Relationships are the Key - The DIGITAL DEALERSHIP makes them Better.

The Digital Dealership - The things that change and the things that don't

I often hear, and most of us have said, the following word.  “The equipment business is a relationship business”, “Relationships make the difference”. 

Nothing could be truer about this industry.   Our products create long term relationships because each of the products have a long-life cycle during which we need to engage with and support our customers.  Relationships make all the difference during many phases of the machine’s life cycle.  I first learned this lesson dealing with 330 Excavator issues.  This work horse machine was relied upon by many customers, just it had lots of issues.  Cylinders, pumps and finals to name a few.  Having a strong relationship helped us navigate the problems with the customers and come up with workable solutions and agreements.  Through it all, we maintained the relationship and the next generation of the same machine still had lots of buyers. 

So, this is often what I hear from dealers when talking about the development of the Digital Dealership.  “Digital isn’t important, it’s a relationship business”.  As if relationship is all it takes to maintain a customer. If that were true, we would all still have a roll of quarters in the truck and be looking for pay phones to get a hold of the office and the customer, rather than get a cell phone to get better.

The Truth is, while relationships matter, the digital transformation has supported it all the way and needs to continue to do so.  It’s naive or “old fashioned” to get stuck in the glory of the past.   Just like your cell phone caused the demise of the Pay phone because it allowed you to do things better.  The rest of the digital world is there to support you .. Not replace you. 

This past week I sent my 4Runner in for service.  Just for fun I went online, found the nearest dealer, booked an appointment, chose my preferred communication method, got a quote for the service and discussed additional required services at my mileage.  Then I got to the Dealership and talked face to face with the person I’d been emailing with.   All my car information was entered, and we wasted no time.  I built a relationship with Jallone the Assistant service manager.  He looked after my needs and I tried to steal him from automotive to the equipment business, because he did a great job.  When the service was done, he followed up with electronic invoices and discussion on open items. 

The Digital dealership supports and improves your existing operations, it does not destroy the value of relationships, it only makes them easier to create and maintain. 

Take this example I heard from Alex Kraft at this past week.   A contractor told him he’s been waiting for 3 weeks to get a quote from his sales rep.  All this customer wanted was an piece of paper (or electronic quote) for a machine, but the sales rep is too busy or the process too onerous to get a quote out.  How is it helping that dealer and customer not to have the dealership invest more seriously in digital systems to provide quotes faster.  In the end this contractor went to a new platform that exposed his needs to dozens of other dealers, who quoted him automatically or saw the Quote request and responded. 

Digital supports your business; it doesn’t take away from it;  unless you decide to implement it poorly. 

How else does Digital augment your relationship? 

A core aspect of the Digital dealership is the use of information.  As the equipment expert your customer relies on, you need to be seen  as the trusted advisor, not a quote provider or order taker.    Find ways to use digital information to be ready to support your customer with all the equipment related information you can.  Specs, performance, analysis, operating cost and market pricing data.  When you become the Digitally enabled Trusted Advisor, you’re always welcome. 

Oh, and don’t forget to have inventory info at your fingertips and be able to price something.  

Years ago, I had dinner with a colleague in Chicago during my only 1.5 years not in the construction equipment business.  He told me a story of being a young regional manager, sitting with his customer.  He proudly boasted about the improvement their business had made in delivery.  He told his customer “We can now ship any product we have in stock to you in a week”.  He was so proud of the giant gain in delivery speed.   His customer looked at him and laughed “You’ve got to be F@#%@ kidding me, from stock to out the door in seven days???”    Expectations is the point.  Your customers have a learned experience of what’s possible.  No matter how good you think you are, if someone is doing it better, that’s the new standard.

Creating a strong Digital Dealership, however that applies to your dealership, improves your relationship with your customer.

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