Komatsu saves time, money with extranet

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Vernon Hills, Ill.-based Komatsu America Corp. is the second-largest supplier of construction equipment in North America. The company also manufacturers mining equipment. It sells its products through resellers-40 in all, with more than 250 branch offices across the country. Eight years ago, the company supported its resellers with printed marketing materials, such as specification sheets, policy letters, finance rate information and training materials.

In fact, there was so much material that resellers received something from Komatsu America every day, said Russ Walker, the company's manager of customer relations systems planning. Simply distributing all this material required plenty of time and energy.

"There's just an endless amount of information you send out. I don't know if anyone calculated true cost-the manpower devoted, printing materials and mailing costs," he said. "But I can remember where we would have pallets of information sitting there that had to be sent to distributors."

What to include on extranet

Hoping to eliminate some of the clutter and boost reseller satisfaction, Komatsu America worked with Northbrook, Ill.-based Outlook Marketing in early 1998 and started digitizing its marketing materials. Outlook evaluated what it would take to create an extranet, designing what content should be included and how the rollout should go.

At the time, the No. 1 priority was to make sure that materials were getting to the right people and avoiding overburdening those who might not be as interested. So the company started with the basics-digitizing frequently distributed materials, such as specification sheets and competitive and technical information. These sheets were posted on a password-protected extranet.

Immediately, however, Walker realized the advantages went beyond saving saving money on printing and mailing costs. They were also saving time.

"Let's say on May 1 a spec sheet is suitable for printing. Maybe it took two weeks to get it back from the printer and another two weeks to get it to distributors," Walker said. "It might sit for another week before the distributorship orders them." He said it wasn't unusual for it to take six or eight weeks from the time material was approved before resellers received it in quantities-that meant six to eight weeks they weren't selling products.

After seeing the success of the electronic documentation, Komatsu America started making more features and materials available online. Today, it has a photo gallery that allows resellers to import pictures into product brochures, as well as downloadable posters. The extranet is a one-stop repository for everything and anything related to Komatsu America.

Portal as sales tool

Recently, the company took the portal one step further, using it as a way to funnel sales leads to its resellers and create sales proposals.

When potential customers come to the Komatsu America site, their information is captured and e-mailed directly to distributors, depending on product line and location. The lead is also posted on the extranet site so resellers can see a summary of what that customer is looking for and how they have been routed.

The sales proposal tool, which was launched in April 2004, combines existing extranet functionalities and helps resellers create a professional-quality printed proposal for end users.

"The distributor goes into the extranet and pulls information from our business systems-customer data, machine data, pricing structure, finance info, warranty info," Walker said. "The tool arranges it, pulling photos and specs and a cover letter together. Then [resellers] can e-mail a package directly to customers or print it out to mail." Walker added: "The investment for all this is nothing. The payback is huge, though."

A telling metric of success is that the Komatsu America extranet is used by every distributor every day.

"It was definitely not a hard sell," Walker said. "They were looking for an easy way to get to information and this is it." M

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