Manufacturer’s Challenge: Selling the Technical Sizzle

Sometimes the customer asks “What?” when what they really want to know is “Why?”.  Not “what is the product” but rather “why should I use it” and “what would I like about it?”.

How do you address that dichotomy and answer what you assume to be the underlSizzleying question without seeming to avoid the stated issue?  And how do you structure your response so that it could be readily understood and accepted by the client?  There are a few simple investigation techniques that would help address this issue that has pre-dated and dogged technical selling since our ancestors knapped the first flint spearpoints.

How to address the question “What works best and could you explain to me why?”.  In the electronic assembly industry we deal with a host of materials, components, and processes, a lot of “whats” and each potentially has a lot of “whys”.  Explaining your proposition to the external end customer or the internal program director takes both facts and finesse.

On the assembler’s part, giving just the basic information might miss the salient issues that would give your client,  the person specifying or buying, cause to consider a superior alternative.  There are invariably cost and performance trade-offs  that, depending on the end application, might make a second or third-ranked product the perfect fit for the application.  But how to put this in front of the decision maker in a manner that matches with his or her personal and job objectives?

(A simple non-technical example of a company selling not the product but the product value is on-line at Barilla where in answering the question “What is your Pronto pasta?” they reply with “convenience, speed, taste, flexibility, etc.” and skip over the actual ingredients. There is much to be learned there.)

Your proposed package of benefits does not gain reality until the decision maker understands and accepts it from his or her personal perspective. The critical aspect of proposing a solution to a technical situation is that the exchange of information is a very personal interaction between two individuals.  One size does not fit all and a presentation that is perfectly suited to one person might fall flat to another.  How best to isolate your benefits and present them to the client in a manner to which he is most receptive?  How best to sell to his or her persona?

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Personality profiles will come into play and that leads us into the murky world of psycho-analysis.  (see the works of Wm. Marsten, Walter Clarke, and Jack Mohler’s DISC Assessment).  Most personality types appreciate and prefer mirrors of their own personalities.  Is it possible to know a personality type on the first meeting?  Are there clues that reflect in their faces and posture and vocabulary?  And how does one tailor a  presentation to them?

If you were to encounter a dominant take-charge sort of person (high-D) he or she would be likely to shun the mundane and take up a challenge.  Is your proposal structured to strike a chord with this person?  The status quo gives this person no level of comfort.  A me-too product or proposition will not elicit any excitement in such an individual so you have no major advantage over your competition.  It would come down to a price negotiation where the dominant types would be up for a fight. In these cases of high-D clients you should reflect back to them their attributes and wrap the cold hard product facts in a layer of change, excitement, adventure, and challenge.  Be well prepared and focus on the operational task.  And calculate the cost/benefits in real dollars.

An example: If you were asked to bid an assembly that includes a main and a daughter board you might spin that design into a bend-flex single board, saving time immediately on the SMT line and later when the board goes into a housing.  The innovative end customer would see you as someone who thinks outside the usual constraints.  That would strike a chord with the decision maker and move your proposition up the list and into a territory with less competition.

On the other hand the client might be someone who holds change in distain and would rather comply with the norm (high C).  After all, his or her products and procedures that are currently in place are working performing to the standards that were written around them.  Engineering has already developed a design so why change?  This individual would be more in tune with delving into the details of your proposition and would find comfort in the links between what you are proposing and what has been the standard.  Adherence to procedure and quality control would be the factors that would light up this person’s eyes. Show documentation and research as evidence to support your proposal.

In-charge shadowConsidering just these two personality types, how might you present the Barilla pasta example differently?  To the high D take-charge person you might demonstrate how he or she could get more done in less time.  How efficient the process is compared to the traditional.  How the products unique characteristics would allow the preparation of totally new dishes. On the other hand the high-C person would want to know that your product in the end yields the exact same dish that mama always used to make.  Fit the new pasta type into traditional recipes. Show that the end product is predictable, always perfectly al dente and is never over or under cooked.

There are other personality types that you might encounter but like all real-world human issues, people might have aspects of several different types.  Years of experience combined with an ability to perceive a person’s reaction to a proposition will help lead you to a presentation that works best for both buyer and seller.

So, has your company developed a new chemical technique to process printed circuit boards, or a machine to crimp connectors?  Or perhaps a laser soldering mechanism?  Maybe a new packaging machine?  Might a stamped bracket be better and lower in cost than a cast version? These are technical products with a host of good qualities and benefits, but to successfully launch them you will have to address a series of challenges on a personal level.  If you decide upon a presentation that rings true to you alone, you might be excluding a part or even most of the potential market.  You must be able to view your product from several perspectives or to assemble a team of dissimilar individuals who come up with perhaps not a single unified tactic but with a series of approaches with each one targeting different personality types. Learn your customers and your customers’ companies and then review your proposal from their perspective.

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Your goal here is not to sell your proposition regardless of what might be best in the application.  Rather your objective is to perform a balancing act,  the two-fold function of meeting the clients’ business objectives of making their companies more profitable and at the same time meeting their personal objectives that reflect in their personality types.  Investigate and become aware of both aspects, find which of your offerings best fit a client company’s technical needs and present it in a manner that is understandable and rings true from the client perspective.  This will in the short term serve the clients’ best interests and in the long term serve the interests of you the supplier.

(Written by R. S. Simon of USTEK Incorporated.  Published December 2015 in Circuit Assembly Magazine.)thomasnet image