The sale of almost any valve has a technical aspect. Even the most basic commodity valve transaction, where a small on/off industrial valve for low-pressure water service is purchased off-the-shelf requires a working knowledge. For example, a low-pressure, manual industrial valve would require the seller to know about fluid flow, piping, metallurgy and other materials of construction.
Also, the technical complexity scale escalates quickly when talking about more complex valves. A seller needs a high level of know-how for understanding larger diameter high-temperature, high-pressure automated valves manufactured from high alloys for critical service applications in refineries and petrochemical plants; control valves in power plants; remote emergency shutdown valves on an interstate pipeline; or reliable hardened containment vent systems in Mark I and II boiling-water reactor nuclear plants (as mandated by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission after the Fukushima disaster in 2011), among many others.
Technical selling is solutions selling—finding the optimal solution. As the level of complexity rises, so does the value of that technical knowledge for both the buyer and the seller.
Furthermore, as end-users’ technical resources become strained or an engineering, procurement, construction (EPC) firm adds less-experienced technical staff, strong relationships with highly-technical suppliers become incredibly valuable.
Kenny Corbett, director of Valves & Valve Automation at John H. Carter Co., Baton Rouge, LA, notes that, “Downsizing of staff and early retirement of their ‘go-to, know-how people’ has created a void at the user level. Newer employees without the experience of these previous employees are reluctant to use newer technology because they are just too uncomfortable to make the decision.”
He adds that, “You simply can’t sell engineered products the same way you sell commodities and expect to be successful long term.” Instead, he says success at this type of selling depends on “intimate relationships with the customers to understand their needs and how your products and services satisfactorily meet or exceed those needs.”
A Strong Team
Also crucial to making a technical sale is teamwork. Such joint effort is needed inside the seller’s organization to fully comprehend the nuances of the end-user’s application. It is also needed between the buyer and seller so that requirements and offerings can be communicated and the optimal valve/actuator/controls package can be pinpointed.
Inside the seller’s organization, teamwork might involve inside sales, outside sales, applications engineers, design engineers and the marketing people, to name a few. All of these must have a solid grasp of the application and how their roles affect the valve/actuator/controls selection.
Meanwhile, the buyer—whether that buyer is an end-user or an EPC—has a responsibility to effectively and completely communicate all requirements, applicable standards and performance expectations to the appropriate personnel at the seller’s company, including changes during the selection process.
An oft-heard expression is that a good salesperson needs to possess the “gift of gab.” In a technical selling environment, however, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, the opposite might be more accurate because a good technical salesperson is one who asks many questions about the application and listens closely to the answers to gain a complete understanding of the application and the expectations. The more the technical salesperson can understand the end-user’s requirements, the better, more satisfied that end-user will be when the valve/actuator/controls package is installed.
On the other hand, poor or hasty selection upfront can yield poor, short-lived performance following installation. That, in turn, can negatively impact unit efficiency, reliability, safety, up-time and the end-user’s bottom line, which means a repeat sale is unlikely.
Getting Others Involved
An important aspect of a technical sale is that the salesperson has to know when to involve others on an internal team with the customer. Some of the best technical sales experiences are when a salesperson brings along a more technical or experienced person to answer detailed questions about the product, performance and application. One bid, in particular, comes to mind: large-diameter AWWA (American Water Works Association) butterfly valves for a major water transmission project in Texas were under consideration. Our engineering manager accompanied me to the final selection meeting with client decision makers. I simply made the introductions, and then listened as the EPC’s and end-user’s project engineers peppered that engineering manager with questions and concerns. Even though we were not the lowest-priced bidder, we were awarded the project, and the valves were successfully installed.
End-users and EPCs have come to rely on the expertise offered by reputable valve/actuator/controls suppliers. This is partly because judicious use of a strong solutions seller can extend resources, dramatically. Steven Bernard, executive director, Valves & Automation, MRC Global, says his company’s solutions approach built into their value proposition to end users and EPC’s has led to impressive successes in recent years.
“As a global distributor of valves and automation products, we see our role as a technical consultant to our global customer base,” he says.
The company uses in-house engineering and field resources to offer technical support for selecting and sizing valves, actuators and automation control accessories so it can meet specific applications in accordance with industry standards and practices.
“Our ability to support multiple options of specific products supports the global standardization practices many of our customers require,” he points out.