Is Your Web Site Just Another Pretty Face? - Technology
Construction Equipment Distribution magazine is published by the Associated Equipment Distributors, a nonprofit trade association founded in 1919, whose membership is primarily comprised of the leading equipment dealerships and rental companies in the U.S. and Canada. AED membership also includes equipment manufacturers and industry-service firms. CED magazine has been published continuously since 1920. Associated Equipment Distributors
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Is Your Web Site Just Another Pretty Face?

By Mary Sedor

Article Date: 03-01-2008
Copyright(C) 2008 Associated Equipment Distributors. All Rights Reserved.


A dealer's Web presence must be a customer-friendly, functional tool for visitors, not just an electronic billboard.

Imagine that one of your sales reps went to visit his customers with dirty clothes, last year's prices, and disorganized paperwork.

It's a safe bet that he probably wouldn't sell anything, but he'd be buying himself a pink slip, right?

Sending an ill-informed, disheveled sales guy to call on customers is no different from having a disorganized, outdated Web site.

What do your customers see when they visit your Web site?

A company Web site is more than just an electronic business card; it's your company's face - to the entire world.

Rich Rosell, AED's manager of Internet Services, says dealers should be mindful of their Web sites because they can have a real impact on the bottom line. While dealers may not be completing their sales transactions online for equipment, Web sites can open the door to future sales, he says.

"Web sites are out there 24/7," he said. "If the information on your site isn't relevant, it can impact everyone at the company. If people go to a site and think it looks too clunky, too confusing or it's outdated, they will go somewhere else. A bad Web site might be enough for someone to say they won't deal with that particular company because the site isn't professional looking."

And it doesn't take long for a Web visitor to decide to leave your site.

"Generally speaking it takes 30 seconds or less to grab a visitor's attention," said Ricardo Porter, general manager of Equipment Web Services, an Internet solutions provider to the heavy equipment, agriculture and commercial trucking industry. "In that time, for whatever reason it was that they came to your site, the visitor has to be able to find what they are looking for fairly easily."

Elements of a Good Site

With such a limited amount of time to maintain the visitor's attention, it's important to put forward a clean, professional presentation.

"A lot of guys have built a Web site back in the day when it was cool to have a Web site, but it didn't serve any function other than as a business card online," said Porter.

The problem with this is that today's Web consumer is more savvy and will no longer tolerate electronic "billboard" sites. "The fact of the matter is that buying starts on the Internet. Over 80 percent of buyers are researching online before they go anywhere and those folks are more educated than ever when they walk into the dealership," Porter added.

Therefore, dealers must also be competing in cyberspace, and to do that they must bring something substantial to the table for their end user clients online. Porter says a dealer's Web site should have the same image and brand as the brick and mortar locations.

Essential elements of a dealer Web site include:

  • Contact Us - all pertinent contact information including address, phone number, e-mail address
  • New equipment
  • Used equipment - include an updated inventory
  • Manufacturer information (what lines you carry)
  • Parts department information
  • Service department information
  • Rental department information
  • Directions to facility
  • Company information (about us)
  • Consistent navigation
  • Up-to-date content
Did you notice what's missing? The list doesn't include the latest flashy bells and whistles, the animation, the blinking and visual noise. As for the graphic design of a site, a clean, clutter-free format is preferred but there's no hard and fast rule about how sites should look. In general, commit to a look and feel of a site and stick to it through the whole site. However, Rosell warns that design issues can create usability issues.

"Your site doesn't have to have flash animation to load. You don't need all the bells and whistles, but you can sell surplus parts and used equipment on your site," said Rosell. "Your site should be functional for your business."

One of the most important aspects of a good Web site is keeping it updated. Rosell recommends dealers go through their sites and check for errors at least once a month. Updates should take place as necessary, with updates to used equipment happening daily.

"The good thing about a Web site is that it's not like you've built a building with too few floors and now you're stuck," said Rosell. "You can always add on to a site and make changes, and you should."

Porter says dealers should view their sites as if they were the customer. Keep in mind that visitors should be able to find what they are looking for with a minimal number of clicks, he said.

"If I want the service department, don't send me to another page where I have to click on service," he said.

The bottom line is that a good dealer Web site has the important information the Web visitor is looking for, and it's arranged in an intuitive fashion. And how do you know what your end users are looking for? There are a few ways to tell, Porter says.

"The provider the dealer is working with should play a part in what information goes on the site, but in general dealers should think about their Web sites the same way they think about their brick and mortar buildings," said Porter.

For example, if dealers know that half of the end users that visit their facilities are looking for new equipment and half are looking for used, when they build their brick and mortar buildings they know to put the new models up front and a sign leading to the used equipment out back, says Porter. The same thing goes for Web sites.

"When you think about it, there's a reason why you design a shop that way," he said. "It's the same kind of thinking in an online store in that you need to make it easy and showcase new equipment in the same way your end users can find it at your brick and mortar location."

What Not To Do

Dealers have a tendency to make very common mistakes that could prevent their customers from returning. The good news, says Rosell, is that all of these mistakes are fixable. (And AED's Web Services offers free Web site analysis.)

CED conducted an unscientific test of AED member dealer Web sites. Out of 20 randomly selected Web sites visited, three weren't available at all. Imagine your customers trying to find your Web site and all they see is "this site is not available," or "this site is under construction," or worse yet - they can't find you at all. They're done with you.

Using the guidelines for what constitutes a good site, and what not to do, CED viewed the sites and checked for all of the pertinent information. Only eight out of 20 sites had no major flaws. That means the majority of sites visited had something missing - either a lack of basic information, poor navigation or they had outdated information.

Common -but correctable - mistakes that dealers make include:

  • Outdated specials
  • Typos
  • Confusing navigation
  • Absence of contact information
  • Graphics that don't translate well to the Web
  • Last updated - this should never be on your site. It's even worse to have it if the date is more than one month old, says Rosell.
  • Adding too much flash or a song
  • Too much text - Web readers scan, not read pages like a newspaper
According to Porter, many dealers fail to build their sites as a sales tool.

"Many dealers do not understand that their Web site can generate business for them because they don't answer e-mails and don't respond to quotes," said Porter.

When a site visitor sends you an e-mail, he has money in his pocket to buy something, he says. And when that same visitor sends the dealer an e-mail and the dealer doesn't respond, in the Internet world he'll go somewhere else.

"It's like turning your air conditioner down to 65 degrees in the heat of the summer and opening all of your windows," said Porter. "You're spending time and effort to get your site built to attract visitors but you're not answering e-mails or returning calls. I think that's a lot of lost opportunity."

Dealers should follow up immediately on anyone who expresses an interest. Some sites provide an automated response, but Porter cautions that those are actually mixed blessings.

"If your site automatically sends a response to thank someone for their interest and promises someone will get back to them in the next 24 hours, on the one hand Internet users know when it's an automated response," he said. "But the problem is that dealers think that solves the problem and they still don't take care of it. Now it's even worse."

According to the Internet Marketing Report released in October 2007, 70 percent of leads that come in do not get answered expeditiously and then between 14 and 22 percent of a company's annual revenue goes to someone else.

"With the market the way it is, it's going to start to get tight," says Porter. "What that means is that every opportunity becomes a premium and dealers can't afford to become blasé about people expressing an interest in spending money on equipment."

The Cream of the Crop

The Web sites of Vermeer MidSouth, Texas Contractors Equipment and Ditch Witch Midwest are each outstanding examples of a good equipment dealer Web site. These three AED member dealer sites were chosen because each site has all of the elements of a good dealer site as defined by industry experts Rosell and Porter.

For Denny Vander Molen, president of Vermeer MidSouth in Jackson, Miss., having a Web site helps his company communicate a consistent message.

"We cover a good sized geographic area, and our site gives the perception that we will be seamless from one distribution point to another," he said. "No matter where the contractor is working he can expect the same kind of service."

Vander Molen says his site's navigability is one of its high points. Generally his site users look at the new and used equipment first, then wander off to parts and service.

"The first impression is the most critical," he said. "We can't allow our site to get too cumbersome and too busy. We have to get them on the path to get the answers they are looking for. So often Web sites can have so much information but it doesn't say anything. It needs to be easy to communicate."

Although Vermeer MidSouth does not sell equipment online, the company does communicate with end users after they've visited the Web site.

"Our Web site is a great sales tool for us," said Vander Molen. "It's helping us move used equipment. We've sold used from the East to West coast, to Canada and overseas. It's broadened our customer base in the used equipment arena."

Danny Heinz, general manager of Texas Contractors Equipment in Houston, says he originally put his site up for information, but now he's gaining sales from it.

"The Web site is my 24 hour a day, 7 days a week salesman," he said. "We can track which sales are from the Internet and see how much business we're doing from it and whether it's worth it. It pays for itself."

Texas Contractors Equipment's customer base has also expanded, even overseas.

"Put as much information up on your site as you can," he said. "The more information, the more people will search on the site. The longer you keep them on your site the better."

The WebTrends report that Heinz receives is very important. This report can show him how many visitors his site has had, what pages they visited, how long they stayed and much more.

"It helps me determine what's still active, what people are looking at and if I should take it down and revise it," he said. "It's the best tool. It helps me design the site itself."

Used equipment sales have also increased for Ditch Witch Midwest, based in Carol Stream, Ill., says Mark Harbaugh, vice president.

"If we didn't have a Web site, we'd be missing the opportunity to reach the customer in a fairly inexpensive way," he said. "We've had a lot of opportunities on used equipment that we've put on our Web site."

Harbaugh says it's important to have a site because customers have become more computer savvy.

"Customers today tend to search the 'Net and do their equipment research that way," he said. "We find that customers are coming in more prepared with fewer questions because they are able to get more information from the Web site."

Get Professional Help

If all of this information seems a bit overwhelming, contact either AED Web Services or Equipment Web Services for assistance in designing your Web site. No technical skills are required.

AED Web Services: 800-388-0650,
www.aedwebservices.com


Equipment Web Services: 866-775-0510,
www.equipmentwebservices.com



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