The Rise of the CRO Culture in Manufacturing and Distribution

An Alexander Group Sales Research Brief, Part 1

The Situation: Manufacturing and Distribution are rapidly moving into a world of “Seller Beware”! The “Buyer Beware” environment of the past included vendors’ sales organizations that had all the information about product strengths and weaknesses. However, now 94 percent of B2B sales involve digital interactions in which customers self-educate on your product before talking to your reps. Now 84 percent of customers engage peers before buying and can possibly compare your product to competitors better than your reps can. Now 70 percent of B2B buyers want a high-value pre-sales experience (before they’ve spent a dime with you!). Your reps are trying to figure out how to deliver that experience, but they lack the tools and skills!

The Challenge: Managing these new buyer journey dynamics is becoming “mission-critical” to avoid quickly losing customers and share. But, this degree of “upstream” awareness building and relationship development is a new skill for Manufacturing. Moreover, the same revenue generation challenge is also unfolding “downstream” in the form of upselling, migration to recurring revenue and service expansion. To manage this now longer buyer journey, leaders are realizing they need to coordinate their marketing, sales and service silos. This is the key to competing in a digital world where information moves freely and buyers expect continuous value. Therefore, like other industries, Manufacturing is now seeing the rise of a CRO Leadership Culture. While in Manufacturing it may not yet involve a single Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) owning all three silos, it typically does involve a higher degree of shared planning and accountability for collaboration across the full buyer journey.

The Alexander Group recently held Virtual Roundtables with Manufacturing and Distribution executives to discuss how they approach this new governance challenge, i.e., developing a clear go-to-market strategy, changing organizational structures to drive collaboration and rolling out a well-defined change adoption plan. And…deciding who should lead these efforts.

Participants emphasized the following challenges:

  • Responding to (and shaping) changes in the buyer journey
  • Redesigning the organization to be customer-focused
  • Increasing collaboration across marketing, sales and service
  • Taking on CRO leadership responsibilities
  • Establishing new pre- and post-sales roles
  • Transitioning to solution selling
  • Driving global integration and synergy
  • Organizing and managing a smooth change adoption process

In part one of this two-part blog series, we will highlight executives’ issues and best practices around the new buyer journey and a revitalized focus on the customer.

1. Responding to changes in the buyer journey

The group noted that keeping up with changing buying processes is a constant challenge. Engaging buyers (new and old) now requires more creative “above the funnel” investments to create awareness, loyalty and demand. Participants discussed the best approach e.g., should we simply stretch our sales reps to focus more “upstream” and guide prospects through our revamped high-value website? Do reps have the right relationships and skills to educate today’s informed buyers? The consensus was no. Today’s reps are not skilled at lead generation, so turning them into upstream customer engagement managers seems unrealistic. Participants felt that a team approach with additional roles and resources is necessary.

Moreover, participants stressed that quickly reacting to above the funnel activity is now crucial. A leader at a giant global packaging manufacturer noted: “We need to break up our traditional account management and more meaningfully engage both prospects and customers. Even our reps’ LinkedIn titles make it hard to meet buyer’s expectations. We need a new team to drive collaboration on customer development.”

Specifically, some participants noted that they are investing new digital customer engagement processes, as well as the business development and marketing roles to guide prospects in those processes. Interestingly, many noted that a key differentiator is providing data and analytics to prospects, such as benchmarking, online self-assessments and customized trials which also requires a new upstream skill set.

Planning these new investments in new processes and roles requires a unified vision and accountability from these new CRO Cultures.

2. Redesigning the organization to be customer-focused

Participants noted that as their buyer journeys change, they are restructuring to be more customer- vs. product-focused. As a more high-value partner, they can break out of the procurement trap and lock in richer customer relationships.

Some participants are leading the charge by segmenting customers and prospects by size or industry and then realigning resources by segment. However, one participant wanted to do this for high-value accounts without an entire new channel. They created an elite “Tiger Team” of marketing, sales and service roles to jump in when front-line reps see a potential solution sale. The rep is also well-compensated for these opportunities, to offset any worries about disrupting their traditional sales process.

As manufacturing and distribution executives look to implement a team approach to successfully take on the new buyer journey and become more customer-focused, they also discussed what it takes to create this new environment: collaboration, leadership and change adoption. Executive insights into these topics will be highlighted in part two of this blog series.

For additional insights, please participate in the upcoming AGI Manufacturing and Distribution Virtual Roundtables. This, and other relevant events, are part of Alexander Group’s 2019 Leadership Series that allow senior sales, marketing and sales operations leaders to share insights and take away best practice approaches.

Sign up today for upcoming AGI Manufacturing and Distribution topics:

  • Selling recurring services that drive customer success
  • Aligning sales compensation to solution-selling growth goals
  • Re-energizing partner programs for new product growth

Read part 2 of this series.
Related Resources:

  1. Manufacturers: Harness Market-Changing Forces
  2. Five Fail-Safe Predictions–and Actions–for Manufacturers in 2019
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