The “Googlization” of information has leveled the playing field between sales reps and prospects.
With easy access to information, buyers are initiating purchasing cycles by performing extensive product research on the Internet long before inviting a sales rep into the process. Increasingly, buyers today know as much, if not more, about the product and the competition’s products as the seller knows. Product knowledge, once the manufacturer sales reps’ main advantage in the selling cycle, is now readily available to buyers. This shift in the balance of knowledge leads to more complex questions about the product universe. In response, sales reps need to know more about how the products they are selling can be used in specific circumstances, understand the sales advantages over competitors’ products, and be able to describe the resulting benefits.
Sales reps can no longer retreat to product expertise to trump challenges or issues raised by buyers. Canned presentations and brochures of the past are simply not enough. There is a convergence of demands and expectations: how the salesperson responds to these challenges determines whether or not he closes the sale. So, the bar continues to be raised as to the value a salesperson must bring to the table during the buy-and-sell process. Given this new reality, what tools are available to arm salespeople to better answer customers needs and present them with compelling reasons to buy? 3-D applications fulfill the vision of design and engineering firms. They provide a rich data set for salespeople to obtain marketing materials and digital prototypes that help shrink sales cycles and improve their customer face time.
It is no longer acceptable for salespeople to respond to customers’ inquiries with “I’ll get back to you.” In the time it takes for the salesperson to respond to a customer’s question, a competitor with stronger product knowledge, customized proposals, or better pricing will have won the business. Whether it’s online, over the phone, or faceto-face, organizations need to respond to customers’ inquiries in real time. Information about in-stock parts, price breaks, alternatives to out-of-stocks, etc. should be readily available to the salesperson when interacting with customers. Without easy access to information, salespeople lose credibility—and a potential relationship with the customer.
Similarly, access to real-time information may be the difference between winning and losing the deal.
Putting relevant information in the hands of sales reps to deliver real-time responses to clients is mission critical. For example, detailed product and support information need to be readily at hand; pricing issues should be resolved on the fly so that cost can be factored out of the equation; and time-consuming approvals from management or engineering are barriers that need to be eliminated. Sales should know how far its price discounts can go without additional approval bottlenecks, and whether design changes or material changes can be made without referring to the engineering team. With the right tools, such as a product streaming and data management application, sales reps can refer to a repository of product, pricing, and materials information, as well as eliminate extra steps in obtaining approvals. This gives the sales rep the leverage needed to compete on service versus merely on cost. In other words, sales can then focus on helping the customer, and not just making the sale.
As product depth and breadth increases, it is more difficult for sales reps to be as completely versed about an ever-expanding solution set as they once were. Traditionally, sales reps would try to have customers buy without knowing the real benefits of certain products or services for the customer. To make matters worse, manufacturers’ products now have added complexity, with advanced processes, materials, parts, and pieces that are more difficult to explain. Helping the sales rep communicate complex concepts in a language the client understands is the first step to success. Moreover, showing the client how pieces function together helps win the sale.
Product complexity has emerged as the dark horse in the selling process.
Given the greater complexity of product offerings, there are applications now available that provide salespeople with the ability to explain complex manufacturing processes, products, building materials, and other key factors in producing product. Additionally, with a product stream or design and data repository solution, the sales rep knows exactly how the pieces fit together: 3-D digital prototypes can be done to show how pieces interact, and additional functions are displayed. This removes confusion about what products would benefit the customer the most. Sales can then point the customer directly to what product he is missing to meet his needs, whether those products are parts or service, support or certification. This helps to build a partnership with the customer and to build credibility for the sales rep. Certainly, the more the salesperson knows about the product, the more credibility he has, and the more likely the salesperson becomes the customer’s trusted advisor. Thus, with the right tools, salespeople can help customers make business decisions—not merely purchase decisions—that are right for their organizations.
This starts in early project qualification. Traditionally, once the customer’s initial questions are answered, a sales rep has to deliver a product prototype. A rep would get an idea of the buyer’s goal, and then have a detailed pilot developed, which often included building custom prototypes. But while the customer could see a physical product, this method presented numerous limitations, including not being able to see the product’s functionality or how it works with other products. Further, prototyping was a slow, designintensive, and costly process. And in the end, the result did not necessarily reflect the actual product accurately.
Prototyping needs to move beyond demonstration and should inspire customer confidence.
Today, with sophisticated product streaming and 3-D configurators delivering digital prototypes, the reps can focus much more on understanding what and how the customer wants to buy. They can take the customer’s exact specs and requirements, come back (often in real time), and conceptually present a simulated model to the buyer to verify whether the seller is on the right track—and within the customer’s budget.
This process is done within a 3-D, photorealistic environment that maximizes past designs and produces realistic images of functional prototypes. The presentation of simulated functional prototypes is pivotal to the sales process, as it instills customer confidence. And this type of prototyping and design work keeps effort, time, and costs in line. So a project’s cost (actual versus budget) can be better determined, since there is a direct correlation between the ability to provide an accurate quote with knowing what the end-product will look like and how that end-product will function. The customer can experience the entire product before it is actually manufactured. What’s more, proposals to sales conversion rates trend upward when product simulations are done.