Driving Sales Success in Manufacturing Today

by Mike Smiley with Bill Greenleaf

Over the past several months, several of our manufacturing clients have shared the challenges they face in driving sales success today. From company mergers and acquisitions to a new generation of buyers to internet-based procurement, the changes impacting manufacturing sales teams are significant.

Recently, Bill Greenleaf and I have helped a few of these companies analyze their current sales processes and integrate proven practices to improve their performance. A strategic partner of Decision Associates, Bill has 30 years of experience in technical sales, managing and directing sales professionals for manufacturers both domestically and internationally.

Key Drivers For Success
While the ability to establish and cultivate customer relationships still matter, today’s successful manufacturing sales professionals possess comprehensive technical knowledge of their product or service. What’s more, they can translate that know-how into solutions for their customers. It is this “readiness” to solve problems that wins them business.

To engage customers at this level takes preparation. Understanding overall industry challenges as well as knowing what has worked and not worked at other companies are good starting points. Talking to the people involved in the manufacturing process – from engineers to operators – also can yield insights into potential opportunities and solutions. The fact that your sales professionals ask questions that no one else has considered often can be the differentiator needed to establish credibility and value.

Barriers To Success
A “changing of the guard” is well underway in manufacturing sales. One aspect of this is younger buyers disrupting long-standing relationships. Charged to do more in less time and with fewer resources (i.e. administrative support), these new customers likely seek out solutions via online research and reach out on their own schedule after vetting final contenders for their business.

To gain buyers’ attention today, manufacturers must have a robust online presence via their websites, social media and other digital tools. To then win business, your sales professionals must be able to quickly convey relevant technical knowledge and expertise via email, phone calls and in-person visits.

Just as with your company’s marketing program, your sales team must be consistently improving both their technical abilities and sales skills, establishing best practices that work and quickly rejecting the tactics that do not. This means that your sales professionals need to be continuously updating their technical knowledge, keeping on top of changes in the market (both for your markets and your customers’ markets) and adapting to evolving communication technology, such as texting, social media platforms and small screens (phone, tablets) for quick presentations or demos.

Sale success in manufacturing requires sales professionals who possess a unique mix of technical knowledge, planning skills and self-motivation. We will address these and more in a future article.

If you have any questions or if you would like to learn more about what is contained in this article, please feel free to give me a call at 814-528-9416.