Here’s a fine example of glass-half-full thinking from Peter Marsh, managing director of Turbo Dynamics.
“You could argue that the internet makes it more difficult to be distinctive, because at face value the back-bedroom brokers can have websites which make their businesses can look impressive,” he says.
“But actually it gives you the opportunity to set yourself apart and demonstrate your market leadership credentials because of the quality of material you have on your site, which they can’t emulate.
“The flipside of course is that wholesalers for example are beginning to sell direct to the end user as well as to us. That means price and margin begin to come down and there is no differential between trade and retail price anymore.
The way forward for us is to be more specialist, wrapping advice around the product.”
His company designs and manufactures performance turbos as well as being authorised dealers for the major global brands.
“The internet has made the sales role more advisory,” he suggests. “The conversations are more likely to be around technical questions rather than a sales pitch.
That means salespeople need to be upstream if they are going to be able to influence the customer. In B2B, everyone has been on Google before contacting a potential supplier.
“Buyers are much more informed than before, because comparatively speaking, they have done a huge amount of research before getting in touch.”
Which is what Marsh thinks companies need to do more of before they make a speculative pitch to their prospective customers. “The email equivalent of direct mail is instantly affordable,” he says. “Press the button, and thousands go out instantly. We have 30,000 names on our database, and we can communicate with them really at no cost. Before, something had to be printed up, pushed into an envelope, stamped, and taken to the post office.
“But perhaps companies should spend the time they have saved on doing more validation.
For recipients of email it can be a fine dividing line between what could be of interest or which is considered spam.
We invested in £10,000 on firewalls, and if we hadn’t of done so, we calculate that we would have been receiving 200,000 spam emails a day.”
He says companies can take a smarter approach. “The digital age also enables us to promote ourselves by joining the various forums relating to relevant subjects,” he points out.”
And being a little quirky can work. “We produced a video of a turbocharger where the turbine was replaced by a hamster wheel, which went viral,” Marsh explains, “but it’s necessary to include enough branding to ensure that your content isn’t ripped off. That video created a massive spike in enquiries. We made a conscious decision to invest in the web; we have two full-time staff devoted to social media and all things digital.”
Marsh says he is surprised by the number of companies, even large organisations, which hide behind their website. “They don’t give you contact information because they don’t want you to phone or email them. You’ve got no option but to fill in their online form. Poor navigation is also a continuing problem, and it is irritating to click on a link which you think is relevant only to land on a homepage.”
According to Marsh, companies haven’t fully grasped the importance of good quality imaging. “If someone is looking for a technical product, they expect to be able to look at it, flip it around, and explode it on screen,” he says.
“I think the problem is that it is easy to fall into the trap of being so involved in your company that you aren’t sufficiently able to put yourself in the position of the end user and to empathise with what they want to see and do.
You can be so engrossed that you take it as read details which the customer actually wants to have spelt out.”
What Turbo Dynamics have found is that some manufacturers will still have different pricing regimes for specific countries, even though the internet has closed the world up. “What it could mean is that someone could import turbochargers to the UK from a lower priced country, while as the official dealer, we are being charged more by the manufacturer even though we’re spending millions with them,” Marsh explains.
“The internet has resulted in the margin on the sale of sealed boxed products straight off the shelf becoming pathetically small.
Our inventory runs to 65,000 products, with 2.5million stock records, but 3500 are our own bespoke products.
“And the trouble with a box shifting mentality is that replacement rather than repair becomes the only option. Someone who had been quoted £3000 for a replacement supercharger contacted us for a comparative price. We talked to them and identified that the problem was actually a blockage in the breather system and sorted it out for £80. The customer was delighted, and as the service provider we have to remember to put that out into social media.”
The web is also invaluable for customer service after the sale, Marsh believes.
“We could have a webcam above a workbench so the customer can log in and watch the work being done. I think customers expect greater transparency and want to be able to track their job through the factory. They want to see their turbocharger being assembled or balanced. It means that the company is using technology to be more one-to-one with the customer.