Marketers who react to the ‘new normal’ will flourish

May 2, 2013 By    

Are we back to “normal”? Say it’s not so. A “new normal”?

I was going to discuss the nuances of centralization or social marketing and networking and how that could possibly help your sales, service and overall operations. But I decided to push that back and give you my thoughts on what I’ve been hearing in many recent conversations with regional fleet owners and senior management at larger marketers. It’s quite interesting.

Throughout the winter months, I’ve been hearing that the “weather is keeping consistently cold” and “we could have a normal year.” And now, most recently, I’m hearing a lot of comments such as, “we’re back to normal or even better.”

So, are we back to “normal”? I’d like to offer that we are not – and we should all not want that. I’d further offer that we have a “new normal.”

I’ve always thought that the industry, in general (though there are very clear exceptions), has been somewhat complacent when it comes to investment in people, technology and operational/delivery management best practices. History shows us a stable operating environment with reasonable margins and no real pressure to change a lot of things. I don’t think that is where the industry is today.

The “new normal” is more about shifting consumer needs and trends, competition with each other and alternative energy sources, variable margins, increasing collection issues and complex hedging strategies, and constantly rising operational and regulatory costs (employees, trucks, storage, safety, real estate).

How do we not only survive but flourish in this “new normal”? It’d be great to say “with an ample dose of technology,” but that’s not the case. Over time, you need to invest in a myriad of things, such as hiring better people, continuous training of those people and giving those people the tools and best practices to enable them to work through their day-to-day challenges, as well as the higher expectations and pressures heaped on them by management.

Frankly, “tools” typically does mean select technology products. I mentioned in an earlier article that exploration of these technologies can be daunting and should be done on a constant basis with a trusted partner. There are lots of smart things you can do to explore and deploy these tools, and cloud-based software packages are now becoming the “new normal.”

Back office software, CRM, scheduling, monitoring, route planning/optimization and mobile are a few important pieces of the delivery management puzzle that, upon demand, can be served up to you over the cloud.

Cloud solutions are now 100 percent secure (access to your data is completely safe and segregated) and provide 100 percent redundancy, with disaster recovery capability. Think about it. Without more than a high-speed Internet connection, you can access these software packages from anywhere (office, home, hotel, the beach) anytime (24/7) and from any device (PC, laptop, iPad and other tablets, iPhone and other smartphones). That’s really powerful and provides a great return on your investment.

I also think the “new normal” reflects the notion of “do more with less” – deliver the same gallons and service with fewer trucks and fewer people. There is no magic wand for this transformation. It involves exploration and discussion around regional delivery management where multiple branches are dispatched, serviced and managed from a centralized location.

The technology and best practices to affect this are now 100 percent here, and I’d encourage you to reach out to your fellow marketers or industry groups, consultants and technology vendors to discuss what they do and offer.

The essence of what I’m saying is simply that, if you are not doing so, now is the time to look at your operations and not simply assume the “old normal” is back. More so, there are quite a few propane marketers who are embracing the “new normal,” and it is those who will leverage current technology to its fullest and keep on top of its evolution – and do so year-round – to not only survive but outperform, outprofit and absorb others.

Vinny Mullineaux is the CEO of Vertrax, a provider of back office and mobile technology. He can be reached at vmull@vertrax.com or 203-952-7666.

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