Two key questions: The evolution of back-office operations has been extensive and well-established. However, the evolution of front-office functions like sales and marketing has yet to shift dramatically in manufacturing organizations. Where is the science? Why do revenue-generating functions lag so far behind their more data- and analytics-driven counterparts in the back office?
Why it matters: Sales and marketing must learn to adapt to the empowered consumer. It may feel counterintuitive to talk about the role of a consumer in a manufacturing business, but these consumers are also buyers of B2B goods and services.
How it works: By incorporating four strategies around digitization, manufacturers can adapt their approach to meet buyer expectations while driving growth.
- Democratize the top of the funnel
- Leverage data to operate and execute smarter
- Automate low-return sales via self-serve commerce
- Continuously evaluate and refine
The bottom line: By augmenting personal relationships with digital tools and strategies, sales teams in manufacturing organizations can refine their approach and excel.
“A strategic inflection point is a time in the life of business when its fundamentals are about to change.” — Andy Grove
It’s fascinating that a quote attributed to a titan of microprocessor manufacturing is still relevant to the industry almost 30 years later. Leaps and bounds in technology, innovations in production and distribution, and a global pandemic have forced manufacturers to evaluate their strategy and approach to growth. It’s time to extend that evaluation to include sales.
The evolution of back-office operations, physical operations and supply chains has been extensive and well-established. However, the evolution of front-office functions like sales and marketing has yet to shift dramatically in manufacturing organizations. Leads are generated at trade shows and industry events. Sales is an art built on relationships and face-to-face conversations. But where is the science? Why do revenue-generating functions lag so far behind their back-office counterparts that have become more data- and analytics-driven?
The answer is simple, but the solution is more complex. While the rest of the organization adapts to shifts in business dynamics, sales and marketing must learn to adapt to the empowered consumer. It may feel counterintuitive to talk about the role of a consumer in business, but these consumers are also buyers of B2B goods and services — in other words, life has seeped into a buyer’s “day job,” influencing how they expect to interact with marketers and sellers.
Welcome to the role of empowered consumers in a business world
While buyer behavior began shifting before the pandemic, the changes in retail technology over the past few years redefined expectations as consumers adjusted their consumption patterns. Online transactions, either delivered to the buyer’s location or picked up in-store or curbside, outpaced in-person shopping. Video calls replaced face-to-face meetings as remote work took off. Digital communications, such as email and text, have become the preferred and often the only way to interact with others. Consumers became more comfortable going online to find information and performing their own research, often making large purchases without interacting with others.
This shift in behavior has carried over into the business world, forcing companies to reevaluate how they compete, sell and grow in a digitally empowered age. And buyers have become harder to reach, making face-to-face interactions increasingly rare.
For relationship-driven industries like manufacturing, it is critical to reevaluate sales and marketing efforts to align with these expectations. Revenue generation will always be an art, but by incorporating these four strategies around digitization, companies can adapt their approach to meet buyer expectations while driving growth.
- Democratize the top of the funnel — Buyers looking to understand product options, specifications and other insights typically want to avoid dealing with sales to gain information and make their decision. By making information available to buyers on demand via digital channels, manufacturers can help buyers educate themselves and build internal consensus before they engage the sales team. This democratization of information reduces the time a seller spends educating others and enables the buyer to complete the tasks required to achieve buy-in before engaging. The result is a shorter sales cycle with well-educated buyers along with sellers able to spend more time on qualified opportunities.
- Leverage data to operate and execute smarter — Digital interactions create a unique opportunity to establish intent. Collecting data across all touchpoints, including top-of-funnel interactions, creates buying signals that are redirected to sales teams for pursuit. Real-time distribution of high-quality leads supported by insights on purchase intent aligns sales teams with those most likely to buy, increasing conversion rates. In-hand tools, made accessible via smartphones, provide sales with immediate information regardless of a team member’s location. Additionally, the insights generated through the entire process will highlight areas for improvement, new market potential and even new product demand, while also providing leaders with real-time information on team performance.
- Automate low-return sales via self-serve commerce — Increasing the average contract or order value should be the goal for every manufacturing sales manager. While data can illustrate opportunities, it also can shed light on pursuits that can be redirected to self-service commerce portals. Digitizing product catalogs via online ordering means buyers can procure simple-to-purchase products at any time. This creates efficiency for the buyer and allows sales teams to prioritize larger, more complex sales, creating more throughput of opportunities without compromising revenue or customer satisfaction.
- Continuously evaluate and refine — Sales and marketing are not stagnant functions — they benefit from the real-time flow of data and insights that feed optimization. Creating test-and-learn agendas to try out innovative sales and marketing strategies provides valuable perspectives on new ways within product groups to drive revenue. This opportunity to evaluate and embrace business agility in sales and marketing will allow manufacturing organizations to react at the first signs of opportunity or deficiency, increasing the likelihood of growth.
Revenue generation will always be a combination of art and science. By augmenting personal relationships with digital tools and strategies, sales teams can refine their approach and excel. Empowered buyers who come into the opportunity having already cleared major internal hurdles — whether those involve knowledge and education about the products, price points, ongoing service needs and more — will accelerate the sale. Self-serve buyers can transact at the moment when they need the product, allowing sales personnel to focus on larger, complex opportunities. These shifts in effort not only address what the customer wants but also create substantial opportunities for growth. In fact, by digitizing the approach to sales, it’s possible to do more with the team on hand without impacting existing revenues or margins.
For manufacturers, adaptation comes by being more thoughtful about buyer expectations, the sales environment and ways to engage customers. If you are challenged with sales and growth, taking a step back to evaluate where you are in relation to your buyer’s expectations may give you an entirely new perspective on how you must evolve to win.