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Key Considerations in Selecting a B2B eCommerce Partner for your Aftermarket Parts Business

Written by: Stan Eames

The decision to invest in an eCommerce presence is one that for most businesses is the proverbial “no brainer”. This is particularly true in the Business to Consumer (B2C) marketplace, and has become a matter of survival in an increasingly competitive landscape that looks to the internet for lowering the boundaries to expanded markets and increased sales.

For a manufacturer that primarily markets to other businesses, the decision to move toward eCommerce becomes more complex. eCommerce may not make sense to a manufacturer when looking at the sale of equipment, machines or specialty vehicles as the sales process for these products typically demands interpersonal contact. The thought of someone ordering a high six-figure printing press or fire truck online is somewhat absurd, and for good reason. Large capital purchases require careful thought and consideration that cannot currently be accommodated by an eCommerce system, no matter how sophisticated it may be. There is, however, a major component of a manufacturer’s business that can be offered via eCommerce, even significantly enhanced by it, and that is aftermarket parts.

“Without a focused effort to open up innovative new sales channels, the aftermarket remains an afterthought.”


The marketing and sale of aftermarket parts via eCommerce represents perhaps the single greatest opportunity for most manufacturers to increase overall revenues, as well as net margins. Aftermarket parts and services provide stable revenues at significantly higher margins than original equipment. Original equipment may carry a 15 percent margin, while aftermarket parts can be as high as 25-50 percent. Clearly increased attention to aftermarket parts sales and marketing merits consideration, particularly with respect to eCommerce. Without a focused effort to open innovative new sales channels, the aftermarket remains an afterthought.

The typical sales channel for aftermarket parts is a parts or customer service department that does not really sell, but takes orders. It’s evident that order-takers are not really sales resources and represent a highly passive approach to parts sales efforts. Account representatives are often overwhelmed by administrative tasks and they themselves have challenges with finding the right part for often frantic customers. The path from inquiry to sale is usually unclear, inefficient and not in the best interest of the customer or the manufacturer. Giving the aftermarket the attention it deserves requires realizing exactly what compelling benefits there are for a manufacturer to increase focus on their parts business.


What’s in it for the Manufacturer?

Implementing a company eCommerce website for your aftermarket will simplify the customer buying experience using a modified retail B2C approach. Traditional B2C platforms lack the special requirements of aftermarket parts buyers, and using them can result in a half-baked solution that does not maximize the buyer’s experience. When properly deployed, an eCommerce solution that is designed for the aftermarket can reduce the cost per transaction, provide value-based selling at the point of sale, increase your aftermarket retention rate and improve customer loyalty. Further, the use of analytics and enhanced digital marketing efforts can dramatically improve sales volumes. Some of the more significant benefits to an aftermarket eCommerce system include the following:


> eCommerce will act as an additional sales channel.

Adding an eCommerce system will immediately provide your business with a powerful new sales channel. This addition will tap your aftermarket into a yet unrealized opportunity in aftermarket sales. The B2C market has been experiencing tremendous growth in eCommerce-based selling to the point where not being in eCommerce represent a significant risk to sales growth. This paradigm is quickly being applied to B2B businesses as well.

> It will make it easier for the customer to buy from you.

A recent a SiriusDecisions research study found that “for 80 percent of B2B customers, customer experience is the most significant reason behind the decision to work with a particular provider” (Lind, 2016)1. There is a reason that eCommerce is booming – customers are enthralled with the ease with which they can buy products. Further, their experience with consumer purchases have left them wanting a similar experience at work. Making purchasing decisions easier, particularly when it comes to aftermarket parts, will not only entice more sales, but also improve customer loyalty.

> Your average cost per transaction will be reduced.

eCommerce provides a self-serve sales operation to your customers. When combined with a complementary eCatalog offering, the customer has access to clear, concise information regarding what part is needed. Compare this to the cost of filling the chair of a telephoned customer service representative, and the cost savings become obvious. According to a recent Forbes article, “The vast majority of B2B buyers do research online before they contact a company and are 57% of the way through the marketing funnel before they talk to a sales rep” (Morgan, 2018)2.

> Your Customer Service Reps will have more time to address customer needs.

If your CSRs are buried with requests to find parts or aid customers in parts related transactions, then that takes them away from other areas of customer service that may require attention. Helping a customer with a warranty question or planning scheduled maintenance, for example. If you are like most manufacturers, CSR time is stressed, and anything that can be done to make them more accessible to customers will only improve relationships.

> Value selling at the point of sale (online) for specific customers can be realized.

If your CSRs are buried with requests to find parts or aid customers in parts related transactions, then that takes them away from other areas of customer service that may require attention. Helping a customer with a warranty question or planning scheduled maintenance, for example. If you are like most manufacturers, CSR time is stressed, and anything that can be done to make them more accessible to customers will only improve relationships.

> Your customer retention rate on your aftermarket will improve.

Customer retention in the aftermarket boils down to offering a sales mechanism that makes it easy for the customer to order the parts they need when they need them, at the best pricing. eCommerce technologies allow for this by guiding the customer to the right part either by direct entry of a part number, or by faceted searching and other query mechanisms. If you make their jobs easier, they will continue to order through your eStore.

> Processing errors in parts ordering will be reduced.

Sending the wrong part or making a clerical error in processing a part order can be embarrassing and costly. By using an eCommerce system, part order accuracy is enhanced because the amount of manual processing is virtually eliminated, and the customer can be directed to the right part via intuitive guidance provided by the system.

> You will have greater insight into the buying habits of customers.

An eCommerce system is only as good as the analytics that it provides to you in the analysis of customer buying habits and sales trends. If you are selling thousands of parts, knowing exactly what parts are ordered over time can help you to focus on trends that create opportunities for enhancing marketing or addressing chronic product issues.

> Your image as an innovative partner in your industry is made evident.

If your competitor sells aftermarket parts via eCommerce and you don’t, then the customer’s perception of you as an innovator may be tarnished. eCommerce has moved beyond being a trend to be a mission critical component of sales, and not having an online presence means that you are behind in offering the latest in services to your customers.

> Your reach is instantly globalized.

Offering an online presence to your aftermarket opens opportunities for sales that go beyond traditional boundaries. Due to the ease of access globally, you may find that you have customers in places that you never before felt possible.

The introduction of eCommerce for your aftermarket sales will have a profoundly positive impact on the way that you do business. CSRs will yield fewer calls and emails regarding finding the right part, price, availability and order status. This outcome is enhanced when the eCommerce system is coupled with an eCatalog offering. Online, real-time, searchable information on parts provides buyers with the data they need to make informed buying decisions and efficient purchases. A well-designed eCatalog component on your site can also greatly reduce parts publication costs, and will offer BOM information, 2D and 3D visualizations and other pertinent information that makes the buyers job easier. This not only can increase sales, but can have a significantly positive impact on the overall health of customer relationships with your brand.

What happens if the eCommerce decision is delayed?

With these advantages, one may wonder why the march to eCommerce is not as widespread in the manufacturing aftermarket business as it is in traditional B2C sales organizations. Before pondering that question, let’s first examine the consequences of inaction. Manufacturers that elect to postpone an eCommerce deployment will certainly expose themselves to ever increasing risks such as the following:

> Your CSRs and field sales resources may be consumed with administrative work.

As your business grows and you push more of your products into the market, the demands on your customer service team will also grow. Delaying eCommerce will only add to these demands, possibly to a point where the overall ability of your service team to address customer issues falls behind demand, and you need to add costly overhead.

> The opportunity to reinforce your brand position as an innovator disappears.

Buyers in today’s world have come to expect an online presence, in fact, “an overwhelming majority (89%) of B2B researchers use the internet in their research process” (Erskine, 2017)3. Not having one can be a sign of a business lacking innovation, or being unable to keep up with market demands. Your customer’s confidence in your ability to innovate will be eroded over the time before a commitment to eCommerce is made.


> Customer retention will be at risk as customers gravitate to easier ways to buy.

Buyers, like everyone else, are busy people. Having to make telephone calls to order parts is a time-consuming process when compared to ordering online, particularly when doing a part search without an identifying number. If your customer can get a part easily and efficiently elsewhere, then your retention is at risk.

> You will miss out on a unique opportunity to promote your products.

eCommerce is more than just offering your customers the opportunity to buy online. It also represents an opportunity for marketing and digitally promoting your products and services in a way that is integrated with a selling platform. This combination is a one-two punch in gaining sales in the aftermarket.

> Your technical publications team operates inefficiently, and lose you money.

If the eCommerce solution you select offers an eCatalog component (and it should), then you will have an opportunity to greatly reduce your technical publications cost. eCatalogs can maintain all pertinent information on your product and will allow the customer to easily find parts and service information they need without having to call support personnel.

Why is manufacturing behind in eCommerce implementation?

Unlike B2C commerce, B2B within the manufacturing sector is behind in the implementation of eCommerce strategies and systems. This is particularly true with aftermarket parts as most manufacturers struggle to break free of traditional “call for service” models. If there are so many advantages to moving forward with eCommerce, and so many risks associated with not moving forward then why have most manufacturers been slow to adopt an eCommerce strategy?

“...the process of moving from no eCommerce to fully operational eCommerce for an aftermarket parts business is complicated.”

The answer to this question is certainly multi-faceted, but in a nutshell the process of moving from no eCommerce to fully operational eCommerce for an aftermarket parts business is very complicated. On top of that, the aftermarket portion of a manufacturer’s business typically does not receive the attention it deserves in the first place, with aftermarket operations often relegated to dealer networks and parts resellers. eCommerce can provide leverage which shifts an appropriate emphasis onto parts, as the potential for increased revenues can be significant. However, this obviously cannot happen unless you have a clear strategy for how you are going to implement your eCommerce solution. To develop an effective strategy, it is extremely important to partner with an eCommerce technology provider that knows aftermarket business challenges and can guide you through the minefield of deployment/implementation.

Your garden variety B2C business has a straight forward path to eCommerce – deploy the software and populate your commerce site with your products. Usually the product family is easily managed as the data needed to present it in an eCommerce solution is readily available. For example, a company selling clothing has a relatively small database of product items, with not terribly complicated characteristics. Loading an eCommerce system with the initial product data in this case would be laborious at first, but easily implemented and maintained over time. A shirt may have only a handful of components or descriptors, all of which are present and easily accounted for at the time of deployment.

For a manufacturer selling aftermarket parts, the task of moving product information into an eCommerce system can become daunting process. Rather than having a relatively small number of products that you are selling, the number of parts products for one manufacturer can easily be in the hundreds of thousands.

It’s all about the BOMs

The source for information on the parts is found almost exclusively in Bill of Materials (BOM) databases, which are usually designed by engineers for engineering, rather than for marketing. Because of this, BOMs can be incomplete, and require attention to be made ready for insertion into the eCommerce platform. Critical specifications required for parts buyers to make informed decisions on part selection need to be vetted for availability, and any visual resources (2D or 3D diagrams, photographs) need to be supplied, at least for the most in-demand parts. BOM structures can be complicated and the involvement of engineers familiar with BOM data and how to work with them is important. For a successful eCommerce implementation in the aftermarket, BOM expertise is a precious skill.

ERP Complications

BOMs are a key piece of master data within your ERP system. How that BOM is managed within the ERP system can vary from installation to installation and even within a master part file. The ability to configure BOMs within an ERP system offers a manufacturer flexibility, but can also complicate matters when trying to use the ERP data for eCommerce implementations. This complication can be amplified when a large manufacturer employs the use of multiple disparate ERP systems. It is not uncommon for large enterprise manufacturers to have multiple manufacturing business units under their umbrella with each one using a different ERP system with varying BOM configurations. Wrangling ERP data from multiple systems can be like herding cats, and unless you partner with an eCommerce provider that understands that form of cat wrangling, your implementation could quickly get messy.

The Integration Factor

The selection of a competent eCommerce technology partner with ERP integration experience can make or break your move to seamlessly integrate ERP function with your eCommerce platform. Access to not only information on parts, but availability by location, pricing by customer relationship and other process related data needs to be thoughtfully pulled as needed from your ERP. This task demands knowledge and experience on how to properly use ERP vendor Application Program Interfaces (APIs) and how to design the integration for performance. Done improperly, your parts buyers will be at the mercy of an inefficient integration, meaning that waiting for system responses from the ERP could result in customer frustration or worse, abandonment of a sale.

Organizing the Organization

Organizational readiness for the rollout of an eCommerce presence cannot be underestimated. Key stakeholders from around the company need to be involved from inception to customer release to ensure that the eCommerce channel functions smoothly with all operational units involved. Parts marketing, sales, distribution, delivery, and support and management will all be impacted by an eCommerce deployment. Proper planning and interdepartmental communications is essential in making sure that all moving parts associated with the eCommerce project are working together to make it a success.

How the system will affect other channels such as your dealer network must also be anticipated and managed. Buy in from your sales departments and architecting a sales strategy that support the eCommerce channel is essential. While an eCommerce vendor may be able to install and release a software offering for you, working with a partner that understands not only the technology aspects but also what needs to change in your organization will make all the difference in a successful new eCommerce channel rollout.

Putting together pieces of the puzzle

If your company is acquisitive and your strategy is to bring smaller manufactures under one roof, then how you approach eCommerce can enhance your mergers or make them more difficult. All the challenges previously mentioned become more apparent in an active M&A environment. It is rare to find multiple manufacturing businesses with the same ERP systems, business processes and sales strategy. Offering a single solution for eCommerce (even if individually branded) can help with merger efforts, but it is important to recognize that each business unit has their own needs and requirements with respect to the aftermarket. At the same time, an eCommerce representation can show a cohesive corporate brand to customers and help to bring disparate brands under a unified single umbrella. Developing a business unit integration strategy with your eCommerce partner will be important if your growth strategy involves M&A.


Taking the leap into eCommerce for your aftermarket parts business has the potential to be one of the most impactful decisions a manufacturer can make in improving the bottom line. While eCommerce in the B2C business community has become an essential business function, the manufacturing world has lagged in deploying equivalent services for the B2B parts marketplace. The reasons associated with the hesitancy in moving forward with eCommerce are primarily attributable to the overwhelming complexities of aftermarket eCommerce data, business processes and organizational dependencies. Recognition of these complexities is important, but the failure to act on an eCommerce strategy because of them is risky and can result in a significant competitive deficit. Forrester estimates, “the US B2B eCommerce industry [...] will have a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 7.4%, bringing its value to $1.2 trillion by 2021” (Forrester, 2017)4. Embracing an eCommerce strategy can invigorate your aftermarket, but only if the chosen vendor clearly understands the challenges of the aftermarket and can provide the guidance needed to successfully implement a solution. Electing to move forward with aftermarket eCommerce is an important decision, but equally important is choosing an eCommerce technology partner that clearly understands the aftermarket parts business and how to effectively lead your organization toward eCommerce success.

> eCommerce represents a significant opportunity for growing a manufacturer’s aftermarket.

> Manufacturing firms have been slow to adopt eCommerce as an aftermarket sales platform.

> This hesitancy is primarily due to the complexities associated with aftermarket processes and data.

> Embracing eCommerce is essential for aftermarket sales growth, but the challenges of deployment must be recognized and planned for.

> Choosing an eCommerce partner with strong aftermarket domain expertise is critical to success.

[1]: Lind, Ellen. “SiriusDecisions Summit 2016 Highlights: Why Customer Experience Can Make or Break Your Success.” SiriusDecisions Summit 2016 Highlights: Why Customer Experience Can Make or Break Your Success | SiriusDecisions, SiriusDecisions, 26 May 2016, encecanmakeorbreakyoursuccess.

[2]: Morgan, Blake. “Build A Compelling B2B Customer Journey.” Build A Compelling B2B Customer Journey, Forbes Magazine, 24 Mar. 2018, ney/#6a18902a6a13.

[3]: Erskine, Ryan. “How To Turn B2B Buyers Into Sales Leads, According To Data.” How To Turn B2B Buyers Into Sales Leads, According To Data, 28 Dec. 2017, sales-leads-according-to-ata/#49e5da3a5a18.

[4]: “B2B ECOMMERCE WILL REACH $1.2 TRILLION, 13.1% OF US B2B SALES, BY 2021.” Forrester : Marketing : B2B ECommerce Will Reach $1.2 Trillion, 13.1% Of US B2B Sales, By 2021, Forrester Research, Inc., 1 June 2017, ce+Will+Reach+12+Trillion+131+Of+US+B2B+Sales+By+2021/-/E-PRE10026.


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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