I just returned from a national sales conference in Florida. This particular conference brings together over 200 sales and marketing professionals who focus on helping businesses in the manufacturing, industrial and technology sectors. It's always a great opportunity to share best practices, hear from guest speakers and share in both the successes and challenges we all face helping clients develop business. Over the course of three days, we immersed ourselves in role-plays and workshops. Throughout it all, a number of messages resonated, especially as they pertain to the business development goals of my clients and prospective clients in manufacturing and industrial services. Here are my three main takeaways.
1. Many business owners (not all) are technicians, that is, experts in their space. These technicians started their businesses based upon a skill or capability. This is particularly true in the contract manufacturing services industry.
Being a technician doesn't always come in handy when it comes to planning for business growth and developing a go-to-market strategy. In other words, these owners definitely 'know their stuff' about things like machining, materials, applications, tolerances and manufacturing. But often, the big challenge for them is "how do I differentiate myself and find new business?"
Michael E. Gerber explains this quite well in his book The E-Myth. Today's business climate is very different, and business owners must adapt to changing buyers and more. As I shared stories and best practices at the sales and marketing workshops, I noticed there were some repeating themes:
- Revenue is coming from a core group of customers that hold an uncomfortably high percentage of overall business. The loss (or even decrease) of revenue from these core clients can have a significantly adverse affect on a business its team members. Business mix is lacking.
- Most new business comes from referrals, aka word of mouth.
- A clear strategy for demand or revenue generation often does not exist. In other words, where is the next piece of business coming from?
- Suppliers aren't differentiating themselves from one another, especially within the contract manufacturing or 'job shop' sectors. What makes you unique to the market?
- Manufacturing, industry and technology are not the first to widely adopt new business development methods or technologies.
- Owners are typically tied up in the day to day workings of their business - working in the business rather than on the business. The desire may be there, but the time isn't.
- Typically, there isn't a team or individual dedicated to sales development.
Often, there is a fear of taking on new business. "I can't handle any more new business if it comes in." This is a great place to be, but don't forget that too many of us rely on a small group of customers who comprise a high percentage of the overall business. The current downturn in the oil and gas industry illustrates how dangerous this can be, and it's had a crippling effect on certain manufacturers tied to the supply chain. Orders literally stopped overnight, not little by little. Unfortunately, some manufacturers had nothing else in the sales pipeline.
A colleague once gave me some great advice that applies here: There are two periods in which you should always be marketing and selling your services: When you're busy and when you're slow. In short - you should always be looking for the next great client.
2. There's a lot of confusion and white noise in the market. What do I do? With so many business development tactics and strategies hitting an owner at once, how do you make a decision?
- Do I hire a sales person?
- Do I hire a marketing company?
- Do I build a website?
- Do I do SEO or PPC?
- How do I attract prospects who are looking for my services?
- What marketing tools or technology do I use? (And check out this infographic to see just how many there are. Confused yet?)
3. My clients and prospects need a trusted adviser. Not someone that is going to promote the next best thing, but someone that has the best interests of the business owner in mind. Someone that truly needs to actively listen, and help the client find the best solution to developing their business. One size does not fit all. Within any manufacturing organization, there's a process and measurement associated with production activity. The business development solution must do the same, fitting an organization's model, market and goals. And of course, the solution must be measurable every step of the way.
I came back from this conference with some new ideas and approaches to business development, but at the end of the day, it still all comes down to a basic premise: What must the business owner do to assure viability and stability and how do I help them avoid a dramatic downturn if the economy softens?