The paper-based packaging industry is facing challenging times. High inflation and rising prices have consumers and businesses cutting back on spending. Recent years have seen a boom in the corrugated market as prominent e-commerce companies such as Amazon significantly increased their corrugated packaging use. At the end of 2022, retail sales were down in many categories, which, in turn, reduced the demand for corrugated. As the situation changes, corrugated companies must plan strategically to remain competitive. In this post, we share selling strategies that will help companies navigate these challenging times.

A large key account can be demanding and often get preferential treatment, and as a result, smaller accounts see longer lead times as their orders get pushed back to accommodate the increased demand. The supply chain disruptions made the situation worse. Over the past few years, these smaller accounts could often find relief from small independent corrugators that could meet the required lead times. However, as the economy continues to struggle, large retailers are pulling back, opening capacity for large integrated companies that have the advantage of lower unit pricing. This makes the market much more competitive for small independents.

To remain viable, corrugated manufacturers must continue to deliver value to their customers. This means understanding who your customers are and providing them with solutions that alleviate or mitigate their pains or challenges. The goal isn’t to close a sale. It is to develop a relationship with your customer in which you are seen as a solution provider and not the box maker. To do this we have provided some selling strategies that will help you begin to develop relationships.

Know Your Target Market

One of the first selling strategies is to know your target market. Before selling value, you must ensure your customers are a good fit. Start with your current customer accounts. Evaluate each individually and determine whether you would like more that are exactly like them. For the accounts you want more of, determine what makes them a good account—industries, spend, margin, type of purchase, location, etc. Do the same with your less desirable accounts.

In challenging times, it becomes difficult to turn work away, but accounts and personalities that don’t fit with your company can waste resources and be exhausting. Don’t be afraid to turn away business that doesn’t match your positioning. Saying no to those companies strengthens your position. It frees your sales and account management teams to concentrate on prospects and clients that will develop long-term relationships with you and continue to add to your profitability. Put your energy into finding and keeping customers that fit what your company does best. If in your area of expertise, consider pivoting more heavily toward more recession-resistant industries, such as food and pharmaceuticals.

How Will You Differentiate Yourself?

How do you close the sale in a crowded market? Differentiation. Before you can sell, you need to know what you are selling. The brown boxes, primary packaging, or retail displays are only part of it. All your competitors sell those same things. Most take great care to meet quality expectations and have hired talented people. So, with the typical products, quality, and people off the table, what is left?

There are several ways to differentiate yourself. You can do something different than anyone else or do something better than anyone else. A third option is to expand your services, offering more so it is harder for customers to leave. In a mature industry, any of these may involve technology, artificial intelligence, or automation.

Differentiation can be found in the whole experience of working with your company. Looking holistically at what you offer allows you to compound the value. What value-added services are you offering, or what should you start offering, such as vendor-managed inventory, fulfillment, or direct shipping?

To understand your differentiators, you must know your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Some say they don’t need to know what their competitors are doing; they only need to focus on what they are doing. You can’t create differentiation by ignoring what your competitors are doing. To be different means you are not the same as another, so you need to know the other you are comparing yourself with.

Asking your current customers why they choose you may provide insight into how you are different. Take that information and develop it into a compelling story of the value your company offers.

Value-driven Selling vs. Price-driven Selling

For most prospects and customers, price is a top priority. If you are in the position to offer low unit pricing, you will have an advantage in soliciting customers who are purchasing solely on price. Everyone else will need to focus on selling the value of their total solution. This is where having a differentiator becomes essential.

With pricing as a differentiator, the only thing that matters at the qualification stage is if they are willing to pay the price you are offering. With value selling, communication will be critical. The salesperson will have to ask probing questions to learn the pains the prospect is feeling.

This begins during the qualification stage of the sales process. The salesperson should ask open-ended questions that will give them insight into the prospect’s operations and find the root of their challenges. It will also help determine how to present the value. They should let the prospect talk as much as possible without being interrupted and not be afraid to allow for “dead air.” It is human nature to avoid what is perceived as awkward silence in a conversation, so the prospect may talk to prevent it and then fill that space with valuable information the salesperson can use to help the prospect see the value. Listening is critical. The salesperson should ask additional open-ended questions as necessary to probe deeper to help the prospect see the value your company brings.

Example questions include:

  • What brings you the greatest amount of frustration every day?
  • How does your current lead time on boxes impact your business?
  • How important is consistent delivery to you?
  • When you have a late shipment, whom does that impact? What is the cost in lost productivity and dollars?
  • How much time does your team spend scrambling to change production and smoothing things over with your customers when shipments are late? Or how many resources are going into keeping an inventory of boxes for every SKU so this doesn’t happen?

By keeping the prospect talking, you may be able to help them uncover a pain point they didn’t know was solvable. Understanding the prospect’s goals and pains allows the salesperson to focus the solution on achieving those goals and relieving their pains. The solution may also improve the prospect’s job satisfaction and team morale and bring other nonmeasurable value.

Stay the Course

Of all the selling strategies, this one can’t be emphasized enough. Targeting the right prospects, understanding your differentiators, uncovering prospects’ pains, matching the pains to your solutions, and demonstrating the value to your prospects will help prospects see the value your company offers. It is easy to lose momentum when all the news you hear is gloomy. But to keep a consistent flow of leads in your sales pipeline, remaining consistent with executing your sales process is imperative. Be consistent in calling, emailing, or texting prospects. They are also facing challenges, and with perseverance and communication, you may find you have a solution that can help them.

Need Help Implementing These Selling Strategies?

Athena has extensive experience working with paper-based packaging manufacturers that have complex sales cycles. Our proven approach to lead generation and sales coordination implements all of these sales strategies. We can help you understand your target market, uncover your differentiation, and using a combined inbound and outbound strategy, we introduce your value to targeted prospects. Through sales coordination, we manage the movement of leads through your sales pipeline.

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