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Staying Connected In The Year Of COVID-19

Marketing leaders from six top aftermarket companies talk about their communication strategies this year.

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WebEx, Zoom, Teams.

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Today, these are not only useful communication platforms but also new verbs and adjectives in our professional lexicon, as video meetings, calls and presentations have almost entirely replaced face-to-face collaboration over the past six months as the coronavirus continued to spread across the globe.

We spoke to marketing leaders from six top aftermarket companies to get their take on the most impactful changes they’ve made over the past several months when it comes to marketing and communication practices –  both internally and externally – during the coronavirus pandemic.

Not only are WebEx, Microsoft Teams and Zoom being utilized on a daily basis for team and customer calls and meetings, but they’ve also become an important tool to keep sales professionals sharp, says Aaron Shaffer, director of Marketing and Product, KYB Americas Corp.

While companies such as KYB have been using WebEx for team meetings and trainings for years now, it really wasn’t until the pandemic that everyone began to utilize the video option more frequently to increase that sense of “face-to-face” interaction. Shaffer says the single biggest thing KYB did during the pandemic – in terms of impact – was to spend any downtime educating sales staff on products via WebEx trainings and a virtual KYB game show.

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“We always did these once a month, but we all got more comfortable with it … a year or two years from now, we’re going to be really smart and really balanced with how we use this, where it will just be a really, really good supplement, but I don’t think it will entirely supersede personal communication,” said Shaffer.

Georgianne Dickey, senior manager of product and marketing communications, NTN Bearing Corp. of America, said NTN – like KYB – has used any downtime to ensure its sales team is armed with product information and education.

“At the very beginning of the pandemic, when we all were locked down, one of the great things we decided to do was we surveyed all of our sales teams,” said Dickey. “We knew they would have a little free time if they’re not traveling, so we did a whole survey about, do they understand the features and benefits of the products. When we got all this feedback, we did home-school training for four or five weeks, every Tuesday, and a different person would present to our sales teams, based on what we saw that they needed.”

The phrase “face time” has taken on new meaning as well, as many aftermarket companies report that using video calls rather than just internet audio or landline phone calls has increased dramatically, and with a positive impact as well. With so many of us working remotely, our professional circles have been reduced and seeing a colleague’s face, even if it’s on a mobile device or laptop, has helped increase the feeling of collaboration and connectivity during a time of isolation for many.

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“We have a lot of meetings on [Microsoft] Teams,” said Dave Wenger, marketing manager – Programs, North America Aftermarket, Division ContiTech of Continental AG. “It’s interesting. More people are using the video portion of it now than used to. And I think it’s because we have a lot more of them. It’s nice sometimes to actually see their faces. It’s more like a conversation that way than if you just have the video off.”

For Autel Tools, making sure its employees were safe, informed and prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic was of utmost importance, says Daniel Bemiss, marketing director, Autel Tools. Communicating opening and frequently with all of its roughly 2,000 to 3,000 employees was key.

“We’ve had a great office culture for a long time, but this situation has made us even stronger,” said Bemiss. “We’re very friendly with one another. Even in our personal lives, we like to support each other and talk about what’s going on – making sure that our team is working well and nobody was laid off. We’ve actually been hiring more now to try to make up for the growth that we really haven’t experienced over the past year.”

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Webinars

Across the board, every company we spoke with has reported investing additional resources into educational and training webinars for customers with reports of significant increased engagement during the pandemic.

“Where we’ve seen the biggest impact is with our virtual learning,” said Beth Skove, general manager, Marketing Aftermarket, NGK Spark Plugs U.S.A. “We are reaching more people virtually than we ever did live. We have a couple of trainers who were traveling the country. Now, we can reach out to virtually anyone. So, we’re seeing 50 to 100 people in our webinar classes, and then it’s also on YouTube so people can come back to it.”

Dickey reported similar positive results. “We’ve been doing a lot more webinars than we ever did before and the engagement and the registrations are through the roof,” she said. “I think maybe people had a little more time on their hands, but we will continue to do that because it’s been getting better and better.”

Virtual Trade Shows and Meetings

While the consensus is there’s no way to replace the impact the annual AAPEX show has for aftermarket suppliers and distributors, many suppliers say their participation in virtual meetings and trade shows hosted by the major distribution program groups has been successful.

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“One of the big things that has been very interesting when it comes to customer communication has been the new virtual trade shows,” said Wenger. We’ve been on some of those and I think those have gone over very well. I don’t think they’re necessarily a substitute for face-to-face, but I think it’s a great thing to have. And, I think there’ll be more of those even when the pandemic’s over and things get back to whatever normal is. I think virtual trade shows and more webinars will be the norm.”

Remote Works

Proof is in the pudding that even remotely, well-connected teams can collaborate well with the right tools, says Dana’s Beth Mooney.

“We have achieved significant product launches and program launches, so many things in the aftermarket here at Dana, even working remotely,  have all launched or been commercialized without a hitch,” she said. “So I think we’re recognizing as a team that we work very well together regardless.” Dave Wenger agrees that thanks to everyone quickly adapting to new platforms, there’s potential for productive remote work to continue. “Down the road, it’s not going to matter where they’re at, because everyone’s gotten better at working together remotely,” said Wenger.

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