Data driven: Making sense of customer data in the aftermarket

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Updated Jul 10, 2014

Today’s world is filled with data. Every result is tracked; every purchase is recorded.

The trucking industry is filled with data, too. But with so much information flying around, it can be tough to make sense of it all.

So tough that until very recently, the aftermarket avoided most of it.

“I think most independent [aftermarket businesses] are starting to wake up to the fact they can’t ignore this data anymore,” says Patrick Seeburg, product manager, truck group at MOTOR Information Systems. “But there’s so much in- formation out there, a lot of [aftermarket businesses] don’t know where to start.”

To avoid a data overload, it’s a good idea to wade in slowly. Data is most valuable when it’s clearly understood.

Aftermarket companies willing to learn about the data available to them are most likely to appreciate it, and use it to implement positive changes in their business.

Data sources

All areas of the trucking industry produce data. The most valuable sources of data in the aftermarket are aftermarket businesses, suppliers, customers and independent data recording organizations.

Distributors and service providers create a spectacular amount of valuable data in their businesses.

“The aftermarket has always collected data and used data,” says Edward Kuo, director of sales, motor vehicles at Datalliance. “They might not have viewed it [as data] the way we do today, but they’ve always been using it.”

Examples include part sales, customer purchasing and service orders. This is the data the aftermarket is most familiar with, and most likely to use, Seeburg says.

GRAPHIC: Top 10 inspection violations for the past 24 months 

“Everyone [in the aftermarket] tracks earns and turns,” he says, “Because you have to know how fast you’re moving products.”

Suppliers also are a great source of data because they are able to identify sales trends and customer purchasing strategies on a national level. Making that data available in their distribution channel can help distributors grow and better identify areas where they can improve.

There’s no shortage of customer data, either. Seeburg says today’s fleets are tracking and recording nearly everything.

While fleets use most of this data to improve fleet utilization and driver performance, some newer technologies such as electronic on-board recorders (EOBRs), telematics and vehicle maintenance reporting standards (VMRS) offer dramatic improvements to service diagnostics and repair.

Fleets looking to outsource maintenance require aftermarket partners capable of accepting and dissecting this information.

“Data is only valuable if you can make it actionable for your people,” says Steven Bryan, founder and CEO at Vigillo. “You have to be able to use it.”

The government also has usable customer data in its comprehensive Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) carrier logs.

And data can be found in other areas, too, as trucking is home to many companies that collect and report data on all aspects of the industry.

If a distributor wants to know how many fleets in his state run one specific brake system on one specific make and model truck, he can find it, says Bryan Funke, senior director, commercial vehicle sales at IHS Automotive.

Randall Reilly, publisher of Truck Parts & Service, offers a similar solution with its RigDig Business Intelligence tool.

“We have the ability to profile a business and its customers, and that allows [a distributor] to be a lot more focused in their marketing,” says James Vogel, general manager of RigDig.

Click here for Part II, “What data is being used?”

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