By Al Cervero, AEM Vice President, Construction, Mining and Utility  

If you work in sales and marketing, you may have heard the expression that the first sale is always the hardest.

I would disagree. It’s most likely the easiest.

Why? In the first sale, marketing builds awareness for the product and captures the customer’s interest. Sales then converts the lead by working out the details (price, build, delivery) to the customer’s satisfaction.

Sounds fairly straightforward, right?

But on the second and subsequent orders, it’s after-sales service that secures the deal, and that road can be fraught with peril. Once you deliver the product (and quality in my mind is or should be a given today), what you and your distributor do to support the customer is absolutely critical.

Customer service standards and expectations are rising, as they should be. Customers expect service technicians to be equipped with the latest mobile technology that gives them access to diagnostics and service procedures as well as digital parts catalogs and the ability to order parts right from a smartphone or tablet.

Parts availability must be transparent, whether parts are located at the distributor’s store, in other distribution warehouses by brand and/or at factory warehouses. Next day shipments are a must. Today’s customers are also consumers, and they have come to expect rapid turn-around (Amazon now delivers to some locations the same day).

Service technicians must also have the ability to schedule service follow-ups while digitizing product wear and fatigue in an electronic file. Soon, expectations will be for fluid sampling within minutes on site. And because more and more work is done at night (highway overpasses and paving in particular), service must be available 24 hours a day.

All this is expected and there will be more in the future, but many manufacturers are taking the next step and working hard to forecast customer needs. Already, many are making the effort to understand the usage environment, combine oil sampling and on-site inspections in one file, amass mountains of data, and predict maintenance for their customers. However, others are not investing enough for tomorrow in after-sales customer support. 

If you are lucky enough to get an order, don't ruin the business relationship before you get started. Review and invest in the second order by benchmarking your customer service tools, analyzing the data and organizing your operation by customer location and needs.

Know what your customer expects and deliver to exceed their expectations. Do not sell the customer until you are ready, or you won't see them again.