Sales cycles in manufacturing have been subtly changing over time. The latest changes, however, are the most dramatic and the fastest transformations the industry has seen.
- Technology is disrupting the initial stages of the manufacturing sales cycle
- Digital communication is replacing in-person visits
- Changes result in a shorter sales cycle, which benefits both sellers and buyers
Dealing with Digital Disruption
The initial stages of the manufacturing sales cycle are the most affected by changing technology. Everything from prospecting through making an offer is experiencing a digital disruption that promises to transform forever the way manufacturing companies identify and sell to their customers.
Finding and Nurturing Contacts – Digitally
Traditionally, contacts are identified and cultivated through personal interaction. The salesperson generates leads from various sources, including previous customers, then personally calls on and creates a one-on-one relationship with the prospective customer. There are phone calls and face-to-face meetings and even business lunches and dinners. It’s a lot of old-school hands-on work. It’s also a very slow, time-consuming and expensive process.
The digital disruption changes all this. Leads are generated via website or email queries. Initial sales inquiries and requests for quotes (RFQs) are made via email or Zoom video calls. There’s more work done on the computer and less in-person and over the phone.
Changing for the Digital World
To compete in this new digital world, your company needs to have a strong digital presence. That means an appealing and informative website that actively encourages customers to contact your firm. The website needs to be easily found online and rank high in search results when potential customers are querying for your product.
It also means that your salespeople have to become comfortable with email, Zoom and other digital communications tools. They have to be willing to give up the old ways of face-to-face interaction and move to communication via keyboard and video display. For them, it means less time on the road and more time in the office or working from home.
Benefits of Selling Digitally
There are several benefits of moving away from traditional in-person sales to a digital sales model.
First, the digital sales process moves faster. Instead of spending weeks or even months courting a customer in person, complete with the requisite travel time, you can now respond to customer inquiries and RFQs the same day. Digital relationships can be established in a matter of days via well-crafted emails and face-to-face video calls. There is no lag time; everything moves faster, which means you can dramatically shorten the entire sales cycle.
In addition, when your company moves to a digital sales model you will realize significant cost savings. Traditionally, you may spend $1,000 or more for a plane ticket, hotel room, rental car, and meals to send a salesperson to a single meeting with a single client. In the new model, all those costs are eliminated. Instead, you pay less than $20 a month for a corporate Zoom account and your salespeople can schedule multiple video meetings a day.
Most importantly, your customers expect to operate virtually. If your company is stuck in the past, you’ll quickly be passed over for competitors that are more nimble and familiar with the technology.
Buyers Are in Control
A related change in the manufacturing sales cycle is that buyers have more control than they used to. In the old days, salespeople called on buyers and tried to convince them to buy their product. Today, buyers take the initiative, comparing products and services from multiple manufacturers via their websites. Instead of waiting for a salesperson to supply a product spec sheet, buyers get all the specs they want from the companies’ websites. Many potential customers make up their minds about what to buy and from whom before they ever come into contact with a salesperson.
Buyers Are More Proactive
Thanks to technology, buyers today are in control of the sales cycle in manufacturing, not your sales reps. According to Gartner, B2B buyers today only spend 17% of their pre-purchase time meeting with suppliers’ representatives. Instead, they spend 45% of their time doing independent research, most of it online. As reported by CSO Insights, 70% of buyers define what they want on their own before interacting with a salesperson.
This means that selling today is more reactive to buyers’ needs than it is trying to convince them to make a purchase. A salesperson needs to respond to buyers’ questions and provide them with what they need to make a decision. Salespeople still lend their expertise, but more as product experts than sales experts.
Buyers Need the Right Tools to Make the Best Decisions
It’s important that you give potential buyers the tools and information they need to make their decisions. This comes back to the necessity of an informative and easy-to-navigate website. The website should also make it easy for buyers to contact a salesperson for more information – and to complete the sale.
Shortening the Sales Cycle
As reported by Geckoboard, the typical B2B sales cycle has averaged 102 days. By putting the buyer in charge of the process and by embracing digital communications technology, this sales cycle can be dramatically shortened. That’s a good thing – you can identify a prospect, nurture that customer, close the sale, and ship the product in a fraction of the time it used to take. You can make more sales in a similar time frame – and at less cost.
A shorter sales cycle is just as appealing to your customers. Buyers want everything today; they’re less patient than they used to be. Part of this is due to just-in-time operations, where customers don’t have the luxury of a long, drawn-out purchasing process. Instead of waiting weeks for potential suppliers to respond to their RFQs, buyers expect and often need replies within 24 hours. Technology enables the entire process to be sped up.
What It All Means
In a way, today’s transformation of the manufacturing sales cycle is just the manufacturing industry catching up with how other types of companies have been doing business for some time. It’s a matter of using technology to better serve the customer, putting more power in the hands of buyers, and eliminating inefficient and costly ways of doing business. The sales cycle is shortened, costs are reduced, and customers are better served. It’s a win-win for all concerned.