Not all industries are the same, and their tech stacks shouldn’t be either. There are many vertical industry software products for most departments of a company, such as accounting, logistics, and HR, but industry-specific sales tech is often ignored.
Maybe the 2006 idea that “Sales ability is fundamental, more so than the product being sold” influenced sales software vendors, who usually prefer to focus on industry-agnostic functionality. Today the reality is more complicated in industry sectors such as manufacturing and professional services, which require new and specific tools. This post will describe some of the essential software products used by sales professionals in manufacturing, distribution, and professional services.
Industry-specific sales technology
We will use the Sales Technology Blueprint to highlight software solutions that are the most useful for each industry. The industry-agnostic blueprint shown below describes how sales software is used by role, channel, and type of activity:
This post will focus on an overview of business-to-business (B2B) sales and the types of software used by companies to sell to other companies. It is essential to make the distinction between B2B and business-to-consumer (B2BC) sales because different software products are used to sell to consumers than to businesses, such as e-commerce platforms and point of sale (POS) software.
B2B sales has a few characteristics that differentiate it from other types of sales activities, such as:
- The high value of sales orders and contracts means that salespeople have fewer opportunities than with B2C sales. For example, a company that manufactures computers may sell its products online to millions of consumers individually, but it will be much more difficult to find corporate customers ready to buy hundreds or thousands of computers.
- B2B contracts are more challenging to create and manage because they include multiple terms and conditions, or service level agreements (SLAs). The rights and responsibilities of each party need to be clearly defined and the contract terms must comply with national and international laws and regulations.
- Business customers are more interested in efficiency and return on investment (ROI) of the products and services they acquire. Consumers may be more influenced by factors such as product design or brand reputation, while businesses want to know how the products and services they acquire can help them improve operations, cut costs, or increase revenues.
- Companies expect to build long-term relationships with other businesses, and human-to-human interactions are very important. In many cases, personal connections generate business opportunities. This may not be the best way to do business due to lack of objectivity, but it’s a reality that companies cannot ignore.
Manufacturing industry SalesTech
One of the most critical sales challenges manufacturers face is the ability to demonstrate the quality of their products. Since this is difficult to do in industries like heavy machinery, more and more manufacturers rely on technology like visual product customization software, including augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). It is also critical for manufacturers to be able to provide potential customers with detailed technical specifications for the products they sell. Finally, the ability to customize products based on the specific needs of the customer is becoming an essential competitive advantage in manufacturing as customers in that industry become more demanding.
The image below illustrates how manufacturers can use different types of software products for sales:
In this scenario, a manufacturer responds to a request for proposal (RFP) by providing a proposal for a fixed asset to a potential customer. During negotiations with the prospect, the manufacturer uses configure, price, and quote (CPQ) software to customize the product and generate its price. Visual product customization software can also be used to display how the product looks in 2D and 3D. For advanced negotiations, the manufacturer sends salespeople and engineers to the customer so they can better understand how the fixed asset will need to be integrated into the client’s operations. After all details are clarified, the manufacturer and customer sign a contract that defines terms and conditions, SLAs, and pricing information. Since pricing can vary significantly depending on how much the fixed asset is customized, the salesperson’s performance and compensation will depend on it.
Professional services industry SalesTech
In contrast to manufacturing companies that deal with tangible and concrete products, professional services are more abstract and conceptual. It is therefore complicated for professional services companies to clearly explain what they deliver and how, and to set realistic expectations and objectives. For instance, a marketing campaign managed by a consulting company may generate 1 million visitors on the customer’s website, or 50,000 new newsletter subscribers, or 10,000 leads. While these numbers are impressive, the customer ultimately wants to increase revenues and doesn't know which of these three options generates the most sales. This is why professional services providers need to engage with their prospects to understand their needs and provide the right mix of services.
The illustration below describes a series of interactions between a professional services provider and a prospect:
As previously mentioned, communication and engagement are essential to building a relationship with a potential customer. Professional services companies need to adapt to the ways that prospects communicate, which means using all kinds of tools, including video conferencing, email, or live chat. Since different people will communicate using different channels, a sales engagement software product is necessary to track all these interactions. The result of this engagement is usually a proposal that is created and sent to the customer for approval. A proposal includes a mix of services, and companies need software to manage their portfolios of products and to calculate contract prices. Finally, when contracts are agreed upon and signed by both parties, the professional services provider may need to find business partners to whom to outsource part of the work.
Distribution industry SalesTech
Wholesale and distribution companies provide services related to physical products such as transportation, storage, and inventory management. They also buy products from manufacturers and resell them to retailers or the public, which means that they are not involved in the design or production of the items they sell. For this reason, distributors need to comply with the branding requirements of the manufacturer.
Pricing is another crucial challenge for distributors. Because manufacturers prefer for distributors to sell their products at similar prices, their contracts typically define an allowed profit margin. This ensures that all consumers can buy a product at roughly the same price, no matter where and how they purchase it.
The illustration below describes the proposal process for distributors:
A distribution company uses RFP software to bid for multiple business opportunities, such as acquiring distribution contracts or becoming an authorized reseller for manufacturers. The company creates and manages proposals for each of these opportunities and consolidates the winning ones.
For example, a company specializing in auto spare parts wins contracts to distribute tires in Canada and Mexico. This means that it needs to estimate demand in each of these markets to fulfill its contracts as accurately as possible. Based on demand, the distributor can plan operations like transportation and inventory management to ensure that the tires are available and delivered on time. Often, distributors need to work with partners to provide services they don’t focus on, such as customs brokerage. When the distributor understands demand, creates a plan to fulfill it, and uses a network of partners to deliver products, it can determine service prices and deliver optimal contracts to the tire manufacturers.
How G2 can help
Generic sales software may be sufficient for small companies, but it can quickly become a problem for fast-growing companies. The good news is that there are many software products, tools, and add-ons that companies can use in addition to their generic sales software to address industry-specific needs. The bad news is that there are thousands of options that are more or less robust, but not always user-friendly or affordable. This makes it difficult for manufacturers, professional services companies, and distributors to find the right mix of software.
This is where G2 reviews can be beneficial, for the following reasons:
- The feedback comes directly from people working for similar companies and cannot be “embellished” by vendors
- Reviews can be filtered by industry or company size so that buyers can read only the most relevant feedback
- Thousands of reviews represent much more feedback than any research firm can possibly gather using surveys
- New reviews show how user satisfaction changes over time, meaning that the feedback is always up to date
Finally, software reviews can help companies discover new tools and technologies used by their peers. For example, in addition to traditional software such as CRM or sales management, manufacturers are starting to use more niche products such as online reputation management, sales intelligence, personalization engines, and sales coaching.
Visit our sales software category pages to read reviews of sales software products or to write a review.