For many managers responsible for vehicle operations, fleet management is often one of several job responsibilities. These managers acknowledge that it is difficult to stay on top of changes in vehicle design, powertrains, onboard safety technology, telematics capabilities, and regulatory changes that impact fleet operations.

Despite this recognition, a common mistake made by many of these managers is underutilizing the subject-matter expertise of current and/or prospective suppliers. In my discussions with suppliers, especially truck dealers, they tell me many fleet managers, in particular those operating vocational fleets, don’t reach out to seek their advice. This is a mistake since suppliers can offer insights they don’t know nor have the time to learn.

Based on my experience, the overwhelming majority of suppliers are willing to share their product knowledge to ensure a vehicle is spec’ed to maximize productivity and safety, while minimizing its total cost of ownership. It takes in-depth product knowledge and subject-matter expertise to balance these contradictory goals, which is often a skillset that many vocational fleet managers do not possess.

It is important to remember that good ideas can come from any number of sources. One important source is your supplier network. Being receptive to supplier input creates a team atmosphere that fosters supplier involvement as stakeholders working together toward a common goal. This collaborative approach is far more efficient and effective than doing it by yourself.

Not only do suppliers know their product frontward and backward, they are also exposed to many customers who operate fleets comparable to your own. Through these interactions, suppliers learn the best practices that can be transferable to other fleet customers, such as yourself. By not utilizing this expertise, fleet managers are denying themselves access to a resource that can help improve their fleet operations and prevent costly mistakes.

An Invaluable Resource

How you choose to run your fleet is your business. But, by not working collaboratively with your supplier, you impose unnecessary constraints that can inhibit the success of your business.  Working collaboratively will motivate your supplier to identify ways to better serve you. It is important for you to be a proactive versus reactionary manager. Your fleet supplier needs to know that you want a relationship focused on making your operation more efficient, productive, and cost-effective. This should be part of your up-front and ongoing communication designed to make your supplier partnership a true win-win situation for both parties.

Increasingly, successful fleet management is dependent on outsourced programs. More than ever fleet managers need to utilize the expertise of their suppliers in a collaborative relationship. Establishing open lines of communication with your fleet supplier is crucial. Communicate what is most important to your company and solicit their implementation strategies to achieve these goals. Ask them for recommendations on how you can increase fleet operation efficiencies. It is a good test to see how creative and flexible they can be with their programs to meet your fleet needs.

Next, identify measurable goals that both parties can agree on and can be verified. Don’t limit your focus to just saving “hard” dollars; saving “soft” dollars is also important, which can involve reducing vehicle downtime, response time, etc. These discussions should occur prior to bringing a new fleet supplier on board. Performance requirements should be specified in a supplier contract. Benchmarks based upon performance ensure success to you and the supplier, creating the foundation of a collaborative partnership.

Leveraging Supplier Expertise

Suppliers are an extension of your own organization. They interact with your customers, both internal and external, and are a reflection of your brand. Make them partners in strategic planning and turn them into stakeholders with a vested interest in achieving these goals. You need to inspire a “above and beyond” performance mindset from you suppliers. This mindset will allow you to leverage your suppliers’ expertise and creative energy to meet user needs and exceed user expectations, while achieving corporate strategic goals.

Let me know what you think.

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About the author
Mike Antich

Mike Antich

Former Editor and Associate Publisher

Mike Antich covered fleet management and remarketing for more than 20 years and was inducted into the Fleet Hall of Fame in 2010 and the Global Fleet of Hal in 2022. He also won the Industry Icon Award, presented jointly by the IARA and NAAA industry associations.

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