Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) devote most of their sales and marketing resources toward selling new units and discovering untapped markets. This is logical, since the majority of their revenues generally come from new equipment sales.
However, it’s a well-known fact that service and parts sales for capital equipment (that is, commercial and industrial machinery with operating lifespans of a decade or longer) are large—and growing—sources of profits for many OEMs.
Because repair and maintenance services—along with replacement parts and supplies—typically boast higher profit margins than new model sales, these revenue streams can contribute greatly to a manufacturer’s top line.
Traditionally, parts were sold by OEMs through one of two channels, either through a dealer network or direct to the equipment owner. Dealers kept printed parts books at the parts counter to help with parts lookup and identification. Owners may have been given a parts list in an Operator’s Manual and a toll-free phone number, at best.
Of course, the Web has blown away the limitations of those old ways of distributing goods and information. Given that disruption, what’s the best way to sell high-margin OEM parts in the Internet age?
#1 Put It Online
Wouldn’t it be great if mechanics, dealers and other part buyers could find a detailed drawing of every single part in a machine and have complete confidence in the accuracy of that information, because it comes from the machine’s maker?
Unfortunately, many companies still manage online sales by providing a generic contact form with a message saying something like, “Let us know what parts you need, your model number and any other information you have.”
This puts a heavy burden on a potential buyer. I doubt if many customers bother to fill out these forms, but likely decide to call the parts department immediately in order to avoid this unfriendly online experience. Or even worse, a buyer in a hurry will simply perform another online search, seeking an easier way to buy.
Only slightly better than a blank form, the most common format for online parts catalogs is the PDF. In general, these PDF files are not searchable or indexed by search engines, either on the Web or on the OEM website. That means they’ll never appear in search results, and users are required to browse through, page by page, in order to find the assembly or part they’re looking for.
What OEM equipment owners, dealers and other buyers need is an online parts catalog with as much specific detail as possible. That means clear images or drawings, expanded part descriptions, a history of superseded part numbers, availability, inventory locations and other data that can only be provided by the manufacturer. Depending on the software used and the business objective, companies may choose to add eCommerce functionality to the parts catalog and enable direct online sales.
#2 Make It Attractive and Easy to Navigate
The shorthand for this principle is “customer experience.” Some companies value their customers’ time so little that they publish industrial parts lists on web pages with no illustrations and very little context. Just three or four columns with part numbers, prices and a brief description that may or may not be helpful in making a positive ID. What kind of customer experience does this type of parts list provide?
Wouldn’t it be better to have a clear illustration, or a 3D representation, or even an augmented reality (AR) app that make parts lookup fast and simple? And users should be able to search by part name, number, description or other criteria as appropriate. The technology is readily available for those who are prepared to take advantage.Car mechanic fixing car with augmented reality application
For companies that do provide highly interactive electronic parts catalogs, the contrast for users is remarkable. While many people think of parts as commodity items—and believe that buying decisions are primarily based on price—this is simply not true. Buyers value speed and convenience in ordering, and they will pay to get it.
#3 Make Sure It’s Accurate
Of course, ease of ordering doesn’t matter if dealers and equipment owners buy the wrong part. Or have to buy multiple parts because they don’t know which one fits.
How many aftermarket departments track returns and express shipping costs due to customers ordering incorrect part numbers?
In our experience, it’s a subject most people don’t want to talk about. However, we occasionally hear stories about the extreme costs of express freight shipping when an error is made in a critical parts order. And the thousands of dollars an hour that operators lose when machines can’t be repaired on schedule.
Some people view outrageous shipping costs as the price of great customer service and a necessary component of doing business. Wouldn’t it be much greater customer service to actually send buyers the right part the first time?
Achieving close to 100% accuracy is completely realistic with modern parts catalogs that are dynamically generated from a database. Technical publishers don’t have to wait a year before printing the next edition of an outdated paper catalog, they just quickly change the data in a master database and everyone in the world who opens the digital catalog can see the updates right away.
#4 Add Value with Additional Content
In the “on-demand” world of today’s consumer, it’s not good enough to offer the minimum in terms of product support. That means an OEM can’t just publish a non-searchable PDF parts manual and call it a day. Not if they want to stay in business.
For example, people search online for video demonstrations when they need to fix their personal vehicles, and that behavior is leaking over into the commercial and industrial workplace. If you sell equipment that is maintainable by the owner, make sure you’re the first source that customers think of when they need reputable advice.
What else can you offer that is related to parts, service and technical support? Is your parts catalog smart enough to show buyers related items when they view a part? Like the seal kit that’s necessary when replacing a drive shaft, or a crush washer that goes along with installing a new bolt?
OEMs are in a unique position in their ability to provide buyers with warranty information, inspection certifications, operating instructions and other proprietary data. Turn that information into a competitive differentiator by exposing as much as possible to users.
It all adds up in a customer’s mind when they think about a manufacturer’s brand reputation and how much loyalty they will feel the next time they decide to make a major equipment purchase.
Remember, it’s much easier (and cheaper) to sell to an existing customer than it is to land a new one. Treat your current product owners at least as well as you treat potential prospects. That means giving online visitors the product information they want and need to keep their machines running.