Automation Solutions Turn Customers into Partners

| Dan Sage

Automation Solutions

Horizon Solutions hasn’t been around for over 160 years because we sell a lot of products—we do, but that’s not why we’ve been so successful. We owe our longevity to the relationships we’ve formed with customers, companies that we partner with to address challenges, solve problems, and prepare for future innovations. We sell solutions. And we’re uniquely qualified to sell automation solutions because we hire top Automation Specialists and engineers, work with the most reputable suppliers, and maintain our status as an Authorized Rockwell Automation® Distributor.

Forming Lasting Partnerships

Building relationships equates to growth and success for both our customers and suppliers. Gone are the days of being focused on just the bottom line. We started out selling wagon wheels, so we know what you make today could be gone tomorrow without the right partners.

When I went from being the customer to the distributor, I wanted to be seen differently. I wanted to offer more than just a widget but really understand the overall needs of the customer, to truly understand the importance of a sharing relationship and how it can benefit all involved.

Going Beyond Products to Automation Solutions

Here is an example of how I grew a large grocery customer into a successful partnership. My relationship started as a technical advisor supporting a critical automation project on a pick-and-ship system. The project went extremely well; it came in within budget, exceeded their product output needs, and increased overall reliability. As this project was nearing completion, it was obvious there were more opportunities to support this customer.

One of the key questions I asked to hone-in on what Horizon Solutions could provide was: What is important to them, and how would this impact their business? Based on this dialogue, I was able to offer them ways to improve efficiencies and productivity while reducing downtime. And it wasn’t all about adding technology. In some incidences, it was as simple as making sure they had the right spare parts on hand. In other cases, it became modernizing inefficient or unreliable equipment.

Going the Extra Mile to Earn Loyalty

Sometimes turning customers into partners means going above and beyond the typical customer service role. Like the call I got Christmas day from a department manager. A critical piece of equipment that was needed to produce enough products for the following day’s shipment was down. We agreed to meet in a couple of hours to identify a way to get the equipment running temporarily. The problem was the old parts were no longer available. We were able to configure some existing parts to run temporarily, which got them through the immediate need. And we then came up with an automation solution that provided a path forward to upgrade and modernize the equipment and reduce further downtime.

Selling Based on Customer Needs

Automation SolutionAs a distributor, I’m constantly looking for what will best fit my customers’ needs. In the automation world, technology is always changing, and I’ve always taken pride in being ahead of the curve—but I don’t lose focus on what’s important. Other distributors focus on bringing their widget of the month to customer meetings and showing off its features and benefits. One problem: That doesn’t have anything to with helping the customer. I start meetings by evaluating my customers’ needs and then work with them to build a solution, using the right widgets to fit into the solution. Don’t get me wrong; sometimes, there is a fit for a widget sale. For example, when you have a request from the customer, or you have prior knowledge that the widget fills a known need. But more often than not, the focus should be on finding an automation solution, which may be a widget.

Offering Insight and Possibilities

Recently, I had a customer who thought they needed a one-for-one part replacement. Their lightboard was broken, and this part was critical for avoiding line back-ups and shipment delays. The board indicated when the conveyor line was backing up and to what level. The ask was to find a direct lightboard replacement. They were thinking in terms of automation parts, not automation solutions.

This lightboard was old, unreliable, and costly to maintain. Because I’m well-versed in the latest automation trends and technology, I knew there were other products available to meet their current and future needs. My first question: if this board could do more, what would you want from it? I explained that the boards are custom built and costly. I also shared that I believed there was other important information that would help the line operators, data that already existed in the control system and just needed to be displayed.

In the end, they went from showing if a line was backing up to displaying line status, how long the line was backed up, production through the line, how many times the line got backed up or jammed, and the total hours the line ran. Based on this information, they knew how many items made it to the trucks, how long it took to get a store order filled, what conveyor line needed maintenance, and over efficiencies of the line.

My partner got a better solution, and I got introduced to a different area of their business to support other solutions. And so, we grew together.

Listening to Our Customers

To be a good partner, you must be a good listener. And then, when it’s my turn to talk, I make sure what I say is relevant and valuable. Whether I’m meeting with a customer for the first time or making my hundredth visit, I keep a few things in mind. I try not to speak too much and not too little; I try to focus on what is most important to the customer’s situation.

Not long ago, a transactional customer was acquired by another company. In the past, this customer only came to us for items they couldn’t find elsewhere. They weren’t interested in forming a relationship or finding an automation solution, and we respected that and filled their needs upon request. When management changed, there was an opportunity to talk for the first time.

There was only one thing that was important to me, hearing what was important to them. As I listened to both their short term and long-term goals as well as their challenges to meet them, it was clear that we had the potential for a very strong relationship.

When it was my turn to speak, I had a thousand things I wanted to throw out there, but I also wanted to be invited back. My number was three. I picked the top three things they shared that were important to them that had value and that I could impact. We never spoke about pieces or parts. Instead, we focused on value, growth, and opportunities to differentiate from competitors.

In the three years since that first meeting, we worked on those three things and more. Their business had almost doubled since they decided to partner with us. And yes, our business has benefited as well.

Partner with Us for Your Automation Solutions

Horizon Solutions has been successful for over 160 years. When our customers talk, we listen. We don’t focus on price; we find the value for our customers. And it’s through these mutually beneficial partnerships that we form lasting relationships. Contact us, and let’s find the right solutions for our present and future.