There is more than meets the eye when it comes to manufacturing sales.

What Does a Manufacturing Sales Rep Do?

Imagine someone who knows nothing about sales, coming up to you and asking what a manufacturing sales rep does on a daily basis – how would you answer?

The simple answer is they sell a product or service to a specific type of customer, but anyone in sales knows that selling something is much more complicated, so let’s reframe the question.

In your mind, create a job description for an open position on your sales team. What would that include?

Both scenarios require you to distill a complex role into a few bullet points, and neither does it justice. Worse than that, most of the time they focus only on what the reps are doing, not who they are actually serving. By changing the narrative, and how you frame the role, the answer to both questions is completely different.

Reps will still need to prospect, work their pipeline, and close business. But looking at it through the lens of an Other-Centered® approach will quickly reveal that there is much more than meets the eye.

5 Critical Functions of a Manufacturing Sales Rep

For now, let’s leave the cryptic lingo, and marketing jargon, at the door. You came here because you wanted to know what a manufacturing sales rep actually does. It is important to understand that our definitions are going to look different than any other sales training organization.

We aren’t going to give you an excerpt from Webster’s Dictionary and send you on your merry way. Instead, let’s talk about what makes reps successful in the manufacturing industry and how each function of their role is impacted by a customer-centric sales strategy.

Create Opportunities

Any trainer that is worth their salt will immediately tell you that the first function of a successful sales rep is to be able to find and create opportunities. In most organizations an opportunity simply refers to an opportunity to win business. For most reps it likely means a potential commission, on a more personal level.

Both may be correct, but we challenge you to look at opportunities differently. Each conversation, email, text message, or other form of communication is an opportunity to build a relationship.

The manufacturing industry has undergone a pretty substantial transformation coming out of COVID-19, but the relationship aspect between seller and buyer is still a focal point.

There tends to be few quick closes in the manufacturing industry, so it pays to invest in the relationship aspect. Doing so removes barriers, and will make the buying process much easier, ultimately resulting in deeper conversations and more consistent sales.

Uncover Needs

The next manufacturing sales responsibility is to uncover the needs and challenges of each potential customer. This is one of the most misunderstood, and ignored components of the role, and it directly impacts whether a rep struggles to meet their goals, or consistently builds relationships and closes business.

The biggest pitfall related to this component of a manufacturing sales role, is that reps assume that they know the customer’s pain points before the conversation even begins. In turn, this typically leads to solution-first selling that is likely to completely miss the mark.

Imagine yourself sitting in front of a prospect and behind them sits an enormous whiteboard. On the whiteboard are all of their needs, wants, and goals. The only caveat is that you have terrible eyesight.

In this scenario, you only have one option – to ask a ton of questions.

Sales is a service position and the only way to serve is to understand. The only way to gain a deeper level of understanding is to ask questions. Once a question has been asked the next step is easy…be quiet and listen. 

Lead the Conversation

Now that you understand the importance of silence, we can turn our attention to leading the conversation. Before you say “Wait a minute you just said… ,” there is a difference between talking to talk, and actually leading the customer to a solution that meets their needs.

By actively listening once a question has been asked, reps are better equipped to respond. This route allows the rep to utilize their knowledge of the product, the manufacturing industry, or a particular manufacturing process, and guide the prospect through the conversation.

It is important to note that leading doesn’t mean forcing a square peg into a round hole. Remember, every sales role is about serving the customer. In some cases, it may be that your product, or solution, is simply not the best option for the customer.

Acknowledging that the customer’s needs are more important than the desire to earn a commission will both build trust and establish the rep as a trusted advisor, instead of a salesperson.

That key differentiator is a critical factor that shouldn’t be overlooked. Because decision-makers don’t buy from salespeople – they buy from trusted advisors.

Close Business

We wouldn’t do the position justice if we didn’t address the elephant in the room. Almost every sales role in the manufacturing industry (or any other industry) is benchmarked by a monthly, quarterly, or annual quota. Quotas are goals, and goals shouldn’t be discounted.

The problem created by only looking at a quota is that value is solely placed on the revenue coming in the door, rather than the customer.

Most manufacturing sales leaders will tell you that their team is customer-first, but very few actually are. This shouldn’t be viewed as a slight against the industry, rather an acknowledgement that we as sales leaders can – and should – do a better job of encouraging sales reps to put aside their own needs for the good of the customer.

While the role may be focused on bringing in new business, if that is all that is about, it will be an uphill battle, and reps will burn out. As sales leaders, we directly lead the charge in this area.

Something as simple as asking a rep “How many customers will you serve this month,” instead of “How many deals will you close” can fundamentally alter the team’s trajectory.

Manufacturing Sales Training With ASLAN

Manufacturing sales roles have seen a shift over the past few years. Digital disruption, increased competition, and unreceptive buyers have all complicated the process. The only way to cut through the noise is to approach sales through an Other-Centered lens. Putting the customer at the front of every conversation, will open more doors, and make the buying process easy. 

Being an Other-Centered seller requires a different mindset. One that requires change, and we know that change can be difficult. Whether it is through our Other-Centered Selling workshop, or our Catalyst™ leadership training program, the ASLAN team is ready to help transform your sales team. Learn more about our different programs, as well as our approach, and see if ASLAN training makes sense for your team.

ASLAN teaches sellers an easier, better way to gain access & influence unreceptive customers, by eliminating the hard sell.

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