As hopefully you saw last week, Materials Handling Editor Cliff Holste and I were at the semi-annual ProMat in Chicago for two days, reviewing key overall themes and some of the most interesting new products released at the show. A link to our written show review is here, which in turn contains links to our video reviews: ProMat 2009 Full Show Review.
Personally, I am not close to being an engineer. Holste is by education, but has very good sales and marketing experience and sense as well. I think we both agree that a high percentage of materials handling vendors would do themselves and their potential customers a big favor if they could get the marketing story right.
The materials handling industry is dominated by the engineers, and it shows. Part of that is Ok – a little less marketing baloney is good – but too often it is taken to an extreme in this industry.
I try to take the user’s perspective when I meet a vendor, and my questions generally are: (1) what do you have that’s new? (since many come to a show to see what new products are available; (2) what are the real benefits/advantages to using your products versus the alternatives?; and (3) What are the real economic benefits?
It’s amazing to me how difficult it often is for materials handling vendors to answer these three fundamental questions coherently and succinctly at a show like this.
First, this show only comes every two years. The off-year material handling show in Cleveland has a much smaller vendor presence. You would hope that in two years most vendors would have something new to talk about, but it’s amazing how many didn’t have anything “new” to share with us.
The bigger problem is on the benefits and ROI side. Sure, if you know you are looking for an Automated Guided Vehicle system, for example, I suppose the engineering specs are something that needs to be discussed early on. But even then, don’t you want to know what Vendor X thinks are the real advantages of its system versus its competition – the other vendors you will be looking at?
This is even more true when you aren’t necessarily in full search mode for a specific product – to get your interest, a vendor has to say or show you something that would be of enough interest to get you to take a look at a solution category that wasn’t already in your plans, and that is going to be based on the operational benefits/savings.
The bottom line for me is that there are more ideas and potential savings/benefits out there than many companies realize, and part of the reason for that is that the material handling industry is simply too focused on the engineering and the specs, and not enough on the benefits. They often assume we all understand the benefits and ROI from a particular product.
I’ll end on a positive note regarding one excellent discussion we had at the show, with Tim Meyer of Toyota Material Handling regarding its new AGV solution. Like any solution, Toyota’s product has pros and cons, and fits some scenarios better than others. Meyer addressed those issues head on, and I think that approach ultimately benefits both vendors and prospects better by getting rid of the BS and focusing on whether the vendor's solution is really the right one for your specific application.
I’d love your thoughts as to whether you would like materials handling vendors to speak in more business/benefits terms.