In the previous column in this series we illustrated how the pace of technology will increase faster and faster. In some cases it is evolving faster than our ability to understand its value.

This column will provide you with questions you need to ask the business software provider(s) about the future capabilities of the system you use to run your dealership. These questions are not unreasonable because all of the capabilities discussed are already available in some form in farm equipment dealerships today. So to use a trite but true statement, “The future is now!”

Note: These questions are from your perspective to the provider(s) of your business system or other software. So when I say “you,” I’m referring to the business system supplier.

Parts & Service

1. Do you have a live work order scheduling system?

What is this and why is it important? The ability to have all open and scheduled work orders on one electronic list that is always current with the latest information gives your dealership a lot of advantages, not just the service manager. The parts department can anticipate future work and order parts, plus they are able to expedite parts and inform the service department when these parts arrive. It allows the sales and service department to make better decisions about prioritizing customer repair jobs and for machines being delivered. Multiple location dealers can shift technicians between locations based on demand or capability. Field technicians can learn where their next job might be close to their current location without having to call in.

2. Can I measure first-pass counter fill for stocking parts?

What is this and why is it important? There are some parts that you should always have on hand (stocking parts) and some parts that your customers would like you to have but will understand if you don’t.

Knowing the difference is the art and science of parts management. The art is having the knowledge to find the proper balance. The science means to have a system to define stocking parts and to put an ordering and inventory system in place with the objective of having 100% first-pass counter fill on stocking parts. Your business system should have the capability of providing this information.

3. Which OEMs can link up for parts pricing, repair sequences and standard repair times?

What is this and why is it important? Most manufacturers can provide parts pricing regularly for your business system, but many cannot provide information on how long a repair job should take. Most other industries have flat rate or standard job times and this is starting to be applied in the farm equipment business. In cases where your OEM provides this information, your business system should be able to link to this information regularly so that you can quote more jobs more easily with up-to-date prices and repair times. The benefit is a more productive and more profitable service department.

Sales Processes & Marketing

4. Does your customer and prospect database provide for calculating of participation and close rate for each sales rep?

What is this and why is it important? “You manage what you can measure” is a basic management principle. In managing your sales force, a fundamental measurement should be knowing how many deals they are involved with (participation) and of those deals they quote, how many do they close (closure). Does your customer database and sales management system allow your sales manager to determine these metrics? Many don’t, but they should.

5. Does your point of sales system allow for touchless electronic payments?

What is this and why is it important? Using smart phones for retail is a huge trend and this isn’t lost on your customers. Newly launched ApplePay is a big step forward. Many other retailers, including Wal-Mart and McDonalds are also offering these systems. It is only a matter of time before your customers will expect the same convenience, and you will want the security of lowering your accounts receivables. Credit cards have eliminated most open accounts. Electronic payments will be the next phase.

6. Does your inventory control system provide for linkages for real-time tracking?

What is this and why is it important? Knowing where your inventory is allows for better management, higher turns and greater security. Bar codes are starting to be used in farm equipment dealerships. Some manufacturers offer RFID tags (Radio Frequency Identification) for their own parts management that dealers can also use. Wireless tags are available to attach to machines that allow dealers to track location in real-time. Linking inventory keeps your inventory records up to date and increases productivity.

7. To what extent does your inventory control system adapt to your marketing program (e.g. website information, live chat, etc.)?

What is this and why is it important? Most dealer websites list new and used machines available for sale. Your business system should link to these lists so that machine information (price, condition, location) is always up to date on your website and in your business system. Tied to this real-time capability is the ability to know when a customer is looking at a machine on your website, and to engage them in a sales dialogue. This live chat is in use by more progressive dealerships now.

Wireless Capability

8. Can you link to OEM telematic streams that can alert you to service warnings and machine locations when populating work orders?

What is this and why is it important? Most major manufacturers have or will soon have the capability for a dealership to remotely track machine location, use and problems. This will be a game changing capability for dealers to assist their customers in managing their machine fleets. It will change your service capability from a reactive to a proactive capability. Can your business system provide minute-by-minute information to alert service to fault codes on customer machines and to create, populate and dispatch a tech with work order to respond?

9. Are remote access displays adaptable to smart phone and tablet screens?

What is this and why is it important? The use of remote devices is growing rapidly (particularly smart phones and tablets) both in the field (repair service) and in your dealerships (parts inventory management, sales). The screen size is smaller than the computer and terminals you use now. Your business system must provide the capability for remote access and to display information in a readable form on these devices.

10. Are updates done automatically in the background?

What is this and why is it important? Software is constantly being updated whether on your computers, your personal devices or on your customer machines. The current state of the art for smart phones and personal computers is for updates to be completed automatically and in the background. How is the software on your business system to be updated in the future?

There are other questions that you should be asking, as well, such as the security of data in the cloud. But asking these 10 questions will give you a good idea of the direction of your business system and some idea of how you can use technology to help you run your business better and offer better value to your customers.