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In a Supply Chain Crisis, Selling Parts Online May Be Your Next Move

Tools like self-service storefronts and automatic product recommendations will keep customers satisfied and improve your operating margins.

A worker stands atop a wind turbine. Fixing this equipment may require aftermarket parts.
OEM and aftermarket parts typically require less consulting and are always in demand. With the right B2B commerce solution, manufacturers can help customers get replacement parts promptly. [Billy Hustace / Getty]

When a machine breaks down — whether it’s your home dishwasher or a factory workhorse — you have a decision to make: repair or replace? These days, the repair side of that dilemma is gaining favor amid shrinking budgets and supply chain delays.

That’s where OEM (original equipment manufacturer) and aftermarket parts come in — and sales of these crucial components are big business now. Any disruption to an assembly line or a delivery fleet can bring operations to a standstill, putting pressure on manufacturers to fix the issue as soon as possible. You can take advantage of this golden opportunity by creating an aftermarket parts system, which lets buyers quickly order and receive the parts they need.

What are aftermarket parts?

OEM parts come from manufacturers that build primary machinery that such parts are needed for. Aftermarket parts come from companies outside those manufacturers. In either case, manufacturers may be overlooking the potential revenue from the streamlined sales of these replacement parts. When managed with connected commerce, this channel is a reliable way to increase your bottom line and improve cost margins.

In the case of General Electric, customers were getting frustrated trying to buy wind turbine parts on its outdated system. A poor shopping interface, inconsistent part naming, and slow load times were hurting sales. It built a new storefront in just 10 weeks, replicating the experience shoppers would get on a B2C website. The result? Users found the parts they needed quickly, leading to a 35% growth in the company’s user base after launch. Your company can do the same.

Watch this video, featuring Salesforce’s Andy Peebler, to learn how manufacturers can benefit from creating a parts business:

Why sell parts online?

OEM and aftermarket parts typically require less consulting and are always in demand. These businesses are highly profitable when run digitally, plus there’s a major customer service element to getting customers back up and running with equipment quickly. 

With the right online commerce solution, manufacturers of all types can help business buyers get replacement parts promptly. Having a unified ecommerce platform also lets sales teams spend more time on strategic accounts and less time manually entering order data. 

Pillars for profiting on parts 

How can a solid ecommerce solution help unlock an underutilized stream of revenue? Here are four tips to help you drive your OEM or aftermarket parts strategy:

1. Give customers control with self service

Self-service technology lets customers use things like product catalogs, portals and ticketing systems to make a purchase. Customers can even handle post-purchase needs like confirming order details and shipping status. The shift to self service is also making it easier to sell these parts. Studies show that 65% of customers prefer self service for simple matters. When customers have access to powerful digital tools, they can confidently take the buying process into their own hands

2.  Let automation do the thinking

Traditionally, sales representatives pause their work to complete replacement part orders by phone. They typically use multiple systems to locate a product. Once the order has been placed, the rep will need to provide order confirmations and shipping updates. Automating this process is a win for sellers and customers. Our reports show 97% of digital leaders expect buyers to place larger, more complex orders online in the next two years. With automation, these tasks are managed digitally, allowing representatives to handle more intricate orders.

97% of digital leaders expect buyers to place larger, more complex orders online in the next two years.

3. Use AI and personalization to connect with customers

With artificial intelligence, businesses can use digital resources like chatbots to instantly give customers the information they need to place their orders. Personalization helps companies connect with customers at every step. With product recommendations, customers will see relevant products immediately, saving time for the customer and sales team. FleetPride, the largest independent parts seller in the heavy-duty trucking industry, has seen success with a new feature called “complete the job,” also known as Complete the Set. This helps customers ensure they have all the parts they need and encourages them to purchase in one seamless transaction. 

4. Optimize your search so customers find results quickly

Robust search can empower customers to take on the ordering process with ease. With AI, they can ensure part number accuracy and even technical specs. Leading B2B search solution provider Coveo has proven how powerful search can unlock customer data to improve the commerce experience.

You’ve revamped your ecommerce strategy — what’s next?

Reports show the average operating margins in the parts business are 150% higher than those from new-equipment sales. Now more than ever, it’s important for manufacturers to lean into cost-saving and revenue-generating strategies. Once-reliable channels are less dependable, and dealers and buyers are turning to quick and convenient options to purchase replacement parts online. 

The average operating margins from the parts business are 150% higher than those from new-equipment sales.

A replacement part is a high-margin purchase that also has a huge support angle. When done efficiently, your aftermarket parts business can help improve customer satisfaction scores (CSA) and build customer loyalty. Financial benefits include reducing the cost to serve per order and increasing average order value, due to ease of buying.

How can businesses take it a step further? Drive cross-selling and upselling to create a marketplace-like experience. Manufacturers can also leverage CRM data to negotiate pricing and offer discounts. With AI techniques, companies can become more proactive by focusing on predictive maintenance, predictive quality and increasing yield. Not only will these strategies ensure seamless experiences, they will drive loyalty and engagement beyond the initial purchase. 

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