The shift was almost overnight, and now manufacturing sales teams are preparing for a hybrid sales world.
During the pandemic, manufacturing organizations — like all other industries — were forced to shift from traditional sales models to virtual selling overnight. With in-person meetings, networking events, and conferences canceled, salespeople had to identify new ways to both identify buyers, while also sustaining relationships with their current customers. Relationships that once started on the manufacturing floor and cultivated over lunches or dinners were now at potential risk — how would salespeople continue to drive business forward when they could no longer meet with people in-person?
There was a time when manufacturing lagged behind other sectors when it came to using social media in the buying and selling process. But, luckily, even prior to the pandemic, that started to change as the industry experimented with digital transformation initiatives amid the business world’s shift to the cloud. Millions of manufacturing buyers conduct business on LinkedIn — more than 20 million manufacturing decision makers from over five million companies, to be precise. As a result, when face-to-face interactions came to a halt a year ago, many businesses turned to our Sales Navigator solution to help them shift to an all-virtual inside sales model.
A-SAFE, a global provider of polymer safety guardrails for manufacturers and industrial warehousing companies, followed their buyers to LinkedIn, recognizing it as a community where prospective buyers gather to share insights, ask questions and build their networks. By shifting their focus from outside sales to inside selling, A-SAFE’s virtual selling efforts paid off in allowing them to break into new North American markets largely using LinkedIn. Through three main foundations — putting the customer first, creating connections for the future, and building a great foundation with lists — A-SAFE was able to secure new sales contracts with several Fortune 100 companies and empower their teams to make the shift to or accelerate their adoption of virtual selling.
Others in the industry have had similar success. For example, the Baumer Group, one of the world’s leading manufacturers of sensors, encoders, measuring instruments and components for automated image-processing, was well on their way to digitizing their business before the pandemic, but the transformation became urgent last March. They had to abandon their traditional sales strategies virtually overnight, and without the possibility of meeting in-person, they relied on LinkedIn Sales Navigator to connect with their employees and partners, as well as reach and interact with new leads.
As a result, the team saw increased activity around searches, profile views, saved leads, saved accounts and InMail messages sent, with nearly 60,000 total connections and 11,000 saved leads via Sales Navigator. Virtual selling was not only more efficient for the business; it also provided the opportunity to connect with clients and prospects across the world.
While the pandemic forced virtual selling, the fact of the matter is that this format is not going away. According to a 2020 McKinsey report, three-quarters of buyers and sellers say they actually prefer digital interactions over face-to-face, and only about 20% of B2B buyers say they hope to return to in-person sales. This is telling of the direction in which we’re headed, and a wake-up call for sales people who have not yet fully embraced virtual selling.
What I hope is that manufacturing sellers will see the benefits that come along with bringing the sales process online. Virtual selling allows you to scale sales operations, while reinforcing the personalized touch it takes to stand out and succeed in today’s industrial buying environment. It’s certainly a shift that can take some getting used to, but by pairing your proven methods with modern sales technology, your company can arrive at a more natural way to connect with and support your clients.
About the Author
James Burnette is the Senior Director of Sales for LinkedIn Sales Solutions. In this role, he leads the North America Enterprise Sales team in empowering B2B sales organizations to leverage Sales Navigator and Sales Insights to strengthen customer relationships, acquire new opportunities and accelerate growth. Previously, James was also Senior Director of Sales for LinkedIn’s Learning Solutions platform and Director of Sales for LinkedIn’s Marketing Solutions unit.