Manufacturing sales strategy – the revolution is now

By: Kyle Uebelhor Manufacturing

“Caution: the moving walkway is ending…Caution: the moving walkway is ending”

As seasoned travelers we recognize this stern voice warning harried airport passengers to pay attention because their guided path is about to end. In addition to keeping the personal injury lawyers at bay, this voice is a wake-up call to those who have fallen into autopilot mode and are oblivious to their immediate surroundings.

Today’s manufacturing sales leaders need a similar warning – something like “Caution: your sales model is changing.” If you have abdicated the momentum in your sales strategy to a glide-path of doing what you’ve always done, you are not alone. But if you are like many other manufacturers, the world around you is changing, and you will need to start “walking on your own” very soon. Why is that?

For years, manufacturing firms prospered by efficiently producing quality, differentiated products. Correspondingly, the sales function was generally straightforward. Growth came so long as account managers maintained relationships — often by simply doling out tickets to the big game and delivering donuts every Friday.

This traditional model worked well for a long time for manufacturers. But today, three key dynamics are driving firms to significantly rethink, upgrade and re-focus their selling resources:

  • Internal pressures for growth
  • External demands for increased end-user value
  • Rapid technological innovations

INTERNAL PRESSURE   After years of investment in R&D and “lean design,” many traditional manufacturers have found that product differentiation alone cannot sustain the growth required by stakeholders. Competitors easily replicate feature/benefit value propositions of products, presenting buyers with alternative solutions. Unfortunately, many traditional account managers are not equipped to step up their games to respond to the increasing demands of their customers and drive growth.
RESPONSE: MULTI-CHANNEL APPROACH  Innovative manufacturing sales organizations leverage their sales teams with a multi-channel approach, segmenting distribution partners, expanding inside sales teams and, in some instances, developing a sophisticated web-based purchasing portal. In this multi-faceted environment, sales models have evolved in two directions. First, account managers become more focused on providing unique industry insights to more diverse and sophisticated players in their target organizations. Second, sales leaders have addressed internal pressures for profitable growth by leveraging inside sales teams and other lower cost resources.

EXTERNAL DEMANDS  Many manufacturers now face challenges from their customers who require them to provide a return on investment measured in both a lifetime ownership cost and end-user results. The focus on your customers’ customers requires a new set of sales tools.
RESPONSE: SALES ENABLEMENT INVESTMENT  Leading organizations embrace new processes and tools to co-create end-user value alongside their clients. The collaborative effort starts with sellers who are equipped with the skills to ensure their insights are turned into results for end users. Sales reps are supported with investments in training, coaching and sales compensation plans that reflect their customers’ goals in addition to the goals of their own sales organization. In addition, successful manufacturers use a thoughtful segmentation strategy, understanding that focus drives performance.

TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATIONS  Today, big data and smart technologies are everywhere, even in the most mundane products. Like it or not, this forces traditional products and services to an involuntary decision point of evolution or obsolescence.
RESPONSE: FOCUS ON CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE  To stay ahead of the innovation curve without wasting valuable R&D dollars, world-class manufacturing organizations leverage their sales teams to bring field-based industry insights back to their marketing and product development counterparts. In fact, to facilitate a seamless exchange of the most contemporary ideas and to ensure ongoing customer satisfaction, many manufacturers integrate the entire customer experience underneath a single leader – the Chief Sales and Marketing Leader or the Chief Growth Officer.

No matter which combination of these three change drivers you may be experiencing, there is one solution that applies across the board – sales talent evaluation and adaptation. World-class manufacturers recognize that the skills that drove success in traditional relationship models no longer provide sustaining value. High-performing companies follow an ongoing and pragmatic approach to upgrade their sales teams. They begin with job role redesign and support it with individual competency assessments, sales playbooks and tailored sales compensation plans to strategically drive growth and bring value to their customers.

To learn more about how you can leverage your manufacturing sales team for growth, please visit the Alexander Group.

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Kyle Uebelhor

Kyle Uebelhor is a principal in the Chicago office. He is a leader in the firm’s Manufacturing and Distribution practices. Kyle’s clients include leading companies throughout manufacturing and wholesale/distribution. By applying deep industry expertise and a pragmatic approach to each situation, he helps companies achieve their organic growth objectives. He brings nuanced perspective to the complexities of sizing the total available global market, delivering differentiated value, creating omni-channel designs, and motivating partners and the commercial team. Kyle frequently speaks on sales enablement topics. He has authored several articles and whitepapers including “The Power of Playbooks: Execute Your Vision” and most recently “Digitizing the Revenue Growth Model.”

Prior to joining the Alexander Group, Kyle spent 10 years in commercial banking. As a relationship manager and lender to large middle market companies, he developed a broad expertise across numerous manufacturing industries and developed solutions-based selling strategies with his C-suite corporate clients. Kyle has an MBA from the University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business and B.A. from Wabash College. He is also a Certified Sales Compensation Professional (CSCP).