Do you have manufacturing customers, but are not talking with them about how to digitize their shop-floor operations yet? Are you unsure on how to start a serious discussion about how you can help your customers transition to the digital age? 

Then this guide is for you. We’ll show you the basic steps to get your customers interested in digitization, and help you organize a 60min meeting with your clients’ relevant stakeholder to discuss what digital solutions you can build for them.

Before you start preparing how to address your client, take a step back and think about which of the customers from your customer base you should address. Our article, 3 steps how to identify customers you want to pitch digitization to helps you identify the relevant target customers. Once you have done so, it’s time to get started.

Step 1: leverage your customer knowledge to anticipate digitization drivers

Before you start the sales conversation, you need to understand what drives and motivates your customers. Digitization offers many opportunities, from reducing costs, to increasing production flexibility or unlocking new business models.

Leverage your knowledge of your client to understand why he might invest in digital solutions. Define clear hypotheses why digitization is relevant for your client. This will help you tailor the conversation towards his needs.

If you know that your customer is very operations-driven, cost-sensitive, and acts in a difficult competitive market, then you need to think about how digitization helps to increase efficiency, reduce cost, or improve quality. 

If you know that your customer has high margins, and a strong position in the market, your customer might be more interested in improving the flexibility of his operations and increase planning accuracy. 

Use your knowledge of your customers’ operations to think about possible pain-points he might have. Machine-driven operations might suffer from high unplanned downtimes through ineffective maintenance or long-setup times. Manual assembly steps might suffer from inadequate material supply.

If you know little about your client, use your knowledge of motivators and drivers of other customers you have that operate in the same industry. Alternatively, you can also check our article on easily identifying digitization projects within cellular manufacturing to get more inspiration.

Step 2: prepare use-case examples that fit your client

Once you have identified possible pain points and motivators, you can prepare exemplary solutions that might solve the problem.

You don’t have to prepare shiny slides or detailed use-case examples, you should rather have a list of possible use-cases in mind (or ideally on a piece of paper) that you can drop during the conversation. Short descriptions of the use-cases and what problem they solve can be enough. Here are some exemplary use-cases, mapped to the potential drivers: 

Increase efficiency
  • Machine connectivity for transparent up-time and performance
  • Digital maintenance solution to reduce unplanned down-times
  • Digital work instructions for shop-floor operators
  • Automatic notification in case of machine problems and order delays
Increase flexibility
  • Digital setup parameters to reduce setup times
  • Paperless production orders and work instructions
  • Automatic setup of assembly tools and utilities
  • Digital forklift assistance to coordinate material pick-ups and delivery
Increase quality
  • Digital quality protocols
  • Automated in-line quality control
  • Automated setup of quality machines
  • Automatic notifications in case of quality problems

The idea of the use-cases is not to sell it 1:1, but rather inspire, and deepen the discussion to understand your client’s problem. You will learn more about how to use these examples in step 4.

Step 3: outreach to your client and start a discussion

Now it’s time to outreach to your client. Depending on your customer relationship you may pick-up the phone and call your client, or address the topic in your next meeting with your customer at a suitable time. 

If you are a service provider that comes from the automation world or the business process domain (e.g. ERP), your clients might not really know that you are offering digital shop-floor solutions. It might be a good idea to start the conversation by letting them know that you expanded your service portfolio.

Don’t waste your time pitching digital shop-floor solutions for 10 min, but rather address the topic head-on, and try to make a discussion out of it. Here is an example of how you can introduce the topic: 

“We’ve recently started expanding our service portfolio and are now also specializing in digital shop-floor solutions. We want to help our clients improve the efficiency and flexibility of their operations. I know that you are always trying to find ways to improve your production and logistics processes, and thought that this topic is relevant for you. What are you already doing in terms of digitizing your operations?” 

During this first conversation, it’s important that most of the talking is done by your client, while you guide him in the right direction. The purpose of the first call is for you to get as much information as possible to effectively structure the following interactions. You don’t want to waste your clients’ time discussing topics that are not relevant to him.

Step 4: Ask open-ended questions and tease with examples

The most effective way to get your client to talk is with open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are broad and can be answered in detail. Avoid questions that can be answered with a “Yes” or “No”, as these will quickly end the conversation. Here are exemplary questions that can either be posed closed- or open-ended:

Closed-ended questions Open-ended questions
Do you think digitization is affecting your business? How do you see digitization affecting your business?
Is unplanned machine down-time an operational challenge for you? What are your top operational challenges at the moment?
Is resistance to change of your shop-floor workers a hurdle for digitization?  What are the biggest hurdles of introducing digital solutions?
Is the CEO driving digital transformation in your company? Who are the relevant stakeholders in your company that drive digital transformation?

 

If you have the feeling that your client feels uneasy talking about operational challenges, or he is satisfied with the solutions they have in-house, you may want to introduce some of the examples that you have prepared in step 2 to drive the discussion. Important: don’t pose it as a closed-end question, but rather ask how such a solution could help them. Here is an example

“One of our clients with similar production operations to yours is struggling with long setup times. We are currently discussing how a mobile assistance system can help the setup personnel to faster set up the machines. How do you think could such a system help you improve your operations?”

Through the series of questions you should understand:

  • Is digitization an important topic for your client?
  • Who are the relevant stakeholders to talk to in the organization?
  • What are potential areas where digitization adds a benefit? (this will only be high-level)

Once you have understood this, you should move to the next step and involve more of your customers’ relevant stakeholders.

Step 5: get a meeting by offering more insights and information

After having a basic understanding of where your customer stands in terms of digitization, you should try to get a meeting with the relevant stakeholders, and start a more in-depth discussion. Offer more insights and information on how other clients are profiting from digitization to get to the next meeting.

“From what you’ve told me, I’ve understood that digitization is generally interesting and that the production manager Mr. Meyer is responsible for driving this topic. I also understand that machine downtimes and quality are areas where you see improvement potential. I suggest that we schedule a 60min meeting with you and Mr. Meyer next week, where I can show you a few concrete use-cases on how to reduce downtimes and improve quality. We can then discuss what solution would benefit you. Does next week Tuesday, 3pm work for you?”

Congratulations, the first step is done. Now you have all the information you need to start preparing your pitch meeting, in which you demonstrate concrete use-cases and your offering.

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