An integrated online B2B ecommerce portal is helping United Rentals increase equipment rentals and engage with new customers.
UR One went live about a year ago, to help better integrate the company’s disparate online presences.
“There was a goal of streamlining transactions and interactions,” says Chris Hummel, CMO. “The idea wasn’t to get every customer using 100 percent digital. We wanted to remove friction from touchpoints. Eventually, people who are [only] paying their bills online will buy online—they’ll see how easy it is as they use it.”
Stamford, CT-based United Rentals is the world’s largest equipment rental company, with 1,000 branches around North America. The 21-year-old business owns over $12 billion worth of equipment and reported rental revenues of $2.3 billion for the fourth quarter of 2018. It operates in a number of vertical segments, including land moving, HVAC, pumping and storage, and specialty equipment, as well as advanced technology like VR, drones, robotics and autonomous vehicles.
The company’s B2B customer base is broad, serving everyone from local contractors, electricians and plumbers, all the way up to large enterprise oil, mining, manufacturing and engineering companies.
“Because of the breadth of what we offer, anyone involved in construction and renovation usually comes to us,” says Hummel.
Reaching the decision makers at target customers can be a complex task, he notes. In a smaller company, they might be working with one individual who is the owner/manager/operator, while in larger firms there are multiple individuals involved at numerous work sites, including procurement officers, field superintendents, equipment managers, operations personnel and c-level executives.
Unlike many B2B enterprises, where the buying process might be nine months to a year, United Rentals’ sales cycle is relatively short. “More than half our businesses notifies us less than 24 hours before they need equipment,” notes Hummel. “Then, the relationship is built over time—they might be buying in small amounts over lots and lots of [different] contracts. It can actually be a very consumer-like transaction.”
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While the company is undoubtedly the biggest player in the space, because of the number of players in rental equipment, the company actually only has less than 15 percent market share, he says. “There are potentially thousands of players, some ‘mom and pops’ with only a few pieces of equipment.”
The challenge is to reach prospects who aren’t just sitting at their desk. Customers’ days are usually spent in a truck or on a job site. And, each construction site is a unique environment, notes Hummel. Some might be in remote locations or even underground, making it sometimes difficult to reach them.
Awareness of the brand is high, but the mission to make people aware of the breadth of what the company offers is a never ending mission. “Once we have a conversation with someone, they suddenly notice our stickers on all kinds of equipment all over the place,” he says. “ ‘Oh, I didn’t know you offered that’ is a common refrain.”
Digital and content marketing is a huge part of creating that awareness: Hummel says his company’s research shows two-thirds of the construction industry now goes online at some point in the process of renting, whether to research equipment, get a price quote or actually book a rental.
“[Traditionally,] this type of business was typically done over the phone, with people calling first for information, but digital is growing fast,” he says.
Powering B2B Ecommerce and Engagement
United Rentals worked with Acquia and marketing agency VML to develop UR One, a digital platform to offer enhanced B2B ecommerce capabilities to customers, including automated confirmations for reservations, something which often takes days and multiple touches in the industry.
As the company started the process to develop the system, it realized that it had numerous digital properties—including the main website, a B2B ecommerce system, online training portals and a site dedicated to purchasing used equipment—operating as separate applications. A strategy was needed to create a consolidated online experience where customers could not only arrange rentals but do things like track equipment by GPS, reassign vehicles to different projects and check billing and expenses.
Since UR One went live, United Rentals has continued to build out additional applications to engage users, such as dashboards and benchmarking tools, to help customers track things like how much the equipment they’ve rented is actually being used.
They can compare themselves against their peer group and see averages across the UR customer base to see if they’re following best practices, he says. “It’s a way of driving real business intelligence and insight, to help customers make informed decisions about what they need from us.”
Hummel notes that as they developed the platform, they considered the usability of other B2C and B2B ecommerce portals, such as Amazon.
“Amazon is a fantastic buying experience but not a great shopping experience—if you know what you want, it’s tremendous. But if you don’t know, it’s a cumbersome process,” he says. “We made a conscious decision to focus on the purchase experience, help people find the equipment they want, check out and get on their way.”
To that end, UR One offers specialty tools to help decision makers consider all the engineering requirements of what they’re in the market to rent. For example, if you’re renting a generator, you need to understand energy, space and logistics requirements.
ROI is judged through overall site transactions, as well as whether transactions are coming from new or existing customers. The company gained more than 10,000 new customers last year through the site.
Moving into 2019, the company is looking at expanding its branding initiatives with new creative agency partner Droga5, and continues to optimize the B2B ecommerce capabilities of UR One with Acquia and VML through multiple channels, including paid search, social and geofenced mobile initiatives.