By Dale Wolf
Guided Selling begins with understanding that manufacturers must deliver exceptional value to customers. In the world of highly complex products with hundreds or even thousands of configured product options, it is alarmingly easy to miss the mark. It is easy to order a product that cannot be built, or to build a product that fails to meet customer budget requirements, or to get so tangled in the complexity that delivery totally misses the customer’s timeline.
Manufacturing managers, at least for the past 30 years, have been almost exclusively focused on cutting cost and reducing risk. Raising revenue has not been the focus. But to ignore the revenue-raising side of the business has enormous cost in a world where supply far exceeds demand. Never before has raising revenue been so critical to your CEO.
But with all the focus of past years on cost cutting, selling processes and supporting technologies have been ignored. Far too many manufacturers of complex products are now logged down under inefficient internal processes, bad habits and internal confusion that winning new sales is a faint hope.
The good news is that manufacturers are waking up.
They are beginning to see selling as a total end-to-end process where field sales activities mesh with internal back-office people and systems.
Guided Selling and Product Configuration enables organizations to analyze and automate customer needs, determine the proper product modules or components, respond rapidly with estimates and bids that can more quickly result in final proposals, quotations and contracts that fit the customer’s unique needs.
Guided Selling automates a company-wide information system and supports the use of this knowledge with channel collaboration between customers, dealers or sales representatives and internal engineering, finance and production expertise. The specific functions of Guided Selling are product configuration, technical calculations, product catalogue, financial calculations, document generation and production.
This results in a simpler, more efficient, error-free and more responsive sales process. Because expert or tribal knowledge is formalized and captured in the guided selling system, sales representatives have direct access to all relevant knowledge and information and the dependence on technical specialists is reduced. Sales representatives using guided selling processes and supporting systems require less specific sales or product knowledge – they can focus on what they do best: learn about the customer’s needs and build closer relationships rather than spending their time chasing down pieces of information for proposal generation.
With a Guided Selling System in place, manufacturers can implement new ways to win business.
I suggest four such rules that are easier after adoption of guided selling and product configuration:
First, Be Different.
I particularly like the slogan used by Mercedes Benz … they claim their cars are UNLIKE ANY OTHERS. I hear too many companies saying the same thing. As a customer, we all want to hear about innovations rather than a "me-too" strategy. What made companies like Mercedes or Google so interesting is that they fundamentally changed the way they help customers solve a problem? These pioneers attacked a customer behavior from a completely different angle to modify an existing behavior, fundamentally changing the ways in which some individuals ride to work or other consumers find information on the Web.
Second, Be First and Fast.
To sell products in an environment of speed and change, companies need revolutionary ideas to draw the attention of those around them. It is important to be first. There is tremendous leverage in being first. Indeed “firstness is more important than fitness” when it comes to gaining economic value from investments in products. Being first in any category is going to give you the edge - being the leader comes from being first.
It's much easier to get into the mind of consumers first that try to convince people you have a better product or service than the one that did get there first. Once you are the leader, a position mostly gained by being first, it is pretty hard for competitors to knock you out -- as long as you keep your products up to date and of comparable quality.
Third, Be Relevant.
In a world of over-supply, customers quickly figure out they are in charge. If you want to create value, you must be focused on what they need rather than what you want to manufacture. Ford originally sold only black cars until Buick discovered customers liked color options. Manufacturers have been racing ever since to create products that are more relevant to the lives of their customers. To create “new and valued” value, we must know our target market inside and out. We should understand their pains and needs. We should be able to anticipate what they don’t now have … problems for which they don’t yet have solutions.
Fourth, Integrate People and Processes
While the processes for manufacturing complex products are almost beyond imagination, consider at least that these processes occur within our own 4-walls. We have considerable control on what goes on inside our plants. The variables are ours to determine.
But this is not so when it comes to the teams responsible for marketing and selling your products. Their variables are largely in the hands of prospects and customers … who have infinite needs … complex specifications to capture … constant negotiation … constant change.
From the world of Henry Ford where all cars were the same … now to the reality of a one-to-one market where we are asking not “what color of black would you like?” but literally “what is it that you want?”
Guided Selling and Product Configuration are Enablers for Sales Reps
Sales representatives using guided selling techniques or systems require less specific sales or product knowledge. Guided selling greatly reduces errors and provides consistency in needs analysis, product configuration and proposal generation. Company knowledge is applied in a better and more consistent way. Quotations are made with less effort, in less time and at lower costs. Win rates of quotations increase due to higher quality quotations including proposals that better match customer needs at prices that are calculated more precisely.
- Guided selling ensures consistent selling best practices
- Guided selling delivers on pricing and order commitments
- Guided selling eliminates errors that lead to configuring the wrong products, pricing, and proposals
- Guided selling increases responsiveness to customer opportunities without incresasing cost
- Guided selling improves profitability by eliminating non-value added activities into the manufacturing process