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Susan Mucha

With travel frozen, rethink and repurpose those marketing dollars.

By making face-to-face sales calls impossible, Covid-19 is challenging electronics manufacturing services (EMS) salespeople to work in new ways. Sadly, that challenge isn’t likely to go away soon. On the bright side, it opens the door to a more productive, less costly sales and OEM relationship, provided salespeople modify their approach.

In the normal flow of EMS selling, there is typically a lead follow-up phase that results in a face-to-face sales call. There may be an additional meeting to present a quotation, depending on the distance between the salesperson and decision-maker. There is also usually a plant tour. When all these activities are local, costs drop to the amount of time the individuals spend on the activity. However, the cost of a sales call that involves business travel may be $1,000 to $2,000, depending on mode of travel and how many sales calls are clustered into that trip.

In the era of Covid-19, most companies are significantly limiting sales calls. The ability to reduce the cost of a sales call by visiting several companies at once is no longer doable. Salespeople who focused primarily on showing up hoping to get an appointment aren’t even allowed in the lobby. Many companies are also restricting employee travel, which means plant tours aren’t happening. An added challenge is employees who can work at home are encouraged to work at home, which makes prospects harder to get on the phone.

Therefore, salespeople need to work smarter to both open the door to opportunities and close the sale with a plant tour. Here are a few suggestions on how to creatively approach this challenge:

  • Evaluate the contacts in your prospect database. Covid-19 has changed the sourcing strategy playing field, and OEMs have different criteria now. Companies that weren’t interested in your EMS company six months ago may be now. Additionally, the prospects in that database have some level of preexisting relationship, which makes opening the door a little easier.
  • Remind the prospects in your database you are out there. The rules about mindshare maintenance haven’t changed. OEMs will focus on the EMS companies that stay in touch with them.
  • Tie your messaging to points of pain. What is likely to keep prospects up at night in a Covid-19 world? Closed factories, resource shortages that delay deliveries and challenges in transferring production are likely to be the top three. Build your message around your company’s ability to solve those challenges.
  • Create a Skype plant tour. While some OEMs may be happy with a marketing video alone, convincing them to take a plant tour via Skype will enable your team to build a relationship during that tour. However, having someone in the plant wander around with a smartphone is likely to be a disaster. So, create a repeatable format and use someone capable of providing strong visuals and talking the prospect through the tour. Do a dry run before doing it with a prospect to make sure the right person conducts the tour. Keep reasonable time limits, show the right areas of the factory, and point the phone in the right direction.
  • Listen to your prospects. Everyone is navigating Covid-19 challenges. What parts of their sourcing analysis process are they having difficulty doing right now? Can your team develop a “virtual” way to provide the answers they need? Every time you help a prospect solve a challenge, you build a stronger relationship.

These are the times that test salesmanship skills. Salespeople with a consistent approach that builds off a network of contacts will navigate Covid-19 challenges. If travel is not an option, consider repurposing part of that budget into lead-generating marketing activities. The entities that normally have trade shows have switched to webinars and other virtual networking venues, so there are opportunities to rethink marketing activities. Consider creating short podcasts or videos that involve conversations with your company’s technical resources on issues they’ve solved for customers for distribution via social media. In short, figure out creative ways to do the things virtually that you used to do face-to-face.

We are looking at a challenge that will likely change the way sales are done for the next year. Pivoting to virtual solutions earlier will open the door to more opportunities and position your company as a creative problem-solver.

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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