Key reasons why companies lose capital equipment sales

Ed Marsh | Oct 6, 2017

capital equipment sales often depend on deep understanding of buyers capital allocation priorities

Status quo, priorities, sales reps

I hear from more and more management teams of industrial manufacturers that they're producing quotes at a furious pace and simply not closing orders. That begs the question why.

Some will blame "crazy buyers." And there's plenty of inexplicable buyer behavior from the perspective of most sellers. But as Seth Godin says "No one is unreasonable. Or to be more accurate, no one thinks that they are being unreasonable." 

That means that buyers are acting reasonably from their perspective...and the disconnect is often rooted in the dissonance between traditional sales process and modern buying process. (Good dive into that here from Bob Apollo.)

Even beyond buying process, though, there are some core barriers that product focused sales reps, coached to pitch technology increments, fail to understand.

Status Quo

This is far and away the largest competitive threat to any industrial sales team - particularly in complex, capital equipment sales.

When nobody has enough time to meet all their obligations, much less think creatively about how to improve things that are at least OK and have been for an extended period, the status quo is the path of least resistance.

Too often sales reps are seduced by a buyer who contacts them in a pique after a competitor has failed or an internal crisis elevates an "OK" area to problem status. "Finally they're willing to listen and recognize all the problems with their current situation!" an excited rep tells the sales manager. The sales process kicks into gear, revenue is projected...and then silence.

It turns out that the huge problem was really only the hugest at the moment, and now has been supplanted by one that really requires attention.

The status quo prevailed. Attention priorities shifted. And those aren't the only priorities which challenge sales reps who view their narrow area of expertise without considering the broader view.

Finance Priorities

Most sales people are not only ignorant of business finance, but as a result their grasp of the procurement process is limited. For instance, the fact that something is, or is not in the budget isn't the deciding factor on whether a project is undertaken. Further, the silly ROI calculations that most sales reps provide are both overly simplistic and ignore the fundamental reality that resources are limited.

In the competition for impact on company's strategy, capital, operating dollars, management time and disruption, every project competes against absolute AND relative criteria. Many projects with great stand-alone appeal never happen because others are more appealing.

Marketing and Sales Missteps

Jill Konrath recently shared a link for this DiscoverOrg study "Why didn't they buy." It's worth reading. Here are some key points that I took from it.

  • Only 35% of buyers have a favorable view of salespeople - nearly 2/3 are considered average or poor
  • Reviews, testimonials & competitor comparisons top the list of what buyers want to see on a vendor website
  • IT, engineering and accounting  folks are more critical and demanding of salespeople (marketing are least so)
  • The B2B buyer is focused on risk mitigation
  • In the spaces where I'm primarily active, manufacturing and engineering, there were remarkable data around brand
  • 98% of buyers say that vendor websites influence selection (37% somewhat and 61% definitely)
  • Manufacturing buyers seek
    • competitive comparisons
    • testimonials and case studies
    • ** look and feel of website (only fashion buyers ranked this higher in importance!)
  • Manufacturing buyers are equally disposed toward sales reps who are:
    • available & trustworthy 
    • matches solution to known problem
    • **challenges thoughts and offers new solutions
  • ** One person on the buying team drives the outcome 83% of the time in the manufacturing space

** These three findings startled me. Maybe this is rationalization, or perhaps explanation. Here's my thinking nevertheless.

We've come to accept that complex buying is done by consensus, that buyers want to be prompted by new ideas and that the information is what manufacturing buyers seek from websites vs. sexy experience. And yet this data seems to indicate otherwise.

In the context of today's frantic pace, though, it all makes sense.

Buyers are interested in new ideas early in their research process. Once they've identified a solution and socialized it with their buying team colleagues, challenging ideas are much less welcome. Embracing them means more time, more work, and implicitly acknowledging that the earlier comprehensive research was, well, incomplete.

Because they buyers rely so heavily on vendors' websites for research and competitive comparison, UX and contemporary design are likely important both for comfort but also as a proxy for how up to date the company's products are.

Finally, no team project happens without a lead. While there are a number of perspectives to be considered, it makes complete sense that there's one person (probably the one who'se department stands to gain or lose) who leads the effort. 

Stop focusing on the products

Reps and marketing teams mistakenly believe that capital equipment sales success depends on describing technical features and trying to establish uniqueness. And yet most buyers see products as generally interchangeable and focus instead on a wide range of other factors and priorities.

It's long past time to become a business resource - to help buyers in their jobs - confident that revenue results will follow.

Wondering what the payoff is for your business? This guide lays out the financial case for investing in thought leadership industrial marketing to drive capital equipment sales.


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