Four Tips to Finding Your Success in Additive Manufacturing Sales
4 min. read
The 3D printing industry is expected to be worth $32 billion by 2023, with a compound annual growth rate of of almost 26 percent.
With that growth comes demand for talented people, in sometimes very niche roles.
A quick search online showcases "hot 3D printing jobs" on the rise. These often include roles in 3D design, machine service technicians, metallurgists, and legal (IP protection). There are also an increasing number of open roles in sales. And as the AM adoption rate continues to grow, the demand for sales professionals will grow, too. In fact, I predict it will grow significantly in the next couple of years, similar to the machine "sales boom" felt in the 2014-2015 time frame when many large organizations purchased their first printer.
Having spent several years selling industrial-grade metal Additive Manufacturing technology, I feel I have valuable advice for sales professionals either looking to get into similar sales roles, or even for those who are already in these roles and are looking to improve their performance.
Some of this advice may seem standard, applicable to most sales roles, however, I've explicitly chosen to only include a few key points as to not give a lesson in sales; rather a sharing of best practice stories for success in AM specifically.
1. Plan to do a lot of listening. If you do speak, speak to ask questions. And assume that you know nothing.
For the first 3 months after joining Arcam, I sat through roughly 12-15 meetings, perhaps one a week, and I am pretty sure I didn't say a single word. Instead, I sat and listened. I had to learn not only a new technology but a new industry as well, and it was understood that it would be in my best interest to listen and take notes from the seasoned experts I shadowed.
There are several benefits of listening more than talking. You gain information, you develop trust, you protect your reputation, and the most important (in my opinion), you learn to practice a 'sense & react' type of behavior rather than 'direct & control'. Listening is also the precursor to discovering new ideas that could potentially solve a customer problem.
It's humbling taking on new roles in new industries, and mastering the ability to openly and actively listen has been most influential for me. (It's also way less pressure..)
2. Intimately learn your customer and their product. This one is easy. You may come with years of sales experience and sales success but in this niche market, value is found in understanding more than just how to navigate through a sales funnel. Take the time to understand both how & why your customers will use your product or service, or in this case, your AM technology.
It helped that prior to joining Arcam & GE Additive, I used the technology at Honeywell (learn more here). Had I not had that direct user experience however, I could have put myself in my former shoes for a day, to better understand why I sought to use AM in the first place. Honeywell was using AM to not only build new products (re-designed for AM, light-weighted, novel materials, etc.), but also to produce sunset tooling (a completely different group from NPD), and in some cases, produce sunset or obsolete parts as well (also a different business unit).
Rather than just focusing on selling something, leave your agenda at home, and focus on what your customer needs today to be more successful tomorrow. Then see if you and your technology fit into that solution.
3. Find a mentor, and learn how to (like to) network. Be open to help from the experienced, for both information and access to their network. Also, if you can find a way to turn your new contacts into new friends, the whole process gets a lot easier.
Most of us have heard of the six degrees of separation: the idea that all living things and everything else in the world are six or fewer steps away from each other. And I believe with social media the six degrees can shrink. If you don't know someone inside an organization, I'd be willing to bet someone you know does.
With networking: it's not always easy, but it's always worth it. You never know who you will meet or where it will lead.
One of my earliest lessons in networking took place on a flight from Johannesburg to Dubai. I was working with Emirates at the time, and was chatting at the bar (A380 upper deck) with a group of businessmen. The topic: how Emirates planned to handle a maintenance issue with the Airbus A380 aircraft wings. We'd been prepped by our Public Relations team on how to respond to questions like this, but it's still always a bit daunting. I gave an acceptable response, to which they seemed content. Eventually, a gentleman from the group asked about my future plans at the end of my employment contract with Emirates. I shared with him my goal of staying in aviation of sorts, and a desire to work in a sales role, then our conversation moved on.
At top of descent, he approached me with his business card and said to keep in touch. It was then that I learned of his title: Vice President of Sales for Airbus, Middle East. Fast-forward one and a half years and I was an invited guest of Airbus to the 2013 Paris Air Show, compliments of the VP & his team. It would have been easier to keep to myself during the flight and avoid small-talk, but I'm so glad I didn't. (And of course, we're still friends today).
4. Embrace your fresh perspective, even when others don't. Many join new roles with preconceived notions. A fresh viewpoint is often a huge (overlooked) competitive advantage. Viewing “opportunities for AM” with fresh eyes allowed me the ability to see potential which may have otherwise been missed.
I gave a presentation in late 2016 on opportunities for AM in the Aerospace MRO market (Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul). I made it about half way through my presentation before I was ushered to move on; my audience didn't see or appreciate my 'avant-garde' vision. I remember calling and telling my husband that I felt the only thing missing was a Vaudeville hook to wrap around me and pull me off stage. Upsetting? Yes. But I was okay with it, and it wouldn't be the last time I brought up the topic, which eventually paid off. Several months later I found myself working with a group of analysts discussing just this, and since, I've seen and shared several success stories of AM making its way into the MRO arena (and you likely have, too: Moog & ST Aerospace, MRO-Network.com, RMIT, and one of several articles on activity at Etihad Airways Engineering).
It's especially beneficial to bring a fresh perspective when working with AM technology - in both sales and other areas. It's very similar to how I instruct design engineers to approach DfAM (Design for Additive Manufacturing). Rather than look at how you can re-design a part that has been manufactured with subtractive or traditional methods, erase the thinking board and start fresh. Given this new freedom, how would you design the part for form and function?
In regard to AM sales, if you turn over every rock and embrace those unconventional ideas, you may just find that next new big sales opportunity. I do believe there's plenty of untapped and exciting potential in this space. And don't worry about the Vaudeville hook.
In conclusion: the known and the less-known, obvious and less-obvious.
There are many well-known and obvious steps to finding success in a sales role: identify and set goals, recognize sales as a process, identify pain points, sell to the right people, embrace team selling, etc. And then there are also some lesser-known, or perhaps underutilized or under appreciated, as shared in this blog. I hope these four points are both interesting and useful for those looking to grow in an Additive Manufacturing sales role.
If I can provide any additional input or help make any connections for those working in this field, I'm happy to do so.
As always, I welcome any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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