Thinking Through the Next Sale

Industrial manufacturers have the unique position of selling both to distributors and directly to end customers. The sales team must treat each of these relationships differently and be prepared to address the distinct needs, challenges, and goals of each of these customer groups.

The goal is always to provide the end customer with the best possible fit for their needs. A product that meets their goals (both immediate and long-term) and is gained with minimal effort on their part. To succeed, the sales team must look beyond the immediate request and rely on their experience and expertise to guide conversations and purchases in a way that builds trust and promotes true partnerships.

The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said. – Peter Drucker

Anticipating the Needs of End Customers

Anticipating the needs of customers prevents future callbacks and returns. It is going the extra mile to do more than supply what the customer asks for and understanding what the customer truly needs to meet their goals.

The first consideration is to recognize where the customer is in the cycle. Pressing too soon, even with the best of intentions, is a turn-off. Be mindful of the customer’s comfort level and only take the conversation further after addressing their immediate needs. This simple act displays empathy and allows you to gain more ground when trying to understand the full scope of their business requirements.

Discovering adjacent issues allows your sales team to utilize their experience and expertise to offer best-fit solutions. Solving adjacent issues on the first call increases customer satisfaction by decreasing effort and can positively affect the total revenue generated from each sale.

Exceed your customers’ expectations. If you do, they’ll come back over and over. Give them what they want – and a little more. –Sam Walton

Questions that identify adjacent issues:

  • What are the business’ goals? Goals are assigned to the business as a whole and then broken into separate, supporting goals for departments and individuals. Take the time to understand the goals of your contact’s department and his or her individual goals.
  • What does your contact need to do for their organization? Understanding your contact’s role in the organization allows you to plan your approach appropriately and prepare solutions that are of interest to your purchaser. For example, your contact may have direct responsibility for reducing on-hand inventory. In this case, you could suggest specific services and solutions that decrease inventory.
  • Are there other products lines that we can work on? Buyers may categorize vendors as only providing specific solutions or products and miss out on other areas of service. When your customer has a great experience, take the opportunity to look deeper into their business and understand where your product can have an impact.
  • What is their greatest business problem? This can be answered from the perspective of the company or from that of the individual. In either case, it provides an opportunity to understand the business better and offer potential solutions.
  • What does your best supplier do for you? Understanding how your customers view their best suppliers provides insight on their values. Perhaps there is a high worth placed on simplified terms or electronic shipping confirmations. Asking about their ideal vendors allows you to gain awareness of their broader business processes beyond simply buying the product.


Capture the results of these questions in a central location. For many businesses, this is their CRM. Creating a single source of truth allows everyone in the organization to understand quoted opportunities, identified pain points, and the unique circumstances of the customer and their business.

Remember that the role of the sales team is not just to “get the order.” The best sales team members find the right decision maker, understand their challenges and needs and create recognition so that when the time to buy comes, the choice is simple.

The essence of trust building is to emphasize the similarities between you and the customer. –Thomas J. Watson

Building a Relationship with Your Distributors

It is common for sales teams to look at distributor calls as easy wins. No fluff, no questions, just a simple part number order. This mindset prevents sales team members from asking probing questions to understand the genuine needs of the end customer.

In reality, the sales team must work to build trust with distributors. This trust allows manufacturers to interact directly with the distributor’s customers without fear of losing the sale. Be supportive of your distributor by suggesting conference calls with the end customer to understand the true need. Be prepared to position yourself as a “product specialist” during this call since many distributors prefer to keep their supply lines confidential.

The ultimate goal is to provide the best possible experience to the end customer, which starts with understanding their need. Allow your distributors to leverage your expertise to improve their relationships with their customers. This opens the door for both sides to drive more revenue and improve processes all while better serving the end customer.

Thinking through the next sale requires relationships that transcend the superficial. The sales team plays a vital role in positioning the company as a partner instead of a supplier. To support their efforts, ensure full information transparency and incorporate processes that meet your customers where they are, whether that is online, on the phone, or in person.

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