Best sales practices: Manufacturers must enlighten customers, partners about custom products

Some manufacturers may be harming their own sales efforts—particularly their ability to sell through indirect channels—by not properly educating customers and partners about the many options for customizing products.


Some manufacturers may be harming their own sales efforts—particularly their ability to sell through indirect channels—by not properly educating customers and partners about the many options for customizing products. That is the conclusion of a recent research report from Cincom Systems , a software supplier that specializes in solutions for manufacturers of complex products.
The report, titled Best Practices: Mass Customization and Build-to-Order Manufacturing, indicates many manufacturers are aware of this knowledge-transfer problem. The report is based on a survey of senior engineering managers at 900 companies that make complex industrial, electrical, and transportation equipment and systems.
A majority (67 percent) of survey respondents cited a lack of knowledge about product options on the part of customers as the primary barrier to efforts at selling their products, which are typically highly customized..  
"The implication is that the knowledge required to sell customized products is not being effectively transferred to the field and customer," writes Jim Wilson, Cincom program director and author of the report. “This is not surprising given the lack of strategic investment in front-office processes and systems."
There also is an implication that manufacturers could benefit from solutions like those Cincom offers, one of which is a product configurator.
According to Mark Stevens, a principal with the Pittsford, N.Y.-based management consulting firm eLogic Group , pump and valve manufacturers may suffer from this inability to transfer product knowledge more than most.
"Because pumps and valves are largely engineered products, product configuration involves a multitude of options," Stevens says. "It is impossible for a sales channel partner to have the depth of understanding of a factory expert. Without an effective method for managing this engineering knowledge, you're making your business difficult to work with and opening it up to competitive threats."
Creating a product that best fits the customer's operating conditions and planned application involves various charts, graphs, and complex algorithms, Stevens adds. Product decisions can be based on such factors as initial cost, total ownership cost, power consumption, and pressure drop.
"Product data management, where you capture product knowledge in a structured format—coupled with sales configuration applications—can provide the means to allow channel partners to make informed, error-free decisions."

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