B2B Sales & Marketing Smoke Signals - what can you tease from trends

Ed Marsh | May 13, 2014

What wasn't

Having spent the weekend at one of the world's largest industrial trade shows (Interpack), I am struck most strongly by what wasn't.

Traditionally industrial equipment shows are characterized by the loud background clanging and clanking of machines 'doing their thing.'  Manufacturers assume that B2B buyers want to see the machines in action - after all, what they are buying is a machine, right?  So machines run, and the stuff they make/process cycles through.  It's a colorfully carpeted, well lit factory of sorts.

And just as the air at printing industry shows traditionally smelled of ink and solvent, the air at packaging shows smelled of sealing plastic - an acrid and distinctive odor.

But this year at Interpack there was far less noise and almost no burning plastic smell.


Certainly there are more servo based machines with less mechanical function - but many machines were cycling (to create attention grabbing motion) without actually operating.  So that's not it.

Likely cost is a factor.  Costs for power supply, shipping production products to a show, paying for waste removal during the event and even having samples brought to a booth during a show are all quite expensive.

But I would wager that's not the real reason.  What is?

Nobody buys a machine.

Certainly they exchange payment for bent, bolted steel - but what they buy is a capability, and the value that represents to their business.

Businesses used to buy the ability to make stuff.  Then they began to buy the ability to make it faster, with less embedded cost, and with higher quality.

But those capabilities today are assumed.  If you can't do XXX reliably, consistently and with near zero defects don't even bother trying to market a mediocre machine.  And by extension, therefore, there's no longer a need to demonstrate the operation of something which is assumed.

Buyers are looking for their business advantage; the capability that will vault them ahead of their competitors.  And that is discovered through conceptual conversation.  

And so at Interpack there was no plastic smoke hanging under the ceiling of the exhibit hall.

Interpreting the NO smoke signals

What does this mean for manufacturers?  There are some key implications:
  • You must understand your buyers' businesses almost better than they, so that you can interpolate their requirements and provide proactive solutions
  • Your sale is far more complex than you have traditionally considered - it's no longer about horse power, watts or degrees, but rather about consumer lifestyle and how you help your customers satisfy unmet needs
  • Marketing around technical capabilities is only relevant for certain personas - and not the ones who buy (although they influence and champion.)  Likely you must address different audiences including engineering, maintenance, finance, purchasing, general management and maybe even marketing - and ultimately finance & general management make the call.  Have you ever met a CFO who cared about how many axis of servo you boast? 
  • Sales teams must be adept at initiating and guiding conversations with each group.  That requires a business perspective which is uncommon - and which must be combined with an intuitive ability to create and close business with social selling approaches
But most significantly the entire fabric of your B2B Sales & Marketing must change - or said differently, if you are intent on growth and success you must start to market and sell in a way that mirrors how your prospects buy.

Reengineering biz dev

Before you dismiss that just think for a moment about the time and energy you put into the following:
  • implementing ERP
  • new product R&D
  • lean manufacturing
  • HR compliance and programs
and now compare that to the creative time and energy you commit to:
  • sales & marketing
In the former group you manage people and processes actively and with attention to minute detail.  In the latter you may update your sell sheets with a qr code, perhaps have a YouTube channel with a couple videos of machines in action, and you tweak your pipeline reports from a CRM system that most refuse to use.  Comparing the two it's almost certain that sales & marketing is on autopilot compared to how you manage other aspects of your enterprise.

And what about "Where" you sell?  On the one hand it was great to see a number of US companies exhibiting to the world in Duesseldorf - and it was a testament to the work that PMMI (@PMMIorg) does supporting those.  But on the other, many, many more could have benefited by doing so!  Global sales growth offers huge benefit to American industrial manufacturers.

Isn't it time you adapt your business development to the 21st century just as you do your other internal disciplines?  Want more insight into what's changing and how to prepare?  Check out our book on the evolution of B2B Sales & Marketing.

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