Secrets from the Scalerator: Are You Targeting the Right Customer?

    By adrienne_burke | Small Business

    The final installment in a 4-part series about businesses that met the AmEx OPEN Scalerator challenge to grow their revenues 15 percent in three months.

    Able Access Transportation

    Do you really know who your customer is? By reevaluating the target of her sales pitch, Annette Tipton has put her company on track for a year of record-breaking revenues.

    Tipton is co-owner with her husband of Able Access Transportation, a paratransit service they established in 2001 in Milwaukee, Wis., that runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. She was one of 12 participants last fall in AmEx OPEN’s pilot Scalerator training program, which helps existing businesses develop strategies for growth.

    To be sure, Tipton was in a growth mode before the course started. Thanks to upgrading her fleet, moving into a remodeled building in a more central location, installing a new telephone system, fully integrating the software system, enabling all vehicles with GPS, and outfitting drivers with sharp uniforms to update the brand identity, Able Access had record sales in 2013.

    But Tipton says what she learned in the Scalerator enabled Able Access to nearly double its goal for January 2014 to achieve 32 percent growth over the previous January. The outlook for the rest of 2014 is quite bright too, she says.

    A key insight she gleaned from Scalerator instructor and Babson College professor Vini Onyema, was to “change the way we approach existing business,” Tipton says. Her service, which caters to special needs Milwaukee County residents who cannot travel on public transportation, had always focused on two levels of customers: the passenger, who must be met on time, transported safely and comfortably to appointments, jobs, shopping centers, day care programs, and emergencies; and the organization, such as the Milwaukee County Department of Family Care, that pays the bill.

    Tipton says the Scalerator got her thinking about a third customer in between those two: the family care case manager—the person charged with scheduling the passenger’s appointments, arranging transportation, and ensuring that their account is funded for the services they require. “We weren’t really addressing the middle guy in the way we should have been,” Tipton says. “Those middle people, they’re the ones calling us to establish service. They need to provide the authorization and pertinent information.”

    Tipton says Scalerator instructors and classmates told her she was underestimating the value in the growth of her business. Onyema helped her redefine her value proposition so that she could develop a strategy for targeting case managers and competing on customer service.

    Back at the office, she implemented some immediate changes to her sales team’s approach. “We have to make the care manager’s job easier by serving their clients with courteous and friendly drivers who ensure they’re getting where they need to go without any complaints,” she says. “Everyday I stress the number of competitors and that our value proposition is that we are caring for our clients.” Her sales people also take extra steps such as letting case managers know if there are ride slots open the following day in case an emergency pops up.

    Indeed, it turns out that happy case managers translate to great referrals. “We receive a new client within that base every day,” Tipton says. “Word-of-mouth is the best thing. We’ve been able to grow our business so far without a full-fledged marketing effort.”

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