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The Ultimate Material Handling Website

Edgers share insights on what they want on the net.

There is little doubt that the advent of the World Wide Web has shaped society- not only has it changed the way that people interact with one another on a personal level, but it has also transformed the face of business. Often, the first glimpse a prospective customer gets of a company is by visiting its website. The potential customer may come to your website in search of a specific product or service, or perhaps just to see how you measure up against your competition. Your website can truly be your moment to shine.

Today’s Edgers are among the first generation widely raised around computers and the Internet- they know where to go to find the information they need, and more important, they can quickly discern the sites to avoid. Using their insights from both Web use, and the material handling industry, Edgers share their thoughts on what the ultimate material handling website would look like- one that would not only drive customers to your site and business, but also which would make your business and its website more “user friendly.”

Be Easy for Customers to Find
Just as they like to have concise directions on how to drive your location, customers also want to easily be able to find you online. While some website visitors may arrive via search engine queries, some are likely to arrive via word of mouth, whether from colleagues or your salespeople. An easy-to-remember, intuitive website address- known in Internet terms as the site’s “uniform resource locator” or “URL”- is key in ensuring your customers find you.

When creating a Web presence, part of the initial startup expense is usually the securing of the URL. With the proliferation of websites in the last decade, it is becoming increasingly difficult- but no less vital- to secure an address that your customers will easily associate with your company. In an industry such as material handling that has companies with similar names, not only could your customer not find you, but instead find their way to your competitor.Randell Hiltbrunner

While generally impressed with his company’s Web presence, Customer Sales Specialist Randell Hiltbrunner, 37, of Sunbelt Industrial Trucks (Dallas, TX) says some companies’ URLs aren’t intuitive and are perhaps easily mistyped. “If somebody mistypes your Web address because it’s long or has unusual characters, they won’t get to you,” he says. “I think at the onset of getting into Internet business, people didn’t see that ‘front door’ as an issue- but now, I think they do.”

When shopping, Hiltbrunner seeks out sites that provided that streamlined experience. He believes that material handling dealers could learn from the “big-box stores” which provide a wide array of goods and services. In his vision of the ultimate material handling website, Hiltbrunner sees a section for allied equipment that leads visitors to distributors from whom you may not regularly deal, but with whom you can network to bring the best solution to the customer. “If a customer may not see it on your website, they’re going to go somewhere else,” he says. “If they’re looking for a used lift and a dock plate and can write one check, they’ll do it. We do that kind of thing all the time on the phone- we should do it on the Internet, too.”

Keep Customers in the Know
Once customers arrive at your website, they want to easily be able to look around. Just as cluttered aisles or floor space could make a shopping trip inconvenient, a cluttered website can often distract or frustrate visitors. Edgers note that some of their favorite websites arte their favorites because they present information in a clear manner that doesn’t leave them needing to look elsewhere to fill in the gaps. Whereas print catalogs, fact sheets and brochures have a limited amount of space, there is nearly unlimited potential to educate your customers about your products on the Web.

Inside Sales Manager Scott Jaworski, 37, of Craft Equipment Company (Tampa, FL), says that he sometimes is frustrated by the fact that he will visit a supplier’s website for more information on a product, only to find he has to then turn to a printed catalog or place a phone call in order to find missing specifications. “Sometimes sites fall short,” he notes. “You’ll pull up a product and it will hardly have any information whatsoever.” Jaworski believes that the more information you can provide a customer, the better- if they can easily see at a glance that this product will meet their needs, they are much more likely to choose it.

Streamline Their Experience
Including a lot of information doesn’t mean having to overload your users’ senses, however. There is a balance between information and usability. Jaworski says that while he’s comfortable using computers, he still very much considers himself “old school” in terms of technology, and prefers sites that are easy to navigate- flash shouldn’t overtake substance. He adds that products and services should be showcased in a way that makes them eye-catching without making the presentations eyesores. “The ease to navigate the site is important,” he notes. “It shouldn’t be too busy or too vague.”Jason Norton

Finance Manager Jason Norton, 29, of Hawthorne Lift Systems (San Diego, CA), believes that the ultimate material handling website would welcome customers by instantly showcasing the company’s core divisions- sales, service and parts- and letting customers know that the company provides what they seek. “These key components work together to form a successful dealership,” he says, and thinks they should also be tied together to create a successful Web presence.

Streamlining services can also be key to gaining and retaining customers. Once they’ve visited your site and have found that equipment they need and note that it meets all of their specifications, they want to purchase that product as easily as possible. While in some instances, that could mean online purchasing, major purchases are often made easier simply by a smooth financing process. Norton says that he processes all customer finance requests online and that if a streamlined service could be offered online which allowed customers to avoid paper-and-pen applications all together, it could be a real boon for both customer and distributor.Michael Baldwin

Network Administrator Michael Baldwin of Florida Lift Systems (Tampa, FL), 37, agrees with his fellow Edgers that being able to do more online is paramount and would like a material handling website that showcases products and services. He adds that a key feature on his ultimate site would allow customers to make service-call requests, which would immediately dispatch a call.

Think Like and About Customers
When designing a website, keep customers first. Make it easy for them to find you on the Internet, help them walk through your online “front door” into a space that’s easy to navigate, and let them know early and often what goods and services you can provide. Just as drawing customers to your website can drive sales, Internet-savvy salespeople can get an edge by visiting their potential customer’s website. Mention the company’s recent addition of a new salesperson or ask for a tour of their newly remodeled facilities which you read about online, and customers will sense you have a stronger interest in them. Just as you want a customer to learn all they can about your company, learning about their company can also help generate ever-important contracts which would lead to that next big sale.

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