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Well-run plant tours build strong customer relations.

A well-planned plant tour can be an effective tool for your sales staff to build strong customer bonds. But just walking someone through the plant without planning ahead can be more damaging than no tour at all.

When conducting a tour, you should keep in mind that a tour is more than just casually walking someone through your facility--it's a chance to showcase your company. A well-run tour will make a much greater impact than any sales pitch or literature and can represent a well-organized and conscientious company.

If the entire foundry floor is covered with sand, tour guides aren't enthusiastic and helpful, and workers are gathered around broken equipment, it'll send a serious message to your customers about the company's priorities and what kind of working relationship they might expect.

Remind Plant Officials

Recently, a salesman described a plant tour that nearly cost him a valued customer. He called the company's manufacturing manager three weeks in advance to arrange a tour. He told the manager that he was bringing in one of his best customers and asked that he arrange for a tour of the machining area, primarily the assembly and test area. The plant manufactures high-pressure gas regulators, and the machining and testing areas especially concerned the customer.

When the agent and his customer arrived at the appointed time, no one was prepared and the shop was a mess. Somewhere down the chain of command, the message of their tour was lost.

Some fancy footwork by the salesman and the company president somehow saved the relationship. This kind of situation should never happen. Sure, some plants can stand inspection at any time and others need a little tidying up before a tour. But when you know in advance that people are coming to visit your plant, take the time to set the stage for the tour.

Plan with Your Agent

When a sales agent brings a customer in for a plant tour, chances are that the customer has some very specific interests. Because a general tour may not be appropriate for each visitor, work closely with your agent to plan a tour to suit each customer's special needs and interests.

A manufacturer explained that he sends a short questionnaire to each agent and visiting guest. He asks both to identify their needs and interests. The questionnaire also asks customers to list specific questions they would like to have answered during the tour and to identify the major applications they might have for the product being manufactured.

"This way," the manufacturer said, "we can gear the tour to the customer's special needs. We can answer his questions immediately. And we show him and the agent that we definitely want to help--and that we want the business!"

Another agent said that one of the firm's executives calls each customer a few days before the visit to introduce himself and ask for specific questions that the customer would like to have answered during the tour.

"This personal approach is a big hit with my customers," the agent said. "It shows that our executives are interested in them. It shows we work as a team and that the customer is the center of our focus all the time."

Getting the Plant Ready

It goes without saying that the plant should be "spic and span." Equipment should be in running order and factory personnel should be ready for visitors.

Remember, not everyone wants to see everything. One tour doesn't fit all. There are times when a visitor might want to see the entire plant. And there are other times when a visitor only wants to see certain areas. Showing the entire plant to someone who only wants to see a portion of it can be just as bad as continuing to sell after you have an order in your hands.

One marketing manager said he works closely with the firm's manufacturing manager in planning tours. "We actually have three different tours," he said. "The Class A tour features the whole plant while the other two are specialized."

He added they arrange each of the tours to follow several different routes, depending on the guest's interest. "For example, if we are showing the plant to quality control people," he said, "we take a shortened tour of the departments that are of less interest to them. The tour then concentrates on our inspection points and the quality control lab."

As you can see, there's a lot more to hosting a plant tour than just sweeping the shop floor. But, this is only the beginning for a successful tour. The even more important part of the equation is people.

Training Tour Guides

You can plan a great tour yet fail if your tour guides don't do a good job. But what is a good job? "A plant tour guide is a salesman who doesn't sell," a sales manager said. By that, he meant that the tour guide should not be pushy, but should be carefully attuned to the needs and interests expressed by the visitor. He or she should be able to clearly tell the company's story and relate it to customers' interests.

"In other words, the guide should be someone at the technical and management level," the sales manager said. "Don't leave it to a clerk with a winning personality. The person making the tour has to feel as though he or she is the most important person in the world during the tour. Sending a clerk to show around the president of what might potentially become a large-volume customer is an insult."

The president of a multi-plant operation said that in addition to good people skills, tour guides need strong voices. "We can't shut down the line as a tour goes through," he said. "So the people who conduct our plant tours have to be able to speak above a lot of noise."

A marketing vice president stressed the importance of brevity in foundry tours. "A tour is a visual thing," he explained. "You shouldn't attempt to take away from the visual impact by telling a long, windy story. If you have a story that must be told, tell it briefly during the tour, then give visitors a handout after the tour that repeats what you said, and fills in what you didn't."

He also stressed that it's especially important to allow plenty of time for questions and answers during the tour. "Don't wait for the end of the tour to allow your visitors to ask questions," he said. "Tell them before the tour to interrupt you any time if they have questions. If they have to wait until the end they'll forget what they wanted to ask, and you'll miss a valuable opportunity to determine what interests people, and where you can bolster their information."

Make an Impression!

A president of a small manufacturing firm said he features the firm's trade show exhibit in a room off the main plant. "Our tour," he said, "begins in the plant and ends in the display. The display really summarizes everything we do and if you've just toured our plant, a visit to our trade show exhibit ties everything up quite neatly."

Every foundry can find its own way of creating a special "encore" to send visitors off with a strong message they'll keep in their minds after they leave your plant. "At the end of the tour," said one sales manager, "we take visitors to a small auditorium. There we show a multi-media show that caps the experience for the visitor."

Hands-on experience is always a good way to understand what is going on in a manufacturing plant. The president of a West Coast manufacturer said his firm has its visitors dress in coveralls and participate in operations alongside the company's production people.

"We have them assemble and test a differential pressure cell," he said. "After finishing it, we show them the rest of the plant. When the tour is over, we present them with the cell they assembled, which is engraved with their name and date. Believe me, nobody throws these out. We can visit these people years later and that cell will be prominently displayed on the desk."

After the Tour Is Over

"A tour often raises more questions than it answers," said the president of a manufacturing company. "Visitors go home with a lot of new ideas and information. They think about our capabilities and products in terms of their own needs and then they have the real questions."

The sales agent who represents this person agreed. "At that point," he said, "I'm the guy who picks up the ball. I'm the man in the territory who answers the questions. And I think it's critical for me to stay in close contact with people who visit plants.

"That's when they are excited. That's when they have the questions. And that's when I make some of my biggest sales."

The manufacturer also should stay in touch. He should call visitors several days after their visit to see if they have questions and follow up regularly by mail.

"If you wait for them |the visitors~ to do something, you have lost the initiative," said one manufacturer. "You have to stay in touch, but you have to do it in a non-pushy way."

As you can see, plant tours can be powerful marketing tools when used correctly.
COPYRIGHT 1992 American Foundry Society, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:foundries
Author:Gibbons, James
Publication:Modern Casting
Date:Jul 1, 1992
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