Key steps for distributors to grow their online sales

Updated Feb 22, 2023
Customer online showing the options to purchase product

The most significant way to grow your online sales is to ease the process of doing business with you.

Customers have lots of options. And just like all human behavior, they like to take the path of least resistance. If you want to attract new customers and grow the customer base you have today, you must find ways to remove resistance when doing business with you.

One of the most profitable places to start is with your aftermarket. According to a 2022 McKinsey study, billions of dollars are going unrealized because of the lack of investment in aftermarket sales. Aftermarket parts and service provide a consistent source of recurring revenue and offer higher margins than new equipment. But since they’re often underinvested, distributors are missing out on a tremendous amount of revenue potential. This means that there’s a lot of room for growth and re-imagining this area of business can lead to incredible returns.

So what’s the best way to grow aftermarket sales? We’re going to lay out 4 simple steps distributors can get started on today.

Step 1: Create a secure place to find information and order parts

This first step is the most important. In order to grow parts sales, customers need a secure place to identify parts, locate service information, and place orders. They need information available at their fingertips. More and more buyers prefer digital options to not only place orders but to research as well. Without providing them with a 24/7/365 solution, it will be nearly impossible to lower resistance, ensure you are the brand they want to choose time and time again, and grow your parts sales.

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Completing this step is incredibly important for reasons aside from just the sales aspect. An amazing 97 percent of industry leaders agreed that if companies don’t transform digitally they won’t be able to remain competitive. So taking this step and dipping your toe into digital platforms has become a necessity as the industry continues to shift online. This digital solution can be an open e-commerce site (with limited functionality for anonymous users) or a customer portal — what matters is that you’re providing a digital option. Your customers expect advancements in your online tools, when done well they will be loyal to your brand and revenues will be positively impacted.

Step 2: Provide access to everything customers need

A digital offering is only as good as the information it contains. In fact, 87 percent of customers said the lack of product content lowered their confidence in a brand. So there must be up-to-date information on BOMs, associated drawings, technical publications, and procedural instructions for the equipment they sell and service. Think about it like this, any information a customer might call to ask about has to be online. So that means they need access to customer pricing, product availability, and order status as well.

While adding this much information can seem overwhelming, it doesn’t have to. To get started you can always follow the 80/20 rule. Update the information for the 20 percent of products that make up 80 percent of sales. This is a great starting point and can be expanded as time goes on.

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But creating a digital platform that makes customers want to purchase more extends beyond just the information. It should be where they go for every step of the equipment support process. So things like requesting returns and managing warranty claims need to be available too. The name of the game is making it easier for them to do business with you. Creating efficiency and simplicity is what will keep them coming back to a site and lead them to purchase more. If someone enjoys their buying experience on your site, they’ll never feel the need to buy anywhere else. So make sure you’re creating that seamless experience that keeps them coming back and you’ll end up seeing a major increase in repeat purchases.

Step 3: Let your customers know

This may sound simple, but this step gets passed over a lot — you need to tell your customers about all your offerings available on your website. Digital platforms only provide value if they’re used. So pull out all the stops to make sure your customers know about your online offering.

This is where sales, customer service, and technical support teams must get involved. They are the teams that know your customers best and can have the greatest influence over their adoption of your tools. While customers are hungry for these options — they are busy and change takes time. Educating them on all your tools have to offer is key for instilling lasting change over time and getting the greatest ROI from the investments you’ve made.

Step 4: Get feedback and iteratively make change

If you’ve followed the first three steps, then you should see online parts sales rise and a decrease in routine tasks to your sales and customer service center. Customers are choosing your brand over other options because all the information they need is now only a few clicks away. It’s time to deploy feedback and review data insights from your digital tools.

Develop a mechanism to capture customer feedback and remember to use the insights in your website analytics to help prioritize and manage changes to your online content. Once you’ve made the powerful changes that are going to help with product conversion, use promotional marketing tools like banners, upselling, and email marketing to tell your customers about the change.

The best companies maximize their site performance by continuing this cycle over and over to get small incremental improvements that lead to profitable wins. Getting a digital platform up and running is a great achievement, but the real test is in refining the site and continuing to learn and grow.

Kris Harrington is the CEO of GenAlpha Technologies.  During her time with OEMs in the mining industry, Kris and the other founders of GenAlpha saw a need to find a better way for B2B brands in manufacturing to do business.  This led to the development of an eCommerce solution for manufacturers and distributors who want to grow their business online.  For more than 10 years, the experienced team at GenAlpha Technologies has been helping equipment manufacturers repurpose their bills of materials, 2D and 3D engineering data to make it easier for customers to safely identify and purchase parts.

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