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Selling to Manufacturing Buyers in a Post-Pandemic World

The recovery from COVID-19 within the manufacturing industry has been slow but encouraging. Part of the reason for this pace is the disparate nature of the sector. Manufacturers rely on complex supply networks. Therefore, a strong resurgence demands a recovery across various channels. This setting underscores the particularly fragile nature of the manufacturing industry in which each individual part relies on all others. Many manufacturing leaders are using this lesson from the pandemic as a basis for new strategies.

These strategies seek to introduce flexibility and adaptability into their processes. Some of these efforts include the practice of multi-sourcing parts to prevent interruptions arising from supply chain disruption. Others include finding ways to enhance control over production environments to more effectively meet fluctuating demand. These areas of intensified focus demonstrate why 76% of executives in manufacturing plan to increase their spending on digital initiatives to develop greater stress resistance into their processes according to research from Deloitte.

These changes represent a broad shift to Industry 4.0 in which technologies unite digital information from both physical and digital sources. This development presents challenges for many sales professionals in manufacturing because the nature of their value proposition is changing. Navigating this change means acknowledging that 2021 will remain a transitional year in which different sectors within manufacturing experience different recovery rates in the near and long term.

These differences are due to three key factors:

    1. Some manufacturing businesses have restructured, and reorganised in an effort to reduce costs in response to the global pandemic.
    2. Manufacturers continue to accelerate towards digital transformation and Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities at varying degrees as more products are being redesigned to accommodate connectivity demands.
    3. Agility has received greater priority in the wake of the COVID pandemic, therefore some leaders are seeking opportunities for near-sourcing and localising operations in a reach for greater control.

The sum of these changes is a dynamic setting that will require training for sales professionals in manufacturing to become more strategic in their approach to customers. They will need to find ways to connect their new, and different set of capabilities to the customer.

Here we examine three concepts that can equip manufacturing sales professionals for success in a changed setting.

Positioning Solutions Means Speaking the Language of Business Outcomes

Speaking the language of business outcomes has become more challenging for sales professionals in manufacturing because solutions increasingly boast “smart” features characterised by digital connectivity and data output. This feature means that many solutions are designed to yield additional value when seen in the broader context of the customer’s ecosystem. This shift to enterprise selling is becoming more prevalent.

Articulating this added value presents challenges for three reasons:

    1. It requires the sales professional to grasp the customer’s ecosystem which consists of many parts that must evolve in synchronicity.
    2. It requires the sales professional to encourage stakeholders to grasp downstream benefits arising from the solution which is a component of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
    3. Helping customers recognise this “network effect” demands an illustration of the solution’s interoperability with existing physical and digital components.

This environment of coexisting capabilities requires a breadth and depth of knowledge that goes far beyond the solution. For example, the data output of smart products often requires cooperation with external partners who provide the software necessary to capture and analyse the analytics. As a result, manufacturing sales professionals have the complex job of positioning not one, but two solutions that often require their own, unique language, value statements, and differentiators.

Developing the sophisticated set of skills necessary to succeed in such a layered environment is a considerable challenge. Research from McKinsey reflects this difficulty. When asking executives about skill gaps they learned that nearly one-third of responders indicated that they “don’t have a good understanding of how automation and digitisation will affect future skill needs.” Addressing future skill needs means recognising that effective selling demands earning stakeholder consensus across the conceptual, financial and operational aspects of the solution.

Building this stratified census demands the power of a revenue team which is a coordinated group of sales professionals and non-sales professionals that is able to meet the complexity and range of customer needs. These teams represent a spectrum of capabilities, from SMEs that stimulate interest at the enterprise and ecosystem level to service and support teams. All members drive customer retention, value realisation, and revenue goals. These teams are crucial when selling Industry 4.0 solutions because a single point of contact within the selling organisation is not enough to fully engage customers. A revenue team is needed to provide an agile response to shifting perceptions of risk, evolving goals, and changing definitions of value.

The team must represent a diversity of skills that can engage different stakeholders with different needs at each of the many stages of the buyer’s journey. For this reason, it is not enough to have a team comprised of experienced sales professionals. Sales leaders need to create a team that includes non-sales roles that are equipped to answer granular level questions about the solution. IT professionals are also increasingly becoming part of revenue teams as revenue intelligence platforms, and relationship analytics grow in sophistication.

Aligning with the Customer Means First Aligning the Sales Team

The accelerated change within manufacturing can lead to inconsistent selling methods. Sales professionals with a long tenure have an established approach while those who are new have a different style. As these disparate groups come together, an unevenness sets in.

This challenge intensifies as the organisation’s solutions grow and change. As the products and services become more holistic and sophisticated, they often require new selling skills to fully articulate the breadth of their capabilities. Too often, the selling organisation becomes a patchwork of inherited practices and new initiatives. The solution is to adopt a consistent selling methodology and a common sales language across the organisation.

This approach has three key benefits. First, a universal sales methodology enables consistent performance measurement. Consistency drives accuracy in performance measurement because all sales professionals are measured against the same framework. It is true that some metrics like win rate, quota attainment, and contract value are general enough to capture the overall performance of differing styles. However, if any of those figures reflect poor performance, leaders will not be able to uncover the underlying reasons unless a universal selling methodology is in place.

Second, when all sales professionals follow the same selling framework a cohesive support network develops across the sales teams. This outcome is important because enterprise and ecosystem selling is a team effort. Increasingly sophisticated and complex products require the presence of subject matter experts, executives, and implementation professionals. Bringing these non-sales roles into a selling environment requires careful planning, rehearsals, and communication. When there is a single, shared sales methodology, it is easier for those who are not sales professionals to learn the framework once.

Third, a single approach enhances the customer experience by providing consistency. This consistency allows the customer to develop confidence in the sales professional and their solutions. Moreover, consistency drives efficiency which is important because competing priorities and limited time mean that sales professionals must get to the root of the challenge earlier. A universal selling methodology uncovers the customer’s needs without wasting valuable time.

When the sales organisation unites around a single methodology the business experiences peripheral benefits. One such example is the sales enablement function. As enablement becomes accustomed to working within a uniform methodology, they develop more resonance with the touchpoints in the buyer’s journey. They develop a sense of what will motivate the customer given their advancement through the purchasing process. This “feel” for the sale matters because sales enablement teams do more than dispatch materials, tools, and marketing collateral. They also make judgments about which of those tools is most appropriate given the customer, their need, and the progress in the buyer’s journey

Sophisticated Solutions Require Intensified Deal Qualification

The enhanced capabilities of solutions today demand more resources.

The reason: sales professionals need more time, preparation, and conversations to fully articulate the value of the solution within the customer’s unique environment. Selling has become a high-stakes, front-loaded pursuit as the approach moves from a product focus to a business outcome model.

Therefore, it is crucial for sales teams to adopt account-oriented thinking. Doing so will allow them to meet the customer’s broader needs. Importantly, this approach will also improve the sales team’s ability to correctly identify the pursuits that are within their strike sone and offer a strong enough financial reward to warrant the pursuit.

The sales professional has an obligation to measure their strengths and weaknesses relative to the specific selling opportunity in question. In most cases, the sales team develops an intuitive sense of their strengths in the context of a particular sale. However, too often this consideration lacks a thorough, and rigorous review. Therefore, boosting win rates means overlying a formalised process for making an early determination about the stage of the sale and what the most appropriate next steps are.

With a specific methodology in place, sales professionals can determine how well the opportunity is positioned for a win, identify any gaps that threaten forward progress, and target the most important customer information early in the pursuit.

These three capabilities serve one goal: to direct the right skills to the right sales opportunities so that selling efforts generate more results.

Making this approach work means considering the specific factors that influence the customer’s needs.

Those factors are the following:

Pain:

Many sales opportunities emerge from a pain experienced within the customer’s world. Examples include missed opportunities, difficulty navigating an industry change, or an emerging competitor threat. Sales professionals need to confirm and reconfirm their understanding of the customer’s pain.

Power:

Power refers to the stakeholders who are authorised to make a purchasing decision. Sales professionals need to ensure that they are accessing this group and positioning the solution in a way that resonates with the decision makers.

Vision:

The most sophisticated sales professionals do more than track the customer’s current challenges — they also help the customer gain a buying vision. In doing so, the sales professional has a valuable opportunity to shape the customer’s thinking.

Value:

Sales professionals need to contextualise the value of the solution within the context of measurable business factors like expected revenue gain, gross margin, or long-term savings. The value of the solution must exceed that of the status quo and competing solutions.

Consensus:

More than ever buying decisions are unfolding in a group setting. As more roles are present among the buying team – CEO, CFO, IT, COO – it is critical that the sales professional accounts for the differing needs and concerns of each persona.

Each of these factors represents a critical juncture in the sale. Introducing structure to this list means assigning a numerical value of 0-5 to reflect the degree to which they have satisfied each of the five areas.

A zero indicates no movement, and a five indicates complete success. This scale offers a measurability that is critical for success, as seen by research from Bain indicating that metric-driven initiatives “increase profitability by as much as 25% over sustained periods.” Metric-driven initiatives also bring much-needed stability to an unstable and uncertain world.

Selling in manufacturing is more challenging today because solution value must be contextualised within the customer’s broad, and interconnected operation. Adjusting to this setting means articulating how the solution has immediate, and downstream benefits, using a universal sales methodology, and a formal, thorough deal qualification process.