Open for Business | FAD Equipment
This article is about the importance of remaining open for business in the ecommerce sector, especially where RFQs and POs are concerned.
It is written by David Ayling, former owner of load cell manufacturer Straightpoint, and now president at FAD Equipment Store.
David, himself, has had to continually pivot throughout the year to ensure that the material handling equipment business has enough capacity to answer telephone enquiries; handle RFQs (requests for quotes) and POs (purchase orders); and stay at the sharp end of B2B industrial ecommerce, where time poor buyers know the stock keeping unit (SKU) and want to buy the item—quickly—without ever interacting with a person.
'Some people still prefer a good, old-fashioned phone call, which is ok with us' — David Ayling, president, FAD Equipment Store.
Working back from a 100% ecommerce model
Honestly, our original plan was to create a business that was completely ecommerce, but we quickly realized that we had to be more a modern-day, industrial storefront, than a totally online drop-shipping company. And I know that many other organizations have found themselves neither fish nor fowl when it comes to positioning themselves in front of the target audience.
The good news is, an online business is flexible and if you’re prepared to be dynamic and trade like your customers want and not how you want, you’ll be ok. The trick is gathering as much data as possible to make sure that you have the right amount of engineering expertise at the end of the phone, and enough general office staff, without having them wasting time and valuable resources. Nobody wants to be too school for cool, that’s for sure.
We’ve found a center of gravity at a 70-30 model, where about 30% of our orders are coming following a telephone conversation with our general manager, Jeff Miller.
(You remember Jeff. His involvement was the one non-negotiable I had when I sat down to discuss this concept with my partners. My previous experience of starting a business from scratch in the U.S. tells me that you need someone on the ground full-time to be successful. Jeff ticks every box in terms of general management and overseeing the day-to-day operations of a business.)
Jeff and his team are also responsible for answering email questions and handling the daily RFQs and POs that come into the office. Fortunately, we’ve got an expert team that know most of our products inside out.
As someone told me recently, ‘Dave, do you realize, when it comes to load cells, you have been synonymous with the [Crosby] Straightpoint marque for 20 years?’ Truth is, Jeff, also formerly of Straightpoint, knows the range too. And even where we can’t immediately answer a question about a Speedbinder, below-the-hook lifter, skid pallet truck, or fork truck attachment (beam), we know the people who can.
Crosby Straightpoint's Radiolink plus load cell.
- As an aside, Jeff probably knew we were too weighted towards outright ecommerce at the outset. Ever astute, he realized that no matter how much we all knew our products, and how self-explanatory manufacturers told us they were, people at the point of use (our mom-and-pop customers) do not always have this level of information.
They ask, you answer (TAYA)
Regular readers of my blogs, already know that I am a big fan of the book ‘They Ask, You Answer’, by Marcus Sheridan. It is a current text about taking a revolutionary approach to inbound sales, content marketing, and today’s digital consumer. It acknowledges that customers now turn to the internet for everything. “If I had a question, I went to Google and asked,” Sheridan writes. The power, therefore, must be in having the answers.
A belief in Sheridan’s concept has not only shaped how we’ve adapted Jeff’s role, but it’s also enabled us to build more content (answers) into the digital business model so perhaps Jeff must answer a few less calls a week. Our chat facility on the site also serves as both a way to answer questions and find out what the market is asking. If someone asks a question, chances are there’s another guy or gal out there with the same one.
Three examples of TAYA
A good recent example is a question that came through the chat facility. A customer had put a Crosby Speedbinder in their basket and wanted to quickly find out if the 9,200-lb. model works with 3/8” chain as well as 1/2“ chain. The answer was, ‘Yes’, so they bought it. But the point is, we weren’t making that clear in our product literature, so we added it… TAYA
Save your drivers time and reduce strain injuries using a Crosby Speedbinder torque drive binder or lashing for load securement or relocating shifted loads.
Another question we got about the same product was along the lines of, ‘Do I need to own a drill to use the Speedbinders?’ The answer was, ‘Yes, you have to use a drill to use Speedbinders. We recommend the use of specific Milwaukee and DeWalt drills, but a quality 18-20 volt, high-torque drill is perfect too’. We added the info to our product FAQs page… TAYA
We recommend the use of specific drills.
A third and final example was a telephone question Jeff took about our Crosby Straightpoint Radiolink plus load cell:
Q: How is the Radiolink plus powered?
A: Four AA alkaline batteries provide a life of 1,200 hours continuous use.
To successfully execute the TAYA strategy, you’ve got to be easy to approach with questions—and have the answers. As the importance of this was further emphasized as our store grew, we added more chat options and made our telephone number more visible on more pages. If someone can’t find the answer, they can find someone to ask. It’s been incredibly powerful to combine breadth of (constantly improving) information and the fastest route to outstanding answers.
Be careful though. You’ve got to make sure that you don’t spend all day answering questions and never selling. Learn to say, ‘No’, sometimes too. If someone wants two shackles customized and sent to the other side of the world, there is probably another supplier better placed to deliver them, for example.
Our friends in finance
Initially, we were too squarely focused on corporate buyers with a credit card with a huge limit on it, but we soon knew that we had to better provide for those looking for strategic working capital and equipment financing to help their business grow. Through our partners, JR Capital, equipment loans are quick and easy to secure and align with smart financial planning. Financing is particularly practical when an immediate requirement for a product or machine presents itself and it would otherwise take weeks or months to purchase, replace or repair an item.
Just as our equipment store has evolved over 2021, it will adapt again in 2022, and again in 2023. Where pay-per-click (an internet advertising model used to drive traffic to sites) contributed to most of our sales in H1 2021, we’re beginning to see more organic traffic (customers that have found us from unpaid sources), and those returning to buy load cells, lifters, and protective guarding, etc., having had a positive buying experience previously. I expect that by this time next year another 70-30 model will be in play with 30% of our traffic being driven organically.
FordLogan driver access cages prevent unauthorized access to restricted work areas, whether they be in a distribution center, warehouse or factory.
- Don’t expect us to introduce a new catalog of products every quarter. Only where a solution is innovative and adds tangible safety or productivity to end-use application, will we invest in bringing it to our customers.
It’s worth adding that Austin Helton, vice president, application sales and market development, will join our board next year. As I’ve said before, a standout feature of successful businesses is that they have the best people in the right roles. In Austin, we have added a true expert in ecommerce, with a proven track record of delivery, even in the most competitive of marketplaces.
Whether you have an RFQ, PO, a corporate credit card, PayPal account, and / or a full basket—we’re open for business.
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