According to the Conference Board of Canada, Canada’s manufacturing sales declined by 9.2 percent in March as industrial plants began to feel the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. If their predictions are right, they are expected to start bouncing back in the third quarter.
For many manufacturers, the rebound might only be half-lived as their sales teams and overall sales strategy are heavily reliant on face to face interactions, mainly through trade shows and business tourism.
Across many industries, there is an urgent need, right now, to transform the process of business relationship creation and sales.
The businesses that will seize the opportunity to rethink and rehaul this whole process will stand to gain when the crisis (and the aftermath of it) will be over. Businesses that will have only sought to superficially alleviate the issue while waiting for the pandemic to be over, will be left in the dust.
If you are not familiar with the way most manufacturers develop and sustain business relationships in a B2B dynamic, here’s the rough beat: you go to trade shows to meet new prospects, demonstrate product capabilities, and, more generally, tune-in with your market. You use these opportunities of being physically present to treat clients and promising leads with fine wine and dining. And something like once a year, you invite clients over for a few days to visit your installations and see new products while the bulk of the stay is made up of fun activities. In this setup, the marketing department is accessory to the sales team by providing them with branded visual support, good-looking trade show booths, up-to-date documentation, a functional website, newsletter, and some advertising in trade newspapers.
Now, the question I get asked a lot these days is the following: how can we take this whole face to face experience online?
The truth is, we can’t.
Finding patterns is a very human and natural instinct. We see a team winning a certain way, we rationalize how they do it (find a few patterns) and try to recreate what we saw. We see a recipe we liked and try to recreate it exactly the way we saw it made, even if we don’t have access to the same exact tools. We had a working sales process offline and want to see it brought to life online.
Working like this is like trying to fly by creating a machine with wings that flaps. It won’t work as well as a plane because what really matters isn’t to fly like a bird but to fly, period.
“If doing business a certain way was our best way of achieving a specific set of goals, and we can’t do it this way anymore, we need to focus on the goals and strategically work our way back to the new process we want to create.”
If business tourism and memorable experiences were the best ways you had to stay top-of-mind amongst the people that mattered most in your revenue stream, the important part is to find something that will make you top-of-mind. It might be something that looks radically different from taking clients to Cirque du Soleil shows or picking up the tab after a lavish dining experience at Au Pied de Cochon.
There are actually many other ways by which a business can develop its relationships that won’t ask for gathering and travel. The ones who are thinking it through correctly will reap the highest rewards the day we will be able to travel and gather again. In this effort to adapt, most alternatives that proactive firms are coming up with now will become either force multipliers and/or cost reducers when added to the traditional approach to client entertainment.
Here are five question sets I suggest you obsess over at the regimen of one per day. Share them with your team and key stakeholders. Regroup at the end of these five days and share, one at a time, one question set at a time. From experience, I believe that this meeting will generate critical reflection, spark ideas, and certainly orient the pivotal conversations with your team.
Day #1 – Who are our customers (the individuals we tend to build sales relationships with)? Why are they in this job? What would they like to do in 5 and 10 years from now? Emotionally, what is their favorite part of their job? What’s the worst? How much do they weigh in the decision process to buy our products?
Day #2 – How many times a month do our customers get to think about the product segments we are in? And our brand? Typically, what do they really care about when it comes to choosing us over someone else?
Day #3 – When they have to make a decision or request products on the market we are in, what are the most complicated tasks and thought processes that they face? How could we help or be of value in this process? If we had magical powers and could help with the wave of a wand, what would we do?
Day #4 – When it comes to news and information touching their expertise or their industry beat, which websites do they visit? Using what kind of devices? How are we presented there? Are there online affinity groups where people have conversations around their expertise or their industry? Are we there?
Day #5 – If tomorrow, a company made software that would become an intermediary between our company and my customers, what kind of software would it be? What value would it capture? Would it sit between our customers and us, or would it replace the people we talk with?
On June 11, we had the pleasure of meeting with Véronique Proulx, President and CEO of the Quebec Manufacturers & Exporters (MEQ) to discuss growth and commercialization issues among manufacturers.