Supplier Strategies for Web Success
In what seems like the blink of an eye, the Internet has changed the way we store, access and use information. Technology has made training accessible at any time from almost any where at a reasonable cost or even free.
By Doug Kaufman
“Virtual education” is one of the hottest trends out there in the educational community, thank to the ability to provide real-time communication between teachers and students. Many public schools allow students to bring smart phones, tablets and laptops to class to facilitate the transfer of information and enrich the learning experience.
If you think about it, we’ve been providing a similar experience to you since 1964. Trade magazines such as Engine Builder and our sister publications at Babcox Media have long been a distance learning resource. We provide detailed technical, market and business information to you in a compact, portable and easy-to-use format.
Frankly, we see no future scenario where magazines like the one you’re holding right now ever disappear too many people expect too much from print publication to expect ink on paper will be obsolete, at least any time soon. However, unlike the proverbial buggy whip maker, we acknowledge that you may actually be reading these words on your computer, on your phone or in some other digital format.
That’s exciting stuff, and embracing technology will make access to information that much easier. But for suppliers of that information, it brings about questions of what to provide and how to do it. Online resources offer a wealth of opportunity to provide promotional, informational and educational resources to customers and enthusiasts. How are Engine Builder supporters utilizing the available technology?
Just take a quick glance at the ads in this or any recent issue. The vast majority of ads include Web addresses, information about Facebook or Twitter addresses or other information about online resources often, no phone number or other contact information is even provided! Is the Web really that great a resource?
“We view the Web as a very valuable training resource,” explain’s MAHLE Clevite’s Ted Hughes. “In today’s world of having to do more with less in shops and bays throughout the industry; shop owners can no longer spare their technicians for days or even hours of off-site training. This makes the Web the most productive and convenient way of delivering necessary training to those who need it most. They can work on their own time in any place that has an Internet connection.”
Scat’s Craig Schenasi believes that ongoing efforts at optimizing a website pay off in customer service.
“Education is Scat’s main priority. Our goal, of course, is to teach our customers and end users about our company, our new products, technical information and our entire product line,” says Schenasi. “Since we implemented our website more than 10 years ago, it’s changed to include more depth, more information and better graphics. I feel it’s very important to our marketing efforts now and moving forward.”
Even if it isn’t currently used as a training resource, suppliers recognize the opportunity the Internet presents.
“At this point, we have not focused a great deal on online training,” explains Jasper Engines and Transmissions’ Mike Pfau. “We have other classroom type training programs in place. We do, however, feel that the website offers considerable potential for training. It’s a matter of determining what we need to include, how we will present it and surveying our customers to gauge their level of interest if we were to offer online training. It would then be a matter of devoting sufficient time and resources to developing the online training.
That last element, of course, is key. Just as Engine Builder magazine is available online to anyone who wishes to read it, the Internet makes information accessibility easier than ever. Suppliers say they offer a range of informational resources such as technical bulletins, digital catalogs, eLearning courses and other comprehensive training materials. But do they view these resources as an opportunity or a burden? In short, is training an expense or can it pay for itself?
“For the most part, training should pay for itself,” explains Pfau. “Our website and its online resources serve both our installer and fleet customer professional customer - base as well as the consumer or vehicle owner. The quality and usefulness of a website is a direction reflection upon the company and influences the user’s perception of the company in terms of how capable it is of serving their needs.”
Pfau says Jasper does, however, offer several diagnostic classes for which they have a nominal charge. “These are training classes held at specific venues and are not online training. This charge helps to cover travel, food and lodging and materials expenses.”
MAHLE’s Hughes says he views training as a very necessary and valuable expense.
“As a full line manufacturer of some of the highest quality parts in the market, we view it as our duty to provide many value-adds like category management, catalog and sales support, technical assistance, and most of all training,” he says. “While our expense in training is fairly large as compared to many of our competitors, we believe that the expense will pay off in sales by our customers and our customers’ customers understanding that we are supporting them by giving them the best tools to do their job.”
Dealing with those customers’ customers is often a sticky situation. Whether you call them “enthusiasts,” “weekend warriors” or “prosumers,” many of the visitors to your website are not professionals, yet seek professional-grade information to help educate them about their engines. While the illusion that “They can’t put anything on the Internet that isn’t true,” still persists in many places, your website gives you the chance to combat misconceptions and wrong information bandied about by chat room “experts.”
Should suppliers put limits on what training is available? While some policies vary, both Jasper and MAHLE have relatively easy accessibility.
“Only when it comes to our e-commerce portal with regards to pricing, account information and some other areas that apply strictly to our professional customers, do we restrict website access?” says Pfau. “We don’t have any restrictions with regard to a training/information resources standpoint.”
Likewise, Hughes explains training is available restriction-free.
“Although we have an exclusive customer intranet that requires a password for admittance, none of our training components are exclusive to customers,” Hughes says. “We want to provide the best resources to anyone in the industry who can benefit from them whether they are a customer or not.”
Of course, the desire to share training isn’t entirely altruistic. While it’s true that an educated user is a benefit to the entire industry, it can be a distinct marketing advantage as well to forward-thinking companies.
“We have a mission to provide value to our customers at every touch point through the distribution channel. By staying at the forefront of delivering value to those who need it through everything from training to education and ultimately growing the mindshare of our brands all combine to form a marketing advantage that is too important not to take advantage of,” says Hughes.
Pfau agrees: “The more value-added services and convenience that a company can offer to their customers, the more value they bring to the table for the professional customer and consumer.”
Methods of sharing that value continue to change, and social media sites are getting a look or more from many of our advertisers. Engine Builder uses Twitter and Facebook to promote the resources we offer on our website. They offer a valuable opportunity to connect with our readers - and though not purely a training resource, the interaction can be entertaining and enlightening at the same time.
“While we feel our existing training platforms can offer a more complete training opportunity for those who seek it, our Facebook and Social Media presence is a forum for Automotive Service Professionals to ask and get answers to technical questions in a timely fashion,” says Hughes.
It is this flexibility that Pfau believes makes the Internet a valuable training resource now and in the future.
“Our website is very important now and will continue,” he says.
“Websites are very adaptable to the changing structural and informational needs of the consumer and professional customer alike. New information can be provided quickly. They’re multi-media in nature, providing print and video all in one location, with the ability to offer downloads on demand. We feel that social media like Facebook pages will continue to take on importance as well.”
Experts say 78 percent of Americans are regular Internet users. If you’re not marketing your business to them either on a professional or a consumer basis you are missing a huge opportunity to train your customers and get your share of online sales.
To download the complete Suppliers Website Directory, click here and the links below:
- Going from Brick and Mortar to Online Sales Doesn't Have to be Intimidating
- Leveraging the Web to Generate Leads and Build Customer Relationships