How to Enhance Your Manufacturing Company’s Sales Organization to Accelerate Revenue Growth

By Jim Perdue, Director, Client Strategy

If you’re like most manufacturing executives, the health and performance of your sales organization is always top of mind. Is your sales team driving enough revenue to meet your corporate goals? Is it sophisticated enough to protect and grow your firm’s market share? Are your sales team members using best-in-class practices, or are they “milk run” reps? You know your sales team plays a vital role in the health of your company. So, if you aren’t satisfied with the answers to those questions, it’s time to make some changes.

Manufacturers today are in a period of rapid growth in terms of the way many of their functional groups, like marketing and supply chain, operate. They are leveraging new tools and technologies, adjusting their manufacturing strategy to stretch themselves into more innovative models. Yet in many of those same companies, the sales teams are lagging behind, stuck operating in a legacy model that no longer serves them as well as it should.

Geographic sales models are tried and true for a reason. They still make sense. But they must be enhanced with persona-based profiles, solution selling, territory-specific prioritization and an outbound inside sales team.

The Legacy Sales Model: What’s Missing

The traditional geographic sales model has many inherent advantages. It’s both easy to manage and economical, for starters. In addition, it allows your sales team to forge strong, long-lasting relationships with the buyers in their region.

But this rigid approach can also unintentionally limit your sales team. For example, your most effective team members may not always be located in the most fertile or strategically important sales territories. That’s pretty easy to fix, right? Just move your all-star sales members to your most promising sales regions. But once they grow those markets into maturity, they won’t be able to achieve major growth if all they do is manage relationships in a reactionary manner.

Additionally, many geographic sales teams build out their core business on the strength of individual relationships rather than the brand they represent. This approach puts companies at risk, especially considering that sales is generally a high turnover job. When individual sales members leave, they may take a majority of their sales contacts and customer loyalty along with them. Customer relationship management (CRM) software ameliorates this problem to some extent, but it doesn’t solve it entirely.

Finally, geographic sales models mean that each salesperson must represent each product in a manufacturer’s portfolio. The broader the product portfolio, the less expertise each sales member can realistically bring to the full suite of products. Salespeople in this situation tend to focus their energy on their go-to products, which may or may not align with the broader corporate focus.

The majority of manufacturers are still operating their sales organizations in much the same way they were twenty years ago. Even the companies that are adopting the more progressive sales tools and technologies aren’t necessarily leveraging them to their fullest capabilities. This leaves the organization paying full price for a very expensive system that is only partially optimized. The system itself cannot generate sales. There must be frequent training and complete adoption by not only the sales member but also by their leadership.

Here’s the point: Manufacturers don’t need to fundamentally upend their traditional geographic sales model in order to improve their sales team’s performance. But they do need to advance with the times and identify the ways to compensate for the gaps in their existing approach.

Enhancing the Geographic Sales Model

If you want to empower your sales team to work more effectively and efficiently — and grow your business in the process — start by enhancing your existing geographic sales model. Even just a few tweaks can yield big changes. Here are a few basics to help jumpstart your thinking:

  • Utilize Persona-Based Profiles. For salespeople representing broad product portfolios, persona-based profiles are a game-changer. The profiles help your sales team drill down and understand more fully the different types of core customers to whom they are selling. For example, there is a big difference between selling to a chooser vs. a user (e.g. safety manager vs plant manager). Persona-based profiles help your sales team understand what matters most to each of their core personas and what problems they are most commonly trying to solve. This allows your reps to be more targeted in their communications and more effective in communicating the true value of your offerings.
  • Practice Solution Selling. Persona-based profiles and solution selling go hand in hand. That’s because solution selling is all about knowing your customers and the problems they are trying to solve. When sales teams operate this way, they recognize that they are selling solutions to on-the-job problems rather than selling a line of machines based on features and specs. Instead of being product-centric, they should be benefit-centric. Offer the solution. Be able to answer what job needs to be done and why it is important. To do this well, you must involve your product and marketing teams. Their insights are needed to provide your sales team with everything they need (from personas to product features) to deeply understand the benefits of what they are selling. Solution selling cuts to the heart of why your target customers are considering a purchase. Because of that, this tactic often decreases the time needed to close a sale.
  • Identify Territory-Specific Priorities. Product demand across geographic territories is never going to be even. So, it makes sense that sales incentives and targets should likewise vary from region to region. From the perspective of sales reps, blanket incentives and goals for select products are patently unfair. Those at a disadvantage quickly become disgruntled when they see that they don’t have the same opportunities as their colleagues. Limit your team from chasing dead ends. Instead, approach each territory with key demand data. This allows you to prioritize your team’s goals and incentives based on proven metrics that ladder back to your broader corporate objectives. This approach will keep your entire sales team energized and focused.
  • Invest in an Outbound Inside Sales Team. Finally, back up your sales team in the field with an inside sales team that can focus their energy on end-user engagement and product expertise rather than closing deals. The inside sales team should be assigned by their expertise rather than territories. This allows them to be utilized according to the greatest need at any given time. For example, they can engage in customer wellness by following up with existing customers after a sale. They can also help drum up demand in dormant customers that might be too low of a priority for an outside rep. An outbound inside sales team shouldn’t be confused with customer service or tech support. Those teams are too busy taking incoming calls to have a truly outbound orientation. Investing in an outbound inside sales team can do wonders to stimulate demand and qualify leads, freeing up your field reps to be more effective and efficient.

Your sales team is central to your manufacturing company’s success. Whatever you do, don’t allow them to languish in a legacy model that hamstrings their best efforts.

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