Is the Commercial Vehicle Industry Ready to Move for Small Business?

Cargo explores the shifting state of SMBs in the commercial truck and van industry.

From a single van flower delivery business to transportation fleets of dozens of trucks, the small- and medium-sized business (SMB) market is — and always has been — important to the commercial transportation industry. And with SMBs representing 99% of all businesses in North America, their future is essential to the growth of this industry.

So, where is the SMB industry heading? And how has the pandemic impacted their needs for commercial transportation?

To find out, we went straight to the source. We talked to over 2,000 Small Business Owners and Decision Makers across North America about their experiences over the last 18 months and what they need from commercial transport brands as they move into the future. Here are top four takeaways that cannot be ignored.

1. Optimism and resilience have prevailed.

Resilience is in the DNA of entrepreneurs and Small Business Owners. We knew that. But we did not expect to see that 68% of them were not negatively impacted by the pandemic. 53% are actually doing better post the shutdown and while the state of the world remains uncertain, 43% are optimistic about the future of their business.

Much of this does not come as a surprise, since certain industries boomed during the pandemic, for example, rise in e-commerce activity drove more package delivery, and savings from vacations went into residential renovations and construction.

Undoubtedly, this led to a rise in commercial truck spend, with leasing and purchasing of new commercial trucks up by 35% and 28% respectively. But more importantly, SMBs plan to keep on spending in the next year, with both figures increasing to 40% and 30%. Leasing seems to be the financing of choice, but no surprise there — flexibility and agility will be the name of the game in the future.

THE TAKEAWAY: It’s time to double down on this audience, as they will be leading the economic recovery and will be the architects of the next normal.

2. Pivots are at the forefront of The Great Re-Invention.

“Pivot” has been the word on many a Small Business Owner’s lips in the last number of months, and this group is no different. In fact, 90% are considering a dramatic pivot, and nearly 30% are considering a complete business re-invention.

What are some of the changes they are wanting to make?

Digitize – pretty much everything from e-commerce to complete business processes. With digitization at the core of their business, they will want to buy from you in the same way, so you’ll have to focus on your own digital transformation to meet them where they are.

Mobilize – get their business on the road. There were trailblazers before the pandemic, with mobile dentists and dog groomers. The pandemic has only amplified this need as brick and mortar only isn’t cutting it anymore. That’s a tremendous opportunity for commercial vehicle OEMs and upfitters.

But the one thing is clear – they know they need to do it, but they also need help. 76% of those wanting to digitize need help and 72% of those going mobile need the same.

Innovation doesn’t stop with re-imagining their business operations, but also their fleets – 44% have already made investments in new technology. Of those, 61% did so to improve safety, 46% to improve fuel efficiency and 42% to lower maintenance costs. In addition, connected vehicle technology continued to be in high demand to enable remote monitoring, and optimized fleet management. Oh and 55% want to turn their fleets fully electric.

THE TAKEAWAY: This is a great opportunity for helpful content programs to guide them through the transitions. Only about half of the respondents found advertising effective, and that comes as no surprise. They control the buyer journey, and helpful content will accelerate that journey far quicker than any ad.

3. A new marketing influencer has risen.

Historically, SMBs relied heavily on peer-to-peer reviews and recommendations when it comes to commercial vehicles. This certainly continues to be important, with 60% finding this very helpful when making a purchase decision. This is even more crucial to young businesses where 7 out of 10 find this helpful.

But there seems to be an emergence of another strong influencer of purchase decision: employees/drivers.

64% of Small Business Owners and Decision Makers rely on employees and drivers for suggestions on the next truck, van, upfit or even parts. And 66% say that they find their feedback very helpful.

Marketing to this very important and powerful influencer may be one of the biggest opportunities in the SMB space going forward. But how do we do this effectively?

Product features may be important to those that compare specs in spreadsheets, with 76% saying that features were important. Articulating clear benefits of those features will resonate with the drivers who use the products daily, by leaning on how the product can make their everyday easier and more enjoyable.

THE TAKEAWAY: Move them emotionally, to move them rationally.

4. Customer Experience opportunities are paramount.

An important reminder on customer experience: you are not competing with your competitors; you are competing with the last best experience your customer had. Anywhere.

34% of SMBs don’t use a single commercial vehicle vendor for their needs, but those that do prefer to do so. This is especially the case with smaller and younger businesses, as well as Women-owned Small Businesses. 57% upfit their commercial vehicles, and 53% would pay more for a unified upfit process done at a single location.

In some ways, this is not surprising, as SMBs want frictionless experiences, unified in a single value proposition ecosystem, to remove the hassle so they can hustle. This will retain the 34% that want to go elsewhere.

Their best customer experiences today center around digital channels. But only 35% felt that they were able to accomplish what they intended using digital channels, and 27% felt that they were able to do it in the desired time; digitizing and innovating sales and aftersales experiences remains an untapped opportunity for both manufacturers and dealers.

THE TAKEAWAY: Post pandemic, SMB purchase and post-purchase experiences have significantly evolved. And yours need to if you want to succeed in this new world.

Commercial transportation brands understand better than any that you have to keep moving forward to survive. And the state of SMBs today most definitely won’t be the same a year from now or five years from then. It takes constant listening and learning to grasp and address the new challenges they face in an always-changing world.