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Reaching Aftermarket Excellence

10 Changes to Revitalize Your Aftermarket Parts Business

Written by: Stan Eames

If you are a manufacturing organization struggling with finding a solution for energizing your aftermarket parts revenue, then you are not alone. Boosting your aftermarket performance can be a frustrating exercise and one that is often left to dealers and distributors to handle. With the overwhelming success of eCommerce for retail and the B2C community, the idea of “being like Amazon” with your parts business seems like a good idea, and you are on the right track.

The key to success with eCommerce in the aftermarket is to have a solid readiness plan that identifies the areas you need to strengthen to facilitate a smooth move to the online world. In addition to eCommerce, there are many other more fundamental facets of aftermarket excellence that deserve attention.

1. Have a Strategy for eCommerce

Electing to engage the services of an eCommerce information technology partner is a significant decision. When deciding to move forward, a strategy for how to absorb and eventually embrace the changes that this will precipitate through your organization is essential. Some of the questions germane to the evaluation of your aftermarket eCommerce strategy include:

> What is the state of your aftermarket data? Is it clean, organized and ready to put into an eCommerce system?

> Do you have a product taxonomy developed and does it make sense?

> Do you have the resources needed to manage your eCommerce system?

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> Does your equipment development plan dovetail with your plan to deploy an eCommerce system, and are you aware of the commitments required for success?

> Do you have a clear understanding of the required investment and a corresponding ROI?

> Are you prepared to train the personnel in the impacted areas to understand the new business processes associated with online sales, and are they ready to embrace the change?

> Do you have the Information Technology (IT) staff required to support the system, or a plan to use a reliable IT partner to ensure strategic success?

> Have you evaluated how eCommerce will impact your overall organization, and what changes to existing business processes will be required for your team to be effective?

2. Make it easy for Customers to do Business With You

If you use multiple ERP systems, have numerous locations and, perhaps, support several different brands, then providing a clear path for your customers to locate the right part may be a challenge. A lack of consistency in the way that you present your organization and how the various business units under your organization fit together can easily cause confusion and frustration for a buyer seeking parts. If your customer policies regarding warranty, returns, and other sales-oriented processes vary depending on brand, then your customers may feel like doing business with you is a daunting experience.. A key thought to keep in mind is:

“People don’t buy products, they buy experiences.”

Making it easy for your customers to do business with you is a primary component of success in the aftermarket part sales.

3. Measure Product Return Rates and Drive Them Down

If your customers do not have access to accurate, up-to-date information on your parts, then the likelihood that they will select a wrong part for their application is high. When a buyer chooses a wrong part, the result is typically a product return situation, which costs you and the customer unnecessary expense. Avoiding returns should be a key goal in the creation and administration of your product purchasing process. Guided access to the parts taxonomy, availability of photographs, dimensional drawings and access to product expertise must all be provided. Making sure that these resources exist in your aftermarket operation will greatly reduce the frequency of order returns, and potential loss of customer loyalty.

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4. Know What Assets are in Service With Each Customer

The “after” in “aftermarket” is an important distinction. The “now” market, or when you sell your primary equipment tends to receive the lion’s share of the attention in most manufacturing organizations. Following the initial sale of a vehicle or machine, however, continuing to monitor product ownership and status is of great importance. Post-sales product awareness will allow you to aid customers in reaping the most value out of the product they purchased from you.

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“Customer loyalty is gained by offering a strong service component to your business, and aftermarket parts sales is a critical component of the equipment service business.”

Tracking who owns each machine, the state of the machine, planned services, warranty and service history can produce data that not only allows you to maximize service offerings but also optimize parts marketing and customer satisfaction.

5. Be Aware of Your Market and how it is Evolving

Markets are not static beings. They tend to change over time as technology and customer expectations ebb and flow. Not paying attention to market trends and how they impact your operations strategically can be very costly. A perfect example of this is the widespread sales direction toward eCommerce. The B2C retail world has flocked to eCommerce as a primary channel for sales, and B2B is right on its heels.

The impact of eCommerce on the aftermarket and the need to recognize it as a key channel in parts sales should not be ignored. Understanding your market share and the why behind it, having a plan to win back lost markets and ensuring that your pricing is appropriate for your target market are other important considerations related to market awareness.

6. Have a Pricing Strategy, and Believe in it

Pricing parts can be a challenge as the ability to hit the sweet spot on a pricing scale for a particular part often ends up being a guessing game. The development of a well thought out methodology for pricing is the first step toward creating a pricing strategy. The process of creating a methodology requires awareness of how much customers will pay, what competitors charge for the same part and what the key differentiators are between part offerings.

“A consistent process for price determination is necessary so that your customers feel confidence in pricing from one part buying experience to another.”

A keen awareness of your costs for production and distribution of parts will also instill confidence in your pricing decisions. Whatever methodology you choose, be sure that you have confidence in its profitability as well as competitiveness in the marketplace.

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7. Collect Data and Turn it Into Valuable Information

Sales data is a valuable resource, and having a strategy for collecting it can prove to be one of the best moves you can make toward optimizing your marketing efforts. Perhaps the easiest way to tackle this is to implement an eCommerce system that can collect data on the purchasing habits of your customers. How the system allows you to translate that data into information is a key factor in the selection of an eCommerce platform.

Reporting technology, access to the database and its structure and the extent of data granularity offered by the system are all important considerations. Sales intelligence can help you adjust pricing strategies, marketing direction and an overall assessment of performance. Without this information, you are blind to what is happening with customer buying behaviors in your aftermarket. When pulling together a plan for improving your parts sales, data analytics should be an essential resource.

8. Know Your Customers

Making an effort to know and understand your customers is not an exercise to be taken lightly. Understanding their true needs and the opportunities presented by this understanding will almost always result in increased sales. With aftermarket parts buyers, the ability to anticipate customer demand based on past buying behaviors can improve your readiness to deliver when parts are needed. Efficient delivery practices will also increase customer loyalty to your brand and potentially increase original equipment sales.

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Sales data coupled with information provided by a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system can prove invaluable in understanding customer behaviors and requirements. Lack of a CRM implementation is a sign that your customer intel may be lacking. Once you can capture that customer data, offering a customized buying experience with your eCommerce system based on past purchases or anticipated needs will improve customer satisfaction and loyalty.

9. Deliver on Delivery

Ultimately, an aftermarket buyer’s most basic requirement is to obtain parts as quickly as possible. The business processes and mechanisms that you have in place to get from order to delivery should be well oiled and under constant scrutiny. The use of disciplined inventory management and analysis of inventory data to optimize part availability is a best practice all manufacturers should follow.

Being able to produce products on demand requires efficiency in your supply chain operation, appropriate production capacity and active management of supplier performance. In optimizing these areas, it is critical to base need not only on current demand but also on projected demand based on sales metrics and customer behavior data. Having delivery time as a key performance indicator and driving that time down will keep customer satisfaction up and retain buyers. In the parts world, buyer attrition is often an aftereffect of poor performance in delivery. Buyers gravitate to suppliers that can reliably deliver parts quickly at a reasonable cost. Negotiating price reductions with shipping suppliers can aid in delivery efficiency, and allow you to pass on the added value to the customer.

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10. Retain Your Aftermarket Talent

The aftermarket is service oriented, and to provide the best service possible you need exceptional people. Having an aftermarket staff that knows your original equipment well and can provide superior customer support should be a priority of your aftermarket management team. Hiring and training exceptional support staff is one thing, but retention is another.

Be sure to follow sound employment practices that make your employees feel appreciated, respected and valued. Ensure that you communicate your aftermarket strategy clearly and that your vision provides a solid framework to support staff so that they know where they fit in the big picture. Setting measurable, realistic performance objectives, and providing assessment and feedback demonstrates a commitment to your staff and their careers. A tenured aftermarket support team can provide an intuitive, reliable support offering to customers, and can also prove to be the most precious resource that you have. The human support factor, coupled with an omnichannel eCommerce technology offering is a powerful and synergistic approach toward offering aftermarket excellence.

Summary

The aftermarket is a very important driver of revenues and an opportunity for significantly higher profitability for equipment manufacturing firms. Offering aftermarket parts and services in a way that places your team as a center of aftermarket excellence requires passion and commitment toward change. The typical reactionary aftermarket model employed by many manufacturing businesses is being replaced by a technology-driven proactive model that seeks to understand and predict customer behaviors. Embracing this wave of change in both channel strategy and corporate culture toward your aftermarket business can start with attention to the following:

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1. Development of an eCommerce strategy.
2. Elimination of hurdles preventing ease of customer access to your offerings.
3. Understanding and managing product return rates.
4. Having a detailed awareness of the equipment you have in the field.
5. Being aware of your market, and how it is evolving.
6. Having a strong pricing strategy that you can believe in.
7. Using data to provide your aftermarket team with customer behavior intelligence.
8. Having knowledge and awareness of your customers and their buying behaviors.
9. Prioritizing the efficiency and effectiveness of your product delivery process.
10. Hiring and retention of a strong aftermarket staff.

Initiating an action plan to address these strategic areas in your aftermarket is a sound first step toward establishing your company as a leader in aftermarket services. Making the transformation of your aftermarket business a priority will not only dramatically improve revenues and profitability but also customer satisfaction and loyalty.

“Challenge your team to be innovative and embrace initiatives such as these so that you can perform beyond current expectations.”

When taken all together, these initiatives may seem somewhat daunting. However, the key takeaway is that getting started with even a few of them can have a significant impact on your aftermarket operations. Excellence is only achieved via constant change and adaptation to the needs of your market, or in this case, the aftermarket.

Stan-Eames-Headshot

Stan Eames is CEO of GenAlpha Technologies, LLC, a software and services company specializing in eCommerce and eCatalog solutions specifically for manufacturing organizations and their aftermarket parts business.

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