I recently ran across a powerful video produced by Atlas Copco, the European maker of mining and construction equipment. The video tells the story of a hypothetical fleet manager at a construction company.
During the two-minute video the fleet manager, Bob, interacts with an online platform created by Atlas Copco that performs a variety of fleet and service management functions. The system Atlas Copco is offering to their customers includes several software applications working in combination. What’s so special about this platform? It’s an example of what enterprises can accomplish by implementing an integrated set of cloud tools, each designed to facilitate a particular business operation.
So, FleetLink takes care of fleet management and maintenance orders, Parts Online handles part lookup and parts ordering (using Documoto as the core application interface), and QR Connect keeps a record of all the machines and devices connected to the system and associated data.
As you see in the video, a fleet manager or service technician who logs in to Atlas Copco’s system can see where their machines are located, the machines’ service status and what maintenance items may be required. They can look up and order parts, and view videos that demonstrate repair procedures. They can even take advantage of automated diagnostic tools to further optimize machine uptime and work scheduling.
The right data flows where it’s needed, exactly when it’s needed for employees to efficiently complete their tasks. This is the future of service, and it’s a reality now for Atlas Copco and their customers.
The magic behind Atlas Copco’s system is the ease of integrating modern cloud applications thanks to common standards and protocols. Grizzled IT veterans cringe in horror at the thought of converting and migrating data from older legacy systems, but the software world is finally moving past those terrifying projects.
And the Documoto platform has proven its ability to play a vital role in a fully integrated cloud/SaaS service solution for top tier manufacturers. If you are curious about how your aftermarket service organization might benefit from modern parts management, give Documoto a quick spin by requesting a demo today!
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.
Digital parts catalogs make it easy to keep part information current
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.
As always, Bruce asks insightful questions and provides his own expert perspective. And Alan shares his predictions on the future of online and aftermarket sales for manufacturers who traditionally relied on dealer/distributor networks to generate orders and revenues from part sales and service.
Alan and Bruce discuss the increasing difficulty for manufacturers to maintain or increase revenues in light of global economic volatility, the proliferation of 3rd party suppliers, and greater competition from non-domestic manufacturers. The competition for aftermarket part sales has become even more challenging, with resellers on eBay, Ali Baba and other online channels vying for the same market share.
The solution is to create an effortless buying experience for online users, akin to the Amazon.com experience that private consumers have come to expect. That is, the ability to buy anywhere, any time, and have confidence that you’ll receive the right parts in a timely fashion.
Listen to the entire show and learn more about Alan’s actionable takeaways:
Manufacturers’ proprietary information (this includes parts catalogs) gives them a competitive advantage over non-OEM aftermarket providers, so figure out how to leverage this information.
Customers will pay more for convenience and reliability, so don’t make the mistake of trying to compete only on price when you can truly add value to a transaction.
Bruce McDuffee has proven to be an innovative voice in the world of marketing for manufacturers, applying concepts from B2C and other arenas to the unique challenges and needs of manufacturers. From content marketing to eCommerce to search engine optimization, Bruce stays on top of the latest.
If you’re a manufacturer wondering about the trend toward more transparent online B2B sales, or a marketer looking for advice on best practices for manufacturers, you’ll get something of value from this exchange of ideas.
Web services and APIs are important concepts in cloud computing. They enable information exchange between different software systems, which is necessary to accomplish the integration of customer ERPs, EAMs and other enterprise applications with Digabit’s Documoto software.
One of the main benefits of integration is to provide real-time updates and synchronize data between the Documoto database and databases used in other enterprise systems. In addition to the time savings, maintaining data integrity is much simpler when you only have to update information in one place!
For example, if a manufacturer would like online customers to see the most recently updated prices in Documoto, the prices only require updating in their ERP system, let’s say Oracle. Then, when an end user navigates to a parts book page in Documoto, as the page is dynamically built the new prices are “pulled” from the Oracle database to the Documoto database, and subsequently the page that the customer is viewing. Documoto can also “push” a user’s order back to an ERP to complete the cycle.
What is a web service?
A “web service” is generally described as a method of transmitting data between two Internet-connected systems. An API, or application programming interface, is a specific type of web service. Software developers make APIs available to customers and other 3rd parties to encourage integration and data sharing.
One well-known API example is that provided by Google to allow web developers access to Google Maps information. This allows the developer to design a web page with a location map, driving directions, or other data from Google. The map data is transmitted from Google servers only when a viewer opens that specific web page. This gives the end user the latest and best information available.
Web services and APIs are key to unlocking the full power of Documoto. Many useful functions rely upon data exchange between systems to operate properly, like single sign on, shopping cart integration with back-end software, dealer portal integration, and more.
How can I use web services with Documoto?
Using web services with Documoto makes custom integrations easy. You can set up data exchanges to enable automatic updates of parts catalogs and administrative data, like:
Part numbers & pricing
Parts availability & location
Adding users and user groups
Digabit’s Professional Services team has experts on hand to manage customer integrations via web services and APIs, so if this article looks like so much gobbledygook, don’t worry! If you do have experience and knowledge of how web services work, you may be able to manage your own integrations.
Digabit recently developed and released several eCommerce APIs to empower Documoto users to lead their own integration efforts.
In order to achieve the greatest efficiency gains in business processes related to aftermarket sales, data stored in Documoto’s database must be accessible to other enterprise systems like ERP, CRM, custom-built eCommerce systems, and the like. Digabit’s new APIs are designed to make it easy to interact with Documoto’s eCommerce platform from any 3rd party application, ERP/CRM system, or custom application.
Does system integration sound like a lot of work? Not always. Documoto APIs are based on RESTful web services, an industry standard for scalable, easily maintained information exchange between applications. That means fast integrations with minimal custom coding required.
Do you need to modify a dealer’s order status or parts list within your ERP? With the proper API integration, make changes in ERP and the data will be updated in Documoto automatically. No duplication of effort, and data remains synced between all your critical systems.
The currently available APIs are focused on order management data, and allow clients to create their own custom applications to use and modify data within Documoto. For those without the necessary technical resources or know-how, Digabit’s Professional Services team can get you up and running.
How do you get started? Contact your account representative and they’ll give you the details on how to sign up. You’ll receive an access key and a link to full API documentation with technical specifications and endpoints.
Information is power, but only when it is shared in the right places. Get all your systems on the same page with Documoto’s eCommerce APIs!