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Sue MuchaKeep talking – your customer is listening.

If I were to list deadly sins in sales, at the top would be failure to stay in touch with good prospects who are not yet ready to buy. The top deadly sin in program management is failure to stay abreast of what challenges are keeping customers up at night.

In both situations, the outcome is a sale goes to the company keeping a better tab on what that prospect or customer needs. It drives home the need for what I call mindshare maintenance. Mindshare maintenance involves regular contact with prospects and customers to remind them you are out there. When it involves prospects in the sales pipeline, it can be a periodic phone call, a link to an article or white paper the prospect might consider relevant, or a free pass to a trade show in the prospect’s region. The goal is to find a way to share useful information and remind that prospect your company is available, if they are getting ready to outsource. The benefit of doing it at regular intervals is it eventually catches companies just as they enter the ready-to-buy stage.

At the program management level, the process is easier because it involves an existing customer. Existing customers are more open to requests by the program manager at their electronics manufacturing services (EMS) provider for a meeting or call. The challenges of day-to-day firefighting, however, often keep the program manager too time-challenged to think beyond immediate account issues. The quarterly review meeting (QBR) site visit model that used to help counter that issue is becoming less popular, so there aren’t periodic plant tours or an extended team visit to drive conversations related to expanded support. Meanwhile, teams within that customer are having conversations about future needs. If they’ve been using that EMS provider for a long time, they may not be aware of the EMS provider’s current capabilities. The improving economy has led to turnover in many company staffs, and new team members may simply be unfamiliar with the EMS provider’s capabilities.

Another situation I’ve often seen while conducting OEM customer satisfaction surveys is when an EMS provider is selected to solve a specific need, like building printed circuit board assemblies (PCBAs). The customer team internally categorizes that company as a PCBA supplier because that is all they audited during the selection process. As needs grow to engineering or box build, the customer makes assumptions those capabilities are beyond the current supplier. In those cases, the need either goes unaddressed, or they select a supplier they feel has the necessary capabilities.

How can an EMS program manager keep that from happening? First and foremost, schedule mindshare maintenance activities the same way meetings that involve an account issue are scheduled. The first request for a phone call or lunch that isn’t related to specific account issues may seem strange to that customer, but once a pattern of “let’s schedule a call or lunch to discuss how we can serve you better” is established, most customers see the value. This is particularly true if the result is a solution to a problem the customer didn’t think you could solve.

My favorite questions in this type of conversation are open-ended: What do you wish you could buy from your EMS provider that you can’t buy now? What issues are keeping your team up at night? Are there any projects on your production floor that aren’t a good fit, but are too difficult to figure out how to outsource? Is there something your other suppliers do well that you wish we did better?

If budget and time allows, consider scheduling a site visit in conjunction with this type of customer meeting. Meeting the full team at a customer provides the opportunity to discuss support needs with multiple people. Your primary contact may know your capabilities, but does their engineering team understand how you could help them with DfX or test engineering support? This type of visit may uncover undiscussed internal challenges related to legacy product redesign, test development, unusual higher-level assembly requirements or other needs.

If budget or time constraints limit that option, build a list of key personnel in engineering, supply-chain management, product management and senior management in each account. Then periodically send focused information to relevant personnel on those lists. For example, company newsletters can provide a good overview of new capabilities and success stories, particularly to senior management and supply chain management. White papers and case studies are often beneficial to relevant technical members who may have similar challenges. Informative material on widespread industry issues (i.e., RoHS III, quality certification revisions, materials constraints, tariff mitigation, etc.) and your company’s activities in those areas is also well-received.

The bottom line is simple: Stay conversant with your customers’ teams. The more you can establish yourself as a “go-to” resource for information and solutions, the more business growth opportunities you’ll learn about.

Susan Mucha is president of Powell-Mucha Consulting Inc. (powell-muchaconsulting.com), a consulting firm providing strategic planning, training and market positioning support to EMS companies, and author of Find It. Book It. Grow It. A Robust Process for Account Acquisition in Electronics Manufacturing Services; smucha@powell-muchaconsulting.com.

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