Tl;dr - When you're selling capital equipment it's impossible to differentiate your solution before it's bought and installed. The solution is to differentiate your company through the sales interaction and marketing materials themselves, using a consultative selling methodology.
Your Product is Just a Tool to Help Buyers Create Value
Industrial manufacturers routinely obsess about their products. It's heresy to assert that buyers don't really care about those products. But think about it...who gets out of bed in the morning really pumped up to start a project to buy what you sell? Nobody.
Instead, they arise ready to achieve the business change that your product can support.
Of course quality, durability, and reliability are product table stakes. And your installed base is an asset in terms of ongoing aftermarket revenue and goodwill.
But what if it was possible to turn your top-line revenue growth process - the customer experience across marketing and sales - into a strategic differentiator that both helps you sell more and creates a huge chunk of intellectual property and enterprise value?
It is. Here's how.
Consultative Selling Cements the Value of Your Expertise
While your product itself probably doesn't provide nearly the competitive differentiation that you believe it does, your team's application expertise is likely a huge driver of prospect comfort and engagement. Remember, they spring from bed "ready to achieve the business change" they seek. They approach vendors with risk aversion, skepticism of claims, and hesitance to make a mistake.
The challenge for your team is that simply announcing it, or even "telling" them via testimonials and case studies, sounds like everyone else. And it sounds glib and hollow.
The solution is to take a consultative selling approach through which your expertise gradually helps them define their problem and develops confidence in your unique ability to help them solve it with little risk. Consultative selling is characterized by the following criteria:
- focused on the prospect exclusively (that means not talking about you!)
- entirely built around asking questions, listening carefully, and asking more questions
- creates opportunities to challenge the prospect to understand their problem from a fresh perspective
The importance of consultative selling is in the outcomes it enables; outcomes that "pitching" never can. Beyond simple revenue growth, these include:
- immediate differentiation from competitors' salespeople and companies
- prospect recognition of your team's deep and nuanced understanding of their business and challenges
- appropriate opportunities to ask insightful questions that inherently highlight unique technical capabilities
- appreciation from prospects for your ability to help them define and quantify their true challenges and desired outcomes
- successfully uncovering the compelling reasons while prospects will proceed, and proceed with your company
- creating the basis for quantifying the cost of failing to proceed / the opportunity value of pressing ahead
- evoking the emotion that's critical to buying commitments
Collectively these consultative selling outcomes are at the heart of a sales methodology that will deliver consistent and predictable top line revenue results.
Consultative Selling is Rare, Hard, and Coachable
The bad news is that according to millions of sales candidate assessments it's clear that consultative selling skills are a critical weakness. Even worse, they're deteriorating.
In 2012 the average salesperson had 44% of the skills required for consultative selling. That's fallen 9%, and in 2022 the average rep has only 40% of the required skills.
Further many companies handcuff their reps with an emphasis on decks and presentations. Reps are trained to ask just enough questions to hear something that sounds like a bit of "pain" and then to jump into their demo/pitch/presentation. In other words, most companies' sales process actually prevents consultative sales.
The good news is that it's coachable. With training, lots of role-playing, and frequent sales call debriefings, reps can learn to sell consultatively.
The payoff can be huge!
Not only is the approach more effective at creating the urgency and agreement that are necessary to close deals, but it also establishes your rep - and your company by affiliation - as the only vendor that really has the depth of expertise to succeed.
Content Marketing and Sales Enablement to Support Consultative Selling
While there's no adequate alternative to the dialog form of consultative selling, it's possible to create marketing resources that can both help prospects on their journey and support the rep's sales efforts.
For instance, research and articles that help prospects understand and differentiate between the symptoms they're wrestling with versus the problems and causes behind them will help to establish the expertise of your company. That content will also help get you found for a broader range of related key terms and much earlier in the buying journey than simply focusing on product solutions.
Similarly, diagnostic frameworks can help provide a handrail for reps who are working to develop consultative selling skills, and thoughtful implementation of playbooks and checkpoints embedded in CRM and sales pipeline stages can reinforce the necessity of information that can only be consistently discovered using consultative sales methods.
Consultative selling should be embedded throughout your entire top line revenue generation team and imbue all interactions (virtual, digital, in person, etc.) with value for prospects vs. pitches.
Differentiation is What Counts
Over time you'd love to have your customers realize how your unique quality, precision, and durability differentiate your engineered solutions from competitors.
But first, you have to close the deals to have the opportunity to make the installations.
That requires establishing differentiation and demonstrating excellence through the prospect's experience with your company.
Your machinery can't do it, and demos that harp on features will draw you away from the important discussions about their business imperatives.
Success comes when you adapt your top line revenue growth process. When your manufacturing marketing and your sales team are aligned around consultative selling your results will improve. Not only is it a more effective sales approach, but the sales approach itself will differentiate your team and your company in a way that will boost prospect confidence in your ability to reduce their risk and increase the likelihood of a successful installation.