It was mid-2016 when Stefan Herbert took over from Hans-Georg Lutz as Head of Mercedes-Benz’ International Corporate Sales. With a good half year's experience behind the belt, it's a change he still relishes: “I enjoy being close to our customers – and our network”. Stefan is also clear where he wants to see change happen: “We need faster processes”.
“From my previous role, as a former area sales representative, I have a wide experience of the fleet business in Germany. So the fleet experience is not new, but the international fleet aspect is", says Stefan Herbert, Head of International Corporate Sales and smart sales functions at Mercedes-Benz Cars. "In the past six months, I have done a lot of travelling: my aim is to meet with all our international customers. I'm not there yet – I will need a few more months to complete my round. But I enjoy being close to our customers – and to our countries and dealers. It's interesting and exciting to interact with and gain insights from various industries. On the way back to Stuttgart, I always ask myself: How can we better tailor our offer to the individual needs of this customer?”
How was 2016 in terms of fleet sales for Mercedes-Benz, and for smart, the other brand under your care?
“In 2016, we continued our product fireworks, launching the E-Class – a very important model for the fleet business. With the E-Class, we now have a model which I would call the most intelligent business saloon, featuring everything that is most important to our fleet customers, from technology to safety. And sales are going very well, plus we are getting very good feedback from those customers who are already driving it.
Also, the compact segment is continuing to boom and we achieved significant growth in fleet business, especially in markets like Spain, France and Italy. And SUVs are doing great overall. Our SUV portfolio fits a wide range of needs. There is the GLC and the latest version, the GLC Coupé – very adapted to the fleet community – but also the GLE and the GLS.
With the sixth record year in a row, 2016 was the most successful year for Mercedes-Benz. And the smart brand sold 2016 more cars than ever before in one year. So yes, we had a very good year – overall sales are rising, as is the fleet share in those sales”.
And what about alternative powertrains? Are they gaining in popularity?
“Alternative powertrains are increasingly important to our customers, and to us. We already can offer no less than eight plug-in-hybrid models to our customers. Hybrid and full-electric sales are not least influenced by subsidies and CO2 taxation, which vary per country and can change rapidly. It is understandable that our customers are worried about those changes. Of course, we can't influence those changes, but we do observe them together with our customers, reacting to changes as they occur and we will make sure they get the necessary advice, services and products in that regard”.
Talking about changes: what needs to be improved in 2017 from international corporate sales side?
“I am impressed with the speed and dynamism in international fleets. The companies themselves are thinking about promoting changes in their fleets, making new options available and attractive to their customers – the end users. In order to facilitate that process, we need to be much more flexible in adapting policies, also locally. So faster processes is something we are definitely working towards. We want our customers to have the right cars at the right moment. This always boils down to the same three things: tailor-made solutions, fast utilisation, fast answers”.
How are you implementing those three things?
“Our international Key Account Managers are working with our national Key Account Managers, who are very close to our customers. This enables us to learn more about customers needs, and from a central perspective we then think about how to develop a good partnership. Because that is what we want – a partner rather than a client relationship.
As part of Daimler, we at Mercedes-Benz have the added advantage of a wide range of products, from buses and trucks over LCVs to cars. And a lot of mobility services, such as car2go, moovel and connectivity services. It is important to have this wide offering and the access to new mobility and connectivity services. Connectivity will become more important, certainly in the B2B and B2E environment. For example, the new E-Class can be opened and closed via your smartphone. And Mercedes me connect, a function to track your car and manage car related services, has proved useful when I was stuck with our three-year-old and I wanted to know how far away my wife still was (laughs). Of course, this is a handy tool for B2B uses as well”.
Close relations with clients are important, but won't they be more difficult to maintain in a fast-evolving world, with the potential for partnerships expanding exponentially?
“In my experience, technical advances enable us to connect better with our customers. But personal partnerships are still key. If the person on the other side of the relationship changes, we will be quick to go meet them personally”.
Daimler Financial Services has recently acquired Athlon. Have you met with their clients already?
“I am focusing to meet with all our customers and one of them is Athlon”.
Picture Copyright: Daimler