A leading manufacturer says: "I truly believe we make the very best products in our category. But no matter how excellent our machines are, they will not sell themselves. We have to be out there every day with our regional sales force. We must work closely with distribution and operators - nurturing old relationships, establishing new ones. We have to educate the market about why our products are the best."
I think this company president also meant: "We have to show by our steady physical presence that we stand behind our products and our customers. We have to give operators and distributors confidence that we are with them, today and for the long haul. We have to respond to their complaints whenever we can. In cases where their problems aren't our responsibility, at least we can listen and sympathize."
Or, as AAMA president Mike Rudowicz likes to say: "This is a business of technology , but it's also a business of people." Both of these men are right. Sales are not "deserved" simply by product excellence. Sales are the naturally occurring fruits of a long, careful process of growing and tending relationships. As the old saying goes, people like to do business with people they like.
Nobody has it easy in this industry. Even the leading makers of the hottest product categories have to contend with the "wait and see" mentality of so much of the market (distribution has this mentality at least as much as operators do). That's why successful sales and manufacturing strategy are inseparable today. As one company president recently said, you need to have one great product that is selling now, to support you while you go through that six-month "wait and see" period'and you must have another great product ready to introduce six months from now, when the previous item finally begins to penetrate the marketplace.
Another experienced manufacturer puts it a bit differently. He says a successful manufacturer today must be diversified. In most cases, a factory won't make a killing on a single category or a single product. But a manufacturer can generate a nice profit, he said, by sustaining steady, moderate sales every month across several product lines. "Every month we sell a few of these, a few of those, and a few of that," he explained. "By the end of the year, it adds up." The chief of the nation's biggest distribution chain says almost the same thing: "We do a little here, a little there, whatever it takes to keep the business going and growing."
This patient strategy of gradual, incremental gains is a lot like the approach advocated by every winning football coach since Knute Rockne. It's great to gain a lot of yards on a single play by throwing the long bomb. But it's even more crucial to have an offensive line that can reliably gain four yards at a time in "a cloud of dust and a bucket of blood." You just have to get down in the trenches and gut it out.
Too many members of this industry , at all three levels , have been "waiting for the next 'Pac-Man'" ever since the first "Pac-Man" appeared. This is the equivalent of trying to win a football game with a star quarterback and no linemen. Too many members of our industry have been trying to generate spectacular sales through product excellence alone, without paying sufficient attention to the human factor.Over the past year, this publication has printed a lot of stories about "investment." We've focused on operator investment into new equipment, and manufacturer investment into R&D. But the overlooked investment is time. Time to build relationships. Time to build a diversified product line. Time to educate the marketplace. Time to let the market move at its natural (admittedly slow) pace. For many coin-op professionals seeking a winning sales strategy, time just might be the missing ingredient.