Helping a Manufacturer Align Sales & Marketing Around Customer Behaviors | By Paul Miklautsch
Driving the growth of existing products by understanding customer needs.
The client, a middle market manufacturer, was focused on growing in an adjacent market to diversify their customer base. Their typical customers were global corporations that required process instrumentation for safety and efficiency and relied on this customers product to deliver. In the new market, they were not only relatively unknown, they were also selling to a very different type of customer, municipal wastewater. They knew there were clear differences in how these new customers would buy their instruments, but it wasn’t clear what triggered a purchase or who influenced decision making on new instrumentation.
The Bold team developed two phases of the project. The first phase was focused on understanding the buying process and defining the path to purchase. The second phase was focused on understanding the steps to build loyalty with customers.
The client was well known for their instruments in their main industries, so understanding how an established manufacturer could build trust with customers in new markets was critical to the success of the project. Furthermore, the client used manufacturers representatives to sell their products so it was important to understand the end user, how each role worked together to win and then support customers to build long term loyalty.
The client’s marketing team was committed to listening to their customers, so they joined the Bold team on the research. This was their first time visiting wastewater plants and customers in the field so it was an important step towards building long term buy-in from their marketing team.
We planned a series of trips to talk with operators, instrument engineers, and plant managers to understand the current process of buying instruments. It was important to hear their buying journey which included clear steps to purchasing instrumentation as a municipal plant.
In addition, we learned about situations that may trigger searches for new instrumentation manufacturers. This included understanding their maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) needs, their plans to expand the existing plant, or their plans to build new plants in the community.
The client’s marketing team was able to meet their customers, but also receive a tour of the plant so they understood how each one operated and the different applications where their products could be used.
Engineering Firm Interviews
The plants were focused on operations and typically used third party engineering firms to specify new manufacturers and instruments. It was important to meet with these engineering firms to understand how they work with the plants’ teams to determine who influences instrumentation selection. Learning that plant management can influence these decisions as much as an engineering firm meant that our client needed to learn how to approach all decision makers throughout the process.
In understanding the needs of the engineers our client learned that meeting specifications and becoming an approved vendor on the firm’s Approved Vendors List (AVL) increased their likelihood of winning a project bid. Through these conversations it became clear how engineering firms work with plants and the role they play in deciding on new manufacturers and selecting instrumentation.
During our interviews at the plants and engineering firms, we had each person rank the importance of evaluating a new brand. This included ranking: Features, History, Price, Relationships, Reliability, and Quality.
With this new market being in the municipal space, it was thought that price would be the most important. However, it was ranked lower at engineering firms and plants. The most important factors were reliability and quality, which wasn’t different than the rankings from other industries they serve. The reason was that plants had a minimal team of operators which were already busy maintaining all the operations. The more reliable and quality instruments resulted in less staff and fewer maintenance issues.
Another key finding was that this industry is very relationship based. The importance of this finding was two fold. One, that word of mouth or conversations between municipalities was a primary source of education about new products. Two, that to build loyalty, the clients' seller must build relationships based on availability or responsiveness and product knowledge.
It became clear the steps that plants and engineering firms take together to make the right instrumentation selection. In fact, the only situation that plants purchased instrumentation was during MRO. When plants are expanding or new plant locations are being built, a third party construction company purchases instruments so it was important to understand where the RFQ and PO would be issued.
There were eight steps that were taken throughout the buying process. There became clear boundaries with steps our client needed to own versus the manufacturer representative. This helped clarify assumptions that the other person was responsible for steps and start to build alignment and accountability for actions.
A common theme in the interviews was that plants expected a trial run for new instruments that often lasted multiple seasons. This would provide the proof that it would hold up, be reliable throughout the year, and allow operators to have hands-on experience with the instrument.
Now that we understood the steps customers took to buy one instrument from a new manufacturer, it was time to define what caused loyalty and repeat purchases. The end of the confidence curve was purchasing the instrument, then it was time to install and configure the instrument, use the instrument, and maintain and validate the performance.
The two main factors to building loyalty were satisfaction with performance and ease of use. This learning goes back to understanding what’s important to plant operators and how the reliability and quality of instrumentation reduce the staff needed to troubleshoot or learn how to use new instruments.
In addition to learning what causes loyalty, there were two distinct personas of plant operators. The first persona type was identified as an amateur. These operators required more help from manufacturers and manufacturer representatives to install, use, and maintain the instruments. They needed basic training on how the instrument worked so they could use it.
The second persona type was identified as an expert. These operators were technology strong and were able to program instruments on their own. They didn’t require technical help but enjoyed more advanced education and training on instruments so they program it based upon their applications.
Start Something Bold delivered slide decks, a summary book, and an in-person presentation to the president and the marketing team. This presentation walked through a marketing framework to build tactics to leverage customer insights.
- Customer Journey Maps: A breakdown of steps taken by stakeholders throughout multiple situations.
- Confidence Curve: The eight steps that customers follow to selecting a new manufacturer and trial a new instrument.
- Frustration Index: The moments in the product usage where an alternative product might be sought out.
- Loyalty Loop: The steps beyond the confidence curve that customers follow to buy again from a manufacturer.
- Persona Definition: The two different persona types, how they are different, and steps to build trust and engagement.
The client had a greater understanding of the new industry, client base, and purchasing process. We provided clear marketing activities and steps to align with their sales channel to grow in a new market.
In 2018, we were awarded the American Marketing Association (AMA) Pinnacle Award for Sales Enablement for this project. Our focus has always been to provide value to our clients, but it was rewarding to be affirmed by an outside organization for our hard work.
By Paul Miklautsch - November 25, 2019