Flex Talk: A Glimpse into PCB Sales

Here is a little sneak peek into the daily life of a PCB salesperson.

Prospecting:

Somebody who is not in PCB sales might get a little laugh, but those of us in the trenches see this and and think, haha, is that me? Yes, it is! It is incredibly hard to get in touch with PCB buyers or designers and when someone answers the phone, we do a little happy dance. Then if they don’t say “no thanks,” we are sure they will one day be a customer. We just have to be patient.

When a customer calls:

I know…someone is reading this and thinking, “Really? The PCB salespeople I know like to take long lunches and spend their afternoons golfing. They don’t want to help me.” Old stereotypes are hard to overcome. But I have been in PCB industry a very long time and have had the privilege of getting to know many PCB salespeople that are very good at what they do. In my opinion that is often because they truly enjoy getting to know their customers and helping to solve problems.

As I was thinking about what I wanted to say about PCB sales in this column, I thought it would be both interesting and educational to ask both customers and manufacturers their thoughts on PCB sales. I was pleasantly surprised at the enthusiastic response I received. 

Question #1: 

In your opinion, what traits do good PCB salespeople have in common?

From PCB Users:

  • A better than average knowledge of PCB construction
  • The ability to offer suggestions and solutions when we struggle with a new design and technology need
  • Respond quickly when there is a request or issue
  • Provide follow-up to the details so I don’t have to worry about what is being completed
  • Know the line between persistence and annoyance.  PCBs aren’t the only thing on my plate
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Understands when I call with an issue and helps work with manufacturing or    engineering to resolve the issue so I can focus on other things
  • Takes the time to learn how we prefer to work and customizes responses to fit as best as possible
  • In-depth knowledge of the PCB market, new materials, supply issues, etc.,  and provides information on what might be important to us

To recap: Knowledgeable about PCBs and the industry, organized, strong communication skills and customer focused.

From PCB Manufacturers:

  • Persistence and tenacity to follow through and listen more than they talk
  • In-depth understanding of the customer, how they like to work and what additional business is available
  • Respond quickly and thoroughly
  • Consistently find new opportunities and new business
  • Great follow-up, know their customers, aggressive when they need to be and very    personable. Did I mention organized?

To recap: Knowledgeable about customers’ needs, organized, strong communication skills and brings in new business. These two lists are actually pretty similar

Question #2: 

What do you wish PCB salespeople did that they currently don’t do, or don’t do well?

From PCB Users:

  • Advocate for annual cost savings on    behalf of the customer. This would foster trust and repeat business.
  • Understand our systems and market pressures outside of ordering the PCB. There are a lot of different considerations and decisions made that may not be apparent to the PCB manufacturer but    are critical to us.
  • Proactivity. Offer suggestions for cost or lead-time reductions. We are not the experts in PCB design and would be interested in how we can improve.
  • Provide the very best price the first time, especially with larger programs. Don’t come back with reduced pricing after I give you feedback. That wastes time and resources for both of us.

To recap: Detailed knowledge of customer’s business and proactively advocate for your customer’s best interest.

From PCB Manufacturers:

  • Ask for the PO and know how to sell value, not just on price!
  • Stop relying on price to differentiate and win the order
  • Close more business in a timely manner
  • Identify customers that find value in the quality, customer services, and fast response that we offer rather than sell on price.

To recap: Differentiate the manufacturer’s offering so the comparable factor between offers is not price alone. Interestingly, this is like the message above also: Advocate for value of the manufacturer’s strengths with your customers.

Summarizing the feedback from both customers and manufacturers, the most successful PCB salespeople are organized, take a genuine interest in their customers’ needs and business challenges, have a better than average understanding of the PCB industry, fully understand the manufacturer’s strengths and capabilities and advocate for both to find the best solution. There is room for improvement by being more proactive in solving your customers’ challenges and in understanding the differentiating value of the manufacturer to sell on total value rather than price.

My closing thought is that it truly is difficult to reach a comprehensive level of understanding of both the customer’s needs and the needs of PCB manufacturing. The information that is easily obtained is often just skimming the surface of the full picture. Salespeople continuously search out opportunities to interact with their customers outside of the conference room. Those relaxed conversations often offer the best glimpses into what people really need from their salesperson. There is no roadmap to use; every customer has different needs. If you attend an IPC show, SMTA expo, IPC Designers Council meeting or even Geek-A-Palooza, there is no shortage of salespeople trying to increase their technical knowledge while getting to know others. I strongly encourage PCB users and PCB manufacturers to do the same. The more we all know about each other’s needs, the stronger the relationships will be for everyone.  

Tara Dunn is the president of Omni PCB. To contact Dunn, or read past columns, click here

Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the December 2016 issue of The PCB Magazine.

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2016

Flex Talk: A Glimpse into PCB Sales

12-28-2016

Summarizing the feedback from both customers and manufacturers, the most successful PCB salespeople are organized, take a genuine interest in their customers’ needs and business challenges, have a better than average understanding of the PCB industry, fully understand the manufacturer’s strengths and capabilities and advocate for both to find the best solution.

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2015

Flex Talk: Thoughts on the IPC Flexible Circuits–HDI Forum

11-19-2015

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08-20-2015

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07-09-2015

The transition to a rigid-flex design from the traditional approach of using cable assemblies to join two or more PCBs has obvious benefits—space, weight, packaging, reliability and increased currently carrying capabilities. Yet many times the perception that rigid-flex is a high-cost solution causes designers and engineers to hesitate.

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06-25-2015

Someone once told me that the potential applications for flexible circuits are really only limited by our imaginations. After pondering that a bit, I had to agree. In fact, one of the things I like best about what I do is that moment during a discussion when I can see the light bulb go off in a designer's head.

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