When it comes to building a robust, healthy sales pipeline, manufacturing is a tough industry.
Few other sectors of the economy have been affected by the digital transformation in quite as profound a way as manufacturing. The digital shift is producing changes not only in the quality and quantity of solutions but also in the culture of manufacturing organizations.
Sales leaders who want to be successful need to position themselves ahead of the pack in a fast-changing landscape. Luckily, inbound sales and marketing provide the tools, strategy, and fresh thinking you need. But where should you prioritize your time and effort?
These four manufacturing sales challenges are the ones to focus on in 2019.
1. Motivating the Sales Force
Motivation is a perennial concern in sales, but it makes its presence known even more acutely in manufacturing. Sales cycles are long, products are complex, and buyer needs are very specific.
To beat these challenges, it’s essential to have structure and clear communication with your sales force. The process of getting reps up to speed should start on Day one with a strong onboarding. Even experienced sales experts need context to adapt their skills to manufacturing.
A competitive compensation strategy and an emphasis on talent development are crucial, too: Today’s most productive sales reps want to see that they have a path to developing even further.
Define your sales targets in line with the performance of your market segment so reps can progress to stretch goals as they conquer the learning curve. Whether your department is more collaborative or competitive, everyone should know where they stand at any given time.
2. Dealing with the Competition
The competitive climate in manufacturing sales has changed a lot over the years.
The first wave of disruption was caused by the outsourcing model, which was launched and grew to maturity way back in the '90s. Over time, it’s become easier for manufacturers to tap global talent pools and use offshore resources to optimize their supply chains, too.
Now, it’s almost 2020 – that magical year that always symbolized The Future! – and a new wave is settling in.
Innovative technologies are blasting through the old ways of doing things. Small manufacturing firms can now expand value and distribute products like never before. And all that sparks more competition.
More competition means everything moves faster. Just like the executive team, sales pros on the front lines will need more data to make good decisions. B2B firms must position themselves effectively and most B2C enterprises need to emphasize quality over cost.
3. Educating Potential Buyers
Manufacturing sales and marketing teams need to work together to show the path to potential buyers.
An explosion in the total number of solutions that can solve any one problem has given buyers the same problem they have in many other sectors: Figuring out what works for them.
Not that long ago, manufacturing sales centered around annual industry events. Now, sales pros need to take an “always on” approach to relationships. It may be necessary to connect by email, social media, phone, or even in person at virtually any time.
Sales enablement content developed in partnership with the marketing team will answer key questions and resolve objections buyers have as they research. Sales pros should report any new questions or objections to marketers, who can integrate those into the overall Web strategy.
4. Managing the Sales Cycle
The sales cycle in manufacturing has the potential to be the longest around. Decisions are getting faster, but can still take months or years. In this situation, exhaustion can set in for sales pros.
You can’t read the minds of your leads and prospects, but you can map out the process and see where each buyer stands. The key: Implement Customer Relationship Management apps (CRM).
A Customer Relationship Management suite empowers you to see precisely what interactions a lead has had with you and your brand.
That gives you total visibility into where they’ve been and where they’re going, allowing sales reps to customize follow-up by buyer journey stage.
Not only does this amount to better service for your leads, it also keeps reps from going stir crazy. You can look over leads’ shoulders as they interact with your brand digitally, so you’ll know they’re moving forward even if nothing seems to be happening.
With Guts, Heart, and a Few Big Ideas, Manufacturing Sales Are a Slam Dunk
No doubt about it: Manufacturing sales can run into headwinds sometimes.
But, with the right combination of technology, teamwork, and determination, you can achieve your goals in virtually any market climate. Always look for ways to add value, even before the first sale is made. The inbound way means always putting your lead’s interests first.
That builds trust, culminating in sales results you can take to the bank.