November 20, 2019
Updated: September 21, 2022

Generalists to Specialists: Turn Complex Product Portfolios into Solutions

Manufacturing sales are becoming more complex. There we said it. Yes, product portfolios are broader, but they also deal with new technologies like 3D printing, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and even a new industrial revolution (Industry 4.0). Luckily for many, the solution is simple: stop “selling” products and provide solutions.

SaaS 2.0: Service as a Solution*

By creating these service offerings, modern manufacturers remove the ad-hoc nature of their business. Instead, ongoing solutions or support go beyond the “sale” (sometimes even that’s gone) of the products. Why? It lets them build long-term relationships (think subscriptions or support contracts) with significantly higher values over their lifetimes. 

Compared to a ‘simple’ product sale, these multi-year deals increase manufacturers’ revenue streams and offer better margins. 

*We made that up, but it feels like it should be true.

Putting sales under the microscope

It all sounds simple enough. But like any new concept, it comes with hurdles. The biggest is acclimatization. It’s all shiny and new, so buyers need more time and information to grasp the value you’re offering fully.

In reality, due to the lifecycle of these sales deals, acclimatization means the deals are coming under more scrutiny from buyer stakeholders, with more teams involved in each purchase. According to our research, there are typically more than five people involved in almost a quarter of all B2B purchases, with some enterprise deals involving north of twenty people.

So your salespeople must be specialists in the solutions you provide. To be effective, they need to help buyers see the bigger picture, spot trends, and connect all aspects of deals and opportunities that others might miss. With all of this in mind, manufacturers need to ensure their sales teams are properly trained and effectively equipped for their roles. So, here’s how to ensure you’re not dropping the ball and delivering solutions your buyers can trust.

1. KYC: Know Your Customer

First and foremost, a lack of understanding can severely hamper a deal. You need to understand how your customers buy and why they’re buying. Dig into what’s important to them, what challenges they face, and are they ahead or behind the competition? 

And for manufacturers especially, it’s worth remembering that buying patterns can also vary depending on size. For example

  • SMEs: SMEs are agile, flexible, often experiment with new technologies, and usually have relatively straightforward procurement processes. They’re a bit bolder. 
  • Enterprises: In contrast, large enterprises tend to buy more carefully because the deals are bigger and more expensive. So you tend to get more people involved in the buying process – including procurement teams. You’ll also face longer buying cycles and potentially framework agreements. Or, put another way, they’re more cautious and will need more convincing.

And a better understanding of your customers will help you help them make their decision-making easier. In today’s complex market, this is fundamental. According to McKinsey,

“[G]lobal companies gave strong signs of growing levels of frustration with broken decision-making processes, with the slow pace of decision-making deliberations, and the uneven quality of decision-making outcomes. Fewer than half of the [1200] survey respondents say that decisions are timely, and 61 percent say that at least half the time spent making them is ineffective.”

So being able to support buyers and streamline decision-making will transform how you sell.

2. Optimising up and cross-selling

On the upside, proactive salespeople constantly look for new customers and spend time understanding how they buy. But this is a challenge in itself. Sellers are already short on time, so don’t forget your most important source of revenue: existing customers. 

It might sound like a cliché, but actually, it’s one of life’s great truths. Cross-selling new products or advanced services and increasing contract values offer faster, easier, and more stable revenue streams than big bids to net new organizations. It’s more reliable, and there’s a lot less finger crossing. For example, Virgin Atlantic makes it easy for Executive Assistants to book travel for their teams. However, there’s an upgrade option on every page of the process and extensive information about what extra benefits the options bring.

Traditional and Modern Buyer's Journey The evolution of the buyer’s journey

Remember, existing customers expect the same level of experience as new customers, don’t instantly assume it’s a shortcut to success. And like new buyers, they’re also likely to come prepared. A recent Forrester study found that 68% of B2B buyers prefer to search independently before contacting a company.

3. Introduce Modern Selling

The old ways of doing business (slideshow presentations delivered in stuffy boardrooms or handshake deals done on golf courses) no longer cut it.

And for many manufacturing companies balancing a mix of remote and hybrid employees, with some industry leaders exploring the reality of a globally-distributed workforce, selling is only getting harder. 

Today’s sales teams need to evolve how they sell. That means meeting buyers where they are and delivering insight-led, relevant content that drives the conversation forward. And doing all this while keeping the buyer’s needs front and center.

In more mature sales organizations, you might be lucky enough to have customer service teams or account managers to provide feedback on crucial insights about what is, and isn’t, working for existing clients. But for everyone else (and including those larger teams), Modern Selling lets you leverage customer analytics and create collaborative spaces. 

No longer will you need to carry around high-res printed brochures or pictures of machinery. Instead you can instantly share content (like a 3D version or an interactive product builder) to have more meaningful conversations.

A savvy sales specialist selling services will be able to use these tools to find innovation, whether it is cross-selling other complementary products, upselling services, or helping new buyers understand the value of what you do.

4. Train Effectively

Sales teams in manufacturing also face several cultural challenges. According to our research, 72% of sales professionals in the sector admit that they don’t have formal coaching or training. Staggeringly, this is 23% higher than any other sector. And more worryingly, for future success, only 8% of manufacturing sales professionals have ongoing, continuous training.

Now it’s also important to remember that not all training is created equal. So even if you’ve got the best sales and marketing content in the market, if you don’t train your salespeople to use it effectively, it’s a wasted effort. So what’s the best way to train your people? 

Practice does indeed make perfect. Don’t just take our word for it. According to the National Training Laboratories, you retain 90% of training content with learning, followed by teaching others. This was closely followed by learning and practicing, where people retain about 75%. And your training formats to avoid are lectures (only 5% information retention) and solo reading (10% information retention). Ouch.

UK Market Survey Manufacturing

So sales leaders must start thinking about a holistic training program that will help them to:

  • Transform their teams for growth
  • Capitalize on servitization
  • Increase market share in an increasingly crowded market

Dealing with a rapidly-changing manufacturing landscape isn’t easy, but taking a few strategic steps, will let your sales specialists focus on the bigger picture, and adapt and align sales journeys to buyers’ needs. Let buyers know they can come to you for guidance and answers they can rely on and you’ll help them make decisions easier and faster.

If you’d like to read more about how sales leaders cope with the increasing complexity in the manufacturing sector, check out our deep dive into driving growth at manufacturing organizations here.

Ready to make selling easier?