The adoption of analytics and business intelligence (BI) are enabling software-centric product development to identify product elements that are ready for enhancements and additional functionality, while virtual reality (VR) and product prototyping via 3D printing technology are accelerating the concept-and-design cycle for engineers and product managers.
On the shop floor, intelligent manufacturing process automation is driving the level of factory-automation sophistication ever closer to the goal of unattended, “lights-out” production.
This means that sales and selling have never been more critical to the success of manufacturers.
Technology has delivered the manufacturing beast. The beast offers super-efficient production capabilities, vastly increased capacity, quick turnaround and high quality. The new challenge for Sales is to feed this beast.
How can Sales meet this challenge?
Automating the Sale Does Not Mean Firing Salespeople
The role of Sales is changing; it is not going away. However, the nature of selling is changing, and the old way of selling IS going away.
The same digital innovation that delivers high quality, quick turnaround and a low-cost production process capability is also automating the sales cycle and enabling much of the selling process to take place in a “lights-out” mode.
What is Lights-Out Selling?
Lights-out selling starts with data generated by an installed product. A sensor in a copier signals the office products vendor that your copier is low on toner. Your contract with that vendor includes ongoing support that authorizes the shipment of replacement toner upon receipt of that machine’s signal. The vendor receives the signal and notifies the shipping department to prepare and ship a load of toner to your address. An invoice is generated and sent, as well.
Nobody calls to see if you really need toner, and nobody sells or buys anything. The product is shipped when needed, and the transaction is completed.
The same thing happens with your car. It communicates data to Detroit (or wherever), and a service-appointment notice is generated and sent to you and your dealer. All you have to do is show up and wait 10 minutes while your oil is changed.
This type of automated transaction happens every day in almost any business that involves complex products or products that require replenishable supplies.
For more sophisticated or discretionary products, the sales transaction is changing, as well. Customers are taking it upon themselves to investigate alternatives, compare available solutions and gather pricing and performance data without talking to salespeople at all.
The Technology of the Smart Sale
Smart companies are creating sophisticated customer experiences using extensive online portals that offer resources to prospects who investigate products and solutions.
Prospects need be able to read more than product slick sheets on these sites. White papers that deliver high-level research findings relating to the prospect’s particular market of interest are a great start, but other resources offer excellent support, as well.
These include video-based user stories, product comparison matrices and detailed information on different product configurations, options and alternatives, and they all provide the education to the prospect that Sales was expected to provide in the past. Monitored user forums also provide a dynamic way for customers to share information about your product.
For the serious prospect, configuration technology driven by scripted requirements interviewing is available. Prospects directly engage with the configurator and build out a solution perfectly tailored to their needs, and CAD technology generates a visual representation of the product as configured for the prospect.
eCommerce solutions facilitate the ability of the prospect to execute a purchase transaction. The CPQ system alerts the supply chain, inventory management and production scheduling system of the new order, and it provides a multi-level bill of material and an itemized price to the production and billing systems.
The product is then manufactured, shipped and if required, installation is performed.
What about Sales? It’s All about Insight Selling
It would be a mistake to assume all of this technology has made salespeople obsolete. In reality, the role of Sales has never been more important.
Companies still want to maintain relationships, and they need vendors that are more along the line of trusted partners—vendors that anticipate and understand their needs.
This level of understanding transcends the simple vertical knowledge of market-level needs and requirements. What issues are key to that particular individual company? Sales has to be ready to anticipate and respond correctly at the individual customer level.
This goes beyond solution selling, and it goes beyond consultative selling—it is insight selling.
Sales has to know what specific customers need and why those specific customers need what they need.
This extraordinary level of trust and understanding is what is required to bring about all of the automated lights-out transactions, the data sharing and analysis and the plugging in of vendor with buyer.