'Do' Sell vs. 'Should' Sell - 1 Word Behind Many Machinery Sales Woes

Ed Marsh | May 14, 2021

Tl;dr - 

What if the World Has Changed?

Executive leaders in many companies I speak with are pretty comfortable with their growth strategy. Of course, that makes sense. To feel otherwise would be to impugn themselves since theirs is the responsibility for strategy, talent management, and resource allocation. Plus, to the extent that they have a strategy, it's a product of themselves and therefore there's likely confirmation bias at play.

That "strategy is set" assumption, then, translates into a focus on tactics and execution. For instance, a desire to undertake a digital marketing program or sales training.

And, they may be right to embrace those tactics.

In fact, nearly every machinery supplier should improve their digital marketing - inbound and outbound. And even capital equipment sales superstars benefit from sales coaching.

While these treatments may be beneficial, the prescription is often wrong because the background diagnosis is wrong.

They almost always look for incremental improvement in what they're currently doing. That's not wrong, but it's not enough.

We know what we DO sell. We know to whom we DO sell. We know why we DO sell. We know how we DO sell.

Here's the rub. What you DO sell is almost certainly based on what you have sold. 

It's not necessarily what you SHOULD sell today.

And it's almost certainly not what you SHOULD sell next year.

And yet, while companies debate office vs. remote work and a host of other issues that arise from the turmoil of COVID and the reactions to it, they almost all assume that what they DO sell is what they WILL sell. That's shortsighted.

What you SHOULD sell changes almost everything

When you step back from what you DO sell, and consider what and how you SHOULD sell from the perspectives of buyers and markets, suddenly the industrial sales world can look very different.

It can impact your ideal customer profile, your revenue model, revenue growth team org chart and resourcing, R&D and product roadmap, partnerships, and of course marketing, sales, and sales enablement.

For instance, if you're accustomed to a machine sales approach that is based on satisfying specs of plant engineers with well-defined, carefully planned, capacity growth projects - and then billing those based on progress payments, you'll struggle when raw material price inflation suddenly disrupts project planning and resources are shifted to proactively focus on material cost reduction.

Similarly, as companies change the model for procuring products and services to shift from transactions to subscriptions, you'll be at a disadvantage to competitors who adapt preemptively.

These simple examples would require major adaptations in various revenue growth functions including market research, appropriate marketing and sales enablement, different probable sales talent that can sell more conceptually, and changes in your working capital financing and billing software.

But How Can You Define What and How You SHOULD Sell?

The answer is in the "simple but not easy" category.

It's simple because all it requires is to understand your buyers' business and their buyers in turn.

It's not easy, though, because that's not the way many industrial companies think.

Our typical product roadmap is a series of iterations on what we've recently done, and the way we sell it is arrived at using the same paradigm.

Now, before you get agitated, obviously you'll remain focused on the same core business. If your traditional business is selling fork trucks or material handling equipment, for instance, then you're not going to jump to HR software. However, the related warehouse and material handling trends around LED warehouse lighting to reduce energy costs, blockchain-based inventory control, increased retailer fines for incomplete or improperly configured orders, ingredient allocations, and a shortage of truck drivers are fertile ground. So you can begin to understand some of the issues your buyers are wrestling with that you might not previously have considered in your products or how you've approached accounts.

Those trends, and others that you'd know because it's your area of expertise, will create opportunities for you to extend and adapt your products and services to help them solve urgent, compelling problems.

Think of it as a zero-based approach (within the context of what you already do) to the problems they'll increasingly wrestle with - as opposed to an incremental adaptation of what you already do and the priorities they focused on a couple years ago.

To Whom You SHOULD Sell

Your ideal customer profile will likely change too. The target prospect profiles that were the low-hanging fruit for you in the late 2010s, and which you assumed would continue to be as you entered the 2020s, will likely not be going forward.

Industry, geography, employee count, public vs. private ownership, key raw materials they use, sectors to which they sell, and other factors will influence where you can most effectively sell going forward.

The Intersection

This intersection of "what" and "who" is where you will likely find exciting and fresh opportunities.

Opportunities where a more carefully defined and suited buyer meets your improved/refined product service offering.

With that clarity, then you can begin to adapt marketing, adjust the staffing and tactics of your industrial sales team, refine your messaging, experiment with different entry sales and revenue models, and more.

NO! You Don't Abandon What Got You Here

Don't misunderstand. Your IP, brand, product offerings all retain the value that you've created over the years. Your traditional customers are loyal and viable. And your current sales team knows how to sell traditional products/services to those long-time buyers (although if they're like many machinery sales teams, their effectiveness is waning.)

This is not a recommendation to abandon what's helped you build the business you have. That business will generate the cash you need to fund the evolution as you take these critical steps to position yourself for success in coming years.

Think of a 3M approach - roughly 1/3 of the revenue in any given year is derived from products that have been introduced within the last three years. That discipline forces them to think about where markets are going in parallel with tinkering with interesting technology. 

You don't have a $3.6B R&D budget, but if you're understanding your market's and buyers' changing conditions, you can solve problems creatively with simple adaptations and repurposing of existing technology. And complimentary partnerships with other vendors can help you quickly extend into areas that you understand well but where it would be prohibitive to create your own technology.

Take a Step Back and Cogitate

Do you ever cogitate? Leave the office and walk around the parking lot? Go for a long canoe paddle, bike ride, hike, fishing outing, sit in a tree stand or whatever and let thoughts swirl which you have to repress during the hectic times at your desk?

This is a perfect topic for those times.

You have relationships with existing customers. It's easier for them to work with you than create new relationships. 

But you have to meet them at their current recognized and unrecognized needs in order to help them - and that's the key to capital equipment sales and industrial revenue growth.

I bet you'll get excited as you visualize what that might look like.