The XPO Hall at Xponential 2018 provided attendees a technological tour de force showcasing the staggering advancements in autonomous technologies over the past year. Every industry sector--platform manufacturers, software providers, and sensor vendors--contributed.
The floor was broken into three hubs: Growing The Industry, Innovation, and Solutions. But the common theme among vendors I spoke with was decidedly less upbeat: “More companies should be buying our stuff, but they’re not.”
Those that have been around the autonomous industry for a while know it’s neither a new nor novel lament. And that alone should serve as a wakeup call for companies that believe they have a great product, but are not seeing commercial success.
Simply put, some companies offering autonomous solutions are not aligning their efforts with their customers’ needs. The XPO Hall offered many examples of companies caught on the other side of the gap from their customers and don’t know how to bridge it. Let’s examine this from industry and end-user perspectives.
Industry: Look At Us!
At trade shows like Xponential, the industry is its own audience. That’s why we see vendors bringing the best of their technology. Competition among vendors drives the remarkable advances in autonomous technologies and most importantly attracts Series A ,B, and C funding. Companies are often funded based on the “wow factor” and living up to the “we do it better” mantra.
In this environment, it’s no surprise that the focus gravitates to the cutting edge. That’s not a bad thing—at least until the mindset becomes woven into sales plans that think the technology, and not the problems it solves or advantages it gives, will translate into market success.
A features-led pitch rarely leads to consistent sales. Here, in the context of cool AV technology, is why: most line-of-business owners don’t want to know the differences between LIDAR, photogrammetry, autonomy, or thermal. They could not care less about multirotor, wheeled, or tracked motion systems.
Their lists always leads off with one thing: What advantage does this technology provide to my business and business plan?
If your pitch focuses on technical specifications, no matter how advanced or industry-leading they may be, you’re most likely getting it wrong. Line-of-business owners leave this stuff to their engineers. But the line-of-business owner is also the decisionmaker, and usually the gatekeeper to getting anything in front of engineers.
So, how do you capture the decisionmaker’s attention? Start by bridging the gap.
Customers: Help Us.
Most business owners probably don’t understand much beyond the basics of what makes your product stand out. Here’s what they do understand: the challenges they face, and opportunities they have. Your sales plan needs to include some basics on technology, while emphasizing that your company is in it for the long haul, and weighing heavily on what your solution can do for the end user. Let’s take a deeper look at each.
Understanding technology. The reality here is that understanding of autonomous capabilities is basic at best across the board. Having worked with a variety of companies, from small Silicon Valley startups to Fortune 500s, I’m quite familiar with the early-adopter narrative: Employee X from Department 3 brought her drone to work and was showing off what it can do. We thought, “This could help Departments 3, 5, and maybe even 6 with some everyday tasks.” With that, the drone-acquisition process was underway.
The takeaway: Just because a potential customer wants a drone doesn’t mean that they understand what autonomy can and cannot do. Explain the basics to them. Then, make an explicit offer with turnkey solutions that address their specific needs. The idea of, in one drone manufacturer’s words, “infinite possibilities” sounds promising, unless you have no idea what any of those possibilities are. Your customer probably doesn’t, so make sure you explain them, and map them to the customer’s environment.
Convey your longevity (read: “We’re adequately funded”). A couple of observations from my experiences over the past year. An improving economy means the money is there for autonomous solutions in various sectors. Budget constraints are no longer the primary obstacle in the push to acquire new technology. Here’s the rub: when talking lifecycle costs, only about 30% of the spending comes on the initial acquisition, and savvy businesses know this. The rest goes into recurring maintenance and operations. That means your business plan needs to address this, including the idea that you could be competing against a service provider offering fixed-free pricing. Be prepared to answer your customer’s concerns on these backend costs and why a purchase could be better long-term investment than a service contract.
Solve their problems; make them money. Technology and your stability are important, but the most vital task is to frame your technology so it provides fundamental, clear answers to questions in a business plan. You’re not expected to do this in a vacuum. Astute line-of-business owners will share with you, likely under an NDA, their information requirements. They want to help you align your solution with their needs.
Once some specifics are in hand, the next step is to frame a business case around it, using your technology. These should tell your customer how they can use your product, and how much money it will save (or make) them.
But don’t stop there. Successful sales pitches will survey an enterprise for complementary uses of data, provide information on end-to-end operations costs, and start with simple solutions that scale up.
Don’t assume your customers know what your products can do.
Don’t bet on them knowing more than the basics of your technology.
But you can rest assured they know their pain points.
Guiding users and holding their hands through a enterprise-wide approach offers the best chance for you to close a sale. Make sure you build your sales plans accordingly