The long-tail is where the next billion in service revenue is (Part 1)

Roy Chikballapur

July 24, 2020

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For the last couple of decades, as service revenue grew in importance, industrial machinery OEMs rightfully focused on their large named accounts. Adhering to the 80-20 principle in increasing penetration of strategic accounts has been hugely successful but as large customers start to consolidate purchasing, not only are the plump margins starting to fade, growth has also hit a ceiling and OEMs are increasingly forced to look elsewhere to deliver the next billion in revenue growth. In this article series, I focus on the roadblocks that need to be addressed if OEMs are to build a fast-growing but profitable business out of servicing the proverbial long-tail.

The service business stakes

Here is a great infographic that Dr. Daniel Rohde built for us based on his research of different studies conducted on the service business of German machinery companies. One can see the outsized role that service revenue plays in the P&L of these OEMs. I am assuming here that mid-to large sized machinery companies from Strong OEM Countries like Italy, Switzerland, Austria and the Nordics are on similar trajectories themselves.

Industrial OEM Profit Pool

Based on our conversation with industry leaders, we believe that their known customer-base that is consuming services has saturated. This is also driving M&A activity in the industry as the rationale for most acquisitions tends to be offer portfolio expansion so that the OEM’s can sell more to their captive customer base.

New machine sales channels limiting the service revenue potential

When the discussions focused on services, what we learnt is that most OEMs capture less than 20% of their install-base i.e. they know which companies are operating less than 20% of the machines that they have sold. This is primarily due to the sales channels that they employ for new machine sales.

Often, small and mid-sized OEMs in the F&B and process industries sell their machines through dealers and to EPC/Plant Engineering companies that commission the plants for the industrial operators. As a result, they rarely maintain a direct relationship with the operators. The impact on the service potential of these customers is outsized. Any services that such customers consume has to be routed through the intermediaries.

This also means that in fast growing geographies where the service maturity of dealers is poor, OEMs record almost no service revenue from the end users of their machines. Then there are also the buyers of used machines. These buyers have more advanced service needs given that machines that are sold in the used machines market are generally past warranty and tend to be 8 to 20 years old. These buyers are completely invisible to the OEMs since they procure from specialist refurbishers.

What this demonstrates without a doubt is that OEMs are leaving a lot of service needs unaddressed. All other things being equal, service revenue could easily be between 4x-6x its current levels if the elusive long tail can be captured. The topic has grown in urgency in the Covid-19 environment where capital investments have slowed down and customers are placing fewer orders for spare parts since their plants are operating at lower utilisation levels. There is an urgent need to expand the customer base to maintain revenue levels.

You can’t sell to customers that you don’t know. So how do you identify these customers? Most channel partners are very wary of sharing this information out of the fear of being short-circuited. In this series of posts, I will offer recommendations on how OEMs can identify and engage with the long-tail operators of their machines to build cost efficient processes at scale to address their service demands profitably.


Why digital plant projects fail (and what to do to succeed)


The long-tail is where the next billion in service revenue is (Part 2)

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