What Manufacturers Need to Know About How Engineering Firms are Navigating the COVID-19 Environment When They Launch Products
If you are a manufacturer, what’s up with your sales representatives calling on engineers these days?
Accountability Information Management, Inc. (AIM) is a leading B2B marketing research company and wanted to find out.
There’s no doubt about the disruption COVID-19 caused – or more properly, the government’s reaction to the virus. The impact on sales of products is profound and, as our research shows, irreversible.
We wanted to know just how profound it was, so we conducted research to engineers, as well as architects, facility managers, and interior designers. There were over 142 responses to our surveys, and this report covers specifically what we found out from engineers.
The intent is to offer potential tactics to navigate business based on how the pandemic affects the return to “normal.”
Because the fact is, it will never be “normal” – whatever that was.
Chart one indicates engineers differ from other audiences in the survey: 60% of them said they plan on working part office/part remotely in six months – perhaps anticipating what has turned out to be the “norm” for many companies as they sort through ways of working.
However, note that 40% are either uncertain or “probably” going to continue working remotely. The confusion around how people work is reflected not just with engineers, but in the other professionals we studied.
Gensler, one of the leading architectural firms in the US., conducted a survey in September, 2020 because Gensler designs and builds a lot of offices and wanted to find out for themselves what’s going on. They discovered, “Only 12% of U.S. workers want to work from home full-time. Most want to return to the workplace, but with critical changes.”
What companies are finding out is that work – a lot of work – while it can be done remotely, still needs a certain sense of “social.”. All of this will change the way your sales force will interact with engineers now and in the future.
Here are more results our survey produced to contemplate.
Over 70% said COVID-19 changed the way they get product information from manufacturers!
Chart 2 shows this response and its significance for manufacturers as they figure out how to communicate their product information. A more detailed look at responses from engineers and architects showed 83% changed the way they get their new product information from manufacturers since COVID-19! That’s 13 percentage points higher than the average of all the professionals who responded to our survey.
And HOW did they get information and continue to get information?
Chart 3 shows you how! Just look at the dramatic swings in how in virtually all of these ways!
Engineers would be notorious for going to trade shows for gathering information for example…and now? With the collapse of the trade show industry (just Google how many have cancelled or are cancelling or turning “virtual”), engineers will tell us that they will still get their information – but it will be from the manufacturer websites!
In fact, in AIM investigations, we have shown repeatedly how engineers cruise manufacturer websites for specifications on an ongoing basis. In study after study, we have monitored the engineers’ usage of searching for specifications for a specific product from the manufacturer. This also includes the distribution channels of the manufacturers searching the manufacturer website (i.e., distributors constantly cruise websites for specifications and pricing). COVID-19 has only increased reliance of these audiences on the manufacturer’s website for current information. Thus, if your website isn’t current or easy to use, you could face losing to your competitors.
Information consumption and distribution has always been more pronounced on the Internet.
In B2B Never Sleeps, an article that documented what happened over one weekend on a B2B media outlet’s website, content was consumed not just by the media outlet’s target audience (building owners and developers). In fact, architects and engineers were consuming the content with equal gusto!
Engineers, furthermore, were very much used to having sales representatives visit them with new product information, to update their catalogs, etc. However, with the onset of COVID-19 and their not being in the office (Chart 1), what should the manufacturer’s sales force expect?
Chart 4 shows that it will be at least six months to a year before a rep will be in their offices! Indeed, 25% have no idea of when that will happen. How are your reps going to do their jobs? And what type of restrictions will there be when visits take place?
Chart 5 shows that everything from face masks, to social distancing to appointments and restricting group sizes are taking place. For example, in one meeting AIM attended during COVID-19, we purchased a thermometer to take our temperature as we walked in to make the client feel more comfortable!
In the meantime, what are your sales reps doing? How are they going to earn their commissions?
One of the key questions AIM asked professionals is: how likely are to use specific types of communication to learn about new products from manufacturers? Chart 6 shows you the results for engineers compared to all professionals. It gives you a clue on how to employ your sales reps for effectiveness:
Clearly, email with video demos is the way to go. What if your reps made videos of the product launch, upgrade, etc? Rather than make a general one to blast to everyone, customize the video (the technology is there!) and have the rep deploy it to his engineering customers.
This doesn’t discount the other communications tactics like CEUs. However, you can see that doing a video and emailing it to the engineer is more likely to get their attention – especially if your sales reps already had the contacts!
And what type of information would be in your video?
Chart 7 shows you what you would expect for engineers: technical information! Other important information would be to stress the product benefits and specific examples of how and where the product can be used.
AIM also asked: how much of an impact will the COVID pandemic have on the engineer’s future selection and specification of products for the facilities you are involved with? The overall weighted impact (five being extremely high impact) was 3.1. However, the engineer’s was only 2.4 – actually, the lowest of all the professional groups we measured. The top four verbatim comments about this impact were:
- Increased stress on cleanability
- Product availability
- Will use what is familiar
- More interest in touch free product
There are many more ideas that AIM can uncover from this research. For more detailed information on engineers or to see how other building professionals are finding new products and product details, give us a call or send us an email. AIM is a full-service marketing research company specializing in B2B research in the building construction market. Visit our website to take advantage of other research and reports.
 In Why Doesn’t a Sales Force Follow Up on Leads?, the author discussed primary reasons, which included being too busy, questioning the source of the lead, reliability of the lead, difficulty in penetrating the target – all of which flew out the window when COVID-19 showed up. Today, saying you can’t “hit” the target because he is not in the office is just another excuse like the others were excuses: working for the engagement with the target.
 Planning for the Future Workplace and a Distributed Workforce, September 10, 2020 by José Luis Sanchez-Concha and Francesca Poma, part of Gensler’s ongoing exploration of how design is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Increasingly, people are finding out that we are social animals! Duh.