Solutions for unprepared manufacturing and industrial-sales teams

Aug. 12, 2022
Streamline sales-rep content so buyers are more likely to have access to compliant, curated content.

By Arielle McKeever, digital editor and marketing intern, Pharma Manufacturing and Smart Industry at Endeavor Media

Customers expect sellers in the manufacturing industry to know and understand them uniquely. Meanwhile, recent research indicates that approximately 40% of sales reps don’t feel prepared for their interactions. Especially when the customer journey is omnichannel, the seller’s time limitations and lack of specific knowledge of clients’ industry and company profiles affect the quality of the encounters. 

In addition,  industry’s ever-changing regulatory-compliance requirements and its complexity add to the challenge of maximizing sales. Here, we chat with Brian Cleary, CMO of StorySlab, to learn more about properly prepping sales teams. Take a look…

Smart Industry: What is unique about engaging with customers in the modern, digital era of manufacturing? 

Brian: The new era of manufacturing was challenging enough, but with COVID thrown into the mix it has made it even more challenging. COVID has accelerated a comprehensive digital transformation across the industry. Manufacturing companies that contemplated going digital now have no choice. Those that were poised to do so already have a great advantage. 

For a long time, the sales process for manufacturing companies has remained unchanged. It was simple: you sell a great product and build strong relationships. But the digital era threw that for a loop. Now, buyers have easier access to more options and more ways to research those options. Today, by the time a buyer reaches out to you, they’re 70% of the way through their buying process. Sellers need to be able to meet these buyers where they are in the purchasing process. If you don’t, you’re thrown out of contention.

But there’s plenty of opportunities here, thanks to the richness and quantity of data that’s available to sellers. Manufacturers have the chance to truly understand each buyer’s unique path to purchase. They also possess the info to keep their channel partners fully informed and invested. 

There’s a granularity to the marketing data that wasn’t available five years ago. Companies utilize their insights from data can gain a lot. However, it comes down to having a sales-enablement process that helps your sales reps gain access to the right information when they need it to engage the buyer effectively at every point of contact. 

The good news is that buyers want salespeople involved in the process, but only if they add value and expertise. A seller that forces a customer to backtrack and repeat research that the customer has already done is not providing value. There's a huge opportunity to differentiate simply by being in sync with your customer.

Smart Industry: How can sales engagement initiatives help manufacturers streamline content efforts and improve engagement with prospective clients while securing compliance and mitigating risk? 

Brian: Customers want an engagement experience that helps them easily get the specific information and support they need at each of the various stages in their buying process. Then they can decide when a salesperson should step in. Buyers are far more empowered and informed than ever before. 

Sales-engagement initiatives need to help sellers understand exactly what a customer wants, and when. Not only that, but sales reps should also be empowered with data to anticipate what the buyer will need next. 

Creating the content isn’t really the issue at hand—it’s pushing that content out to the sellers right when they need it. Ask the average manufacturing sales rep why they struggle to deliver a solution-based sales approach, and they will universally say they can’t find the right content, knowledge or insights that they need when they are engaging with specific customers. It’s likely the content already exists somewhere, but because that knowledge is siloed, it can be hard for them to find (assuming they know that it exists in the first place).

Today’s sales=-enablement platforms can unlock previously hidden insights across different customer-profile segments, use cases, and CRM-sales stages. And, most importantly, these new systems can share that information across the entire sales team to improve performance.

Smart Industry: How can manufacturers enable their sales reps to quickly and easily access all content from different channels to have smarter customer interactions?

Brian: The key is to shift the paradigm. Right now, many manufacturers are requiring their sales reps to find the content. However, manufacturers aren’t providing them with the tools to find it, or to understand if it’s really the content the buyer needs at this moment. Instead of asking sales reps to find the content, sales-enablement platforms should push that content out to the salespeople when they need it. 

There are various ways to do that. For example, you can invest in a tool that does it for you, or you can set up rules in a modern content platform that push the information out when certain conditions are met. For instance, if the prospect has seen X webinar or contacted you through Y channel, your system would suggest content that’s appropriate for the prospect at that point in the purchase process. 

It’s also crucial to involve your marketing and product teams in this process. Educated buyers may have questions that go beyond your sales rep’s expertise. By crowdsourcing that content, knowledge, and recommendations from your technical team, you can ensure that buyers are more likely to have access to compliant and curated content for smarter customer interactions. 

Smart Industry: How can industrial decision-makers improve customer experience across the entire buyer journey process, and effectively work with channel partners?

Brian: As most manufacturers know, it’s not enough for you to simply deliver great products anymore. Today’s B2B buyers expect excellent buying experiences to go along with those products, and that means getting your channel partners fully on board with your message.

It's critical to acknowledge that channel partners sometimes need to be sold before they're comfortable selling to the end customer, so creating comfort and confidence in your offering is an important first step. When today’s buyers speak to one of your channel partners about your products, they want added value and specialized knowledge regarding their industry, challenges, opportunities and configuration of solutions, as well as an understanding of the unique needs of each member of the buying team. Manufacturers need to communicate with buyers and channel partners throughout the buyer journey to understand where those expectations are being met, and where the sales team is falling short.

It’s also about winning more mindshare from your channel partners. Put yourself in your channel partners’ shoes. What do they need to be successful? What knowledge could help make a sale? Take the time to communicate what makes your products different. Getting additional share of mind from a channel sales rep is a real challenge. Distribution partners can represent many different manufacturers and must juggle multiple catalogs and SKU systems simultaneously. Ensure that your channel partners have full remote access to whatever content-management system you create.

Many channel partners admit that they focus on selling the products they're most comfortable with. This is because only a very few distributors and channel partners can stay current with all of the technologies and products that they offer. Obviously, without the right information and the confidence to put that information to work, they’ll struggle to communicate that value to a buyer.

Manufacturers that can supply the right content, customer insight, and selling expertise to both internal sales people and external channel partners are better positioned to build relationships with customers, win mindshare, and close bigger sales, faster.