Can you win EMS business with airline peanuts?

Can you win EMS business with airline peanuts?

By Jerry Damron, DCSI Consultants

As executive recruiters in the global high technology industry for more than 25 years, we’ve made hundreds of placements.  Interestingly enough, about 40-50% of all the executives we place are in new business development or sales related careers.   When you’ve been in this space as long as we have you’re able to identify trends and build your own level of data driven and backed statistics.  The top two reasons why sales executives call us looking to change their careers are either their commissions were changed, or their current position involves too much travel for their lifestyles.  Commission plan changes are almost exclusively a change for the worse.  In most cases, there’s not much a sales professional can do for that except start looking elsewhere.  But what about travel?

Many global sales leaders believe the only way to win and close business is by boarding a plane and meeting face to face at every step of the cycle with a prospective customer.   I’ve heard of sales executives that attribute the lack of travel as the sole reason they didn’t win a piece of business; or inversely they claim that the more time spent on an airplane traveling to a client, the more business is won. Executive recruiting itself does involve a sales cycle, but in my business, and that of most of my peers, nearly all client and customer interaction is done virtually. However, I travel as often as possible to meet with people and I use my face-to-face experience with candidates and my site visits to customers as a key differentiator with our search firm.   After more than 25 years in a sales related business, primarily within the contract manufacturing industry, I can testify that there is no substitution for face-to-face interaction, but I believe there is a caveat.

It’s important to have face time with your potential customers, but only to a certain point.  If you’re in a career within the EMS industry then you know that this is an industry with inherently low profit margins and everyone is doing their best to maximize ROI and reduce costs.   The most precious commodity in the world is time.  Just as your personal and professional time is limited, so also is your customer’s time a precious commodity, and simply boarding an airplane and eating the peanuts on the way to endless customer visits isn’t always the best way to win business.  The EMS industry is at the heart of  the design and manufacture of current and future technology.  These technologies have developed into things like the iPhone with FaceTime, Whatsapp, Skype, GoToMeeting and the multitudes of other easily and mostly free, virtual meeting platforms.  Utilizing these platforms is not only a smart money saving option for face contact with other professionals, it’s a huge time saver that can easily deliver similar or sometimes, better results than physically being on-site.

Cycle time in winning business is relatively fixed depending upon the market segment you’re pursuing.  These cycles can be reduced by weeks or months simply by adapting a hybrid formula of virtual meetings with physical meetings.  One of the core selling points of being an electronics manufacturing services provider to potential customers is that you can design and manufacturer their products cheaper and faster than they can.  Considering that speed is a huge piece of either winning or losing EMS business, customers will absolutely appreciate the opportunity to condense non-critical face time meetings to a virtual format on the fly, versus waiting for multiple executives’ schedules to align.

In a business where time and money are the most critical elements in the service you’re selling, it’s more important than ever to ask yourself if simply increasing the quantity of face-to-face customer visits, and free peanuts, is going to actually increase your chances of closing a deal.  There are no substitutes for being physically present —  at the right times — in a sales cycle.  However, I firmly believe that proper utilization of virtual face-to-face meetings can actually lead to a higher degree of business wins than simply booking shrinking available time and money for physical meetings.