It’s always nice to hear from an end-user of technology products that I’ve been writing about for years. While it is squarely in the job description of a vendor’s marketing executive to articulate just how perfect their solution is pumping up the customer experience with SPS and Kenandy every possible use case, actual customers tend to be more circumspect and to only wax poetic about the solutions that actually deliver benefits to them. And so, I’m always interested in hearing from these end users and exploring how their particular solution-set meets there needs.
And so it is with Service Pump & Supply, a West Virginia-based company that sells motors, pumps, and accessories to a sector that, let’s face it, is often viewed as an old-school industry -- oil and gas, coal and mining companies. While this is one business that many would categorize as “boring,” that doesn’t mean in any way that it’s an unimportant one. Indeed, SPS got a call a few days after Hurricane Irma to ship a bunch of pumps down to Florida to help with cleanup, a critical part of the chain of relief.
Anyway, despite being a traditional business, SPS is well aware that the times are changing and had a desire to offer its customers a new type of experience, one which they might be used to with their consumer experiences, but not one they traditionally think of coming from their more conventional suppliers.
The CEO of SPS, Patrick Farrell, recognized this subtle demand for “Amazon-like” experiences and decided to jump on that demand to gain a competitive advantage. He could see the writing on the wall -- his customers wanted simple processes, instant help, user-friendly technology, access to historical data for purchasing decisions, low prices, and instant or rapid delivery of products/equipment. The fact that customers were ordering pumps and motors didn’t deter them from wanting slick and sophisticated technology interfaces from their vendors. It’s not just the hip millennials who want experiences that are as easy as those with their favorite social network.
But SPS had a problem in that they couldn’t change the experience of their customers with its legacy technology systems. In particular, SPS’ ERP system was dated, siloed, and inflexible. What this means, within the context of their internal processes, was that systems for sales weren't connected to those for the shop, shop not to finance, finance not to quality, quality not to the end customer. SPS needed to be able to connect the enterprise, from inquiry to collecting cash. The whole process has to be tied together. But all of the reporting was slow, manual and inaccurate.
The SPS business model is complex. The company relies on a wide array of business models. SPS may manufacture a product or buy, rent, or consign it from a third-party before turning around and selling, renting, or consigning the product to its customer. The products may be new or used. They may be made to order. They may have accessories that are sold separately.
Being such a diverse one-stop shop is a competitive differentiator for SPS. But there’s a flip side -- every pump and motor repair shop is an SPS competitor. Every pump sale or rental shop is a competitor. To stay ahead, SPS had to customize their system based on the particular market and the particular good or service that SPS is offering.
Farrell ran the review process to select the new ERP solution. For Farrell, the desire to tie customer-facing aspects of his business to internal systems and processes drew him to the Salesforce ecosystem and, in particular, Kenandy’s ERP. But Farrell wasn’t sucked into what is often a vendor sales pitch that suggests technology alone could solve all his problems. Rather he knew that any new technology had to be supported by smart business processes.
Kenandy ended up winning the business for the platform’s flexibility and scale, but, it has to be added, also because it committed to developing the rental platforms SPS needed. The added value that strong connections into Salesforce and its broader ecosystem where another key decider for Farrell.
As Farrell explains the benefits of the new system:
"…everyone has access to all the information they need, in real time. They can be proactive and take care of problems themselves without having to be told. They didn’t have the tools to do that before. We uncovered some dead inventory that we didn’t have visibility into with the old system. When we found it we were like, hah, we knew this was there! Somebody would place an order, and because the old system wasn’t coding it right, we’d think that we needed it even though we already had it on the shelf. So we’d order another one, which gave us too much inventory. Now we’re a much leaner, more efficient organization. Really every aspect of our business is better since we implemented Kenandy because we have better visibility into the data."
The SPS customer experiences have radically changed, as well. SPS was serving one customer in particular recently that had hired SPS to conduct 100 repair calls to a variety of production sites. Because SPS now has all of the customer data in one accessible place (which can be viewed via a mobile device), SPS employees were able to provide the customer with details about why the repairs kept happening, which crews (of the customer) were on site when equipment kept breaking, the type of equipment that was causing the problem, etc. This level of insight and detail had not been experienced before by their customer and the customer was able to make changes to their business based on the data.
Overall, Farrell says he has been able to lower supply chain costs, improve customer experiences and grow SPS since implementing Kenandy, which was exactly what he set out to do.
“Disruption” is an overused term, but the fact of the matter is that the “Amazon effect” is impacting upon every business. Everyone needs to think about how they can apply digital technologies to drive improved outcomes for their customers – so-called boring industries like the one SPS is in are no different. Obviously the SPS success comes down, at least in part, to a prescient and forward-looking CEO – that is a cultural aspect that cannot be understated. But beyond that, SPS chose a technology platform that, rather than being a barrier to innovation, would enable it. While it is a cliché to say that every business needs to become a customer-centric one, it is also an accurate truism – SPS have made some good calls and seem to be enjoying the benefits.