Situation: A company is rapidly ramping sales of standard products. However, the rep network that sells the company’s products has had more difficulty selling higher dollar / higher margin custom products. How do you sell both standard and custom products?
Advice from the CEOs:
Make the custom products look more like spec products with adaptability. Create a grid that allows the customer to easily spec the specific product that they need and quickly determine the price of the product. This price can be overestimated at first blush, or scaled depending on the number of units wanted. Consider using a laptop or PDA spreadsheet.
Consider the combination specialist / generalist approach that companies have used successfully for highly technical sales. Put a significantly higher commission on the higher price / margin custom product, and have your own “specialist” reps do joint calls with the distributor reps who have relationships with the customer. With the incentive of higher commissions, a percentage of the distributor reps will take the initiative to learn from your inside reps how to sell the custom product to boost their sales and commission income.
For your distributor reps, separate and optimize lead generation and deal closing from a compensation standpoint to encourage both.
Reps with consultative sales experience, for example selling intangibles such as insurance, may be the best candidates to sell your custom offering.
Offer quarterly training of your reps and distributors to encourage them to sell the custom products.
Consider telemarketing. Support your telemarketers with a well-prepared script to assist them in qualifying prospects and setting appointments for your own reps.
Situation: A company wants to improve the efficiency of its supply chain. The company produces a custom product, for which there are few qualified materials suppliers. From the CEO’s standpoint, this presents challenges, particularly when there are delays in materials and parts supply. How do you optimize your supply chain?
Advice from the CEOs:
In supplier negotiations, know your BATNA – Best Alternative To No Agreement. Put this in dollars and cents so that you know your negotiating limits.
A recessionary or slow growth environment is the perfect time to negotiate! This gives you the opportunity to work with an outstanding order on terms that either your supplier or customer needs. For example, if you are experiencing delays in shipments from your supplier, offer a purchase commitment of “x” terms for “y” years at “z” price in exchange for higher priority on their production schedule. You can work the same way with your customers.
If you supply a custom product, especially on a sole-source basis, tie yourself to the hip of the engineering organizations of both your supplier and your customer. This gives you leverage when either the purchasing department or a contract manufacturer intermediary tries to push you on price and terms.
Be a squeaky wheel on shipments or payments due – but not in an irritating way with too much pressure.
Europe Union RoHS and REACH regulations make it imperative that manufacturers and service companies be aware of hazardous substances in products that they design and manufacture. The list of hazardous substances being monitored and/or restricted is expected to grow to 3,000 in coming years.
Contracts serve two purposes: a legal tool, and a way to drive behavior. They are an opportunity to assure that both parties are on the same page and under the best circumstances serve as process documents.
Special thanks to Bijan Dastmalchi of Symphony Consulting for his contribution to this discussion.
Situation: A company faces a difficult situation. One of their customers placed a substantial order for custom product a year ago. They have taken delivery of some product but the bulk of the order is still in the company’s warehouse. The company negotiated a cancellation fee with the customer, but they haven’t paid. What is the best option for the company? How do you deal with a deadbeat customer?
Advice from the CEOs:
Because the customer is unresponsive, be ready to take legal action. Get an attorney. The initial process to prepare for a suit may cost $5,000-7,000. Therefore be prepared to sue for damages plus legal fees, with the threat that liens will be put on the customer’s business during the settlement process.
Once everything is ready for a suit, talk to the customer – the message is either they pay in full what they owe or you’re ready to file a suit which will cost them much more.
The Uniform Commercial Code may cover you for custom product. Check this out. This is important so that the company won’t be exposed to a countersuit for filing a frivolous suit.
A route which may be less expensive is to hire a lawyer on a contingency basis. Contingency lawyers may want up to 40% of the settlement or judgement to take a case, and the value of the case has to be large enough to attract their attention.
Situation: The Company sells customized products and pricing has been per product/per customer. A large client has proposed to purchase product rights across a number of products and uses. The technology is early in its expected 5-year life span. How should the Company set pricing to this customer?
Advice from the CEOs:
Start with a series of questions:
What is the value of your technology to the customer?
How much competition do you face?
What other solutions are available to the customer?
Based on this framework, ask contacts within the customer company open-ended questions that will reveal what is important to them including:
Planned use of the technology, and
Any protections that they seek.
You need to understand these before you can make decisions on pricing.
There are several pricing scenarios:
Set up a scale with a declining pricing driven by volume.
A large lump sum payment now, non-transferable if the customer is acquired by another company.
A large annual fee to cover a preset number of uses and volumes, with small increments for additional purchases.
The final arrangement will depend on the priorities of the customer.
Find out what the customer is willing to pay, but you set the terms.
Ask what guarantees they desire to protect their position. This includes:
The customer’s key risk factors.
Whether they want exclusive or usage rights. Exclusive is worth more.