Business Aviation Marketing Today – Part II

Today’s Business Aviation Market – Rapid and Significant Change in the B2B Marketing Process

Some realities of the world that CMOs and other marketing professionals find themselves in today:

94% of chief marketers believe analytics will play a big role in reaching their goals, yet only 18% said their organizations were in a position to do so. [i]

Companies depend on data for only 11% of customer-related decisions [ii]

And this from Forrester Research:

At least 30% of CMOs will be canned in 2017 due to an inability to achieve proper digital transformation for their brands [iii]

The Forrester document further forecasts that the growing need for data-driven customer insights will spur more CMOs to restructure marketing to integrate the customer experience, and look for data-driven one-to-one marketing opportunities: “Such steps will be necessary if they are to outlast the 44-month job average for CMOs.”

Digital communications, social media, big data analytics, and the critical importance of marketers to report on ROI to their CEO and CFO are just a few issues that today’s B2B marketers must deal with.  When you add in the specific industry structural changes outlined in Part I that the business aviation marketer must also contend with, well, we’d say they have their hands full.

The Second Decade of the 21st Century: A Dramatic Change in Marketing

In this section of the book we’ll examine some of these general B2B marketing issues as well as specific ones such as aviation trade shows and business aviation sales management and challenges.  The issue, of course, is change that the marketer must adapt to and get in front of.  Here are the subjects we’ll look at, starting with our perspective on what marketing really means for business aviation today – this is a critical starting point, as much of the discussion in this book forward will be based on this definition.

  • What “Business Aviation Marketing” Really Means – Chapter 6
  • Marketing: Navigating the Plane or Sitting in Coach? – Chapter 7
  • It’s a Brave, New Digital (Communications) World – Chapter 8
  • Trade Shows: Face-to-Face Selling – Chapter 9
  • Sales Management; Sales Channels; Sales Challenges -Chapter 10

Now, while change – structural industry change, and change in the marketing process – is the focus of this book, we want to make it clear that some things have not changed for business aviation marketing, and we’ll conclude this Part II with perspective on that:

  • What Has Not Changed in Business Aviation Marketing – Chapter 11

On to Chapter 6, again one of the most important in this book: “What Business Aviation Marketing Really Means.”





Chapter 6 – What “Business Aviation Marketing” Really Means

Let us define what we mean by marketing, and we’ll do that by contrasting it with selling.

At the time we wrote this, if you were to put “difference between marketing and sales” into Google you’d get about 46 million hits, and on the first page you’d see article titles such as

  • “Understand the difference between marketing and sales”
  • “Learn the difference between marketing and sales”
  • “5 differences between marketing and sales”
  • “7 differences between marketing and sales”

And the list goes on. They are all more or less correct, and some are quite learned, some are largely practical.

Many years ago, one of the authors met an Ohio State University business school professor named Roger Blackwell, co-author of Consumer Behavior, a textbook now in its tenth printing and used around the world.

Here’s what Professor Blackwell said during a conversation, in an off-handed way, about the difference between marketing and sales:

Sales is getting rid of what you have in your warehouse

 Marketing is putting things in the warehouse that are easy to get rid of

That’s stuck with us over the years, and since then we’ve added, a bit more formally, that something will be “easy to get rid of” if it has a differentiated, superior value proposition on the most relevant decision factors in a given industry or product category.

To illustrate, a successful new corporate aircraft entry will likely offer a differentiated and superior combination of speed (how fast can I get there?), cruising range (how far can it fly without stopping to refuel?), interior cabin space (how comfortable will the aircraft be on long flights?) and will offer an attractive set of operating costs.  And sure, acquisition price matters as well, especially in today’s “buyer’s market” with price differentials between new and used aircraft wider than at any time in business aviation history.

Certainly other factors will matter, including service reputation, dispatch reliability, flight tractability, avionics, design, and interior fit and finish, but the marketing success of the aircraft will essentially start with the “right” combination of speed, range, cabin size, operating costs and price.

This kind of marketing success comes from an understanding of the customer’s needs and desires, what the competition offers, the products and services you can design and a price that is seen as delivering value. Out of this marketing effort will either come a good product or not; if it’s not good then all the great selling in the world won’t make the cash register ring.

By no means are we diminishing the importance of having a top sales force, an effective advertising effort and an active promotion program that gets the product widely recognized. But first, marketing must define and deliver the product.

Why are we making this distinction between marketing and sales so strongly? In our experience we’ve seen engineering oriented companies – and this describes many of the companies that offer aviation industry goods and services – think of marketing as more of a sales function than a product design imperative. Of course there are exceptions but we want to be clear that when you see the word “marketing” in this book we are talking about the creation of products and/or services that offer differentiated, superior value propositions: in other words, “putting things into the warehouse that are easy to sell.”

It never hurts to reference Peter Drucker; here is how Jack Trout, a pretty good marketing strategist himself, put it:

Long ago Peter Drucker, the father of business consulting, made a very profound observation that has been lost in the sands of time:

“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two – and only two – basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business.”

Today, when top management is surveyed, their priorities in order are: finance, sales, production, management, legal and people. Missing from the list: marketing and innovation. When one considers the trouble that many of our icons have run into in recent years, it is easy to surmise that Drucker’s advice would have perhaps helped management to avoid the problems they face today.           

“Jack Trout on Marketing,” Forbes Magazine 6/30/2006


And here’s one more crucial thing:  there is no better way to establish your brand reputation than getting your marketing (and innovation) right.

We’ll consistently come back to this definition and distinction between marketing and sales as we proceed through the rest of this book:

  • Selling is getting rid of what you have in your warehouse
  • Marketing is putting product into the warehouse that is easy to get rid of.


Chapter 7 – Marketing: Navigating the Plane or Sitting in Coach?

Is this the view marketing sees at your company?
Copyright Garmin Ltd.
…or is this the view?
Copyright Caribb

If you’ve made it this far in our book it’s probably safe to assume that you’re interested in learning more about marketing as putting product into the warehouse that’s easy to get rid of.

Where to start?  In this changed (and continuously changing) marketing environment it starts with systematically collected and analyzed data from which you can glean informative insights.  Only with this knowledge, in our opinion, can you be an effective marketer as we’ve defined it.

How successful have today’s marketers been at developing information management and use processes?  Judging by the following, there’s a long way to go:

Just 36% of CMO’s have quantitatively proven short term impact of marketing spend; just 29% for long term impact [i]

On tracking ROI? Only 5% of CMO’s feel they are “very successful;” another 16% “successful” [ii]

And perhaps most telling:

Findings from a 2013 joint Forrester Research, ITSMA, VisionEdge Marketing survey [iii] revealed “Just 9% of CEOs and 6% of CFOs use marketing data to make strategic decisions.”

Not only should marketing data be part of the strategic decision process but also, in many cases, it should lead the process. The product, service, competitor and customer insight data gathered by marketing can hold the key to future business direction.

Business aviation, like many B2B markets, tends to be engineering and operations driven. That’s understandable considering the technical nature of the industry. It’s also understandable that by virtue of their work experience these C-level leaders may not be well versed in the true value of marketing and how its contribution can help establish strategic direction.

It is imperative that marketing leaders take the initiative in making the case for being included in C-Suite strategic decisions. So what can a marketer do to change the perception?


While the marketing department may often be thought of as the folks who handle the trade shows and swag, marketing’s true purpose is to define what the consumer wants or needs and make it available for the sales team to sell: putting product in the warehouse that is easy to get rid of.

To get to that point, the marketer must first understand the priorities of the C-Suite; the main focus of which is on business outcomes. The performance of CEOs and CFOs is judged on the growth and profitability of the business. Marketing must demonstrate its contribution to these objectives if it is to be included in the conversation.

A good start is to recognize that demonstrating how efficiently marketing is run is not the same as demonstrating the effectiveness of marketing. The former helps justify budgets and resources, the latter helps legitimize the contribution of marketing to the bottom line.

You need to do both things, of course, but before you can be convincing in your efforts you need to establish measurement metrics and a process for tracking performance and translating the results. Luckily, in today’s digital world, data abounds; using data correctly, however, is the real challenge. Much of what we collect measures past results and is used to demonstrate the efficiency of a marketing program, e.g. cost per lead, click rate, open rate, etc.

What you also must have are measurements that will help in making strategic recommendations, e.g. analytics about the characteristics of the lead, data about product use, buyer behavior, buyer expectations, satisfaction, the ever-popular ROI contribution, etc.

Consistently collecting data over a long-term period delivers actionable information we can use in helping C-level executives set goals, e.g. increase market share by x%, increase revenue by x%, and implement new marketing initiatives to achieve such goals.

How to get started

In an era of surplus used aircraft inventory, production overcapacity, and narrowing margins, marketing measurement is critical for business aviation companies. Here’s our list of what you need for a good results measurement system:

Set “hard” objectives based on the company’s business objectives

Typically, business aviation companies have been satisfied to set “soft” marketing objectives including:

  • “Increase awareness of our newly introduced product by X%”
  • “Increase the reputation/image of our product line by Y%”
  • “Increase booth attendance at business aviation trade shows by . . . “
  • “Drive more qualified customer prospects to our digital media”

There is nothing wrong, per se, with these kinds of objectives, but they are only intermediate objectives to achieve, in that the reason we set them and execute against them is to achieve an end result objective. In other words the reason why we want to increase awareness is because that helps us achieve “hard” objectives such as –

  • “Increase measurable competitive market share by X%”
  • “Increase revenue – by specific product – by Y%”
  • “Increase the average value of total products sold to our customers“

We call these end result objectives “hard” because they can be quantified with a specific dollar amount, i.e. net revenue: the difference between what was spent on a marketing effort/program and the amount of money realized in the cash register as a result of the effort.

So while it’s useful (and usually necessary) to have the soft, intermediate objectives as part of the marketing development process, two important things happen when we also establish and explicitly focus on the hard, end result objectives:

  • First, our CEO and CFO will respect us more and will be more likely to think of the marketing discipline as sitting at the adult table – we essentially are saying that we (as marketers) are willing to engage with the same “hard” objectives that they as CEO/CFO must deal with. And of course these ultimately derive from the organization’s primary business objectives (see diagram below).
  • Second – and this is really worth noting – research has shown [iv] that when hard objectives are set in addition to just soft objectives there is a much better chance of having sales success, of having market share or profit growth! Maybe having “tough” and “no BS” hard objectives focuses the mind and the effort more, but the key result here is that your marketing programs will likely be more successful in a meaningful way.

“It’s the economy (read: ROI), stupid!”

Focusing on hard objectives – and net revenue generated by marketing programs – is of course a focus on ROI, return on investment. And in this time of ever tighter budgets and decisions on which lines of service, departments, and functions to keep or cut, you don’t want your marketing department to be seen as G&A overhead, a “nice to have but not critical” operation, but rather as a real driver of positive ROI and, really, the engine that is driving an upward sales curve, an increasingly profitable customer count, and a rising market share that means more dollars from a viable market. ROI is where it’s at.

But . . . it’s also expertise

Yes, you want your CEO and CFO to know that you are well acquainted with ROI, but you also want them to recognize your deep business aviation marketing expertise which enables you to structure a marketing program that will in fact hit those hard objective targets. You know the relationship between the company’s business objectives and the marketing process and how to leverage the intermediate (soft) objectives to help achieve the end result (hard) objectives:


To measure results properly you must track the right variables over time

And what are the “right variables?” Well, of course those will be determined by your operations-specific business objectives (which in turn drive the soft and hard objectives), but in general – no matter your specific objectives – the “right variables” will come from these six categories:

Environmental factors

  • The “total available market” (TAM) for each or your key products (in other words, if you could sell a product to literally every qualified prospect, for a 100% market share, how many units would that be?)
  • Key economic, business and industry factors that can directly or even indirectly affect your sales (e.g., see Part I of this book).

Competitive factors

  • List the major competitors for your primary products, and their respective market share and sales (your products included)
  • How much those competitors spend on their marketing and advertising, and what their relative brand/product reputation is

Key factors that you control through your marketing process (we can call these inputs)

  • Your total $ spend for marketing
  • How much and where you spend those $’s – traditional advertising, aviation trade shows, digital and social media, PR, etc.
  • The timing of the spending

Measurable variables that are expected to impact your intermediate (soft) objective

  • Brand and/or product/service line awareness
  • Use/trial/preference
  • Image/reputation
  • “Engagement” with your brand – visits to the web site, information requests, downloading of tech sheets, interest in white papers or webinars, social media followings and the like
  • Growth in qualified prospects, managed through a comprehensive CRM system

Measurable variables that impact your end result (hard) objectives

  • Numbers of new customers
  • Market share
  • Sales volumes
  • All leading, of course to a real sense of ROI

Customer experience – are we supporting and reinforcing our brand?

  • Positive customer feedback – do our customers have a top-shelf experience with our people, products, company, and brand?
  • Net Promoter Score (NPS; basically a willingness to endorse you)
  • Quality/Value rating mechanisms

Now that you have your measurement variables – collect the data points  With your variable list in hand you can then collect the necessary data points, using the “right” time intervals between measures, typically (but certainly not always) on a monthly basis. Sometimes the data will already exist – such as units sold or revenue – and sometimes you’ll need to start collecting the data – such as awareness levels, reputation measures, advertising spending levels and so on.

Now that you’ve collected the data – build and test your measurement model. You have lots of data and, as shown previously above, you have a simplified general model of how it will fit together.  Now you need to turn this general model into one that’s specific to your business objectives and sales/share/revenue goals.  (In Chapter 15 we’ll give an example of this.)

Last, you must realize that proper long-term measurement is an important commitment of time and effort, but well-worth that commitment:

Achieve the above and that’s when the CEO notices and invites marketing to help navigate the plane instead of being a passenger along for the flight.

There are a number of resources available to help in planning and building a general measurement model. There are software providers, online services and other resources to help you navigate the route.

The time to start is now.


[i] 2014 CMO Survey

[ii] 2015 B2B Content Marketing Trends – North America/Content Marketing Institute

[iii] IT Services Marketing Association, “Findings from the 2013 Joint Forrester, ITSMA, and VisionEdge Marketing Survey,” May 20, 2013

[iv] Les Binet and Peter Field, Marketing in the Era of Accountability, Warc, 2007


Chapter 8 – Using Media to Sell Your Product and Tell Your Story (Hint: It’s a Brave New Digital World)

Fifteen years ago pretty much all you needed for your business aviation brand communications was print ads in key trade books, high quality collateral, a direct mail program, a good PR system, and a steady participation in trade shows.

Today, B/CA print magazine publishes half the pages it used to offer; collateral is downloaded from your website; and PR has now exploded with social media, live feeds, demos, webinars, news alerts, email and messaging. Trade shows are still very important; in fact they seem to never stop proliferating (in Chapter 9 we’ll take a detailed look at aviation industry trade shows).

The common thread in much of the paragraph above, of course, is digital communications, whether a website, Twitter account, email list or your company’s professional profile on LinkedIn. For a long time the online world, with its social media breadth and engaging website experiences, was focused mainly on the consumer, a world in which Coca Cola, Apple, Xbox and Nike sold mass products to the masses.

But the digital communications world has steadily become more important to the business-to-business marketer as well, and that includes business aviation:

  • 77% of Fortune 500 companies are active on Twitter; 70% Facebook; 69% YouTube
  • 38% of marketers (retail and B2B) use paid promotions and advertising on the Internet now. Another 42% plan to add it in 2017 (Gartner Group)

Understandably, you may be hesitant to invest to a great extent in digital communications wondering “how do I measure ROI?”. Well, one of the great things about the digital world is the ability to track your online efforts: metrics are readily available for social media, website visits, etc. With an appropriately crafted measurement plan in place (as we discussed in Chapter 7) – in addition, of course, to the analog elements of your marketing and sales programs – you can monitor your online effectiveness and ROI and make adjustments using the feedback to guide you.

And what about your competitors? You can and should check your competitors and the level of their utilization of both offline and online media. As an example of the latter, we took a look at some of the major airframe OEMs’ Twitter use.

We can see that Cessna has been most aggressive at developing a following:

Bombardier not shown as its Twitter activity includes rail-related items. Source: October 2016 review of company Twitter sites.

While quality of Tweets is not measured here, certainly there is something to be said for having a frequent stream of Tweets in building an audience — and this is just Twitter. There are many other channels to explore.

Have you done any similar analysis to see where you stand versus your competitors?

A simple plan to get started in dealing with digital communications

Here is a prototype of a three level plan: the first and highest level (Tier I) is most important, with Tier II of second consideration, and Tier III of third importance. Here is the key to using this framework – you don’t move to the next tier until you have done a first class, full and complete job of planning, designing and executing the higher level tier.

In media communications, it is always a good rule of thumb to use a specific medium effectively before moving on to the next vehicle; in other words, do a few things really well rather than a lot of things in a mediocre fashion. This has always applied, whether we’re evaluating which print trade publications to advertise in or which social media to use.

Tier I

  • Your website is where it all starts: if you don’t have a good website, get one now; your goal should be to have the best website within your competitive category. Your website must be focused on your customers and prospects; this is a B2B site with a product/benefit orientation, built on a foundation of customer service and engineering/technical support
  • Think mobile! Your website must work on mobile devices – easy to read and navigate and use – as 75% of internet use will be on mobile devices in 2017 (Zenith’s Mobile Advertising Forecast)

Tier II

  • Evaluate Twitter; is it right for you? Twitter use would also be focused on your business aviation target, where you deliver your product news and serious/intelligent commentary on current issues facing aviation
  • Evaluate LinkedIn as well: this has been and seemingly continues to grow (especially now with Microsoft ownership) as the top online B2B goldmine: you can target business prospects by industry, title, geography

Tier III

  • Consider Facebook as an intersection between your business aviation target and the general public, where your products play their role in the joy, excitement and wonder of flying

Yes, there are other popular channels to consider such as Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat, etc. Social media is nothing if not fast-paced and ever evolving; monitor the media so you are familiar with what they offer and select wisely. And of course look to outside media consultants if you don’t have the needed expertise in-house.

Takeaway: should you be using or increase your current use of digital media?

  • Evaluate, now, how digital media fits in with traditional aviation communications – trade publications, traditional public relations, aviation trade shows – for your brand
  • Following this, you want to at least consider using paid digital media – it becomes another line item on your media plan, along with ads in aviation publications
  • Online ROI measurement is exploding – put a plan in place to take advantage of it
  • Remember: each channel has its specific strengths and weaknesses
  • Following that: do a good job in each medium before moving on to the next, i.e. better to do one medium really well than a poor or mediocre job in several
  • As always, pay attention to what your competition is doing
  • Last, if you are a Leader brand, or a Challenger, you must know what that means in terms of resource commitment, tone and message in your communications, so act on that. If you are an Other brand, do what is necessary to execute on the particulars of your business plan (for more on Leader, Challenger and Other brands see Part III, and/or take a stroll through this book’s Glossary).


Chapter 9 – Trade Shows: Face-to-Face Selling

If it seems to you there’s an aviation trade show held nearly every week, you’re not far off. The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) alone hosts 13 different trade events and conferences during any given year. Add to this specialty shows organized by market segment, operator type, aircraft model, plus regional events for state associations and trade groups – pretty soon you’re booked for the year.

Trade shows continue to proliferate for a number of reasons not the least of which is they are very profitable for show organizers. Add to that the fact that business aviation has become a global industry and competition for your product or service is more intense than ever.

Perhaps the most important reason trade shows continue to proliferate is because they provide one of the few chances we have to be face-to-face with customers. In a digital age where communications is dominated by social media, email, web sites and texting, trade shows are a place where customers can be hands on with products, meet their support team, put a face to a voice they’ve only heard on the telephone, and actually say hello to the company president.

Yet trade shows remain controversial for management largely for the following reasons*:

  • Unknown effectiveness
  • Difficulty of measuring efficiency
  • High and rising costs of participation
  • A growing feeling that shows are boondoggles

As the person in charge of marketing you have probably been confronted with statements from senior management such as:

“Trade shows are terribly expensive and of limited value for the business you do versus the                    dollars spent.”  

“Everything nowadays is done for the show management, not for the exhibitors.”

“The major reason we go to trade shows is because our competitors are there.”

If those remarks sound familiar, take heart. The quotes are from a Harvard Business Review* report on trade shows dated January 1983. Things haven’t changed much in 30+ years.

The marketing team needs to be prepared to counter these feelings of uncertainty with well-reasoned answers. Let’s start by looking at the following questions:

  • Why exhibit at a trade show; what is your show objective
  • How do you select the right show(s)
  • How do you measure results (ROI)
  • What critical tasks do I need to do before, during, after a show

Why exhibit at a trade show?

Companies exhibit at trade shows for a number of reasons. Primarily it is to meet customers and prospects, to generate leads, to compress numerous road trips into one, to spy on the competition, to promote a new product or service, to enhance brand image, to get coverage by the media.

Yes, you are there to sell, but with the long sales cycles typical in business aviation the sale is likely to occur sometime after the show and should appear on your post-show tracking.

For many companies, trade shows are their largest marketing expenditure. As such, events should be approached like any other marketing and sales tool: it is important that your trade show exhibit represents and extends your Brand Position (or Brand Positioning Objective – see Glossary) for continuity with your other marketing efforts.

Secondarily, companies often exhibit at trade shows because their competitors do; there is a fear that not being at the show may create negative talk about the well-being of the company.

Selecting the right trade show(s)

First and foremost trade shows are an extension of your marketing and sales efforts and in many cases are the company’s key communications channel. Like any of your other marketing and sales programs, trade shows should meet a set of criteria if they are to be successful.

Who attends the show? It’s the basic question that needs to be asked. If your marketing target is not in attendance in sufficient numbers, then why go? You can analyze previous show data available from the organizer to determine how many/what percentage of attendees at the show are people you actually want to talk to, and more important, can potentially buy your product or service. If the answer is a sufficiently high number of attendees, then exhibit there.

ROI—are you measuring the wrong thing?

Your CFO would love to see proof that the money you spent on the show was more than covered by the sales that were generated. Yet, business aviation trade shows are typically “non-selling” events; the long sales cycle prevalent in business aviation makes on-site sales unlikely (this is true for pretty much any industrial show). The items being sold are far too expensive for on the spot decisions to be made.

So if the show is a “non-selling” event, what needs to happen to make it a success? Effective trade show marketing includes regular contact with existing customers, key account servicing, learning about customers’ future plans, new product introductions, identifying the decision makers, prospecting, and creating brand awareness. Note that not all shows will have opportunities to meet all the above objectives, but each show should enable you to achieve most objectives. Otherwise, you’re at the wrong show.

You can measure items such as number of contacts made, number of meetings held, business cards scanned, entries into a drawing, etc. These are difficult to assign quality immediately but they can be tracked and analyzed. The data should be entered into your CRM system and tagged so that resultant sales at a later time can be tracked back to a trade show contact data point. Prior to the following year’s event, you can assign a CPM (Cost per Thousand) measure based on your last year’s cost and the value of any subsequent conversion into sales and also what the lifetime customer value means for your company.

Critical tasks to do before, during and after the trade show

Successful trade shows are the result of careful pre-show planning, execution and post-show follow up.

Pre-show you want to ensure that the design of the exhibit utilizes messaging that reflects the current brand positioning; that clear objectives for the show are set and communicated to the sales and management team attending; that senior management buys in to the plan; that attendees are notified of your exhibit location and given a reason to come see you (perhaps tease them about any new announcements or special show promotions); and the media is contacted with your news plans and any photo ops that may be available.

During the show, keep track of visitors via counts, card scans, contests, etc. People are always moved by the word “Free” so have some good quality free stuff to hand out; highlight anything new in products or services.

Post-show be sure to share any scanned attendee lists with the sales team; feed the CRM system; follow up on show site requests; make notes on what aspects of the event/exhibit worked and what didn’t (these will come in handy for the next event); summarize the final show budget to make the following year’s budgeting easier.

It may be difficult to quantify everything about a trade show. By applying good management practices to a predetermined measurement criteria and keeping focused on your company’s show objectives you will greatly enhance your ability to answer the question “what’s my ROI?” and demonstrate the value of trade shows in the marketing mix.


Chapter 10 – Sales Management; Sales Channels; Sales Challenges

When we consider the changes that have affected marketing since the 2008-2009 Great Recession, we also want to fully understand how these changes apply to the sales process. We want to think in terms of how we can maximize the marketing strategy we have agreed upon by aligning our sales management and sales channels appropriately to handle challenges facing our sales team. Some of the key issues include:

  • Changing customer demographics
  • Data management tools
  • Market channels
  • Globalization of business aviation
  • Regulatory compliance

Sales Management

As we mentioned earlier in this eBook, the U.S. was the cradle of business aviation and still maintains the largest percentage of the worldwide fleet. Since the end of World War II, sales of business aircraft were primarily to companies run by veterans or their baby boomer offspring who not only saw the value of using a business aircraft but were also passionate about flying.

The attitude of Generation X and Millennials toward business aviation may be different than their predecessors.

As the retirement of the boomer generation accelerates over the next ten years, the follow-on generations of business owners and managers – Generation X and Millennials – will be the new customers. Their attitude toward business aviation may be different – appreciative of what a business aircraft can do but less about passion for flying and more about function and contribution to the bottom-line; less concern for owning the latest and greatest and more about the bargain they got on a low time aircraft. It’s an important distinction for salesmen to recognize and approach accordingly.  (See Glossary: “Customer Targeting and Profiling.”)

The post-Great Recession aviation salesman is most likely to be working from some version of a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. These programs range in complexity from simple contact-management software to highly customizable databases networked across the sales team. Prior to the Great Recession, the term Big Data was rarely heard, but it is now part of the lexicon of aggressive, leading edge sales teams. Since business aviation products tend to have lengthy sales cycles – sometimes measured in years – tools such as CRM can prove a valuable resource in capturing, storing and utilizing relevant data throughout the process. The investment in such systems can be significant in time, resources and money, so coordination between sales, management and marketing in developing a system is critical.

Sales Channels

Staying for the moment with a discussion of sales in the U.S., we have seen an evolution in the way sales channels are structured over the decades of business aviation growth. The 2008-2009 Great Recession was perhaps a tipping point for many companies to realize that business could no longer be conducted as before if they were to survive.

Today’s thin margins and the competitive nature of the industry have made it impractical for OEMs and major service companies to maintain a middle man in the sales channel.

In its early days of business aviation, sales channels were an OEM –> Middle Man –> Customer structure where the Middle Man was a specialist in either sales, completions, avionics, maintenance, etc. Today the structure is becoming a direct OEM –> Customer relationship. The thin margins and competitive nature of the industry has made it impractical for OEMs and major service companies to maintain enough margin for a middle man to exist and prosper in most markets.

Not surprisingly this structure changed at the OEM level first. It used to be that airframe manufacturers would appoint distributors, dealers or representatives and (for large jets) completion centers to handle sales and non-manufacturing services; today there are factory direct sales teams and the OEMs most often offer in-house completions service.

Turbine engine OEMs have gone through a similar evolution where early on they authorized independent service organizations to perform all levels of maintenance; today these authorized providers still exist but they now pay significant fees for the authorization and compete against the growing adoption of OEM sponsored pay-by-the-hour programs that result in flat rate work and eat into margins.

Major aftermarket service companies, e.g., MRO, ERO, emulated the OEM model and employed referral networks and/or approved independent sales representatives. Of late, aftermarket companies have been migrating toward a direct sales structure due largely to the intensely price competitive nature of today’s aftermarket and pressure from the OEMs themselves. Aftermarket companies are still transitioning in this regard which involves a delicate balance in managing relationships with their long established referral networks.

For some aftermarket support companies – parts sales comes to mind – direct to market sales through the use of online stores is an alternative channel made viable by the digital age. While not everything aviation can be sold online, the use of online listings can help stimulate and promote the sale of items to a broader market. We expect this area to expand in the near future under pressure to control costs while keeping margins as high as practicable.

Another area we think has changed in recent years and will continue to evolve is Field Service for engines, avionics and – to some extent – airframes as these items continue to progress technologically. The implication is that shops will become smaller while field sales and service forces will become larger and strategically positioned. On-condition engine maintenance, modular avionics, and field repairs of composite structures will become more common. Of course, shop visits will still be required for major services but service intervals may become longer. For the salesman, this is another tool in an expanding toolbox and will require a detailed understanding of what can be done in the field versus in the shop.

Sales Challenges

The discussions about evolving sales channels in the last section were focused on the USA; Europe has employed a generally similar structure. One of the newer challenges for sales management is the growing adoption of business aviation globally. While generational demographics may be changing in the USA and Europe, demographics of business aviation users in the rest of the world can take on an entirely different context.

Two main areas of focus emerge when selling globally: cultural differences and regulatory compliance.

Outside the USA, sales are subject to individual country regulations regarding the legal structuring of conducting business in that country. Many countries require a Joint Venture or the appointment of a local representative depending on whether it is establishing a physical presence in country or a service that is being sold. This condition has not changed significantly since the 2008-2009 Great Recession; what has changed is the emergence of Asia-Pacific as an expanding market for business aircraft and services. Like all regions of the world, Asia-Pacific countries have cultural differences and regulations that must be understood and accommodated.

The U.S. DOJ and government enforcement bodies elsewhere in the world have levied sizable judgments against MRO and OEM companies in the last five years thereby sending a clear message that the aviation segment is high on the enforcement radar.

Of major importance when dealing outside one’s own country is compliance with the local version of what the U.S. calls the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). There is a growing trend worldwide for countries to not only have such regulations but towards aggressive enforcement. (The average FCPA judgment in the U.S. during 2014 was $157 million.*) FCPA type regulations can hold a company liable for violations, and in some instances also hold an individual liable. Salesmen must be fully conversant with the laws of each country under their charge as well as their own country’s laws. Judging by recent investigations, aviation OEM and MRO companies are high on the list of those under scrutiny.


The sales force for the next ten years will be selling directly to a new generation of buyers with different expectations about what an aircraft means for them. Knowing the customer through new sales tools such as CRM will help salesmen in targeting the right customer at the right time with the right message. For international sales teams, knowing how to cope with cultural and regulatory differences will be an essential qualification. It’s a new world where knowledge of one’s customers, customs, and laws will be as important as knowledge of one’s products.

* Source: WileyRein, LLC


Chapter 11 – What Has Not Changed in Business Aviation since the Great Recession

Throughout this book we’ve made the case that there have been significant changes in the business aviation marketing and selling environment in the last several years and that the inflection point for many of these changes was the Great Recession of 2008-09.

But as real as these changes are we also submit that there are several crucial factors that have not changed, that are as important today as they were in years past, and no doubt will be important in the future; in this chapter we’ll take a brief look at some of the most important of these.

First among these factors will always be the reliability of aircraft and the systems and equipment in them. Of course we can talk about aircraft reliability in the sense that it won’t fall out of the sky, but usually we mean the more prosaic dispatch reliability – no one wants an aircraft labeled “AOG” at an inopportune time. When your company – or you – spends millions (or tens of millions) for a business aircraft you must insist it meets a basic quality level that allows the aircraft to be ready to go, safely, whenever you need it.

Along with spending those millions (or tens of millions) to acquire an airplane you have every right to expect a very high level of service support for that expensive piece of equipment. We once had an aircraft OEM client (a marketing VP) who used to impress upon his team the absolute imperative to constantly “delight” their customers with high levels of service and support before, during and forever more after a sale. (He pronounced it as “dee-lite,” as in “we have got to dee-lite the customer!”)

The airplane’s acquisition cost of course is key, but that’s something you can negotiate upfront with a fixed budget in mind. What can be every bit if not more important is the ongoing operating cost of the aircraft – you want it to be comparatively low with as little variation as possible for ongoing cost budgeting reasons. A company such as Conklin and de Decker has made a nice business for many years out of helping buyers get a handle on operating costs.

These critical factors – high reliability, superior service support, competitive operating costs – combine to give an aircraft buyer a sense of the quality of the aircraft, and that perception along with the purchase price allows for a value estimation: as a guide, marketers have long paid attention to this simple yet powerful equation:

Value = Quality / Price

Give your customers a good product or service at a fair price (all relative to your key competitors), and you deliver value; if you can drive the quality measure up, or even the perception of greater quality, you can increase your price (and your margins) and still deliver value and strong sales.

None of this has changed, nor will it in any of our lifetimes.

What else hasn’t changed?

  • The need to have a clear Brand identity; focus; a differentiated Positioning, and unique Product Sales Propositions (See Glossary for all of these).
  • Following on the need for a clear brand identity, you need to know that there are three kinds of brands, and what each means –
    • Leadership brands
    • Challenger brands
    • “Other” brands
  • And then the imperative to know what kind of brand you are (Leader, Challenger, Other; again, see Glossary) in order to intelligently chart your marketing and selling course.
  • The ability to execute on the items above.

These factors – the importance of delivering measurable value; a clear brand identity; knowing what kind of brand you are; ability to execute on your positioning and sales propositions – will be the focus of Part III of this book.


Part II Summary: Rapid and Significant Change in the B2B Marketing Process

We see four important takeaways, or directives, from this section of our book:

First, the marketer must take full ownership of the responsibility of seeing to it that his company does indeed put products up for sale that are “easy to get rid of” via the sales process.  Building an airplane, or designing a new avionics system, or maintaining and repairing an aircraft requires many highly educated people with technical skills, from design and engineering to prototype certification and on to manufacturing and final production.

The marketer may not have an engineering degree, or extensive experience in manufacturing, but he must have an unequaled knowledge and understanding of the customer of his products, the person (or company) that is the sales target.  The marketer must be the customer advocate within his company, the person who knows the wants and needs of the customer and is able to shape the products to meet those needs, with a high perceived value.

Second, one of the most important ways through which the marketer will have this customer knowledge is in the construction of a data-driven performance-tracking program.  A successful program will of course integrate key customer information, but also competitive and environmental information, information on what media use, sales tactics and trade shows are paying off, and so on; all of these factors are interconnected and must be looked at as whole.

Third, the marketer will use the performance tracking program to monitor and report on the hard business objectives that drive his company’s ROI; remember, the CEO and CFO will only really respect the marketing department if it can 1) show how its efforts are resulting in profitable product sales and 2) is offering up strategic information that can help the company plan its way forward (i.e. “helping to navigate the plane.”)

Fourth, today’s marketer must capably deal with a broad array of business issues, including a globalized market, generational change, the online environment, critical changes in sales channels and an array of constantly evolving environmental, regulatory and legal issues.

In the next section, Part III, we’ve created a storyline (“Facing Adversity and Change – a Few Days in the Life of a Business Aviation CMO”) to help illustrate the practical application of these key directives.


Next – Part III: Facing Adversity and Change – A Few Days in the Life of a Business Aviation CMO