Five Ways to Overcome Complexity in Manufacturing Sales

November 14, 2019

The manufacturing sector is growing increasingly complex, so it’s no surprise that the buying process has become more complicated as well, lasting longer and with more stakeholders involved. In fact, according to our research, almost a quarter (24%) of all B2B buyers reported that more than five people were involved in the the sales cycle of last purchase.

At the same time, manufacturing product portfolios are growing broader. Multi-year service contracts are becoming more commonplace. Product life cycles are becoming shorter, meaning new functionalities to get to grips with. Thanks to these factors, salespeople’s lives are getting tougher. The question is, in this new challenging climate, how can sales not only survive, but learn to thrive? Here are our five top tips to master this complex sale: 

1. Identify and connect with decision makers

In any complex deal, there’s a lot happening behind the scenes, so it’s worth getting to know the lay of the land. All too often, salespeople will only get to know their primary contact at the company and their contact’s boss. But that’s not enough. 

There are usually five or more people directly involved in most major B2B purchases in manufacturing. In addition, each of those stakeholders will also have a team who influences their decisions. A good salesperson will need to understand the company, its culture, its goals, and what support their primary contact needs to get others onboard. It’s likely that your primary contact will have to sell internally as much – if not more – as you do!

The changing landscape of decision making in manufacturing

The changing landscape of decision making in manufacturing

A good exercise is to put yourself into the customer’s shoes and consider how they will have to sell your solution internally. For example, when they’re talking to a finance director, they may need to show how the purchase will reduce cost and increase production or sales. Finance directors tend to see the world in terms of the profit and loss account, spreadsheets, numbers, and figures, so make sure your key contact is equipped with them! If you can work through all of the main stakeholders and the questions they are likely to ask, then your contact will find internal approval much easier. 

2. Understand and tailor

Each of the internal stakeholders in the buying organisation will have their own needs, so a one-size-fits-all approach is rarely effective. Consequently, it’s vital to use the assets and sources of internal knowledge in your production organization to tailor experiences for each stakeholder. According to Salesforce, 73% of B2B buyers would be willing to pay a higher cost for a great experience whilst buying, so it’s clearly an important factor.  

Also, get to know your industry and product subject matter experts, the senior staff who are willing to talk to the C-Suite, and the financing specialists who can discuss the cost. For example, when plumbing supplies specialist Wolseley transformed its inventory control system, Hitachi Consulting made sure to put senior figures in board-level meetings, and brought plain-speaking techies to briefings about integrations with its warehouse management system. A successful salesperson today knows when to take on a conversation, and when to field a specialist from the bench. 

3. Make the most of customer insights

When there are many people involved in a sale, including marketing, product, and operations teams, it’s vital to keep track of what’s going on. After all, you don’t want to call a prospect five minutes after they’ve gotten off the phone with one of your colleagues. 

Yet, according to our research, 47% of Sales managers in the manufacturing sector still use spreadsheets to keep track of Sales, and do not have a formalized Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tool. In fact, the manufacturing sector lags behind in this respect; 75% of healthcare organisations and 69% of finance organizations have a formal, established CRM system, compared to just 53% in the manufacturing sector. 

Manufacturing companies consequently risk losing out to their competitors, especially when today’s CRM suites can do more than just keep track of who has spoken to whom. Modern CRM systems can track which content has been sent to a contact, and when coupled with a Sales Enablement platform, can track which parts of this content have been read and which works best for certain sectors. When used together, CRM and Sales Enablement help marketers and salespeople analyze and understand how best to influence prospects.

For example, when Bossard, a manufacturer of industrial fasteners, implemented a Sales Enablement platform, communication between the Marketing and Sales teams greatly improved. Both departments are working with a ‘single source of truth,’ helping them understand which content worked best with which prospects. 

4. Commit to continuous learning

With all of the new developments in manufacturing, it’s shocking that over half (53%) of manufacturing organizations only hold dedicated Sales training ahead of launches and during initial on-boarding processes. Worse still, almost a quarter of Sales managers in the production industry view Sales training and coaching as a waste of time. 

However, when manufacturing companies engage with training, they are  trailblazers and experience a competitive advantage. According to the According to the National Training Laboratories, 90% of training content is retained when a person has to teach others what they’ve just learned, compared to just 5% when sitting in a lecture. A whopping 40% of manufacturing firms use the former kind of training, compared to an average of 16%.

If you can’t integrate this kind of training and learning into your schedule, having Sales teams practice what they’ve learned is the next best system of information retention (75%). This is closely followed by discussing the training with peers (50%) – and we don’t mean talking about how good the lunch was! 

5. Make life easier

Finally, try to make business easy for everyone. Often, your worst enemy during the Sales cycle isn’t a rival vendor; it’s the status quo. This can be somewhat alleviated by understanding the stakeholders involved, but also by aligning your customer’s buying process with your sales program.

For example, are you trying to sell to a customer at the end of their financial year when cash might be short? Or, if you’re trying to sell production equipment that might be a significant CapEx investment, would it be easier for the customer to lease it? 

Similarly, it’s also worth confirming that they understand the broader impact of the solution. For example, could this purchase help them leap-frog the competition?  Or furthermore, accelerate their journey to more strategic initiatives, such as embracing Industry 4.0 or additive manufacturing? 

Ready to learn more? Check out our manufacturing whitepaper on how sellers in the manufacturing sector can keep up with the rapid changes in their buyer’s behavior.

Driving growth at manufacturing organisations

Driving growth at manufacturing organisations

The pace of change in the manufacturing industry has reached an unprecedented level of acceleration. With developments such as Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), commoditisation and the rise of servitisation across the globe, how manufacturing organisations develop new products is faster and more agile than ever before.

Download the new white paper “Manufacturing Change: Today’s buyers are racing ahead – how can sellers keep up?” to understand how to transform your go-to-market strategy to reflect changing customer expectations.