We recently published an article in Manufacturing Business Technology that started with the line, “Dumb sales reps are a waste of time and resources for manufacturers of high-value products.”
The point was not that your sales reps are dumb.
The point was that in the Age of the Buyer, where customers have access to potentially trillions of data points, manufacturers are looking for new ways to make sales people relevant again and to turn them into Trusted Advisors.
The HVAC and plumbing industry is clearly experiencing this phenomenon.
For example, in a post on ContractingBusiness.com: We Need Great HVAC Salespeople, Too! Mike Walker, VP of Sales at Lennox International, a global provider of climate control solutions for the heating, air conditioning and refrigeration markets, points out,
“Salespeople in the commercial HVAC industry serve a compound function: they must articulate complex technological information, yet fuse this with a knack for sales-oriented interpersonal skills. Many consider this discipline to require finesse and aptitude; but more importantly, this requires strategy.”
“Over the past 14 years, I’ve found the driving force behind successfully selling a complex product is accurately understanding and conveying everything it offers. This includes both the physical product and the seller and manufacturer provided services—the principles of an all-inclusive offering.”
And that is tall order!
Knowing everything about a product and all the different services that encompass an “all-inclusive offering” is impossible to commit to memory and convey on-demand during a customer meeting.
Multiplying that times the potential thousands of products many manufacturers’ reps sell and you begin to understand why 70% of B2B customers believe that they are better informed than the reps that call on them.
70% is a STUNNING statistic.
Over the past 5 months, I’ve been focused on the Plumbing and HVAC vertical for the team at FatStax and had the privilege of cold calling and talking with close to 50 VP of sales and Sales Ops leaders in your industry.
One thing, I’ve come to appreciate is assembling an HVAC or plumbing system is like putting together a Lego project. The completed project has lots of bits and pieces of varying sizes, shapes, finishes and orientations. No two projects are the same and often the quotes require parts/machines from a variety of manufacturers to accomplish the job.
Additionally, your sales reps often need to meet their prospects on job sites where Internet connectivity is unreliable.
Sure if you had PhD in HVAC components, you might be able to navigate the project and get products specified by the architect or facilities manager.
Instead of a PhD, many HVAC and Plumbing companies are seeking technology that can act like a second brain for their sales teams to level the playing field and deliver complete solutions at the point of contact.
Here are 3 ways the top manufacturers in the HVAC and Plumbing industry are testing a “second brain” in the field with some success.
1. Exchanging old paper catalogs and Excel Sheets for Digital Catalogs.
In the mobile/social/cloud world, walking into to a client meeting with a 100 page catalog will make the prospect question how current your products and pricing are.
Remember 70% of your customers think they are smarter than your reps!
Digital catalogs on the other hand can be updated instantly and present a huge bank of information on a single page anywhere, anytime.
Consider a tankless water heater.
On a single digital catalog page a sales rep can easily find and share the SKU number, pricing, bulk pricing, technical specs, rich imagery, installation manual, videos, animated walkthroughs of the product, an economic calculator to determine water and energy savings over prospect defined periods, and if synchronized to the central database, delivery options.
In addition, several forward thinking manufacturers are adding information on complimentary products to their digital catalogs to make their reps look even smarter and be able to suggest entire solutions.
Impossible with paper and excel sheets.
At the end of the day while a print catalog is just flat, boring file, a digital data catalog can be like a second brain and a technical specialist available 24/7 to the sales rep.
2. Cross reference competitors’ products in the field
A second advantage of digital catalogs is the unique data sets that can be mobilized.
One example is competitive products.
Most companies have some sort of spreadsheet type of data file with information on their top competitors’ products and how your products compare. While normally relegated excel files or csv files, companies are discovering unique ways to unlock these data sets and mobilize them to the field.
In addition, companies can mobilize competitive “battle cards ” with information on how your products stack up SKU by SKU.
New capabilities with mobile apps allow field reps to literally cross-reference their products against competitors’ products in real time while meeting with an architect or facilities manager.
Displacing competitors products using these types of digital tools can mean large, long-term value for both the rep and HVAC/Plumbing Manufacturers.
3. Amazon-like experience for sales reps
HVAC and plumbing products are highly, specific with potentially hundreds of options.
For example valves, dampers, and sensors can vary wildly depending on size or capacity available for each SKU. To make this more difficult, manufacturers often name products the same “name” and only change the SKU.
New mobile technology is defeating this madness by creating an Amazon-like experience for sales reps with sorting, filters, and tags; known as faceted search in the e-commerce world.
Filtration and sorting logic can be built directly into a digital sales aid to help a rep identify products that are typically sold together or even caution a rep when they recommend products that don’t go together (e.g., PVC fittings for a dominantly black pipe or galvanized pipe installation).
Faceted search-based mobile apps enable reps to reduce the number of errors they make when preparing quotes and project proposals, while concurrently giving the reps the ability to quickly and easily identify up-sell and cross-selling opportunities.
Manufacturers are beginning to join other business sectors (Pharma, IT, etc.) that have already embraced mobile and cloud-based tools to help their teams sell more effectively and truly become trusted advisors.
However, the complexity of the HVAC and Plumbing offerings are driving sales people to become almost AI-like with the capability to sort and filter through complex products and improve the buying experience.
3 possibilities we are exploring with our consulting clients in HVAC/Plumbing vertical are:
- Straight-forward mobilization of product databases into digital catalogs to remove print and outdated spreadsheets
- Complex mobilization of competitive product data sets for instant cross reference and displacing competitors
- Amazon-like experiences to sort, filter, and sell products that differ by size, shape, color, ratings, finish, etc with small variables that have a large impact on speed to quote.
If you’re interested in learning more, we specialize in the digitization of complex product data sets and have fairly extensive experience in the HVAC/Plumbing vertical. Our speciality is solving complex problems for sales teams and manufacturers’ reps in the building materials vertical and, we’re happy to listen.
Spending a few minutes with our team members is as easy as requesting a demo.
Or give us a call at 800-734-7750.