Business-to-Business: Getting Beyond the Front Door
In b-to-b sales, typical marketing strategies are aimed at the front door offices of management and purchasing departments. Marketing, pr, advertising, sales, and service departments do their best to coordinate activities. But often times, identifying and approaching the end-user within the targeted organization can be difficult.
Back Door Marketing. Reaching the end user has long been the job of the sales team. But often times the sales rep shows up with collateral and web links designed for the front office. End-users have additional perspective, and if their needs are not met, client and vendor lose. End users are expected to keep production flowing and are greatly affected by downtime created by improper use or lack of maintenance. In contrast to the salesman, the service technician arrives in a more casual manner, and sometimes literally through the back door.
back door marketing: vast ROI payload
How one industrial
manufacturer went beyond
the conventional to gain
additional millions in sales.
The underground mining industry is characterized by multimillion-dollar capitalizations that operate on minuscule profit margins, where costs are calculated on a per-load basis to within a fraction of a penny. The business environment is treacherous, and so is the environment within the mines, where ambitious workers often push equipment, on harsh terrain, to extreme limits.
Wagner Mining Equipment Company was formed in 1959 in Portland, Oregon and was one of the first to produce specialty vehicles for underground mining. Atlas Copco, a multi billion-dollar corporation with a global sales force, eventually bought the company.
The Atlas Copco Wagner vehicles were designed from the ground up to accomplish specialized tasks within the tight confines of an underground mine. Therefore, systems had to share very limited space. ACW designed and manufactured the superstructure of the vehicle and the electro-hydraulic solutions for steering, braking, dumping and hoisting, engineered to maximize performance from power train components supplied by Allison, Caterpillar, Cummins, Detroit Diesel and others.
ACW Service Guides had the task of explaining, to a diverse international audience, procedures for maintaining high performance mechanical, hydraulic and electronic systems, including remote-control automation. The service guides identified the physical location of components, recommended maintenance intervals, described complex maintenance procedures, and explained the theory of operations for many proprietary systems.
Gradually, through the years, as efficiency in general operations were sought, budget priorities were adjusted for many departments, including the Technical Publishing department, to insure productive use of resources.
However, over the years the vehicles became more complex, with mature electro-hydraulic technologies that were finely honed for decades. As system variables increased, the Service Department began to increase customer assistance, with less dependence on the Service Guide and the Operators' Guide. Gradually, more technicians were hired that could answer questions over the telephone, or in severe cases, hop on an airplane and journey to the mines to see complex problems first hand, a common occurrence in the industrial equipment industry.
Winning Approval for Change in the mining Industry is not easy. As stated earlier, the mining business environment can be treacherous, as is the environment within the mines, where ambitious workers often push equipment, on harsh terrain, to extreme limits.
Many of the maintenance and service issues that caused downtime on mining vehicles were controllable by mine management... if their service personnel were able to perform routine maintenance efficiently. Unfortunately, the complexity of the vehicles often presented obstacles to even the most seasoned mechanics. The ACW vehicles were probably as good or better than the competition, but the flow of information required to produce accurate and timely documentation needed repair.
Some purchasing agents that bought underground vehicles began to write into contracts that the documentation had to arrive by the time that the vehicle arrived, or they would withhold payment. Wagner's Chief Financial Officer began demanding to know from the Technical Publishing Manager "why a ten dollar disk was holding up payment on a million dollar order".
At that moment, the newly hired Technical Publishing Manager realized how to justify Return on Investment (ROI) for the new computer workstations, for the new software, for the new digital camera, and for the upgrade to color printing that was necessary for accurate and timely support of the vehicles.
With many manufacturers of industrial equipment, the typical procedure for purchasing new office equipment or increasing cost of technical communications included submission of a detailed proposal, complete with an ROI analysis based upon the company's current internal rate of return (IRR). The Director of Engineering would compare it to his stack of other proposals, and then submit the best to the executive committee, and they would fund those projects with the greatest return to stockholders.
But in this case, the ROI had already been calculated by the CFO when he had asked why a ten-dollar disk was holding up a million-dollar order. So it was not only about ROI, it was also about making the right decisions for the company.
Recent advances in digital photography and in color laser printing on enameled papers combined to make short-run, on-demand printing production feasible and cost effective.
However, without a doubt, calculating the ROI of the printing project was easier than dealing with the preconceptions shared by many about the role of service manuals, and the way a service manual should look. Initial reaction to the new, shiny, light and bright color version of the books included ridicule and rejection.
To expedite updating the technical content and the design of the manual, input was sought out from many internal and external sources. Initially, some gatekeepers felt threatened, and resisted the process. But after talking with the Marketing, Sales, Order Entry, Purchasing, Parts, Service, and Engineering departments, ACW international sales companies, and many customers, content in the books was revised. All participants received respect and feedback and a sense of involvement, especially customer mechanics at mines that had service issues.
Spiral bound color copies of the books were produced and presented to executives and department heads at a meeting that included the CFO and the President of the company.
Everyone in the room agreed, after comparing the old book with the new book, that obviously the reductions in the service technicians' trips to fix mechanical problems at remote mining operations would more than offset the cost.
The hardcopy version was printed at high resolution, laminated for durability and indexed with tabs for easy access to over 200 pages. Each page contained color photos, diagrams and specific technical content.
The online version was a fully bookmarked Acrobat PDF. With one click, the linked hierarchical table of contents would take the user directly to the pages that contained the selected subject matter. The file was optimized for the smallest file size that retained sufficient resolution for online use.
The senior sales engineer for large trucks requested a set of the new ACW Service & Operators Guides before he departed for northern Canada. The books helped him to close a sale on several new vehicles, worth over a million dollars in gross revenues.
The ACW customer base included the most productive mines in Canada, South America, Europe, Africa, Russia, China, India, and Australia. Throughout the following weeks, the books were instrumental in closing additional sales in Australia and Africa. Enthusiastic requests for books from Atlas Copco sales companies and independent distributors began to come in from all corners of the globe.
Sales reps wanted to use the ACW Service & Operators Guides as a sales closing tool… Mine Managers wanted to use the books for inhouse safety training, and maintenance personnel wanted the books to help them repair and service the vehicles.