When trade shows and travels are not an option: The evolution of sales in the manufacturing sector
According to the Conference Board of Canada , Canadian manufacturing sales fell 9.2% in March as factories began to feel the effects of the COVID pandemic. If their predictions are correct, we can expect sales to start rebounding in the third quarter.
For many manufacturers, the sales rebound will lack momentum because their overall sales force strategy relies heavily on face-to-face interactions, primarily through trade shows and business tourism.
Across many industries, there is an urgent need, now, to transform the process of building business relationships and growing sales.
The companies that seize this opportunity to rethink and revise this entire process will make them the big winners in the post-crisis period. Those who have only sought to remedy the situation superficially while waiting for the pandemic to end, will be quickly overwhelmed when it resumes.
If you're not familiar with how most manufacturers develop and maintain their business relationships in a B2B dynamic, here's what it looks like: you go to shows and trade shows to meet new prospects, demonstration of your products and, more generally, to get in tune with your market. You take advantage of these opportunities to go out with your customers and promising prospects.
Then, for example, once a year, you invite your customers to come for a few days to visit your facilities and discover your new products. Much of this trip is dedicated to tourism and entertainment activities. In this way of doing things, the marketing department supports the sales team by providing them with the necessary visual support, kiosks, up-to-date documentation, a functional website, a newsletter and some advertising in specialized media. .
Now, the question that I've been asked regularly lately is: how can we bring this face-to-face customer relationship experience online?
The truth is, we can't.
The search for similarities is a deeply human instinct. We see a team winning in a certain way, we rationalize how they get there (by identifying certain principles) and we try to replicate what we have seen. We see a recipe we enjoyed and try to recreate it exactly as we were taught it, even if we don't have the same tools. We had a working offline sales routine and want to see it come to life online.
Working in this way is like trying to fly by inventing an airplane that flaps its wings. It won't work as well as an airplane because what really matters is being able to fly, not being able to fly while flapping its wings.
“If doing business a certain way was your best way to achieve your goals, and it's no longer possible to do business that way, we need to refocus on those goals and go from there to strategically develop a new process of sales.”
If business tourism and memorable experiences were the best tactics you could have to gain a privileged position in the minds of the people who matter to your income, the key is to find a way to maintain this privileged position. So it's likely to be very different from a night out at Cirque du Soleil or picking up the bill after an incredible meal at Au Pied de Cochon.
There are, in fact, many other ways a company can grow relationships that don't require traveling or congregating. The teams that think about it correctly will be the ones that will benefit the most from the recovery of their sector. Indeed, many of the alternative tactics thought up during this crisis will act as impact multipliers and/or cost reducers when added to the more traditional approach to customer entertainment.
Here are 5 groups of questions that I invite you to think about obsessively, one a day. Share them with your teams and other important resources. Regroup at the end of these 5 days and share, one person at a time, one group of questions at a time. From experience, I can already tell you that this meeting will generate important thinking, provoke ideas, and certainly guide the conversations you should have on this subject with your team.
Day #1 – Who are our clients (the individuals we are trying to build business relationships with? Why are they in this job? What would they like to be doing in 5 and 10 years? Emotionally, what is the part of their favorite job, which is the worst, and what weight do these individuals have in the decision-making process leading to the purchase of our products?
Day #2 – How many times a month do our customers have to think about our products or the product segment we are in? And our brand? Typically, what matters most to them when it comes to choosing us over anyone else?
Day #3 – When they have to make a decision or request products in our market, what are the most complex operational and cognitive tasks they face? If we had magical powers and could help them with these tasks with the wave of a wand, what would we do?
Day #4 – When the time comes to learn about issues related to their expertise or their industry, what sites do they visit? From what kind of device? How are we represented on these platforms? Are there online affinity groups where these people have conversations relating to their expertise or industry? Are we present on these platforms?
Day #5 – If tomorrow, a company developed software that would become an intermediary between us and our customers, what kind of software would it be? What value would it create and for whom?
Don't wait to have an ambitious idea to start. Many digital sales and marketing experts should be able to help you with conventional lead acquisition and customer relationship nurturing tactics. But try to use this process of reflection to frame your discussions around the future of your sales process.
On June 11, we had the pleasure of welcoming Véronique Proulx, President and CEO of Manufacturers & Exporters of Quebec (MEQ) to discuss growth and marketing issues for manufacturers.