Charles R. Goulding and Preeti Sulibhavi consider the need for 3D printing companies to truly listen to their customers.
In May 2019 we wrote a basic premier article about Solution Selling for Fabbaloo, entitled, “Shifting 3D Printing Sales to Business Solutions Selling.” Experienced product sellers know that the optimal way to sell is to determine what the customer needs in order to improve their business rather than strictly emphasizing the features and functions of the product in the process of being sold.
Some current examples are as follows:
Carbon 3D Subscription Model
Carbon revolutionized the 3D printing market with a subscription model. Here the customer who wants flexibility and a way to access the latest printer technology and materials and can utilize Carbon’s 3-year subscription model. This is a tried and true model for fast changing product technology and was successfully used for many years by IBM to sell computers.
Open Source Materials
We are all familiar with the traditional razor blade model, in which the industry historically used ever-changing hardware to sell high-priced blade replacements. Harry’s Razors and Dollar Shave Club have proved that the consumer eventually sees through this model and in many cases just wants a reasonably priced shaver with easy access to consumables. The stated goal of the recent acquisition of Origin by Stratasys is to give the customer non-proprietary goods, meaning lower-priced consumables. Hence, meeting the needs of the 3D printer consumer rather than offering panoply of over-priced consumables.
Emerging from the Covid-19 environment, many prospective 3D printer purchasers (particularly hospitals, aerospace companies, and oil and gas production suppliers) need financing for capital expenditures. Large suppliers such as GE and Siemens already have pre-approved credit limits with many of these ideal industry customers. Many equipment sellers use the leasing entity Direct Leasing (the leasing subsidiary of Rabobank Group) to finance their purchases. Direct Leasing, GE and Siemens are particularly strong in the hospital and medical sectors, which happen to be some of 3D printing’s strongest markets. Making credit approvals simple and easy can drive a market. Rocket Mortgage is an example of this concept. Having financing already in place is a powerful sales tool since it enables the seller to say to a cash-constrained buyer, “we can immediately ship the equipment you need to improve your business.” That can help a business immensely.
Conversational commerce involves utilizing artificial intelligence (AI) to take the tribal knowledge of your best sales performers then systemizing their expertise with remote sales processes. Conversational commerce is particularly valuable with 3D printing where the customer base has specific questions requiring technical expertise. 3D printer sales have clearly been trending upward in recent years, a trend which has in many segments continued even during the 2020 pandemic.
Companies engaged in 3D printing activities and developments are eligible for Federal and some state tax incentives such as the Research and Development (R&D) tax credit.
The Research & Development Tax Credit
Whether it’s used for creating and testing prototypes or for final production, 3D printing is a great indicator that R&D Credit eligible activities are taking place. Companies implementing this technology at any point should consider taking advantage of R&D Tax Credits.
Enacted in 1981, the now permanent Federal Research and Development (R&D) Tax Credit allows a credit that typically ranges from 4%-7% of eligible spending for new and improved products and processes. Qualified research must meet the following four criteria:
- Must be technological in nature
- Must be a component of the taxpayer’s business
- Must represent R&D in the experimental sense and generally includes all such costs related to the development or improvement of a product or process
- Must eliminate uncertainty through a process of experimentation that considers one or more alternatives
Eligible costs include US employee wages, cost of supplies consumed in the R&D process, cost of pre-production testing, US contract research expenses, and certain costs associated with developing a patent.
On December 18, 2015, President Obama signed the PATH Act, making the R&D Tax Credit permanent. Since 2016, the R&D credit has been used to offset Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) for companies with revenue below $50MM and, startup businesses can obtain up to $250,000 per year in payroll tax cash rebates.
Business solution selling requires product sellers to listen to the customer rather than listening to themselves. It may sound simple, but it works.