For those just starting out in a sales or marketing role within engineering, finding the best way to work is not easy.
There’s a huge pressure on sales in engineering to deliver on revenue targets of the business. In human intensive businesses, where the commercial arm of the business supports a large number of people, making an impact and hitting the ground running is imperative.
Amplified by longer sales cycles, punishing cash-flow burdens, and business changing order values that can increase pressure if opportunities are lost, identifying and closing deals is of top priority.
With that in mind, we knew we could extract some pearls of wisdom from those successful within engineering sales and marketing roles. This way, those just starting out aren’t learning from scratch the knowledge that already exists in the industry.
So, we asked over 100 sales and marketing directors from engineering and manufacturing businesses to give us their best pieces of advice.
Where do sales and marketing professionals need to excel to make an impact?
Giving it some thought, and putting across our own views based on experience, those are the categories we’d have guessed would be included. It’s nice to see the customer as #1.
Still, we heard multiple unexpected responses to the 2 questions in our survey: 1) What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone just starting out, and 2) What do you wish you’d known when starting in a sales and marketing role in engineering?
45 Pieces of Advice for Sales & Marketing Professionals in the Engineering & Manufacturing Sector
The Core Of Sales & Marketing Is The Customer
At the heart of everything is the customer
The customer is at the heart of everything. It’s the problems the customer experiences that the engineers look to solve, it’s the revenue that is generated that meets the executives’ forecasts, and the owner of the customer? Sales and marketing.
Sales form one-to-one relationships with prospects and customers that close deals, keep them coming back, and identify opportunities for creating additional value. The key to those relationships is trust, built by being on the side of the customer.
Let me repeat that: the key to relationships with your clients is TRUST.
Joseph Whiteaker at Deeter Electronics hits the nail on the head when he says “Sales is about trust and building relationships. Always look for the best solution for your customer, even if it means not suggesting your own products.”
They’re not the only ones who believe in the power of trust. David Owen at Nomad Digital says “Building any relationship with a new customer needs trust, build trust by only selling what you and your company can actually supply and never over sell. It's easy to get caught up in the moment and promise things that later damage your relationship and you fail to deliver.”
And John Johnston from Chemigraphic Limited contributes... “Don't over-sell, customers don't want flash or complicated, they want a partner they can trust that delivers results. Keeping it simple is always a good thing!”
How do you begin to start building that trust with your customer? Tracey Dawson at Daletech Electronics believes in the fundamentals of rapport, “Earn the right to sell before you sell. Rapport is key and time is precious to everyone.”
Having rapport is to have an open and harmonious relationship, where ideas are understood and communication is easy. Basically, people getting along. It’s a point that wasn’t amiss from our responses.
This sentiment is backed up by Mike Gadd of YESSS Electrical - “Having spent days of my life on various sales courses, all of which told me how to sell, how to cold call, how to progress past call takers etc etc, I went into sales with such a rigid outlook of "this is how I MUST approach a customer.”
Mike added, “The one thing I wish I'd known, none of what I had been taught really matters. People buy from people and each conversation, meeting or presentation is a fluid and ever changing affair. Trying to rigidly adhere to a script or process that someone else has written makes you sound less genuine. Be you, find your own way of presenting the benefits and extracting the negatives of your clients current situation, then drive that home in a way you can call your own.”
Whiteaker and many others agreed...“People don't buy into elevator pitches or propositions, they buy into people.”
Dawson... “People buy from people and it's important that you try to help people.”
Jon Pritchard at GS Yuasa also adds... “It’s all about the people. It really is that simple.”
But according to Warren Venn at Luso Electronics, a key point to understand is that “trust is not always available.”
Customers have both negative and positive experiences when using suppliers which determines how they behave, what their processes look like, and even their commercial terms. You have to empathise with your customer and look to navigate your way through the walls of SOPs.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Want to close more deals with the customers that buy your most profitable products? By deploying a blend of diagnostic and ABM strategies our clients are doing just that.
Marketing to your customer base opens the door to sales relationships
So, if sales is about building those relationships, marketing is about turning your market’s head towards your product, your business and opening the door to have a relationship in the first place. This is done by speaking your customers language.
Gadd adds, “Know your own product(s) but know your competition better. You can bestow the benefits of any item upon a client but knowing one or two pain points they currently experience will move your sales conversation to the next level.”
One of the fundamentals of understanding and speaking your customers’ language is nicely summised by Danielle Sensier at TM Electronics... “Don't tell people what you think they need, ask them what they want.”
Ask them what they want. Sounds simple, and it is.
Once you’ve asked them what they want, you need to listen. Hear the words they’re saying within the context they’re saying them. Be sure not to twist what’s being said to what you want to hear.
Tom McCue at Kane International backs this up... “Always listen to your customers, understanding their needs will help you reach your goals.”
Understanding your customer is a common theme in our responses and certainly is a foundation point when trying to market to them. Ian Spiller from McMenon Engineering agress... “Understand your customer and understand where your product fits their need.”
But, we know that your customers, engineers themselves, are a species of their own, so as Gordon Gunn at Sylatech says, “Always remember that you are marketing to engineers and by their very nature they crave technical information. Ensure that all such information is relevant and readily available via your website.”
A statement backed up by Sensier: “Don't overlook the details - it's important to engineers!”.
Preparing Yourself For Sales & Marketing
Success in any engineering commercial role requires a certain mindset
Following closely behind the customer in driving success in sales and marketing within engineering and manufacturing organisations is you. Oneself.
Having the right mindset is core to maintaining the energy, motivation, and intelligence to succeed.
Venn has one core, simple message for those starting out… “Always be yourself...do not pretend.”
It’s not something we might think about, in not being ourselves, but maintaining who we are in the work we do links back to our earlier point around building relationships and trust. You can’t do that when pretending to be someone you’re not.
Pritchard gives an example of why it’s important to be yourself… “I was always aiming to be liked, but soon realised respect and the ability to lead with empathy is a far better trait to have.”
And being honest with yourself, about who you are and your capabilities, is a point raised by Ian Dormer CBE of Rosh Engineering: “Understand your own limitations and knowledge. Your customers will have lots of questions and will know when you are bluffing or fudging. So be honest with them and yourself, when you are unsure or do not know an answer. Then call in back-up and advice from the technical team at HQ.”
Honesty is foundational in any role within engineering, and something I think is par for the course in the industry. I don’t think the same advice would necessarily be given to design engineers, or production engineers, so why is it felt necessary by so many that it needs to be given to those in the commercial side?
We’ve already mentioned that there is huge pressure on sales and marketing teams within engineering and manufacturing firms. A missed opportunity, a deal that slips away, can have devastating consequences for an organisation that has low margins, large deal values, and long sales cycle times. So, maybe sales and marketing are known to stretch the boundaries of what problems they can solve and how quickly.
This pressure is recognised by Laurence Dowding at Measure My Energy. His advice to those entering the commercial side is to... “Be resilient. There will be some great days and some tough days.” Laurence adds “Just hang in and all will be ok”.
Which compliments the one thing that Dowding wishes he knew when he first started out… “Don’t be surprised when things take longer than anticipated.”
Having the right mental fortitude is a necessary element of working in sales and marketing, and that’s not contained to just hanging in there in the tough times. It’s about making smart decisions that deliver the best possible outcomes for your organisation.
Gunn nicely rounds on this point... “Never be afraid to walk away from a deal. There are always strong alternatives to be found if you are prepared to look long and hard enough.”
Moving on from mindset, a couple of responses give some cold hard pieces of advice that should definitely be taken into account.
McCue adds, “Never take your phone into a call, the most important customer is the one in front of you.”
Ian Spiller believes that “more detailed financial acumen” is necessary in any sales and marketing role than is expected. So, make sure you understand the financials of the areas you’re working in to support what you’re doing and the business as a whole.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Want to close more deals with the customers that buy your most profitable products? By deploying a blend of diagnostic and ABM strategies our clients are doing just that.
Know Your Product
You can only sell what you know
Every customer you have is unique. They may have similar problems and require similar solutions, but behind this technical front is a unique blend of buying preferences, specifications, locations, conversations. No customer is exactly the same as the next.
And in a technical industry, this requires a certain level of agility and flexibility in the commercial side of the business. From an individual conversation sales people need to adapt to the information they’re getting from the customer. From a macro-level, marketing need to segment propositions based on multi-level criteria.
This can only be done by fully understanding the product you have and the value it can deliver.
Darren Farrar at Airedale International tells us how to apply engineering methodology to a marketing process…”Marketing often isn't automatically given credibility in the engineering sector...it has to be earned. Earning credibility comes through getting involved in the products, understanding why things are done the way they are and asking questions. Engineers often revert to feature selling.”
Farrar adds, “Asking questions to understand the "why" is key to extracting value propositions for engineered products. Use the "five why" approach… asking "why?" five times may make you sound like a five year old...but it will get you to the route meaning / benefit behind any engineering feature!”
Tonya O’Donnell from The Smart Actuator Company backs this up adding a second dimension to understanding the capabilities of your product, “Know your product and build credibility within your brand.”
And so does Steven Melia-Chamberlain with Farmwood M&E Services, “Get to know your business, how it sets apart from everyone else, and why it will improve the lives of those buying it. In this sector you need to believe it will make that difference.”
But knowing your product can only get you so far.
The quality of your product is also as important as knowing your product inside and out. In fact, some would say more important. The old saying goes (anonymous source), ‘you can market the hell out of a bad product… but it’s still a piece of crap’.
David Owen was quick to point out how a quality offering impacts sales and marketing... “Always sell quality products, and look for the upsell opportunities.” David added, “Offering value add services and products strengthens your ongoing relationship”.
But, quality can be perceived in many ways. Steven adds… “Value isn't always monetary”.
Value is in the eye of the beholder, and we’re huge advocates of finding the right value form for your market and doubling down on this in your sales and marketing. Bain & Co identified 30 different forms of value that B2B organisation consider. Which one is your customer focusing on?
A Repeatable Method To Get Results
Sales doesn’t stop at the sales team, marketing doesn’t stop at the marketers
Knowing the customer, being honest, and having a quality product is all well and good, and could be enough to open and close those business transforming deals, but you certainly won’t do it as well as you can without honing your methodology.
For those who are operating in the marketing side of commercial, Darren Farrar says, “Having a good relationship with sales is key… and this has to be earned through adding value to their role. Many sales people are inherently selfish… they have a personal target that their number 1 priority is meeting.”
Farrar adds, “Working with them to understand how you can help them meet their target is key to acceptance. Once accepted, you will be fed information and invited to meetings that will be key to your marketing activity.”
Another marketing perspective is offered by Matthew Spendiff-Smith at Power Sonic Corporation… “Everyone's a critic. When it comes to marketing, everyone has an opinion and often a different one.”
Working and having good relationships with sales functions is a view backed up by Richard Briggs, “Maintaining good relationships with the inside sales team will ensure the best service and response to the clients.”
From our own experience, having relationships with those that aren’t in the coal face but support our outputs are very much vital in delivering a great service to our clients.
Briggs does believe that these relationships are reciprocal and has a message to the rest of the business, “Every department needs to support the sales team to minimise mistakes or avoid missed opportunities.”.
Too often departments in engineering and manufacturing work in silos, focused only on their own goals and the work that is in front of them. But being informed and open to what is happening in the commercial side can give multiple benefits that ultimately close more deals.
As stated at the beginning of this article, the pressure on sales to close the opportunities that support large workforces is huge. By pulling together and all being accountable for revenue delivering outcomes, we can make this pressure dissipate. Many hands make light work, after all.
Building on this concept of cross-organisation involvement is a theme that was commonly referenced by our recipients.
Gary Moore at UNTHA UK says, “Understanding the concept of TEAMWORK and to embrace and adapt the concept much more quickly.”
Ian Dormer CBE adds, “Working as a team produces much better results than just working on your own. Value the different skill sets available within an engineering business and work together to deliver the best solutions -- this will produce long term happy customers.”
One method of improving the capability for teamwork in the commercial side of the business is offered by Tonya O’Donnell, who wishes she knew... “That a good CRM would be a real bonus & worth the investment.”
You are in control of your success
Relying on the team is crucial, but there are individual actions you can take to make sure that your way of working is going to work towards delivering positive outcomes.
John Johnston adds, “Listen, then think, then propose a solution as close to a customers optimal requirements as possible - every customer is different, and needs vary, which means the solutions need to be adaptable.”
Ian Tindall from Cerulean has a fundamental point to make about how best you can operate.
“Look at what others do but don't be afraid to break the mold and do what you think is right for your company and products.”
This ties in with being yourself as mentioned earlier. You bring your own personality, skills, and instincts to the role, so there should be some flexibility to how you operate to leverage these elements as you see best.
Tindall adds, “If you can't find an answer, try re-framing the question. Usually someone has solved your problem, stealing others’ solutions is a valid strategy.”
There’s really no point in re-inventing the wheel every time.
Ian’s advice of re-framing is similar to a problem-solving strategy used by Charlie Munger, the business partner of Warren Buffett. Charlie is well known for his quote, “All I want to know is where I’m going to die, so I’ll never go there.” This plays on the concept of inverting; working backwards from the solution as a way to find out how to get there.
Pull in the same direction to get results
The final area of advice given by our responders is regarding the company. Again, this touches on previous points in this article that talk about working as a team across departments to get the results you want.
But, that’s not taking this concept to its fullest extent. As well as teamwork, the higher echelons of management need to be aligned too, and making sure that the organisation as a whole is pulling in the same direction.
Stephen McIntyre from Sales Impact Solutions says, “Make sure you have a clear business strategy. One that identifies your target market, your value proposition and what your business is trying to achieve.”
Gary Moore adds... “Establish objectives and set out a communications plan.”
Which is a baseline approach for both executive management and departmental management to achieve their goals. With regards to communications, this should relate to both internal and external communications, by being clear and transparent about what it is you’re doing to the rest of the organisation. This gets them onboard too, so when you ask for help they know why they should.
And finally, Matthew Spendiff-Smith adds, “Develop a brand position based on your unique capabilities and highlight them in marketing materials.”
This might sound like a method piece, and we deliberated about which category this would go in, but brand is an organisational output that requires consistency. Everyone in the organisation needs to be telling the same story for brand to really make an impact.
Deliver on your business objectives
What these responses show is that sales and marketing isn’t one-dimensional. To excel in sales and marketing within engineering and manufacturing firms, there are a myriad of skills and tactics you need to deploy to ensure you’re hitting the mark and delivering on your business objectives.
Remember, you’re not - and you shouldn’t be - alone. Sales success takes alignment and teamwork across the entire organisation. Make sure you have the support you need to succeed.