In an industry as technical as construction, it’s no small task to sell technologies and services for equipment. Typically for Caterpillar, this is done by dealer experts who consult face-to-face with the customer. And considering the depth of complexities, that’s for good reason. As the world’s largest construction equipment manufacturer, Cat sells over 150 models in “heavy construction” alone—but here comes the tricky part. Each of those machines has varying eligibility across six construction technologies, and within those technologies are different levels of features, and all can be paired with dealer services that vary across the 52 dealerships and—well, you get the picture. The sales process is a bit more advanced than a lemonade stand. But is it too complex to support with online marketing? Challenge accepted for the Cat® 360° Advantage, a marketing campaign that aimed to thread the needle for three diverging goals: simplify thousands of customer choices, empower dealer customization, and stay within guidance and support of corporate marketing.

Thousands of options. One tool.

When we met with the Caterpillar Heavy Construction marketing team, their vision seemed simple enough: a tool that allows customers to bundle three offers on a new machine. After pitching a few concepts, we landed on a tool that functioned like a shopping cart: users would toggle between technologies and services, select three offers for their potential machine and, ultimately, send the bundle to their local dealer for a follow-up quote. In the first meeting with the Cat experts, we reviewed the program eligibility spreadsheet and quickly realized the vast scope of the tool.

With offer dependencies and varying technology eligibility allowing over 3,000 possible offer combinations, the back-end was bound to be complex. But thanks to structuring intricate coding rules, mapping several user journeys, and learning buyer preferences from the client team, the customer experience on the front-end was quite simple and intuitive. Users could toggle offers based on categories, select their machine before or after the offers were chosen, only see what was eligible for their machine, and even select pre-built bundles with three popular offers. The interface was sharp, the client was happy and the media was launched. So, happily ever after, right? Well, the metrics said otherwise.

Finding the Missing Link

The campaign had mediocre performance during the initial flight. Bounce rates were quite high, and while those who stayed on the tool were selecting their three offers, very few were contacting their local dealers to talk more about it. Moreover, only a handful of the 52 Cat dealers were promoting the program on their website. In looking at traffic, onsite behavior and total leads generated, the diagnosis was clear: selling add-on services is best-done by dealers, and dealers alone. After all, they are closest to their customers’ preferences, working conditions and intangibles like technology adoption or financing history. So Caterpillar dug deeper at the issue. Their key insight came from a simple but vital decision: talking with the dealer network about a different kind of online experience.

After discussions with dealers throughout the country, Caterpillar discovered the missing link. The feedback was not that the 360° Advantage tool wasn’t useful, or that customers wouldn’t consider sales offers online. Rather, the consensus was that most customers probably aren’t interested in customizing their own offers, no matter how slick the web experience. According to the distribution network, customers who are ready to buy, who trust their dealers, are interested in the best offer their dealer recommends. With so many options, there was a place for customization—but one that rested with the dealer, instead of the customer. This pivot in thinking presented two new objectives for a fresh version of the marketing tool: empower 52 Cat dealerships to curate offers for their local customers, and find a solution for nation-wide web traffic to easily find their local dealer’s offers.

Custom Made Easy

While the heavy-lifting for the initial tool was content-related—programming machine and offer eligibility—the challenge left for this tool was the architecture of the web strategy: keeping access and consistency at the corporate level, introducing customization for each Cat dealer, and ensuring local content reaches the right customer. After months of teamwork with several agency departments, the client team and the Cat web strategists, a solution was crafted that checked all boxes.

So, here’s how it works. Each quarterly offer period, the dealer plans a promotion and submits inputs on a private web form hosted by Caterpillar. The dealer selects from certain pre-built elements like images, promotional copy and offer types; they also have the opportunity to enter custom fields such as finance terms, maintenance details or offer expiration dates. Once validated by corporate program experts, the entries of all dealers are pulled into one dynamic web page that—depending on zip code—features the local dealer’s contact info, logo, pre-selected imagery and the offers they tailored for their local customers.

It’s a straight-forward workflow, but one dependent on dealer participation. By centering the new tool on their feedback and custom offers, their involvement was markedly high; by launch date, all dealers had prepared offers for the 360° Advantage campaign.

On the front-end, once customers reach the campaign page from any number of corporate ads, they simply enter their zip code and seamlessly go from a corporate landing page to a dealer cobranded page featuring recommended offers. Beyond viewing offers, the user still has the option to send a form to their dealer, and even build their own bundle, if they are interested.

Measure the Marketing Tool

While it’s still early goings, the Cat 360° Advantage is trending up—in a big way. The primary conversion of the program is a customer contacting their dealer about offers. Just months into the new campaign, the tool has brought in nearly half of the leads when compared to the previous year. More impressively, the conversion per page session has increased 600 percent. For a campaign with over fifty dealerships, hundreds of machines, and thousands of combinations for customers, it seems—fittingly—we select three takeaways from it all:

  1. Value your distribution network. Their support and customer knowledge is priceless for your marketing.
  2. Don’t be afraid to redirect. The initial tool was effective, but changing the custom aspect from user to dealer was the inflection point to a stronger solution.
  3. There’s always a place for marketing. There are few programs or selling processes with such complexity—but as bottom-funnel leads pile in the metrics dashboards, we know marketing as a tool can be critical to the sales process.