There is something in the air these days about PLM. The awareness about PLM is growing and more companies are thinking that PLM might be a solution to solve the problem. These are good news for PLM vendors, consulting and service organizations.
However, the PLM sales scene is very complex. It is dominated by a very small number of vendors and flooded by technological and marketing buzzwords – digital twin, digital thread, digital transformation, etc. One of the hardest things in PLM sales is differentiation. How to convince the customer that your brand, technology, service or skills is the right choice?
So, imagine, you’ve got a golden opportunity to sell PLM project to a company that working on their PLM strategy and vendor selection. A typical temptation of PLM sales is to go with 50 slides deck presenting crème de la crème of PLM technologies, offering, services, etc. You would like to show that the vendor you represent is fully compliant, the most technologically advanced, very flexible and can deliver the fastest possible ROI for PLM project a prospect is looking for.
As much as temptation is high, from my experience, this strategy will not give you what are you looking for. Because… one of the biggest problems with this plan is that your approach to the client will be no different from your competitors. Unfortunately, this is how most of PLM projects are sold today. Here are some ideas about how to turn the tables and create a preference that will help a customer to decide to work with you (and not with somebody else).
Here is why things can go wrong for you…
The reason why manufacturing company is looking for PLM is that they became unhappy with a current status of product development, manufacturing, maintenance, support… They have some needs. These needs are usually deep in the organization and they came with the idea that absence of PLM strategy, vendor, solution (or existing “bad” PLM) is the main reason why new PLM technology, product, the strategy is needed. It is typically represented by a number of people and organization and it is very hard to find a consensus. Usually, a consensus doesn’t exist. But, here is the worst part – it is very hard to guess (almost impossible) about what is the current status of their internal discussion.
So, when you get a chance to present, your main goal is actually not to sell. Your main goal is to introduce yourself as a trusted advisor to the company. So, instead of selling, you start from the discovery conversation. You need to treat your prospect with a better process for getting what they need and not with PLM sales boilerplate. Customer is trying to decide what is good and you’re making sure they will get what they need.
Don’t go with your slide deck. You better start with carefully crafted questions. Ask customers about how they came to this meeting, what are factors of their decisions, share some serious options and doubts about possible solutions and introduce decision options. Put your questions in the way so the customer will want you as their partner in the decision-making process. These questions must be strategical and proving that you’re “consultative”, useful and can give them what they need the most – insurance that they will be choosing the right solution.
If you want to be a trusted PLM advisor, you need to get customer trust and make them open for your advice. The question you ask prove that you have product, strategy and situational knowledge to provide guidance. The questions you ask also move customer back to discovery where you have an excellent chance to reframe how a prospect is thinking about PLM decision.
Last, but not least. Try not to talk about the products you’re introducing and selling to a customer. Focus on asking what is the desired outcome, share problems, ask about their earlier experience and discoveries, talk about what was wrong and what are they trying to avoid. Instead of sharing anything about the product you sell, you can share trends in the industry and ask a prospect to share their thoughts about the way to elicit what they want.
What is my conclusion? To sell PLM you need to learn to be disruptive in the first convo without being actually disruptive. Manufacturing companies understood that PLM decision is usually a commitment for a long time. Therefore, to make a mistake is the worst thing that a prospect can do. The hidden cost of a mistake is huge. So, first, you need to win the trust of the customer. And only after you will be able to come with your sales agenda. Just my thoughts…
Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud-based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups, and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.