Turning a Tough Sales Environment Into a Sales Opportunity
Let's face it—the time has come to embrace new sales tactics. With traditional methods faltering, the company that engineers, builds or repairs molds, like those in other industries, must change and then integrate its sales, marketing and advertising efforts to remain competitive and ultimately win new business and new markets.
Successful moldmaking companies are now looking to new approaches in addition to traditional advertising and turning to often-underused marketing vehicles such as:
- Undertaking more sophisticated customer profiling
- Targeting and segmenting efforts to generate leads
- Building prospect data banks
- Working toward better customer retention and cross-selling
- Taking advantage of inexpensive or free marketing opportunities
- Creating value-added products or offering different services that keep the company on a buyer's short list
- Using ways to measure the results and ROI of these efforts
In the classic marketing definition, sales (the point of contact and closure) have always been a part of marketing (telling the market what your moldmaking operation has to offer and what makes your company stand apart from the rest). However, in the real world, sales in a company almost always dominate marketing, holding the marketing actions to a sales equation. Enter the poor, and frustrated sales team at a typical moldmaking facility. Calling for an appointment, then driving or flying to a molder's/prospect's location, only to be kept waiting in the lobby and then told the appointment is cancelled because something else came up.
Salespeople are renowned for their resiliency, particularly those in the plastics business as times have become more and more tough and POs for molds are flying off to the Far East. They, and you, have been able to bounce back from rejection and continue to show up again and again with the same level of enthusiasm and dedication to the job. Despite this and repeated follow-up calls, the salesperson is increasingly unable to evoke a response and fails to have a meeting. The orders fly right by and mold orders go elsewhere.
So what's wrong, despite the fact that what you offer in terms product or service (and value added, price not withstanding) may indeed be that better mousetrap that your customers, captive and custom molders alike, are desperate to use (although they may not know it)? Because it's so much harder to fulfill a sales call, much less sell today; moldmakers of all types and sizes need to find ways to bring efficiency into their geographical coverage and market effectiveness mix.
The Bottom Line
Basically, prospects simply don't want to see salespeople any more. Naturally, firing the sales force isn't an option, because salespeople are still very effective tools. The perception is that molders feel that they don't need to see a sales rep in a face-to-face meeting because it won't help them in their buying process. They reason that the information they need is on the Web site—things like price, delivery, quality, ISO or other quality standards that help narrow down the options and choices. Or, they think they can find what they need in the corporate literature.
There is no question that today's sales environment is tough, and moldmakers are some of the hardest hit. E-mail won't cut it either—studies show that people delete more than 70 percent of the e-mail messages they don't instantly recognize, which means that e-mail blasts aren't the answer. When you bring into the equation the bombardment that molders, like everyone else, face each day with radio, TV and print materials, there is a message fatigue that makes for a jaded audience.
Obviously, you can't sell if the buyer doesn't hear you. It goes way beyond this—studies show that simple awareness is not enough to sell anymore, although awareness, branding, positioning, etc. do help a company's cause. Today, however, action is driven more and more by offers, deals, specials and other opportunistic marketing/selling. This means that to get the sales- person in the door, marketing must first create a need for the buyer to want more information. In some cases, the need might be expressed in the form of creating or pinpointing a prospect's pain. For example, a technical school proclaims, "Either graduate from New England Tech, or compete with one!" Or, in another example, a well-known moldmaker notes, "Are you losing orders because foreign molds take too long; or you can't debug your molds quickly enough? Easy and economical moldmaking alternatives are only a phone call away. If we cannot prove we have a solution for you, we'll pay you $1,000!" Pain. Need. When necessary, offer a deal that requires a call or meeting to complete, or at least a response that shows ongoing interest.
Many of you may have seen or experienced those moldmaking firms that truly stand out at tradeshows. They tell a good story about themselves, make special offers or at least create a need or interest to have someone contact them.
So, how do salespeople get in the door? By offering information that is special, or unique, and then using this ploy to meet face-to-face. Let's not kid ourselves—it's so much easier buying from a person (and a company) that you know and like, plus one that offers solutions to your challenges.
Sales Cycle Versus the Buying Process
Closing sales used to be so much simpler with five steps involved in the buying process:
- Generate inquiries
- Qualify leads
- Submit a proposal or quote
- Close on the first sale
- Attempt to get repeat sales
However, life and selling have become infinitely more complicated, requiring a lucky baker's dozen of 13 steps to effect a purchase from a buyer's perspective:
- Acquire awareness and product definition
- Identify vendors
- Gather information
- Evaluate vendors and make initial selections
- Ask for RFQ or proposal
- Narrow from among selection of vendors
- Ask for demo/presentation by vendor
- Check references
- Finalize decision on vendor(s) of choice
- Initiate negotiations
- Make first purchase
- Re-evaluate the product or service
- Consider making a second purchase, perhaps requiring the seller to go through many of the initial steps taken to get the first order
A disconnect exists in the current paradigm—the salesperson wants to close quickly. So, when the process slows, this person moves on to the easy opportunities. Thus sales are lost. From the prospective buyer's side, if he or she feels pushed, the prospect will back off and possibly buy from someone else.
Even though it is more difficult to sell today using traditional sales approaches, the good news is that a new sales coverage model has emerged that integrates sales and marketing actions. These include, but must not be limited to:
- Inquiry generation, lead qualification and new sales opportunity development is a new and very legitimate job for marketing personnel. Long gone are the days where all prospect and customer contact is the way to make sales. The savvy moldmaker does aggressive marketing to generate inquiries, then tracks where the leads come from and based on this, does more.
- New technology such as hardware, software, Internet, wireless communications, video conferencing and other approaches are helping sales and marketing functions to open up new methods and opportunities to bolster sales productivity at low cost to the company. However, remember what we're talking about, here are the tools to get to your prospects and customers. Tools you have (CAD, new equipment, high end laser machinery, etc.) may help you, but mean little to your customer. Always be sure to skew any messages to processors and tell them how this new stuff in your shop is in it for them.
- Prospect and customer database information are now being successfully used for direct communications to prospects and customers. This supplements or even supplants a salesperson's job. Be advised that databases are constantly changing with people, job titles and even companies forever being in flux. If you've been in business any length of time, you most likely have a pretty darned good customer list; but you don't know everyone, and renting subscriber lists from magazines (these are the best lists) and sending compelling information is a wise approach.
- Inside sales and telemarketing both have grown as an internal and external source of sales contact. We all know how tight margins are in the moldmaking business, so new full-time employees aren't a realistic alternative. So, why not hire interns from local polymer engineering schools to sell your molds and services, or at least open doors? While not face-to-face, these approaches can nurture leads and customers, in combination with (attempted) direct contact.
- Buyers need incentives—Buy now! Free limited-time offer! Free trial! ROI in X months or your money back! —and reasons to buy.
The Internet brings amazing new functionality to the process. It is exciting, but the industry continues to struggle to learn how to use this technology to better assist and even create new forms of the sales and buying process. Find Web sites that appeal to you, and incorporate some of their ideas into yours. The best way to pique interest and get leads are testimonials from customers who are happy with the molds you've designed and built and service for them.
Value-added is the key element in any marketing or sales thrust, even in these days where the processors seem only to be looking at the cost to get the mold built and delivered. Prove to the prospect that while the initial cost may be a bit higher, it's the long-term costs that make the difference in buying from you. For example, a mold that can be debugged and commissioned faster; better materials for a longer lasting mold; full-service backing; and someone as dedicated to their customers as they are to ensuring what comes out of your mold are as good as they can be.
Take a Lesson from Sports
When a coach sees his team losing, he or she employs different strategies and sometimes opts for different plays, or players, to obtain a positive outcome. Yet companies that are experiencing lagging sales and losing market share insist on doing the same thing, again and again. While moldmakers are correct in remaining adamant that closing sales works best when skilled and trained personnel are out selling, they fall short thinking that marketing is simply a task that should be delegated to interns or apprentices. In fact, marketing results in inquiries which in turn results in sales. Real—and successful marketing—requires an understanding and dedication by management to see this area as a commitment to growing the company. When sales work hand in hand with marketing, each generates a high ROI.
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