Are you falling victim to the “Internet world”?

There is an interesting phenomenon spreading all across the country in this new reality of U.S. business.

Customers are buying a lot of things on the Internet. What authorized distributors and dealers once had as a barrier to competition is gone. Information is now widely available on nearly everything that someone could need or want to buy.

This is an interesting subject to me as I have lived this transformation over my work life. I started using the Internet in 1973 when the browser I used was named “Gopher” as it was provided by the University of Minnesota.

Looking for and finding information in those days was easy as the only users of the Internet back then were universities, government departments, and world agencies such as the World Bank. So this “tool,” which today is found everywhere, was introduced in a simpler format and has taken hold in all aspects of society.

What are the advantages to owning a dealership anymore when customers can get anything they want from other sources and at prices that make you weep?

Do you have an Internet site where your customers can obtain information or process orders for your products or services?

What They Need

Many dealers started with the Internet by treating it like an electronic document explaining their company. It explained the history, what they did, and who they were. It was almost akin to a documentary, but there was no story line.

The next step was to put on the “site” equipment they had available for sale. First were pictures and then there was motion and eventually sound.

But still we were not really addressing the needs and wants of our customers. We were providing what we thought they needed.

I remember sitting in a meeting with a dealer on this very subject. After about an hour of going back and forth on what to put on the site, I asked if anyone had asked a customer. The system person in the room scoffed at the idea with a “What do they know about that anyway?” attitude. Sometimes paybacks are painful.

But customers in “this new reality” of business are telling you what they need and want very clearly today with their purchasing decisions, aren’t they?

We want them to communicate with us on the telephone or at our stores, but they are choosing to surf the Web to find what they need. What are the advantages to owning a dealership anymore when customers can get anything they want from other sources and at prices that make you weep?

Easy as 1-2-3

The information customers need to have in order to obtain what they need to buy is easily available with today’s technology. Imagine being able to put a pump make and model into an Internet site and have access to all the service and parts documentation for that particular pump.

Can you see the system popping up an index of the service drawings and then selecting a page and the schematic popping up right there on the screen? Pretty astounding, isn’t it?

But it doesn’t stop there. You can then select the parts you want, and depending on the terminal that is being used, you could do this just by touching the screen.

The process from there is simple, and one I’m sure you are familiar with from your own use of the Internet. You put it into a shopping cart and do more shopping until you are ready to place an order. You see then the prices and the availability, place the order, determine the shipping method, and you’re done. Within an instant, you receive confirmation of the order from the supplier. Phew! Or rather, Wow!

This isn’t some pipe dream…this exists today.

So dealerships now are confronted with some direct competition that is invisible to them. The interaction between their customers and the purchasing of parts, supplies, and products is conducted completely outside the view of the authorized distributors and dealers.

So how do you compete in this new reality of business when you don’t have an Internet site that allows the selection of products customers want, with a process that allows them to order them? It’s going to be pretty difficult, don’t you think?

So if you don’t have an Internet site that allows customers to obtain what they want when they want it, I’m afraid all the relationships you have developed, nurtured, and worked hard to get won’t help you in “this new reality.”

Learn Their Reasoning

If you have an Internet site, then you’re in the new reality and have an opportunity to conduct your business in exciting ways. You see, one of the advantages on the Internet is that you can record what everyone looked at and for how long.

For example, if someone wants a part for their pump and can find the particular pump model in a lookup on your site, find the page in the service manual that has the schematic, and select the item they want, you can get reporting that tells you so.

But it goes deeper than that. If the person selected the part, found you didn’t have it, and took it out of the process and continued online, you know you lost that sale because you didn’t have what the person wanted when he or she wanted it. Similarly, if you did have the part, but the person removed the item when they saw the price, you know you lost the sale over price.

Am I getting your attention? Good, because next month we will discuss how we can deal with this Internet. We’ll learn how we can use it to our advantage — because, after all, we’re the dealer, aren’t we?

by Ron Slee
June, 2010
Water Well Journal

About Water Well Journal

The Water Well Journal is the leading resource for those working in the groundwater industry. The flagship publication of the National Ground Water Association is delivered to more than 24,000 people every month and covers technical issues related to drilling and pump installation, rig maintenance, business management, well rehabilitation, water treatment, and more.

Since many of the companies in the groundwater industry are small family-run businesses it is critical that Water Well Journal provide much more than technical content. That is why Ron Slee’s monthly columns addressing management, supply, and inventory issues are valuable. It is that type of information that helps the publication achieve NGWA’s mission of advancing groundwater knowledge.