Coffee With: Citroen’s Kris Cholmondeley

Kris CholmondeleyA restructuring at Citroen has brought about a change in how the company deals with fleet. Now, the brand has split the market down fleet size rather than sector lines, so Kris Cholmondeley, the new head of business sales for Citroen and DS, looks after all fleets with 50 vehicles or fewer, regardless of whether those vehicles are superminis, large cars, or vans. We caught up with Kris to see what his plans are for the commercial vehicle fleet market.

Q Has it been a big learning curve moving over to your fleet role – is it very different from what you did before?

A No, in some ways it has been the opposite in terms of the transferable skills and processes because I now have the ability to understand the whole picture rather than just being pigeonholed. I officially started in September, I was in a sales role before so I have been with the group about 14 years. I joined as a graduate and I have done a mixture of sales and marketing roles – eight years with Peugeot and six with Citroen.

What can we expect from the new Berlingo?

Citroen Berlingo“All the feedback is that the Berlingo is the George Clooney of the van world – it is not aging and is going on and on.

“The broad feedback is that it meets the needs of today. The interesting evolution is around petrol. The noise in the PR world is not translating to sales. There is a bubbling demand that will grow, though. Engines are the key change.

“As far as the electric version is concerned, sales are modest, but in line with market trends. We are there – we are not leading the way and we are not behind. It’s about being pragmatic and we can suggest it to those that have a need for it.

“I think it will be one or two years until you see real growth and it will depend on the car market as well to an extent.

“We can go to the top, we are not top yet. The old adage that Ford is king is increasingly less true, so there is no reason we can’t be market leaders.

“Our official objectives aren’t to become top of the market, that is a personal ambition. The key is to do it the right way – I could do it tomorrow with distressed selling. You can’t do that with a new product, it is about doing it the right way.”

How does Citroen take a different approach to SMEs versus big fleets?

A The segmentation is done by fleet size, so anything under 50 falls into my domain, and then anything bigger goes into national fleet. All SME is done through the dealer network and the vast majority of fleet is done through our own team with the help of dealers.

Q Do SMEs get an experience that is closer to what the person off the street gets when they walk in as a retail customer?

A We try to differentiate it. You have to be careful with generalisations, but the business customer is very much time-poor, and the key differentiator today is that all retail customers go into the dealership. We try to take a lot more of our services and products to you in your business environment or somewhere convenient to you.

Roughly 30% of the market is done through brokers and leasers, and the vast majority of those are transacted over the phone. What they lack is a smooth journey – if you want a test drive you are sent to the dealer and it becomes a fragmented journey. What we can offer is everything the brokers offer, but better where they choose a Citroen. “Okay, you can buy over the phone, but we can offer you a test drive at home or at your business.” We are looking to implement this.

Is the fleet customer more traditional than a retail one?

A My sense is that the majority of business owners want to be able to do their fleet purchases as part of their job – they work hard and long hours, they don’t want to be doing it as part of their evening. We were having this debate for call centres, but the experience we have so far is that the demand for evening sales for fleet is lower.

What has been the main focus for Citroen in the first few months of your new role, and what are your main goals in 2018 and beyond?

A I have four or five key pillars that I am focused on. About 80% of our sales go through about half of our network who are business centre dealers with a business specialist to give a bespoke service. But 50% of the leads are not in our areas of influence, so I don’t think we are giving 50% of our customers a good service as there is only so far people will travel.

We are looking at the right partners who are giving us the right opportunities, whereas in the past the business centre network has grown organically. We need to look at the non-business centres. If you take away the Ready to Run products, there is a lot more we could be doing through the 100 dealers that aren’t business centres.

All of our business centres have to have a business-bespoke CRM system. We have done a lot of work in the past three or four months that make it easier for a dealer to identify when is a timely manner to contact a customer.

From a customer’s perspective they don’t want to be bothered at an inappropriate time for them.

What is your priority, product-wise?

“Out of our range, Dispatch strikes me as the opportunity, because we are a leader with Berlingo. With Dispatch we have made big improvements, but you look at the quality and the opportunities, that product demands more. It can come across all sectors – SMEs and national fleet. The key is doing it on the strength of the product. It is modernising our marketing, it is making it easier to buy, having better customer relationship management. We have an enormous vehicle park of customers, and too often we are worried about finding new ones.”Citroen Dispatch

What are the plans for the Ready to Run conversion scheme?

A We have some exciting plans. We are very well established in the market place, but we have created a specialist Ready to Run PSA department. Peugeot wasn’t in that space as much as us, so there is now a dedicated team of four.

We have re-challenged all of our suppliers in terms of the quality, the spec and service levels they give and we have invested heavily in systems. For example, yesterday we couldn’t tell you our availability there and then. When we launch the new system [in around the spring time] the customer will be able to find out availability and lead time there and then.

The core of these things is tipper, dropside and Luton, and they will still be there, but there will be a bit more besides those as well.

It is difficult to say if we will be the quickest, but we will certainly be a leader. We can give our customers confidence that we can deliver X, Y, Z products within a set time.