[This article was originally published in 2019 by Trucks, Parts, Service. It has been updated to include more timely information.]
One unfortunate reality of data usage in today’s dealer and aftermarket channels is that a lot of it is misused or wasted. These failures are unintentional — no business invests in data for it to be used incorrectly — the results of common implementation errors. Data integration is a challenge requiring steady direction, employee buy-in and the willingness of business leaders to accept implementation growing pains on the path to long-term success.
In this final chapter of our three-part series on data integration, TPS again relies on industry experts to provide instruction and best practices for absorbing data into a dealer and aftermarket business to ensure high levels of employee engagement, usage and success. See Part I on data acquisition and Part II on data evaluation for more from this special report.
Part III: Data implementation
Step 1: Acquisition and presentation
The immense number of sources providing and developing data products for the trucking industry means there is no standard method of data delivery in the marketplace. Some data sources actively distribute their findings using downloadable reports or mailings while others choose to house their resources online and provide levels of access to customers.
This disparity means dealers and aftermarket businesses seeking to leverage data must develop integration strategies malleable enough to rely upon regardless of their data source provider.
For businesses without an existing strategy, a good first step in creating such a process is designating a point person or small team of associates who will serve as connection points between the dealer/aftermarket business and data provider.
While these associates can come from any area of a business, a baseline of knowledge about why a specific set of data is being acquired and how it is expected to be used within the operation is essential. Employees, even managers, should never be asked to lead a data integration without first under-standing exactly what the data hopes to achieve.
“If you want to really use data to your advantage you have to be sure you know why you’re using it,” says Karmak’s Adam Madsen, vice president, business solutions.
As an example, a service shop may choose a service writer or shift manager when integrating performance metrics into its operation. For a truck dealer adding customer lead generation data, it would be best to tap a sales or marketing manager to bring that data into the business.
This person (or team) is then responsible for supervising the forthcoming integration, beginning with the procurement and evaluation of the data from the provider. That latter aspect is particularly important, as some data must be cleaned or simplified before being made available throughout a business.
“I think everyone wants to be able to get as much information as they can consume and that makes sense, but I do think sometimes there is such a thing as too much information,” says Paul Moszak, vice president and heavy duty evangelist, MOTOR.
By assigning implementation to an associate or small team, dealers and distributors can be sure the data they’ve acquired has been analyzed internally (with guidance from the provider) and the proper takeaways have been identified to distribute to the larger employee base.
Newly acquired data also should be tethered to existing company information and business goals and objectives wherever possible if the data is planned to be actively leveraged by employees in the field.
That’s an area where existing solutions providers have an edge because they call out those connections explicitly within their products.
At CDK Global, customers enrolled in CDK integration platforms “benefit from bi-directional integration built to communicate with the DMS platform, providing a seamless workflow alongside or within the CDK platform to maximize efficiency and limit process duplication,” says Doug Pataky, director, enterprise/manufacturer solutions.
Additionally, at Noregon, which produces diagnostic tool management (DTM) reports for customers that provide statistics and analysis on codes read by the customer’s tools, Chief Technology Officer Dave Covington says each report is composed to highlight major takeaways first, such as most common codes, highest risk codes and trends over time.
He says the deeper customers dive into a DTM report the more information they’ll uncover, but the reports are still written in a way that ensures a quick or uninformed glance can prove useful.
Step 2: Accessibility
After acquisition and analysis comes rollout. While only a fraction of data acquired by a dealer or aftermarket business requires companywide distribution, most data does need to be dispersed to a select number of associates, such as department heads, store managers, outside salespeople and possibly others.
Implementation leaders should work with executives to develop this list. Data providers also serve as useful advisers during this phase as they are most familiar with how their products are used by other customers.
“That’s a big part of what we do,” says Adam Morrison, senior client success manager, Randall-Reilly — publisher of TPS and owner of RigDig Business Intelligence.
Morrison says Randall-Reilly employs an entire team of client success managers (CSM) who serve as single points of contact for their data customers. These liaisons are integral throughout the stages of a data integration because of their familiarity with the product and its use industrywide.
Acting as “advocates and consultants” for each customer, Morrison says one of a CSM’s first jobs when onboarding a new client is developing an access list for RigDig BI’s platform. “Having someone to draw on is a massive value add,” he says.
Decisions also must be made regarding the scope of information made available to employees. Different departments and positions regularly require differing amounts of data or sets of data and should be granted access accordingly, says AutoPower President Mike Mallory.
He references an outside sales team as an example, saying associates expected to increase sales to existing customers should be provided as much information possible about those customers’ buying habits and purchasing trends but also may benefit by being limited in their access to other data categories to remain focused on the task at hand.
“You want them to be able to focus on those key areas and be able to quickly drill down and find information that can help them,” Mallory says.
Limiting access during the early stages of a data integration project also increases the likelihood of employee comprehension and acceptance. Experts say providing too much data too fast can yield a drinking-from-a-firehouse effect where associates are unable to manage the sudden influx of information. Data should be helpful and useful, not disorienting and overwhelming.
On this note, experts speak of the value in scaling up by starting with a single source of information or data set and using that to train other associates on how to read and understand data, then expanding the available information when a team proves its aptitude.
“People can easily be overwhelmed by the amount of data that is out there,” says John Blodgett, vice president, sales and marketing, MacKay & Company.
Step 3: Training
One reason scalable data integrations are viewed positively in the market is the emphasis they put on training associates. No data integration is successful without employee buy-in and acceptance and there’s no better way to achieve those objectives than through training.
A successful training program requires focus on two primary concepts: educating employees on how to view, understand and interpret data, and educating employees on how to use that data in their work.
It’s all about comprehension and application, says Chris Brady, president, Commercial Motor Vehicle Consulting. “It’s not just about acquiring the raw data, you have to be able to put it into an actual plan to improve your business,” he says.
Comprehension training is commonly recommended as the first of the two types because of its focus on functionality. This training should include guidance on where the data is housed (online vs. internal servers, etc.), how it is accessed and how it can be filtered and visualized in a manner that benefits associates.
From there experts say training flows naturally into application-based or usage instruction in which associates are trained on how the data they can now access and understand will positively impact their work — such as the aforementioned outside sales team learning how to uncover customer purchasing trends to more effectively prepare for future sales calls.
This is also where confirming employee buy-in is most important.
Associates who resist a new data product or package (maliciously due to a personal bias or unintentionally due to a lack of understanding) can turn a potentially lucrative endeavor into an expensive failure in short order. Additionally, while one failed data integration does not beget future letdowns, it can breed doubt and uncertainty among business leaders that may reduce their likelihood to attempt a similar project at a later date.
Brittany Soika says that’s something she was trying to avoid when she pro-posed integrating RigDig BI data into business planning in 2018 as director of business development at Excel Truck Group.
“That was one of the biggest concerns of our leadership,” she remembers. “They felt it looked like a great tool but they asked me, ‘Can we trust the data and will the sales team use it?’”
Soika says she was honest in that she initially told them not necessarily; they would need to be trained on how best to utilize the data and how it would benefit them in their sales efforts. User acceptance of a new process or tool is all about accessibility and reliability of information. As such, Soika says she set out to develop a plan with her data provider to ensure the data Excel Truck Group was acquiring would be useful and actionable.
She says that took time but has been more than worth it in the end.
“When you can show [associates] the potential of data and can give them transparency into their markets and customers’ businesses, that’s when they really take to it,” she says. “Our team has been able to transform their focus to more qualified sales calls leading to greater results.”