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SIDES Fire Trucks Company and Internet Utilization for Sales Process

1.      Introduction:

SIDES is a well known French fire trucks manufacturer. The company operates (including sales) from France, except one regional office in the Middle East.

Considering SIDES products are of operational nature, and they have long duty life (Customers will not go for new fire trucks project unless he has new facilities/hazard, or his existing truck duty life is over), we can categorize SIDES business as “one off”. According to Smith and Chittenden (n.d.), SIDES’ industry demands a high level of professionalism on the part of the selling team.

Smith and Chittenden (n.d.) consider selling strategy in similar companies like SIDES is almost always to impute the product with some unique or exclusive attribute. They think that it is also critical to gain the customer’s trust both in the product and the long term viability of the seller.

However, SIDES management went too far in similar thoughts, considering only professionalism of sales team and ignoring the role of real marketing and professional website.

2.      Internet Utilization:

SIDES use internet mainly as a communication tool like email, little company information, and search engine for market information and industry development.

The Email facility is used in SIDES to communicate both internally (between staff) and externally (customers, suppliers, authorities ... etc). The server of the company allows big size files to be received as a kind of flexibility.

Email facility helps Sales Department to be aligned in terms of acquaintance on the latest available information, technology, skills training, and internal networking. It helps sales people also to realize achievements of others. This information is highly useful as references for other opportunities.

SIDES uses search engines on internet as well. They look for information, subscribe to e-magazines, and download files from trusted web pages. Search engines helps sales people to always be exposed to the latest market information, market activities and new technologies. They also help them to be informed about any political, environmental or economical changes in their territories and subsequently a better forecasting.

SIDES’s website gives a brief on the company profile and some news releases. It also gives very limited contact information to customers and suppliers. One can see that SIDES’ website is neither informative, sophisticated nor really useful to any visitor, and was never developed for more than 10 years. It has very poor visibility on the search engines. Researcher can hardly find one photo for SIDES fire trucks on the internet. One of the reasons is that the brand name “SIDES” is understood by search engines as a plural of the word “side”, and obviously nobody did anything about that.

The underdeveloped website is a disadvantage for sales personnel, it damages the image of the company, and it embarrasses them in front of customers when compared to competitor’s websites.

3.      The contribution of internet in sales process:

Company’s poor website made it impossible to add any value to sales achievements or marketing tools. You can hardly consider any share of any served market has been captured by the website, especially considering GCC, and fire trucks market.

GCC Fire Trucks customers seek professional engagement of sales engineers, high detailed technical information and perfect after sales support. This is due to the following:

1-      The product is fully customized.

2-      The product is seen as of high technical nature.

3-      Customers need a lot of support in each step of the deal.

4-      The product service life is very long (10 to 25 years).

For above reasons, customers in GCC will definitely need the support of the concerned sales manager and the agent in his territory, but management of SIDES thought that customers will not search on the internet for technical information, or will never use the internet to buy products or communicate with the manufacturer, and they. That conclusion was the base on which SIDES took a decision of not investing or developing the website of the company.

 

4.      Wind of Change:

SIDES business was for a long time limited – with few exceptions – to countries where Language is not a barrier (French speaking countries), and French spheres of influence. That has limited the development of the company in a lot of directions including internet utilization.

Worldwide markets decline was like the wind of change where SIDES and a lot of similar companies had to cope up with.

There are a lot of benefits the customer will need from a fire truck company website, which will massively increase the winning opportunities for any project. The following list explains some of these opportunities referring to some international organizations of similar industry who took these opportunities:

4.1.Support Company’s Strategy:

Considering it communicates with customers, does marketing job and pushes sales forward, a company’s website should reflect company’s mission and vision, show level of development and highlight company’s strategy. If SIDES’ strategy is to show professionalism and reliability, and its website is never professional or reliable, so what kind of message it transfers?

Some companies even overdevelop their websites to show higher professionalism than what they really are to support their sales.

In the Middle East, it is very impressive to customers to find a nice well presented website, or otherwise, the customer can easily get an impression that the company is unremarkable , which might reflect on their impression on the quality of products.

In simple words, a website that connects out proper messages and capability to customers will set a much better position for any price or deals negotiations.

4.2.Reducing Transaction Costs:

A lot of costs can be reduced by using a proper website. Spulber (1996, 1999. Cited in Lucking-Reiley and Spulber 2001) argued that intermediaries can reduce transaction costs relative to direct exchange by reducing the costs of search, certifying product quality, mitigating communication costs, and providing guarantees for buyer or seller commitments. Palopoli et. at. (2006) think that firms have understood that huge costs can be saved by carrying out their inter-business transactions directly via Web.

4.3.Communication tool:

A good website should allow for easy communication with the company, even if the customer is directly connected to a local representative or a regional sales manager. On the other side, it can provide an easy and reliable alternative should any problem occur in the communication with the concerned representative. It also gives a good chance to attack new market and expand customer base. Most fire trucks manufacturers worldwide provide big number of contact information on their websites, like Ferrara, Rosenbauer, Rosenbauer America, Pierce and many others. Some of which provide even a chance to follow them on social networking websites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

4.4.Business Follow up:

Some fire trucks manufacturers like Ferrara provide a login number with every new order. The customer can use that login to access a special intranet page related to his order, that page shows any new development step by step on his ordered truck. That keeps the transparency in a high level, and shows well organizing. It also reduces the time needed from the sales rep to provide that information to customers to focus on new opportunities.

4.5.Marketing tools:

One major marketing tool is the company’s website. Reputable organizations present products and achievements in a nice way. Lot of companies list important press releases on their websites, showing nice intro for their product ranges, uses pop up to highlight new products, show videos for their products and achievements and communicate customers for their feedback to improve their quality. One can argue that above tools on website is now a day a must for customer oriented organizations.

Sales people can always refer to their websites for marketing perspectives. They even use them during their presentations to customers.

Some companies devote a special page for fan club like Rosenbauer. A lot of Rosenbauer’s customers keep fan club items in their offices like flags, toys, calendars …. Etc. when they are visited by any other competitor’s customer, these items helps a lot dragging his attention to Rosenbauer.

4.6.Information source:

One of the best websites for fire truck manufacturer is Rosenbauer’s. It lists all company’s components and products in a simple way. For each component, you can find a nice presentation for its advantages, the way it works and schematic drawing. Customer may also download data sheet and some specs to use them should he need to specify it for an upcoming bid. You can also find references of users for each product which enhances your trust in the product. Pierce uses similar approach but as a complete truck package, not only for the component. Web based detailed products information and data sheets highly reduce the cost of technical brochures. Rosenbauer used to print about 100000 brochures for each component a year in 1990 which was reduced to 10000 only in 2007.

4.7.Payment Collection Booster:

In most of the cases, terms of payments for fire trucks are divided against performance stages, and fire trucks suppliers usually struggle to collect payments on time, which sometimes causes delay and after all hurts reputation. As an idea, suppliers can send a proof of closing one stage and claim for the related payment. When this is systematic, the customer will know that related delay is because of his payment performance. However, such solution can work with privet customers, but very hard to be used with Governments.

4.8.Fire Truck Design Consultation:

From their experiences, manufacturers can support sales by providing a consultation for the proper design of required fire truck according to the worst hazardous case scenario. That would highly build a huge trust about the company capability and influence company’s product’s specs.

 

5.      Potential Barriers and overcoming threats:

There must’ve been some reasons that preclude SIDES developing their website. Assuming the following are the main:

5.1.Cultural understanding of the role of the website:

There is a cultural understanding within SIDES’s management that professional sales people and strong dealers are more than enough to achieve good sales. It seems they didn’t pay attention to above benefits of the website and other marketing tools. Porter (2001) thinks that internet is a powerful set of tools that can be used wisely or unwisely, in almost any industry and as part of almost any strategy.

5.2.Know how protection:

SIDES see a threat of copying its technology if lots of information is posted on their website, so they try to reduce that information to the minimum possible to protect their know-how and technology secrets. However, current customers need to understand how systems are installed on and how they trucks work. SIDES need to understand that quality assurance, reputation and history of the company are what will prevent copied technology to compete.

5.3.Assigned budget:

Since marketing was not planned, there was no budget assigned to develop the website of the company. For that reason, any idea for development was simply rejected by higher management. Saved transactional costs can easily justify good budget.

5.4.Technology:

Lucking-Reiley and Spulbler (2001) argue that one of the challenges faced by companies in B2B e-commerce is the development of software and communications standards. SIDES doesn’t have a strong IT department to develop its website. However, with good assigned budget, SIDES can easily hire strong technology partner for the same purpose.

6.      Conclusion:

Porter (2001) argued that many of the companies that succeed will be ones that use the internet as a complement to traditional ways of competing, not those that set their internet initiatives apart from their established operations.

Rosenbauer is the biggest fire trucks manufacturer worldwide. They made more than 2200 fire trucks in 2012. If one visits their website, he can argue that their website is one of the best in the industry.

Pierce, the biggest fire trucks manufacturer in the USA, produced 1097 trucks in 2012. One can also argue that they have one of the best websites in the industry.

It was almost impossible to analyze in numbers the percentage of the impact on sales, but obviously to boost sales; SIDES will need to have a similarly good website as a major part of strategy and success formula.

 

References

 

1-      Smith, M. and Chittenden, F. (n.d.). Negotiation skills and selling strategies – study guide. Manchester Business School.

2-      Lucking-Reilly, D. and Spulber, D. (2001). Business to business electronic commerce. Journal of Economic Perspectives. Volume 15 (1), Pages 55-68.

3-      Porter, Michael E. Harvard Business Review. Mar2001, Vol. 79 Issue 3, p62-78. 17p. 1 Diagram.

4-      Palopoli, Luigi; Rosaci, Domenico; Ursino, Domenico. AI Communications. 2006, Vol. 19 Issue 2, p95-126. 32p.

5-      Rosenbauer AG.

Available from www.rosenbauer.com [accessed 2 February 2013]

6-      Rosenbauer America.

Available from www.rosenbaueramerica.com [accessed 3 February 2013]

7-      SIDES Fire & Rescue Vehicle.

Available from www.sides.fr [accessed 3 February 2013]

8-      Ferrara Fire Apparatus.

Available from www.ferrarafire.com [accessed 4 February 2013]

9-      Pierce Fire Apparatus.

Available from www.piercemfg.com [accessed 4 February 2013]