I’ve started noticing a pattern.

Manufacturers who sell complex, engineering-driven solutions often give away hours upon hours of their technical expertise upfront for free – just to win the job.

If this sounds familiar, here’s my question for you:

Does is absolutely have to be this way?

More often than not, I hear, “yes, it does in fact.” And here are some of the reasons why:

  • “The challenges our customers and prospects face are complicated. We can’t just hand them an off-the-shelf solution. So we need to do some legwork before we give them a proposal.”
  • “We need to demonstrate to the prospect that we’re capable.”
  • “It’s kind of just the way it works in our industry.”

OK, I get it.

And I get it because I’ve been there before. 

Not as the president of engineering-driven OEM or manufacturing organization, but as the co-owner of a strategy-driven marketing consultancy. 

We’re actually not so different.

In both of our scenarios, we investigate a prospect’s problem – which can often be very complex. Then we combine the findings from our investigation with our expertise and experience to bring an applied solution to the table.

The problem:

Arriving at that solution is often a time-intensive process with no guarantee of compensation.

So in this article (part one in a set of two), I’ll start by showing you how we used to fall into this same trap (and also explain how we escaped). Then I’ll do my best to convince you that there just might be a different way for your business.

And if I still have your attention, in part two, I’ll help you design what I call your “spectrum of value creation” — or a progression of future customer interactions and engagements that range from low- to high-commitment for both you and your prospect. 

In other words, I’ll show you some potential paths out of the giving-your-thinking-away-for-free trap.

Let’s get into part one.

How we used to give away our expertise

If you’d discovered our agency three or more years ago in your search for a marketing firm, things would have likely unfolded like this:

  • You’d have found us in a Google search for something like “marketing for manufacturers” and explored our website a bit (Learning Center, Who We Help and How page, case studies, etc). You might have subscribed to our newsletter. And on a return visit to our site, you’d have requested a free consultation.
  • You and I would have talked for 30-60 minutes, decided there could potentially be a fit and proceeded with booking a (free) two-hour Discovery Session. I’d have requested that you bring your CEO, VP of sales and few other key sales people to that session. At best, maybe one of them would have shown up with you (but left early to catch up on emails).
  • After the (free) Discovery Session, we’d have gone our separate ways for two weeks while my team conducted a boatload of (free) research and formulated our recommendations in a detailed and polished deck. Then, we’d have shared those with you over another (free) two-hour opportunity review meeting. Your president would have popped his head in by surprise for the last 20 minutes, derailing the session by asking for a concise summary of what’s been discussed to date.
  • After the meeting, your procurement manager would have sent me an email asking why our proposal was 20% higher in price than the canned one she received from a different “vendor” and asked for a discount.
  • At this point, my team would have been anywhere from 30-50 hours into this “relationship.” And even if the fit wasn’t right, it would have been tough to just walk away, being that invested already.
  • So we’d plug away trying to win the job by answering more questions through long, intricate emails to justify our price tag and explain our solution in more detail to those who never attended the consultations.
  • Based on our historical data, our odds of wining your business would have been about one in three. Not awful. But not great. And even if we did proceed together, a majority of your team would have viewed us as interchangeable vendor – just another company that does SEO and makes websites and runs advertising campaigns.

Excuse me for a moment while I wipe the cold sweat from those memories off my forehead. 😰

Does this sound at all familiar?

How often do you find your most skilled engineers and technical professionals sinking precious hours into analyzing (free) drawings for prospects, conducting (free) research on their behalf, designing (free) prototypes for them and so on — and with no guarantee of a dollar in return?

Listen, as some outside marketing guy, I can’t sit here and tell you definitively that you’re wrong for doing it. I know — it’s just part of winning the job.

But maybe, it doesn’t have to be.

Breaking off the first 5%

My idea here is simple.

Can you take the first 5% (or heck, even 1%) of your prospective customer’s budget, break it off from the total cost of the solution you would have likely proposed, brand it as the “The [YOUR COMPANY] Diagnostic” and sell is as the standalone first step in a new customer engagement?

For many of you, “The [YOUR COMPANY] Diagnostic” is probably pre-engineering work – a discovery consultation, paired with analysis of drawings and detailed, engineer-to-engineer calls with your prospect.

For others, this diagnostic might be an on-site, full-facility audit, followed by the delivery of a buttoned-up report that shares your recommendations for how to reduce costs on the production line and improve OEE.

Maybe it’s a defined, step-by-step prototype creation process to test a potential solution.

For us at Gorilla, it’s our Industrial Marketing Road Map – a paid strategy engagement consisting of a half-day Discovery Workshop, followed two weeks later by the delivery of a research-backed action plan. This project follows a very specific process, costs exactly $7,500 and requires no additional commitment. It’s step one – every time.

Our business has taken exponential leaps forward since we implemented this process in 2018. And we haven’t looked back. 

So what’s your version?

You’re the one who knows what due diligence needs to happen first with a new customer – before you can deliver your flagship product or service with confidence that it’ll solve their problem.

I’m just not convinced that you have to give that due diligence away for free.

In my 2019 article “7 ways to generate revenue on the path to the big sale,” I wrote:

“What we sometimes forget as expert practitioners in our respective fields is that the value of our high-margin, flagship solutions isn’t exclusively limited to our physical product or service in and of itself.”

So much of the value we create is wrapped up in the delivery of thinking and insights derived from the collective expertise and experience of our team. 

That thinking stems from everything we’ve learned by both succeeding and failing over the years. And from all the complex problems we’ve solved for tens or hundreds of other similar customers.

My argument is that you should be paid for the thinking that precedes the doing.

So if you’re on board with that line of reasoning, then in part two, we’re gonna unpack it.

Here’s what’s in store for part two:

  • I’ll introduce a concept that I call “the spectrum of value creation” – a progression of future customer interactions and engagements that range from low to high commitment for both you and your prospect.
  • I’ll show you how we’ve designed this range of engagements for our own business to provide context for what yours could look like.
  • And I’ll conclude by explaining how your buyer’s mindset will change for the better one you’ve begun positioning your products or services this way.

Click here to read part two.