Aftermarket, post sales and service operations

"A test of the real marketing and deliverables of a company’s sales organizations"

After market services in many industries are often a test of the real marketing and deliverables of a company’s sales organizations. This is because an initial sale is a commitment of a buyer from a supply on the promise of products or services that can add value and enhance the buying organizations attributes. Likewise add on or repeat sales remain contingent on the post-sales operations of many companies. 

Major development in buyer-seller relations are either greatly enhanced or severely impacted by the role of the aftermarket services and support. In companies where multiple industries are catered to, the aftermarket or service role should be a socially interactive role with the customers, where watching and listening to the customers complements and concerns and responding appropriately will drive the customers thinking and decision making going forwards.

Subsequently this approach requires intense customer focus and a defined and clear understanding of the customer’s issues and compliments. Because to fully understand and comprehend what the support role should be, must cover knowing what a company may have not delivered well, but also what they have delivered well. Knowing both sides gives opportunities to improve and even innovate the aftermarket products and services. This would also entail making sure that when conversing with customers; it must be with all the customer stakeholders, and particularly the decision makers in their organizations. Operationally valued inputs and specific metrics must be gathered from the customer’s employees that are practically using the supplier’s equipment. Additionally parallel working with both the suppliers support people and the customer engineers in development of continuous improvements in hardware, process application and software will benefit and tie the customer more intrinsically to the supplier. Relaying these metrics and analysis to the ‘C’ level stakeholders is also an important role that ensures a broad spectrum of understanding on how well suppliers are adding value to their customers operations and business growth.

Establishing how to attain this intense customer focus means using all the resources and capabilities that a supplier has. Value added has to be that everyone is driven to achieve the same goals, the sales and growth of the company and the satisfaction of its customers. So independent of where people work in a company, while they may have their own specific roles and goals they collectively have to add value to the customers and subsequently give the supplying company a competitive advantage. This is achieved through some of the same tactics that are applied to a company’s customer. Listening to all of the internal departments that all contribute some degree of value to the customers end results, will enable the supplier to continue the sales and growth of the company. 

Starting with the aftermarket service support organization one must assess values that are prevalent in service personal and the way they are used in the organization to deliver skill sets and value to the customers. This is an ongoing process as innovation and technology not only from within the supplier organization, but also from the competitors, must be evaluated and appropriate action taken to enable it to maintain a first class service and a competitive edge. Look internally at what a firm has in added value, either in products or skill set wise, gives an edge over the competition. Ensuring you know which resources and capabilities you have that suit or meet the needs of your customers ensures that you can build and develop on them and maintain an advantage. Understanding internal skill sets can also rate highly inside the company and its customers, as it can be difficult for the competition to match specific skill sets within a firm. Identifying these valued assets has to be a key focus for any company in building a strategy that drives the aftermarket services and products to deliver first class deliverables to your customers.

Secondly, gathering competitive data on competitors is a also a prime factor. While Competitive Intelligence (CI) may be difficult there are avenues that can be researched such as the competitions web presence, including press releases and exploiting their social media for CI pointers. Excellent relations and strategic pitching of conversation with your customers stakeholders can be a great source of CI flow. History is also important, what have prime competitors achieved in the past and why or how did they achieve their goals? And what CI do you have in your own company that is not understood and disseminated? There may well be opportunities from personnel within your own organization that are industry experts. Also the camaraderie of engineers on both sides can deliver poignant inputs on CI that are useful. Mining data from complementary organizations and third parties is also a good source of CI. Structuring a formal company’s CI data gathering plan, allows you to realize what is useful data and how do you mitigate competitive challenges and compete.

Thirdly, and as importantly, the function of the aftermarket service is to support and sustain not just the growth and profitability of its internal organization but also that of the rest of the company. Sales and marketing interaction are critical and they have to work closely with the aftermarket services. As a service provider the successes that have been achieved with customer interaction also has to be achieved with the company’s internal organization as a whole. Success in achieving this interaction where everyone taps into your value added resources and skill sets could be a measure of the competitive advantage that you can portray to your customers and competition and that will reflect in the finances in lower costs and higher revenues.

Fourth, there is the effect of outside resources that both compete and compliment your organization in the market place. Again how these entities are managed, mitigated and/or encouraged can have wide ranging effects on the financials of the aftermarket business. Managing a global aftermarket organization poses its own challenges, as you are unlikely to be everywhere when the customers actually need you. Therefore working on the premise of prevention is better than a cure. What can you do to measure that the products and services you provide, stay as operationally productive for your clients as long as possible. Certainly managed Preventative Maintenance strategies can help immensely in this role especially in critical manufacturing and medical industries, to name only two industries. Complimentary organizations that you work with likewise, will need managing and attention in much the same way, as you would do with your customers. The more entrenched you are with complementors and the more ‘skin in the game’ they can have through your organization will ensure costs stay low and margins increase. Third party providers will have effects on your business as a supplier, and to some degree consumables that are commonly available may impact the revenues of the aftermarket business. But where you can tie consumables with systems through production performance, customer cost savings, and even green technological advantage and/or corporate social responsibility, this may enhance both your own margins and revenues, while giving the customers some appreciated added value.

The supplying company’s service support role is an all-encompassing role in that not only do you have to operate within your own departments, but also across the entire value supply chain within your organization, as well as with those complimentary services and suppliers that you have to engage and rely on. It calls for experience and skill sets that can work at the base line engineering roles, all the way through the organization to the ‘C’ level. Trust, expertise and experience not only in a multinational operations role, but an awareness of culture, ethics and norms that are associated with managing a global business, is required to make sure that you deliver a first class aftermarket service to your customers. It encompasses strategy, technological comprehension, marketing, financial awareness of management and P/L accounts, the ability to gather and analyze data and disseminate the required information that adds to the continuous improvement of the aftermarket overall.  This naturally migrates to the customer base, as customers are the most important entity to your success.

Acronyms: CI – Competitive Intelligence ‘C’ – Corporate Level executives