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Stainless steel sales: From leads to leadership

Over the last decade, stainless steel companies have progressively moved away from a reactive sales strategy based on third party sales leads. The pandemic has accelerated a trend toward a proactive strategy with sales leadership, rather than sales leads.
By Robert McIlvaine, President & Founder, The McIlvaine Company

Push and pull

When interacting with a perspective client there are two sales approaches that can be pursued. The first is a ‘pull’ approach; this is a strategy that aims to get the customers to come to the product. The second is a ‘push’ approach, in which a company or firm attempts to take its products to the consumers. It can be argued that it is far better for a prospective client to want to know how your stainless steel or other corrosion resistance alloy (CRA) will solve his/her problem (pull), than having to ask a prospect for his/her time to listen to your product pitch and then see if he has any current needs (push). 

As third party sales leads are also supplied to multiple competitors, their intrinsic value diminishes. It is therefore equally daunting to follow a third party sales lead and find that the prospect has already tentatively selected a competitor's product. Furthermore, in the ever-changing digital environment, sales activity has accelerated to the point that by the time a sales lead can be pursued, it is most often already too late.

Collaboration strategies

Rather than using the third-party sales leads (push) approach, a collaboration sales strategy can be employed by the manufacturing companies. This strategy is based on information sharing at the local sales level, as well as on a national or global level. In the air, water, and energy flow and treat markets, every supplier fits one of the following categories shown in Table 1.

Many companies with sales representatives and distributors have already begun collaborating with each other. The problem is that the coordination of the leads is being done by the representatives, rather than by the companies.
In all sales activities, knowledge of the applications and processes within a customer’s operation is of the utmost importance. Processes can involve air, water, gases, or petroleum liquids. Process steps can involve pre filtration, cooling, separation, drying, and evaporation. Suppliers of complimentary products can strengthen the process knowledge of each other.

Sharing with suppliers is good but only to the extent the supplier is willing to jeopardize the relationship with his other customers. You may receive good information from the one supplier but other suppliers will not be pleased. Sharing sales activity with OEM customers is ideal, except to the extent it could harm relationships with other OEMs.

Complimentary products

Collaborating with the suppliers of complimentary stainless steel products has many advantages, which we will now explore. Stainless steels may be used in pumps, valves, and couplings. The material is likely to be incorporated throughout each of these systems.

As an example, if a stainless steel company interested in HPAL (high pressure acid leach) and autoclave operations in the mining industry, and the stainless steel company learns that a valve company is coordinating an autoclave users conference, they will have a real incentive to collaborate with that valve supplier. As a supplier of stainless steel or hose and couplings, the company will face challenges in this application, which are quite unique, as the pressures are high, which means the corrosion potential is high as well. Therefore, teaming up with a valve supplier who is deeply involved with this specific process and the operators is clearly warranted.

Final thoughts

Due to the ever-evolving integration and use of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), companies have the opportunity to not only share information on potential purchasers, but to collaborate on specific projects by approaching the client with solutions to their challenges. As a society that is progressively moving towards the new world of the Industrial Internet of Wisdom (IIoW), connecting in an organized way, with key suppliers of complimentary products will be paramount to leading a sale, rather than following a lead.


1. Stainless Steel: World Market published by the McIlvaine Company

About the author

Robert McIlvaine is the CEO of the McIlvaine Company, which publishes Industrial Valves: World Markets. He was a pollution control company executive prior to 1974 when he founded the present company. McIlvaine oversees a staff of 30 people in the U.S. and China.


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