Small Business Sales: Manufacturing Results – Getting to Know Your Clients on a Whole New Level

By Matt Stefanski, KLH Industries, Inc.,

“Hello my name is ________, I’m calling from _________ in regards to __________, is ___________ available?”

Does the above statement look familiar to you? Me too. I make calls like this every day in effort to expand business, sometimes achieving less than desirable results. What did I do about it? I got to know my clients on a whole new level.

Ask your clients

As frustrating as it may be, there is only one way to achieve more desirable results: get to know your clients better. Many sales professionals, including myself, have a generic script that we follow while introducing ourselves and our companies to prospective clients. That script usually starts out with “who we are” and “what we do”, right? Having and using a script is fine just as long as it is tailored to your personality.

People like to buy from people they like working with. If you make it more pleasant for people to work with you, there is a greater chance that client will choose you the next time they need a project done. It is more than just being nice; it is about making their job easier. Be the one to take those extra steps that no one else is willing to take in order to make it worth their time to work with you.

You should not be afraid to ask your customers, “I have an idea of what you need, but what is it exactly that you want from your suppliers?” “Do you want your suppliers to communicate more with you?” “Do you want to work with suppliers that are local?” “Do you want to work with a supplier whom you can trust making the high quality parts that your company requires?” I have found that getting to know my client’s “wants” not “needs” is a more effective method of adding value rather than overwhelming them with too much information.

Add value

Manufacturing is very competitive right now and we, as small business manufacturing companies, have to find ways to separate ourselves from the pack. Ask yourself, “What makes my product more valuable than the competition’s?” When a company sends a Request for Quote, they already know what part they want. They now want to determine who can offer the best value for this request. This is where you must differentiate yourself. Can your company offer more value than others? Maybe you offer three shifts or more efficient equipment that can reduce lead-times.

Adding a new supplier can be a long process for some companies and this can sometimes be an added nuisance. I was told of an interesting analogy – Think about when you go into the doctor’s office, you’re not always greeted nicely and then you’re sometimes rushed through an exam and out the door you go. Are you willing to switch doctors every time that happens, probably not. Why? Most likely because it is a whole ordeal to find and select a new doctor. It can be similar to switching suppliers. As long as they receive a quality product on time, then some negative factors seem to not be so apparent.


“Your price was high.”  This is a general statement that we have all heard numerous times. The way you respond to this statement can be one way to separate yourself. I am a big fan of asking questions. “Compared to what?” Compared to another quote, compared to your internal cost, compared to an overseas company? All good questions to ask. Every procurement or purchasing manager has to speak to sales people; they just don’t all need to speak to you. That’s a strong statement but it is very true. If you offer the same capabilities as the other sales people calling them, your results will certainly suffer.

By asking more questions you can begin to understand similarities among your clients and start targeting those clients you prefer to work with and who prefer to work with you. Get to know their current wants, manufacturing requirements, services and products they offer, what industry they serve, the global location, budget, required certifications, etc.. Do not ask questions just to ask, think about why you’re asking. When you find information learn to use it to help better service that company.

Look for trends and commonalities

Unfortunately, rejection is a reality.  In order to earn more sales, you have to look at all the sales lost just as much, if not more, than the sales won. By categorizing sales lost you can begin to develop trends. Maybe you are losing sales because many recent parts you have been quoting require a specific machine, software or process that you currently do not offer. Maybe you are losing sales because your lead-time is too long or because you are not certified to a specific requirement.

On the other hand, what are similarities among your favorite or top clients? Analyze the commonalities of the top 20% of your clients. Are they all in the same industry or require similar processes on their parts? Maybe they are all located in a specific region or use you because you offer something that your competition does not.

Wrapping up

OK, so you were not able to provide this company with your services this time. Don’t give up. Make sure to follow up with your clients. There maybe more opportunities down the road that you will be a better fit for. Make sure that your clients know of your capabilities and what you are willing to do for them. If you do not have a capability brochure yet, create one and use it. Get involved with knowing their future wants and requirements. There may be some minimum adjustments that you can make that will allow you to become more capable to expand into more markets, work on larger projects and eventually find more of your “top” clients.


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