SEMA News—December 2012
By Steve Campbell
Information Equals Sales
A Conversation With Bob Moore, Chairman of the SEMA Business Technology Committee
Bob Moore is the co-founder and current chairman of SEMA’s Business Technology Committee (BTC) and an unflagging advocate for the use of the industry’s newest sales-generation system, the SEMA Data Co-Op.
Bob Moore is the co-founder and current chairman of SEMA’s Business Technology Committee (BTC) and an unflagging advocate for the use of standardized data and the SEMA Data Co-Op, the industry’s newest sales-generation system. He has been working in the automotive aftermarket since 1976 and is a partner with Jerry McCabe in J&B Service, a consulting company that specializes in the aftermarket.
A former member of the SEMA Board of Directors, Moore is also a volunteer for a variety of industry organizations. He spent some time with SEMA News again this year to provide an update on the industry’s data systems and the course of technology.
As our interview began, Moore noted that the SEMA Data Co-Op is up, running and open for business, and he pointed out that many people deserve the industry’s thanks, including Chris Kersting and the SEMA staff, the BTC and Jon Wyly, who was a member of the SEMA Board of Directors from 2002–2007, was one of the founders of the BTC, and was its first chairman. Wyly is now CEO of the SEMA Data Co-Op.
SEMA News: For those who may not be familiar with the SEMA Data Co-Op (SDC), could you give us a thumbnail description of the system and what it is designed to do?
Bob Moore: Simply put, the SDC exists to help the aftermarket sell more parts by getting more and better information in front of buyers.
The SEMA Data Co-Op itself is a centralized resource that helps manufacturers—the suppliers of products—get their product and marketing information into a shareable condition so that they can transfer it to any reseller partner they choose in order to sell more of their products. “Data” in this context simply means information about the product, including fitment information, such as the year, make and model of vehicle or what engine it fits or even what kind of chassis or drivetrain it goes on. It also includes product information required to do commerce, such as the descriptions of the part itself, its dimensions, how many come in a box, case or on a pallet, how much it weighs to calculate shipping, country of origin or hazardous material content.
But increasingly “data” also includes the stuff that resellers are really clamoring for—the marketing data that they need so badly to populate their websites, mobile apps and point-of-sale systems. That data can include images of the product itself, the product installed on a vehicle, happy people enjoying using the product, marketing features and benefits, even video and audio files. In a selling environment where consumers are using mobile devices, such as smartphones, tablets and pads to gather information on almost every purchase they make, resellers must have rich content that their customers need. And the only realistic and reliable place they can get it is from the companies that make the products they sell.
SN: So once a manufacturer has its data in the Co-op, retailers can pull the information they need in order to sell the manufacturer’s parts, correct?
BM: Yes, they have a single source from which they can pull images, specs, text, audio, schematics, video—any type of informational data to use to provide consumers everything they need to know to make an informed purchase decision. Some resellers may want to have that type of information available at a call center, because jobbers or customers call in looking for specific information and descriptions. Others will use it to populate websites. Regardless, the shared information from the Data Co-op ensures that buyers can get answers to all of the questions they have.
If you think about any shopping experience, whether it is online or across a counter, the more information that can be provided, the greater the likelihood that the consumer will make the purchase. The counterman has to be able to tell the customer not just the differences in prices between various products, but also the difference in value—what the products are made of, how they’re constructed, how they perform. What’s critical is being able to instantly access the data that enables a counterman to answer those questions for an in-store retail shopper or on a website to provide comparative data to an online customer.
People are often reluctant to buy something because there isn’t enough information available. They never decline to buy because there is too much information.
SN: Some people are still turned off by the term “data.” To them, everything should revolve around sales. Is there validity to that idea?
BM: The SEMA Data Co-Op is a selling machine. I had a discussion with a manufacturer several years ago on this very point. He said that “data” never sold anything; that marketing sells products, not data. I knew he was an avid golfer and that he wanted to buy a new driver, so we went to a website and looked at videos of slow-motion swings showing the deflection of various types of shafts that equated to distance and accuracy charts. While we were sitting there looking, he decided to buy a particular driver. I pointed out to him that we had just gone through all kinds of data that led him to make his decision to spend $500 on a new driver. I can’t make a better case than that about how data sells.
It comes down to the information. Whether it is information for marketing or selling, it’s still data that makes the sale.
SN: How does a manufacturer go about getting his data into the Co-Op?
BM: Suppliers and receivers can simply fill out the “contact us” form at www.semadatacoop.org/contact-us, and the SDC help desk will proactively reach out to get the process started. Or they can call Jim Graven, director of membership, at 913-378-6133 and he will help them get connected. We currently have more than 110 SEMA companies actively putting in data and more than 50 resellers that are sharing data from those suppliers during the initial beta phase.
SN: Can the data be tailored to specific content types, such as desktop computers, mobile, print publications or point of sale?
BM: Yes, but let’s be clear: The reseller—whether it’s a wholesaler, a distributor, a jobber, a restyler, a machine shop, whatever—can only receive the data that the manufacturer grants permission to see. Each reseller has to get permission to receive specific information from the owner of the data. Not just anybody can download the information. The electronic data is treated the same as price sheets or catalogs. The manufacturer retains control of the information.
Simply put, the SDC exists to help the aftermarket sell more parts by getting more and better information in front of buyers.
And let’s make one other point as well: You said earlier, “once a manufacturer’s data is in the data pool, then this can happen.” That little “once the data is in the data pool” statement is no small undertaking. There is application data, such as year, make and model, and there is also commerce data, such as how many come in a box, how much it weighs, its dimensions and so on. Then there is that whole range of marketing information that is critical to selling.
If you are selling cat-back exhausts, for instance, it is a hell of an advantage if you can let a customer listen to what the system sounds like installed on his or her specific vehicle. Some of the more progressive exhaust companies have uploaded audio files on their websites so that a customer can listen to what an exhaust product sounds like on a Camaro, Mustang or MINI Cooper.
This whole range of marketing data could be anything from bullet points to video files, but those do not magically appear. The data pool cannot write copy for the manufacturer, and it cannot take pictures of happy customers using a tonneau cover on a pickup. The manufacturer has to supply those things, so a lot has to happen to get the data into
In most cases, the manufacturer already has this information, but it can’t be distributed until the data has been compiled, put into shareable condition and loaded into the Data Co-op. That is when the magic can happen.
In the beginning, manufacturers will likely put in basic application and product information and then build from there. In our experience, the more information they can include, the greater their sales will grow. There is a calculable relationship between the amount and quality of the information available and the likelihood that a consumer will make a purchase. And the receivers of the data, recognizing that fact, will eventually be going back to the manufacturers and asking for more information to help make the sale.
SN: All those different types of data you just talked about—text, images, video, audio—those can all be stored within the data pool?
BM: Absolutely, but it’s important to point out that not everybody needs every field in the Data Co-op. For instance, accurate color representation may be important to a manufacturer of seat covers but not to a manufacturer of engine bearings or pistons. If you’re selling an exhaust system, an audio file might be very important, but if you’re selling a lift kit, you don’t need an audio file. Common sense will dictate what you need.
SN: What about customizing the materials for an individual reseller who may not want a cookie-cutter data set?
BM: Excellent point. Not every receiver wants to get their data in the same way. The Data Co-Op works with the receivers to tailor the data to their requirements. The information can be translated from the standard formats into customized formats that an individual receiver wants. It’s much easier to do that from the pooled data than for the manufacturer to have to keep one set of data points for exactly the way Keystone wants it and another for the way NAPA wants it and another for the way Advance Auto Parts wants it. If a manufacturer can just put its data into a standardized set once, put it into the Data Co-Op, then we can translate it into the receiver’s required formats. That is a huge value-added extra.
SN: And then the receivers can tailor the data for how it will be used—in a print product, on a website, for a mobile app?
BM: Precisely. One of the frustrations that web sellers in particular have is that they will set up their website template to be able to display in a certain way. But they may only get really good data from a handful of their suppliers. That means that their site is missing photos or has no marketing bullet points on dozens of other products they carry. It makes for a very inconsistent shopping experience. The SEMA Data Co-op can make it easier, quicker and cheaper for all of the suppliers—large, medium and small—to get their information into a place where the reseller can pull it up, making the overall shopping experience better for everybody.
There are all kinds of really cool technologies on the horizon—tablet computing, mobile availability, local searches, VIN lookups. All of that stuff is critical, but none of it works unless you’ve got the good, fundamental data that can be searched.
We embarked on this project 10 years ago because we saw that the aftermarket was not keeping up with technology, and collectively we were not able to sell our products as effectively as some other industries. To compete, it is absolutely critical that we are able to quickly and easily transmit information from manufacturers to sellers.
I think the latest numbers I saw indicated that 92% of all purchases begin with some type of Internet search. That doesn’t mean 92% of the products are going to be bought online but that some amount of the data gathering comes through the Internet—ranging from color and size choices to the location of retail outlets and price points. And much of that is now coming through mobile devices, such as smartphones
SN: Are there any limitations to the types of data that can be put into the Data Co-Op? What about things such as quick-response (QR) codes?
BM: There is no limitation to what type of data could be put into the data pool, but there may be some limitations to the standardized fields as they are currently defined by the industry. For example, I don’t know that there is a placeholder for a QR code in the Product Information Exchange Standard (PIES). But what is important is that the SDC as an association-owned part of the industry is a critical player in the standards-setting community, and we can make additions or adjustments to the standards to accommodate the needs of the SEMA marketplace.
We are plugged into the larger automotive industry and are working across the replacement parts, tools, paint and heavy-duty marketplaces—even, in some cases, the marine and RV industries. In the case of new requirements, we would go to the governing bodies and say, “Here is how we propose to tag and label QR codes. Let’s all do it the same way.” If none of them have done it yet, they’ll either agree to our recommendation or suggest an alternative from another segment of the industry. That is how we will be able to come up with a common way of handling any new fields or new technology that might crop up.
Technology is constantly morphing. For instance, if you go onto a website today, you’re likely to encounter the classic hierarchical lookup using a dropdown menu to enter year, make and model information, even for generic items such as oil or paint. But we are now seeing the emergence of Google-type searches where someone who is looking for a product for a 2008 Ford F-250 simply enters 08 250 and the search engine asks, “Did you mean 2008 Ford F-250?” The search engines get smarter the more they’re queried about common items.
Rich marketing descriptions that take advantage of that technology make it possible for these new-age searches to be a lot more intuitive and a lot friendlier for both the trade and consumers. We have to have the wherewithal to be able to capture that, so the standards provide a place to record keywords, populating the marketing data with appropriate slang. It all starts with the basic data, but manufactures have to ensure that the data is populated and available to make this work. Increasingly that will mean having rich data populated in the SEMA Data Co-op.
There are all kinds of really cool technologies on the horizon—tablet computing, mobile availability, local searches, VIN lookups. All of that stuff is critical, but none of it works unless you’ve got the good, fundamental data that can be searched. If I can’t find the supercharger I’m looking for, it doesn’t make any difference that you can tell me there is a speed shop two miles from my home.
In the end, it’s like we always say: It really is all about the data.