Which Source of Fleet or Trucking Data is Right for You?
Not all fleet data is the same.
Have you ever:
- Heard that a data source has a million+ records. But you found only a small number fit what you sell, or where you sell.
- Had difficulty finding local fleets near you in the data. But you see them drive by, you know they exist.
- Found most fleets were heavy duty long haul trucking, but you sell to light and medium duty like pickups, vans, local delivery.
- Used B2B contact/email software and tried to target fleets by industry, revenue, employee size, and keywords. And you wasted a lot of time calling companies with no or very few vehicles.
If any of these happened to you, then you know what it’s like to use the wrong fleet data.
Some fleet data sources are more appropriate for you than others. What’s best for you depends on what you sell and who you target.
Here, we share how to match data with your needs. At the end of this, you will know how to find enough of the right fleets to grow your business.
Fleet Data Sources
This article is a bit epic, so jump around if you want:
First, look at these two areas of your marketing and sales operations. With this as a foundation, you can make the best use of data:
- Think of data as a database, not just a list
- Know your fleet data use cases
Build a Fleet Prospecting Database
When you sell to fleets, building a profitable prospecting database requires knowing the pros and cons of different fleet data sources, and knowing which sources are right for you. And most important:
You want to ensure your data contains most if not all of the targetable prospects in your total addressable market.
We advocate for a strategic approach to data. Build a prospecting database, not just prospecting lists. A scattershot list approach to prospecting data can result in missing your intended market, leaving many potential opportunities untouched. This frustrates sales teams as they fly blind. They may call on many fleets that don’t fit your best customer. Marketing campaigns may under-perform due to loose targeting. You might wrestle with a lot of duplicate data. And also, insufficient data leaves big holes in knowledge about your market. It’s possible that you don’t know how big these holes are. Our customers are often surprised when we show significant numbers of fleets that they didn’t know exist.
When you use strategy for fleet data acquisition, you can avoid or solve these issues.
We share info in this article that will help you make strategic decisions with data. And you can increase coverage of your market, reduce data duplication, and decrease both obvious and hidden costs.
Know Your Fleet Data Use Cases
Ideally, you should match data sources with your ideal customer profile (ICP).
The first steps to solving this are:
- Know your data use cases
- Match your data needs to the right sources of fleet data
Fleet suppliers and vendors tend to target two broad categories:
- National: Multi-state, long haul. Medium duty trucks and heavy duty tractor-trailers that often cross state lines.
- Local: Sedans, pickups, white vans, work trucks, and last mile delivery trucks that generally operate within a state or metro area.
These are two major general use cases for fleets. Some companies target both. And some focus on a small slice of the market, such as emergency vehicles, school buses, construction, or utility work trucks.
Do either of these use cases fit your business? Or is your use case different? Be specific about what fleets you sell to, and what fleets you do NOT sell to.
To reach fleets, you can acquire data from many sources. These sources vary significantly in coverage of the market and depth of information about vehicles. They also range widely in acquisition and maintenance cost — including both direct and hidden costs.
Let’s dig in to this now …
FMCSA/Federal Trucking Data
When vehicles are subject to federal regulations, the company operating these vehicles must have a permit from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT or DOT). A USDOT number is assigned. It’s a unique identifier and every regulated vehicle displays this number. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) registers, inspects, and enforces safety standards on these vehicles. These fleets are also called “DOT compliant” because they must comply with federal safety regulations. Drivers are typically required to get training and possess a Commercial Driving License (CDL).
Most vehicles in this data travel across states, so they’re involved in interstate commerce:
- Tractor-trailers or heavy duty “semi trucks” that travel across states, with a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of 10,001 lbs or more
- Vehicles that carry 9-15 passengers for compensation – also called “for hire” – and cross state lines, like tour motor coaches
- Vehicles that carry 15 or more passengers, not for compensation, and they cross state lines, like sports team buses
- Any size vehicle that carries hazardous materials, anywhere
They are called “power units” in FMCSA data, instead of “vehicles.”
As of September 2021, about 686,000 companies in this data are actively operating.
The vast majority are very small. About half (54%) are single-vehicle “owner-operator” companies. Another 28% have 2-4 power units. If you seek owner-operators to carry loads for you, this is okay.
The remaining 18% are trucking fleets with 5 or more power units. Many of our customers look for these fleets to sell technology, maintenance, parts, fuel, and other services.
So, keep in mind that though a vendor selling FMCSA data may tell you there are nearly 700,000 companies in the dataset, about 8 out of 10 of those companies may have fewer than 5 power units. Ask detailed questions, so you know whether the data fits what you need.
Are these numbers different than you expected?
Clearly, larger fleets are a finite market. Only 2% of fleets in FMCSA data have 50 or more power units. This is about 12,600 fleets.
Source: Vehicle/power unit registrations with FMCSA
Company Profile: Interstate operations, carrying cargo or passengers, hazmat carriers
Fleet Profile: Half are single vehicle owner operator; 82% have less than 5 vehicles, mostly heavy duty trucking
Typical Industries: Long-distance trucking, multi-modal transportation, hazardous waste, motor coach tours
Uses: Compliance, training and safety offerings; shippers and 3PL logistics seeking motor carriers
Pros: Because the vehicles are federally regulated, this data is centrally available. It’s public information to download from the FMCSA website. Data includes age of vehicles, power units, number of drivers, miles driven, safety scores, inspection and crash information, compliance status, insurance carried. This info is good for companies that sell federal regulation compliance products, such as electronic logging devices (ELD), hours of service (HOS) tracking, CDL driver training and medical exams, alcohol and other drug testing, trucking insurance, repair and maintenance. It’s good for selling products for interstate trucking like toll passes and fuel cards. Freight brokers can find motor carriers.
Cons: Federal oversight is not required for most vehicles in fleet operations. In fact, federal data represents only one-tenth of all fleet vehicles! If your business isn’t completely focused on federally-regulated vehicles, it’s important to know that the federal data is an incomplete picture when you’re seeking to understand the Total Addressable Market. Fleets with USDOT-registered trucks and buses often also have light duty vehicles. But you don’t get visibility into these vehicles like sedans, pickups, SUVs, vans and small trucks. Fleets that don’t have any USDOT-registered vehicles will not be in the FMCSA data. And this is, actually, most business fleets in the U.S.
Regarding contacts, because the information is public, FMCSA contacts have been bombarded with marketing messages for years, and may not be as responsive. For larger prospects, you often need multiple contacts across departments: fleet, maintenance, finance, procurement, safety, risk management, IT, operations, etc. The FMCSA contact may not be the right one for your business.
Bottom Line: You will still have to invest in other sources of fleet information if you target non-USDOT fleets. You may still need to invest in contact data.
Federal data represents only one-tenth of all fleet vehicles.
If your business isn’t completely focused on federally-regulated vehicles, it’s important to know that the federal data is an incomplete picture when you’re seeking to understand the Total Addressable Market.
State Fleet Vehicle Registration Data
State and local fleet data can be compiled through many public sources of information. One source is commercial vehicle registrations. Every vehicle on the road needs a license plate, and this is handled by the states. Vehicles operated by businesses must have state commercial vehicle registrations.
One way that federal FMCSA data and state data are similar is that the vast majority of fleets are very small, less than 4 vehicles. In this way, state data looks a lot like the federal data. But there’s a key difference – and a big difference! – between these two sources:
For fleets with 5+ vehicles, state data has 573,900 more fleets than federal data.
* Based on 40 states
While the chart above shows 699,296 companies with 5+ vehicles, if you also count fleets with 1-4 vehicles, there are 6.2 million fleets in 40 states.
As you can see, the big difference is, there is much more data available at the state and local level. This is because all companies with any kind of fleet vehicle are included.
Why 40 and not 50 states? See below, a discussion about the remaining 10 states …
Sources: Currently 40 states provide this information, available only through a very limited number of approved partners
Company Profile: About 6.2 million local operations, mostly private (own use) fleets
Fleet Profile: 89% have less than 5 vehicles; due to larger quantity of data available, about 700,000 have more than 5 vehicles
Typical Industries: Construction, contractors, field services, last mile delivery, rental & more
Uses: Offerings for the entire fleet life cycle for all vehicle types: purchase, operate, maintain, dispose
Pros: If you wish to understand the comprehensive fleet market, a larger dataset is critical to see the full picture and target a much larger universe.
Detailed vehicle data can also be extracted from VIN information like weight (used to calculate Class 1-8), body type, manufacturer, fuel type, engine type, and chassis/axles. This breadth of data provides a more complete portrait of a fleet: age of the fleet, ownership, brand mix, and other operating characteristics.
Cons: This data comes from dozens of sources that all operate on different data reporting timelines. There is latency in acquiring data, standardizing it, and making it available. For these reasons, it is much more expensive to compile and validate than the federal FMCSA data.
If you want VIN-level data, you may likely need to pay for each vehicle record, not a company record.
As of September 2021, ten states (called “restricted states”) do not release information about commercial fleet vehicle registrations. This results in a lack of fleet info for about 20% of U.S. companies with fleets. If your market is completely in one or more of the 10 states, there is virtually no data available for you. Estimated fleet data can fill this gap, as discussed below.
Some state laws limit use of vehicle registration data for sales and prospecting purposes. Privacy of vehicle registration data is becoming more of an issue. Many other countries such as Canada and European countries have strict privacy laws that allow businesses to protect their vehicle registration data. In some countries only estimated, or modeled, data is available.
The Bottom Line: Unlike the federal data, state data is not free or cheap. If you need very specific vehicle data such as manufacturer, brand, body type, etc. it may be worth the investment.
Estimated Fleet Data
Estimated data will give you the biggest pool of prospects. Especially if any business fleet can use your product or service.
Federal and state data do not capture every commercial fleet on the road. Reasons include: lack of vehicle registration info from the ten restricted states with privacy laws, business vehicles registered under personal names and home addresses, businesses that relocated and did not re-register, fleets that do not need DOT authority.
So, data providers such as Valgen model the presence of fleets with known fleet variables like company size, industry, location type, and other factors. This data is often a fleet size range. It’s also possible to estimate light, medium, and heavy duty classes.
Estimated fleet data plays a valuable role. It fills the gaps in federal and state registration info, so you get the most complete coverage of the U.S. fleet market.
Another advantage is the fleets are estimated at a location level. So if a company has 50 locations nationwide with vehicles, there are estimates for all 50 locations, not just the single headquarter location only. Learn more about the benefits of local fleet data.
Most companies with fleets of vehicles are local, in industries like construction and contractors, utilities, last mile delivery. Local fleets include governments, schools, colleges, and universities. Think of all the companies that travel to homes and businesses with services: landscaping, pest control, janitorial, technicians … it’s a very long list of industries!
This data includes estimates of companies and governments with all types of vehicles: passenger cars, SUVs, pickups, vans, local delivery trucks, work trucks, emergency like police cars and ambulances, school buses, airport shuttles, taxis – basically, everything. And, the federally-registered heavy-duty tractor-trailers are also included in estimates.
It’s understandable that people may question the accuracy of estimated fleet data. But it’s important to understand that no single data provider “knows” the exact number of vehicles of all businesses. In reality, it is all an estimate. Even vehicle registration data is an estimate, because the data is coming from 40 states and all a company’s locations must be accurately identified, matched, and combined to create a total company fleet size. There is latency in acquiring and compiling data from the states, so for fleets that are increasing or decreasing, this won’t be detected for awhile. Federal data can also become outdated based on the last time a company self-reported its data to the FMCSA.
Source: Analytics & data providers with modeling expertise and fleet domain knowledge; available for all states
Company Profile: 4M companies (in restricted & non-restricted states), same firmographic and industry profile as companies with state registered fleets
Fleet Profile: Representative of the known fleet market, and available in areas where registered fleet data is not available
Typical Industries: Construction, contractors, field services, last mile delivery, rental & more
Uses: Offerings for all aspects of the fleet life cycle: purchase, operate, maintain, dispose
Pros: Estimated data is the only way to get local fleet information in the 10 restricted states, where data is not available from the states. It can give a more complete picture for national fleets that operate in states where data is both available and not available.
You can get data on locations where a company or government has vehicles.
Most vehicles operate within a state or local area, so accurate geo-targeting is possible.
Cons: Accuracy of the fleet estimates depends on accuracy of the firmographic data. This data can vary. Analytics experts need deep knowledge of both the fleet domain and modeling to understand limitations and compensate for them.
The Bottom Line: Estimated data is the only way to get a truer picture of the fleet market including all vehicles and all states. It allows you to reach local and intrastate fleets. This can be a great way to reach companies in certain markets, where otherwise data is not available.
Business Intelligence Databases
Many companies selling to fleets use B2B intelligence software. Dozens of business data compilers have rich company firmographics, industry, and contact data. But they don’t have data about fleet vehicles. It’s possible to find fleets in their data by using keywords and industry filters, or searching for fleet-related job titles. But these methods won’t turn up all fleets.
And ultimately fleet size and vehicle information – which is a core need if you’re selling to fleets – is not available.
Source: Dozens of lead generation and prospecting apps, social networking like LinkedIn
Company Profile: B2B data software tends to focus more on desirable heavily-prospected companies, so there may be less information about very small companies
Fleet Profile: Not available
Typical Industries: All industries, though various B2B data software tend to have strengths in certain industries and weaknesses in others
Uses: General purpose sales and marketing outreach, building a core dataset of all relevant companies, appending fleet data with contacts
Pros: Business intelligence software that is rich with direct contact information like direct dials, mobile numbers and validated emails can be a good supplement to sources of fleet data.
If you use software like ZoomInfo, Clearbit, Cognism, Slintel, Seamless.ai, RocketReach, Lusha, LeadIQ, etc., you can append your prospect/lead gen database with fleet data. The results are often surprising! This will help you focus resources on your fleet ICP.
Cons: When you sell to fleets, prospecting only with B2B intelligence data is like casting a small net in a huge ocean. Too much prospect data that doesn’t fit your fleet-specific ICP is unproductive for selling time.
For example, the need for fleet size is important if your ICP is fleets with more than 5 vehicles. Believe it or not, about 85% of all commercial fleets have less than 5 vehicles. So if you’re searching by industries, keywords, and job titles, it’s possible that 8 out of 10 companies won’t fit your ICP. Only 2% of fleets have 50+ vehicles, so finding these companies without fleet data is really a shot in the dark.
Bottom Line: Vendors that focus deeply on contact data will obviously be stronger in that area. You will likely still need to append with fleet data. So consider that when setting your data budget. To offset this, you will likely see ROI.
Other Lists of Fleets
This includes conference, meeting, webinar and other event attendees, lead gen activities like white paper downloads, trade media subscribers, association and professional membership rosters of companies that have interests in owning and operating a fleet. These are grassroots, bootstrap ways to gather lists.
Source: Fleet event attendees list, magazine subscriptions, trade association lists, etc.
Company Profile: Depends on the source; national conferences and trade media can have bigger fleets though most fleets are smaller companies operating locally
Fleet Profile: Varies considerably, likely less than 20 vehicles
Typical Industries: Specific to the lists obtained
Uses: Can be limited to the services offered to fleets through the event, magazine, association, etc.
Pros: People and organizations on these lists have an affiliation with fleets. They have vehicles, have an interest, or are a vendor to fleets. The data is compiled through your internal efforts and investment in content and events, so you may get data that competitors do not have. This data sourcing can fill gaps in geographic regions or fleet use cases, such as a meeting roster of trucking companies around San Antonio, Texas. Webinars and content marketing with very targeted content could uncover buyer intent such as middle- or bottom-of-funnel interest in electric vehicles.
Cons: None of these sources give you a comprehensive picture of the fleet market. Conference data includes only attendees and exhibitors at conferences. Association data includes only members of the association. Trade media subscriber lists include only subscribers. None of them, alone, cover a large percentage of the overall market of businesses and governments with fleet vehicles.
The cost of building a database as measured by “cost per lead” metric can be very high, depending on the initial quality of the data and your staff effort required to make the data usable. You will often have to cleanse, dedupe, and fill in vehicle data through follow-up research. Combining multiple sources of disparate data and creating a single view is an enormous undertaking for many companies, with significant technology, time, and cost. These are hidden costs. So approach this with caution.
There can be inconsistencies between the information obtained here and federal and state registration data, for a lot of reasons. One of them is the inaccuracy of self-reported data. Because this data is often self-reported, your follow-up research may reveal very different fleet sizes. For example, a regional fleet manager of a very large decentralized national fleet may report the local vehicle size under her management, not a national number. Or she may do the opposite, reporting a national number that would be inaccurate for a local fleet vendor.
Because of its very nature of limited quantities, it is difficult to scale to the volume needed to serve larger SDR and BDR teams. Further, this data is not truly representative of the market, which means you could be using valuable marketing and sales resources to target segments that may not be the most profitable or scalable, increasing your cost of customer acquisition.
Bottom Line: You may collect leads from association events, online form fills, badge scans at trade show booths. We find once this lead gen data is appended with more accurate fleet data, only about 20-40% fits our customers’ ICP. So, you may want to budget to append these lists with fleet data.
Consider yourself now graduated from a master course on fleet data!
You’ll be able to evaluate different types of data, and know which is best for your needs.
We’ve worked with all sources of fleet data. Contact us with questions, or to explore our ProsperFleet database of companies with fleet vehicles, or analytics like addressable market and segmentation.
President & CEO at Valgen
Rainmaker extraordinaire for our clients. Turns databases into gold. Analytics executive and entrepreneur with a track record of producing significant and sustained revenue gains for sales teams in fleet, transportation, high tech & financial services.