Today’s CNC machine shops can approach sales as just another part of doing business, or they can do more to stand out.
For the most successful shops, the sales process is really seen as a “technical sales” process – a way to share technical know-how, add a unique value proposition to the business relationship, and become a true trusted partner as sales occur. A skilled team and a customer-friendly, technical process give customers a comfort level that things are being done right, and people with deep technical backgrounds are handling the most important aspects of the partnership.
It starts with sitting down and explaining to customers the advantages of a technically capable sales team. This above-and-beyond approach helps a shop stand out among quality competition while letting customers know that this is the right place to source parts.
What Makes for a Great Technical Sales Team?
Specifically within CNC machining, having a team that’s experienced at machining parts — they’ve actually done it with their own hands — is priceless. These are experts who have worked their way up through the ranks, starting as machinists.
That intimate know-how establishes a high baseline of quality manufacturing and engineering that can’t be taught. Instead of having to delay the conversation and ask an engineer, the team member can answer or provide feedback immediately.
Customers instantly notice (and appreciate) that they’re speaking the same language with a person who “gets it.” From reviewing parts to providing input, a customer receives complete and accurate information. Typical sales people can’t fake discussions to earn that level of trust.
Culture of Excellence
So, how is an entire sales team formed using experienced machinists?
It starts at the top. A machine shop’s leadership needs to make a conscious effort to promote from within; to grow in a deliberate way that embraces technical knowledge and celebrates quality.
Strong leaders create a culture of learning and development and also know how to put the right people in the right places. Every shop has its own version of career progression. However, most shops don’t have predetermined or regimented paths for joining technical sales. These teams are grown by machinists who are passionate and inspired to apply their manufacturing experience and know-how to customer sales.
A machinist just doesn’t transform into a technical salesperson overnight. Training can sharpen job-related sales skills, including learning about casting and project estimating. This training could include internal learning events and/or outside continuing education. Often, companies encourage employee development by reimbursing education expenses.
Casting Sets the Tone
Requests For Quotation (RFQs) can vary greatly, and the best shops need to be flexible.
For instance, one customer asks to quote a part using XYZ as the supplier for casting. If that machine shop is unfamiliar with that foundry, research and communication need to happen to ensure a smooth process and quality part.
Based on experience, the sales team may recommend to the customer an alternative to XYZ, which requires clear communication, especially if the piece price is higher. Sales will discuss the overall value and the long-term impact of using the supplier that’s the best fit for the part.
Some RFQs are more straightforward, requesting simple machining on a casted part. Of course, the best shops want to be Tier 1, offering insights and management to ensure a complete, reliable part. Whatever the part’s complexity, the deliverable is always a high-quality machined part with a goal of finding the lowest cost to meet customers’ needs.
Foundry partnerships impact every shop’s sales process, hopefully in a positive way. OEMs ask for foundries’ opinions on machine shops, and their previous experiences drive their recommendations. Without a doubt, every relationship is important.
The Power of the Process
A technical sales team approaches an RFQ in a slightly different way than a typical sales department. For one, a design for manufacturability (DFM) mindset is used throughout to pinpoint ways to smooth the process in production.
Then, the following technical sales process is followed; with many steps offering opportunities for improvement along the way.
1. Gather information: part drawings, models, quantities, material, estimated annual units, etc.
2. Review casting sources: initial part review helps determine the best foundry fit
3. Obtain quotes: could be casting only, or include other operations (paint, etc.)
4. Create estimate: what process is best for the part, which machines are best for that process, are there design changes to share with the customer, could a better part help machining and producibility … all so the part works with the customer’s fit, form, and function
NOTE: This is a great opportunity to review a new part’s design to possibly improve its casting, performance, or cost. Although existing designs are often quoted quicker due to familiarity, it’s always important to look closely at a part to see if any changes could make it better.
NOTE 2: Only elite machine shops invest in tech and design reviews at this stage of a project; most wait until after they’re awarded the project, with a P.O. in-hand.
5. Estimate the cycle time: runtimes always factor into deliverability
6. Send quote: include initial input and notes for the customer to consider
If selected …
The Project is Awarded … onto a Successful Launch!
Once chosen for the project, the machine shop conducts a design review. Advanced Product Quality Planning (APQP) is used to ensure everything is planned properly for a successful launch including timeline development, design changes, fixture designs, engineering and quality programs, and all documentation.
After the APQP process and engineering detailed designs are complete, manufacturing is validated. The prototyped part is machined according to the designed processes, checks are made to ensure it meets drawing specs, and it’s presented to the customer.
After successfully completing the Production Part Approval Process (PPAP), it’s off and running with production. While some machine shops step back and let production roll, others continuously look for improvements in the cycle time or tooling processes. Opportunities to improve should be top-of-mind and can’t afford to be missed.
Stecker Machine’s Insight is a Value-Add for Customers
Decades of success are an invaluable teacher. Experience, both as machinists and as “salespeople,” gives Stecker Machine’s team an edge when connecting with customers who appreciate forward-thinking and hearing about opportunities to improve.
This technical sales process may not be right for every machine shop, but it works when leadership is willing to invest time and energy into technical reviews that make parts and projects better. Constantly looking for cost-reduction opportunities (savings to the customer) isn’t always easy given today’s demands on timely delivery. Yet, it can set a machine shop apart and make processes better at the same time.
Understanding what customers want is key to a successful technical sales team. The Stecker Machine crew strives to be the voice of the customer internally, collaborating with all departments and expressing the customer’s needs as well as the functionality and goal of the part being quoted.
That’s the level of sales service that any modern company needs to deliver in order to excel. As a 3-time Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year, Stecker not only relies on highly accurate machining, assembly, and testing, the technical sales team also provides an exceptional customer experience.
Want to get an up-close look at how we solved a unique quality control problem for a Fortune 500 OEM manufacturer? This case study explores part design and manufacturability, the casting supplier selection, and a tight deadline.