldn’t get people to even respond. The quote is a different issue,” says Crow, who also heads Ontario Motor Coach Association. Companies may say: “I’d love your business but I need more information,” or the company is booked. “I guess the problem is that if the bus companies didn’t even respond to the call, they couldn’t even address her questions.” But he wondered about the nature of the exchange – why didn’t the companies respond?

Still, he stressed he didn’t want to give the impression the industry couldn’t improve.

 

Defining customer service

So, what is customer service?

It’s multifaceted, says Ellsworth. “Customer service is everything from how you reply to the request, to how you treat them during the journey, to how you treat them afterwards. It’s public relations. Period.”

“In general, I would say if the customer says at the end of the day, ‘That was great,’ then that’s customer service,” says Crow.

From time to time, the industry has looked at different ways to self-monitor its customers service — a star system or a quality standard program.

“It concerns me for the industry, when we don’t have our own systems in place to deal with (cases like Maki),” says Klika.

But such programs would have to address complex issues in the industry.

Steve Kirchner, president of National Motorcoach Network, wonders if an already highly regulated industry is going to embrace more regulation.

“I don’t think I’m opposed to it, I just don’t see how it works,” says Crow. “You can have a 20-year-old coach that’s in top condition. … What about customer service? How do you rate the company, the sales people, the vehicle…How could (a rating system) be set up?”

A rating system would be difficult to establish, agrees Parra. “You need to look at everything about the company — is it financially sound, customer service, the safety record.” Also, the equipment is not all the same — coaches may have a galley or plush seats, for example, all deserving of a higher rating.

“This has been one of those projects we’d like to get to, but our plate is pretty full. It’s not really in the works right now, but it’s something we’d like to look at,” says Parra.

 

What to do?

So what should companies do to offer better initial customer service?

Word of mouth and leads are the best ways to get business, say executives.

Trailways has a new employee on board who works with drivers, agents and other employees on how to improve public relations. And the system also has a customer-service manual for operators that guides employees through such issues as handling phone calls.

“You have to think of the motorcoach industry like the hospitality industry, and if you don’t get word of mouth back, then you’re going to lose business in the long run,” says Ellsworth.

Mark Greer, owner of BusRates.com, stresses that the phone and Internet are critical to today’s businesses. “Inbound calls are more productive than returning calls in terms of a sales call,” he says. When the customers call, they’re ready, in a buying mode.

He stressed that promptly responding to calls and e-mails is an easy way to make business. He has found that professionally written e-mails, answered quickly, get the job.

“I always tell bus companies that if you respond with just a price, you are throwing away your lead,” says Greer.

“Our members (need to) re-engage back into our communities the way their dad, granddads and great-granddads did,” says Klika. “The general public doesn’t have a strong relationship with the operators the way they used to.

“If we don’t admit to the challenges we deal with, how do we fix it?”

Using Internet Wisely is Valuable Marketing Strategy

February 1, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — Mark Greer, founder of BusRates.com, the online database of charter bus companies, used internet statistics to make the point that a Website is critical to effectively marketing a motorcoach company.

Greer conducted an educational session, called “Maximizing Your Website,” at UMA Motorcoach Expo here last month.

During his presentation, Greer provided tips and techniques for getting the most out of the internet as a business tool.

According to Greer, more than 80 percent of North American motorcoach operators have Websites and the companies that don’t have one probably should.

On Google alone, there are 1.8 million bus-related searches each month.

Not all of the traffic comes from potential clients looking for a charter, but when a serious shopper comes along, the benefit of being a Web-savvy operator is having the ability to turn that browser into a paying client.

Greer said motorcoach operators can do that by:

· Providing plenty of pictures. Coach operators have plenty to show. Pictures of their buses, the interiors, the staff and the facility can add interest to a Website.

· Using FAB (feature-advantage-benefit) statements, rather than subjective statements. “Our drivers have more than 5 years of experience so they know how to ensure your trip will go smoothly.” That looks and sounds much better than saying “We have great drivers.”

· Avoiding selling on price. Operators should use their Websites to teach customers what to ask about safety and business practices, among other aspects of booking a charter.

Greer said operators can develop a strategy for bringing internet traffic to their Websites. There are three ways to do it:

· Organically. That is, putting up a Website and letting the search engines find your site (slow but free).

· Paying for placement on directory Websites like YellowPages.com (expensive but effective immediately)

· Optimizing a Website on high-ranking directories like Google or Yahoo (effectiveness varies).

Greer provided suggestions for getting the most out of each approach, including using the internet to evaluate traffic levels.

Once a Website has attracted a client, preliminary contact is occasionally made via e-mail. Greer emphasized that how an operator communicates electronically can make or break a deal. Some tips are:

· Invest in a professional e-mail domain. Having “john@smithcharter.com” is much more professional than “smithcharter@aol.com,” for example.

· Answer requests promptly and in sufficient detail to convince the customer you are serious about gaining their business.

· Prepare a standard e-mail response in the form of a letter that includes the company letterhead or logo, and introduces your company and its services and amenities.

· Reassure the customer by providing your DOT number and your safety and insurance information.

· Make your response to their request a ready-to-sign proposal.

· Offer to answer any additional questions they may have, and follow up if the customer does not respond within 7 days.

Greer’s own company, BusRates.com, was established to help operators be successful by driving charter business in their direction through use of an online database.

A customer can search a location for charter providers. The customer can then use the contact information provided and the customer and the operator can take it from there.

The United Motorcoach Association has formed a new partnership with BusRates.com to provide this service as a UMA member benefit.

Maximizing Your Charter Bus Website

UMA Expo Seminar Maximizing Your Website Notes

Moscone Center North
Room 121
San Francisco, CA
2pm to 3pm, 1/17/08

 

1. Maximizing Your Website

2. Overview

– Making Sure Your Website is an Effective Marketing Tool
– Driving Traffic to Your Website
– Selling Via Email – A New Sales Approach the Works

 

3. Internet Growth

* 71% of North Americans use the Internet (Up 119% since 2000)
* Printed Yellow Page usage is decreasing
* Search Engines are the most popular
– 26.62% of Internet users visit Google
– 0.07% of Internet users visit yellowpages.com
* There are over 1.8 million bus-related searches per month on Google .
* Having a website is critical

 

4. Getting Up to Speed

* 18% of bus companies do not have a website
– (Freewebs.com is the largest free build-your-own website on the internet. 243rd highest-traffic in the world.)
* 57% of bus companies do not have a professional email domain (john@smithcharter.com is more professional than smithcharters@aol.com)

 

5. Two Common Content Mistakes

– The #1 issue with most websites is that they do not have enough pictures
i. Buses interior and exterior
ii. Facility
iii. Staff (Including uniformed drivers)
– The 2nd is that content is subjective
i. For example “We have great drivers” is commonly written instead “Feature – Advantage – Benefit” (FAB) statements such as, “Our drivers have over 5 years of experience so they know how to ensure your trip will go smoothly”

 

6. Let Your Website do the Selling

– Post your DOT number and link to your registration page under your company name
– Search other websites for ideas

 

7. Bringing Traffic to Your Site

– Search engines are the root source of a majority of the traffic on the internet
– There are 3 ways to capture this traffic
i. Directly through Organic Placement
ii. Directly through Paid Placement
iii. Indirectly through high-ranking directories

 

8. Organic Placement

– Pro: Free
– Con: Takes a long time to develop
i. There are only 10 slots on the first page
ii. Not all companies can come up on the first page
iii. You have nothing to lose by trying

 

9. Organic Placement – Tips and resources

– Exchange Links to build your Google Page Rank
i. Download the Google toolbar into your browser
– Change/Update your site every 5 days
– Traffic appears to be a factor
– Visit www.seochat.com
– Include keywords in your content

 

10. Top 10 Keywords

Rank Top 10 Keywords
1 bus charter
2 coach bus
3 bus rental
4 bus companies
5 bus service
6 bus transportation
7 tour bus
8 bus travel
9 charter buses
10 bus line

 

11. Paid Placement

– Pro: Immediate Results
– Con: Extremely Expensive
i. Limited slots cause a bidding war
ii. Top slots go for over $3 per click
iii. Low conversion – 3% of our paid traffic fills out a quote request

 

12. Placing on High-Ranking Directories

– Pros:
i. Immediate results
ii. Develops organic potential by building links and Google Page Rank (PR)

– Con:
i. Must research and evaluate each one (value varies)

 

13. Placing on High-Ranking Directories – Tips and Resources

– Download the Alexa Toolbar from Alexa.com to evaluate traffic levels
– Comb the search engines for high-traffic directories
– Search one keyword and city at a time
– Search Google, Yahoo and MSN

 

14. Converting Traffic into Bookings

– Internet customers will contact you via email just as frequently as by phone
– Selling via email was met with little success in the beginning (2004), but most bus companies report some level of success today

 

15. Sales Scenarios

Sales Senario Likeliness of Booking
In Person More Likely
They call you ^
You call them v
By email Less Likely

 

16. Tips for Converting Emailed Leads

– Do not reply with just a price. This is as good as throwing the lead away.
– Write up an email template that gives a company overview. Focus on factual selling points that can be converted into benefits. Show the customer you have put some time into their quote to earn their business.
– Set up your auto-reply email through your email host
– One saleswoman reports booking 90% of her emailed leads. Her approach entails:
i. Sending a personal email
ii. Includes options
iii. General information about the company
iv. Attaches photos of the bus
v. Attaches promotional information
vi. Responds within 4 hours if not immediately
vii. Says a large part of her success is the lack of response from other bus companies (her customers tell her)

 

17. Tips for Converting Emailed Leads

– Follow up every 7 days – 33% recapture rate
– Email their quote out as a ready-to-sign proposal
– Instead of replying by email, some companies report success by calling customers directly
– The online national broker’s Internet success can be attributed to assertive customer service:
i. replying to requests right away
ii. Emailing the customer a professional template email
iii. always answering their phone
iv. Professional website with high placement

 

18. Quote Reply Email Ideas

– General company info
i. Customer service
– Driver cell phones; 24/7 emergency lines; Office hours; Driver experience; Driver attire; On-time record; Movies; Hostess
ii. Equipment
– Amenities; Maintenance; Fleet
iii. Safety
– Insurance; Inspection record; Accident record; DOT compliance
– Association Memberships
– Certifications
– Photos of the Bus
– Promotional flyer PDFs
– Pricing Options
– Proposal

 

19. Build Value, Not a Bidding War

– Avoid selling on price
– Instead of answering the customer’s questions, show the customer what questions they should be asking.
i. Point them to your DOT Registration page
ii. Point them to you BBB record page

 

20. Conclusion

– Shared Success Stories and Ideas
– Questions

Strategic Partnership is Arranged Between UMA

February 1, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO – The United Motorcoach Association and BusRates.com have announced a strategic partnership that will allow UMA operator members to join BusRates.com at reduced rates.

The partnership is expected to help UMA members grow their businesses because of the proven lead generating capabilities of BusRates.com, while the deal will provide BusRates.com with additional resources that will help it achieve wider market and internet penetration.

The partnership was announced at the opening session of UMA Motorcoach Expo here late last month.

BusRates.com, which was founded four years ago by company president Mark Greer, strives to be the most current, complete and categorized database of charter bus companies available on the internet.

It is a leading resource for anyone needing to charter a bus but it is particularly valuable to the travel professional, offering help on all aspects motorcoach chartering.

Currently, upwards of 80,000 visitors and more than $20 million in potential charter work pass through the BusRates.com Website monthly.

“Partnering with BusRates.com will bring greater exposure to UMA operators, as well as help inform customers of the fact that UMA operators are typically higher in quality than other bus companies,” said UMA President and CEO Victor Parra.

“UMA operators that decide to post on the BusRates.com site should receive a windfall of new customers at a cost that could be considered a steal,” Parra added.

Aside from delivering more business to UMA-member bus companies, the partnership also should help advance the cause of making the bus chartering experience better for customers, said Greer.

“Increased reach on the internet, as well as increased consumer awareness will point more customers towards quality UMA operators and make the customers’ experience better for them,” he said.

And, from the bus owner’s perspective, “one way to reduce unpaid trips and increase communication with the customer is to work with your customers directly, and that is truly the underlying mutual goal of this partnership,” Greer added.

Working directly with customers is one of the hallmarks of BusRates.com. Unlike bus brokers, which frequently attempt to keep customers as far away from the bus operator as possible, BusRates.com directly links bus companies and potential customers. It is for that reason and others that BusRates.com is held in such high regard by hundreds of coach operators.

“The partnership creates an additional incentive for bus companies to join UMA,” said Greer. “Non-members that post on BusRates.com will want to be able to display the UMA membership logo to attract customers. Increased UMA membership will improve the association’s ability to represent the industry in Washington, as well as in the discovery of new ways to deliver better service.”

In the days following the announcement, Greer said he spoke with operators who had misgivings about the partnership. “So much for BusRates.com being a hidden gem,” one operator told Greer.

“There appears to be concern among currently posting members on BusRates.com that inviting the other members to join will dilute their current traffic levels. There is no reason for concern because as the number of advertisers increases, so does the amount of traffic.

“A random company in Atlanta that received 19 quote requests in September of 2007, received 13 the year before for the same month and 7 the year before that in 2005.

“More advertisers also makes the site more informative and useful to its visitors which would increase usage and return rates – another way to increase customers without paying for more traffic,” Greer explained.

“Partnering with UMA helps make BusRates.com the best site it can be for customers. It is also worth noting, that neither UMA nor BusRates.com is intended to create competition among bus owning companies. Rather it was created as a collaborative effort to work together.

“As a marketing alliance, together we can advertise head to head with national broker outfits on the internet, and get the word out to customers that the advertising slogans used by brokers — “At no cost to you” and “We are not brokers” — are completely false.”