If Channels Get Choppy

Pending changes in the machine tool sales channels might be unsettling. Here are suggestions to cope during these transformational times.

Machine tool builders follow a variety of sales channels and business models to reach buyers and build relationships. Adjusting, realigning and restructuring these sales channels have followed a rather regular pattern in our industry. However, the latest round of changes, which is still unfolding and too early to report accurately, does appear broader in scope and impact than what is typical. Many buyers and sellers will be affected by this unusual choppiness. As these developments transpire, consider these suggestions and remarks:

Don’t get rattled. Apparent instability in the machine tool sales channels does not indicate uncertainty in the marketplace. This is still a good time to invest in manufacturing technology, and forecasts predict that machine tool sales will stay strong, if a bit slower than in the past few years. Although it is essential to have confidence in sellers of machine tools, confidence in your own goals and capabilities comes first. Trust your instincts.

Keep the big picture in mind. Right now, the trend toward data-driven manufacturing and the Industrial Internet is fundamentally reshaping the relationship between machine tool suppliers and end users. The digital connection between them is growing tighter and closer. All parties have much to gain by keeping one another in the data loop. The role of the sales agent (in whatever form it takes) in this emerging scenario will have to be seamless and transparent for this integration to arise. Don’t let skirmishes in the seller network become a distraction to joining this transformation.

Stay focused on technology. Never stop searching for your next machine. Think systems. Cutting tools, workholding devices, auxiliary equipment, automation, programming, shop infrastructure—all have to be considered when sizing up the next machine and evaluating suppliers.

Remember the “buyer’s basics.” Service, support, spare parts and total cost of ownership always deserve top attention when the buying cycle gets serious. Think like an investor, not a consumer. The consumer mentality pushes filling a current need with a commodity based on price. The investor mentality pursues lasting value and anticipates growth. Prepare for opportunity.  Be wary of price cutting that may hide corner cutting.

Respect relationships. There’s a chance that long-standing business relationships may be interrupted. Expect professional behavior, but understand that some parties may have feelings of betrayal, anger or consternation. Don’t give in to negativity (bad vibes from others) or negativism (bad vibes from inside). Work to maintain friendships even if business ties are under stress. Be ready and willing to build new relationships. Make the most of strong existing ones.

Builders with established sales networks will work hard to leverage this continuity to maximize benefits to their customers. Reinforcing flexibility and responsiveness will be a priority. Builders who are setting up new or different sales outlets know exactly what challenges lie ahead. They will use their new footing to maintain competitiveness.

Remember, it’s not about their share of the market. It’s about your share of the future.