Even though I keep getting older, I like to think of myself as technologically savvy and open-minded to new gadgets that can make life easier or more interesting. Im not what anyone would call an "early adopter." I have a cell phone with a camera, but not a cell phone that can send and receive e-mail. Ive had a high-speed Internet connection at home for more than 10 years now and I cant imagine not having computer-related tools and a high-speed Internet connection at work.
As I complete my third year with Rental Management, however, I have seen a change in attitude toward technology by those in the rental industry. More e-mail responses from people these days have that extra line, "Sent via BlackBerry ." Responses to our occasional online surveys keep growing and most rental companies we visit now have sophisticated computer systems to better control inventory, logistics and customer service.
Also, when I recently attended the Associated Equipment Dealers (AED)/Qualcomm Executive Forum in Chicago on Sept. 11, Adam Fein, a principal with Pembroke Consulting in Philadelphia, was one of the speakers. His advice to the audience of distributors and manufacturers, which also can apply to rental businesses, is to embrace connected customers. "This era is here. Technology has become a part of day-to-day life," he said.
This is similar to what we found in talking with rental-specific computer software manufacturers for this months cover story about technology and the rental industry, starting on page 26. Since more people are using technology in their daily lives be it a computer, cell phone or personal digital assistant (PDA) it seems more rental companies have embraced technology as a part of their businesses.
Fein says that current estimates show 73 percent of U.S. adults age 18 and over are online these days and 55 percent of U.S. adults have a high-speed Internet connection at home. This is a significant increase over the 63 percent online and 24 percent with high-speed connections at home in 2004. "What is happening is that day-to-day lives are influencing industry," Fein said.
He suggested that businesses today need to pay closer attention to online communities comprised of target customers, citing Web sites such as www.tractorbynet.com, www.contractortalk.com and www.heavyequipmentforums.com as possible vehicles to find out what customers want and need. He also suggested participating in these forums, but warned that you must bring value to the conversation as online communities usually do a good job of policing people who try to sell or promote their products.
"This is a normal way to share information today," he said. "Go to an online community and search for your company or equipment and see what it says."
While our coverage of technology in this issue looks at how technology can save a rental business money, Fein, in his speech, pointed out that technology also can help businesses make more money. As an example, he emphasized better use of e-mail. "No one thought e-mail leads were worth anything, but we have found that they are," Fein said. "You have to rethink how you do business psychologically. Weve found that unsolicited e-mails close business twice as often as cold calls."