Your customer is interested in a digitalization project? That’s great news! But don’t relax just yet. Because now is the time to shine, go the extra mile and bring this project home. So, what does it take to create a digitalization project offer that will blow your customer away?
We have put together a five-step guide that will walk you through the cornerstones of a successful project proposal.
1. Focus on the value, not the technology
It is so easy to just talk about tech. We get it, we love talking about it as well. But technology is rarely a goal in itself. So, unless you’re in the business of selling pet projects, put this temptation aside and focus on the value.
The first and most important step is to understand what value your solution can bring to the customer. It does not need to be directly expressed as monetary value, although unarguably, ROI is the single most efficient sales argument. But even if you cannot quantify the direct monetary value of your solution, identifying its operational and business impact will get you a long way.
Before we jump to how to identify this impact, let’s take a moment to think about the difference between operational and business value. Operational value is most easily described as the direct benefits that your solution will have on the shopfloor. Think about a swarm algorithm that makes intralogistics more efficient or digital worker instructions that help reduce machine setup times. This is what a line or plant manager would be very interested in.
Business value, on the other hand, can rather be described as an indirect function of your solution. It’s about the impact that the operational improvements have on the business. It’s the higher volume of products that can be produced per day or the reduced servicing costs due to higher product quality. The end results that a division manager or CEO would be interested in.
Often, these benefits seem obvious on a meta-level, but it’s important to really speak them out loud and make them tangible. For this, it is helpful to go through a set of questions. To identify operational benefits, try with the following:
- Which concrete pain points will your solution solve on the shopfloor?
- Which machines, humans, IT-systems are affected by your solution and in what way?
- What will the solution allow the workers or line managers to do, that they were not able to do before?
Once you have answers to these questions, think about the business implications of the operative improvements:
- In what way do the operational improvements help to increase the customer’s revenue?
- How do they help reduce costs?
- What effect does the operational improvement have on the relationship between your customer and his customers (e.g. faster delivery, better service level)?
- Which entirely new business possibilities present themselves through your solution?
Asking these questions, and potentially digging even deeper by asking “why” after your first answer, allows you to identify the real value that your solution can bring to your customer.
We have put together a few examples that will hopefully help you become more comfortable with identifying the underlying value of your solution proposal.
|Pain-point||Solution||Operational value||Business value|
|Missing material at production machine||
|High amount of unplanned down-times||
|Long setup times and volatile setup quality||
Once you have identified the real value that your customer will get from your solution, all you have to do is to clearly communicate it. Put it at the center of your project proposal and continuously remind your customer of the benefits that he receives if he buys your project.
Here’s an example:
2. Surprise the customer and go beyond the obvious
But what if the benefits are obvious, you might think. What if your customer came to you, asking for exactly what you offered to him? And maybe he even asked three others for the same thing.
Therefore, another important element of a successful project proposal is to surprise your customer. There are no doubts that your customer is the expert in manufacturing his specific product portfolio. But don’t forget: when it comes to digital factory solutions, it is you who has most experience. So rather than simply detailing the features that your customer asked for, try to create and propose a solution that will nail his real problem and provide more value than he imagined.
To do so, it is important that you look beyond the features and understand your customer’s real pain points. The goal is to identify those underlying reasons why he asks you to build a certain feature. Read more about how to ask probing questions and identify those challenges in our blog post 10 questions to identify your customer’s real pain points.
Once you understand the core of your customer’s problem, it becomes much easier to come up with a solution proposal that will tackle what really matters. When you then look at your customer’s request, you can ask yourself: how can this solution be expanded / adjusted / changed, so that your customer gets even more value out of it?
Surely, this step requires a bit of thinking. But you have worked for many different production sites and seen many different ways to solve a given problem. So put your customer’s real problem at the center and ask yourself:
- Are there similar situations you have solved in the past, that could help your customer?
- Is there a solution that you saw before, that would add a specific benefit in this particular situation?
- Is there some element (machine, worker, IT-system, …) in the customer’s factory that is adjacent to the solution and could be integrated to solve the problem more holistically?
- Or is there maybe a different way of solving the customer’s problem all along that would be more advantageous?
The answer to those questions will be the solution that you propose.
Here’s an example to illustrate this a bit more:
Factory X has asked our system integrator for a solution that creates transparency about machine data and process parameters of its fully automated production line. Now the system integrator, rather than just complying with the request, asked some more questions about the production process and current problems at the line.
He learned that what the factory is really trying to do, is avoid costly machine downtimes due to repairs of broken machine parts. So gathering machine and process parameter data was indeed a good solution to allow the factory to replace parts before they break down. But as transparency over potential parts issues is only one aspect of avoiding repair-related machine downtimes, the system integrator proposed to expand the solution.
In addition to gathering the data, an app would create push notifications to notify maintenance workers about parts that need preemptive replacement. This way, replacement could be done timely and at suitable times and overall machine downtime was further reduced.
3. Visualize your solution and use appealing graphics
Now that you know which solution you will propose, it is time to think about the graphical presentation. Our experience shows that it is easier to understand visual representations of a solution than reading long documents of plain text.
Example: Solution for line transparency on workpiece-level, graphic built with the Actyx PowerPoint use case graphics builder
To create graphical visualizations, it is essential to depict the elements that are crucial to the solution without overwhelming the viewer with too many details.
There are many ways to visualize factory software solutions. We like to work with individual factory elements that can be rearranged per drag and drop in a PowerPoint format. For access to our PowerPoint use case graphics builder, reach out to us.
4. Make your project proposal modular
So, you now know what you will offer to your customer, you know what value it brings to him and you have visualized your solution. But somehow you still don’t feel quite set. How exactly do you get all of this across? How do you make sure your customer understands all the different aspects of your offer?
Our suggestion is to make your proposal modular. Of course, you will need to provide an overview (that’s what the visualization we talked about in step 3 helps you with). But then, as you go deeper, presenting your solution as a set of modules will help you have a more focused and concrete discussion with your customer.
There is no single best way to divide a solution into individual modules, as the exact module types will depend on the concrete solution you have in mind (and hopefully on paper). But there are some best practices that are valid for most of them.
When you think about how to define your modules, it may be tempting to try and cut the solution by machine types or technical requirements. However, our experience shows that the easiest way to cut (and understand) modular digital factory solutions is by defining the “jobs-to-be-done”. (Listen to the HBR Ideacast with Clayton Christensen, father of the jobs-to-be-done concept to learn more.)
The concept of jobs-to-be-done can be used in many different ways, but for our purpose, think of it as the individual tasks that can be solved through your solution.
This is best explained with an example:
Think of a solution that connects production with intralogistics, allowing machines and workers to create transportation orders for missing materials or finished palettes. Taking all the different perspectives into consideration, there are three jobs to be done within this solution.
The first one is to trigger a material request and get material delivered to the machine. For this module, you need a worker tablet to select the required material and create a transportation order, a forklift driver tablet to receive the order and an integration to the ERP system for providing information about stocked materials to the forklift driver.
The second job to be done is for the finished palettes to be picked up from the machine. In this second module, you need an integration with the machine so that a transportation order can be triggered once a palette is full, and a forklift driver tablet to receive the request.
And finally the third module, aka job to be done, is the correct registration of material flow in the system. Here, a scanner for registering transported material or finished palettes and an integration with the ERP system are needed.
Once you have identified the modules of your solution, you are ready to go. But don’t forget to describe your solution and each module in more detail. And as always, focus on the value of the module, before diving into technological specifications. And here again, the jobs-to-be-done concept can help you do so.
5. Line out a vision
Now, the last (but therefore not unimportant) part of creating a successful solution proposal is to ignite a spark within your customer. And by that we mean to inspire him. To make him believe that with your help, he will not only get the solution that you are proposing for the project, but that he will be on the road towards a fully digitized factory of the future. His factory of the future.
“I’m not that guy” you might say now. But the goal is not to have your customer sign a 10-year project and detail out every single piece of that vision. The goal is to close your project proposal on a forward looking note.
Line out how, next steps after the project might look like. Maybe the solution can easily be scaled horizontally, so that after digitizing one line, you can quickly digitize all the lines in the factory. Or maybe your solution allows for an easy vertical integration and after digitizing the assembly process you can easily move on to integrating the intralogistics processes associated with it. The goal of this exercise is to help your customer identify what is possible and make him feel that you are the right partner for his digitalization plans.
And at the end of the day, you sell nothing more than your project. But having shown your customer a potential future, what he will buy when he signs that contract, is more than that. He buys a part of a vision and you gain or intensify your position as “trusted advisor” towards him.
Learn more about how to create a vision to show to your customer in our blog entry Three steps to sell a vision.