Many capital equipment companies default to the “factory based” selling model where the mission of the field sales force is to simply secure meetings for the factory product expert.
This selling model fundamentally limits the quality of your customer relationships and the scale of your business.
Instead, the capital equipment marketing organization must constantly push product and application knowledge closer and closer to those working in the same time zone and culture of your customers.
What Can Go Wrong
The argument is that high-technology capital equipment is too complex for a field organization to understand. Therefore, a factory-based product expert, usually holding the title of Product Manager is needed to lead the sales effort with the sales force charged with arranging appointments.
However, relying on a small group of product experts to drive every sales opportunity creates a host of issues. Consider these:
- If the only way to win a sale is by the product expert touching it, the bandwidth of this expert becomes the fundamental limitation on revenue growth.
- Since the experts mostly engage customers during an active sales cycle, they never develop the robust relationships that can only come from more frequent and varied interactions.
- Since the local sales force has been reduced to a conduit to factory-based experts, they have little to contribute and their customer relationships remain shallow.
- A competitor with a stronger local presence can easily out maneuver you by operating in real-time while your sales person waits for a response from the factory expert four time zones away.
- Sales situations can be assessed incorrectly because the factory experts aren’t equipped to interpret subtleties of local culture, organizational dynamics, language and business practices.
What to Do
To turn this around, you need to redefine the role of these product experts from “sales-doers” to “sales-enablers.” In this role, their focus shifts to developing the tools to enable the field sales and applications organization to answer customers’ questions in real time rather than have to say, “I’ll ask the factory and get back to you tomorrow”
The nature of the buying process in capital equipment means you’ll probably never design the factory completely out of the selling process. Management will always play a role in demonstrating long-term commitments and product management will likely always support the majority of future product discussions.
However, there’s a large portion of the sales process that can be localized. This includes the ability to:
- Position products within each account or region
- Configure the product offering to meet specific customer needs
- Design successful demonstrations
- Prepare and present product presentations
- Draft standard specification responses
- Review product performance data
- Handle customer objections
Getting to a point where your precious few factory-based experts aren’t necessary to directly support the all items above can take a long time, and, to be candid, may never happen. It can be like the elusive “zero defects” quality objective. You’re always getting closer to zero, but you never quite get there.
This doesn’t mean the objective is invalid, it just means you have to apply a consistent and persistent effort to keep moving towards the goal of field self-sufficiency.
If you don’t, your business will forever be limited to what your handful of experts can generate, and the best customer relationships will belong to your competition.