As someone who has worked with drone service providers (DSPs) to help them understand what they need to know on the front end to perform their best as well as with enterprise clients to establish a drone program, I’ve seen how communication breakdowns and unrealistic expectations can capsize efforts to effectively utilize drone technology. By shedding light on some our shared experiences technology stakeholders within organizations seeking to become involved with drone operations can learn to communicate more effectively, while DSPs will better understand what they need to do to best serve their enterprise clients. With this better understanding on both sides, the industry as a whole will become stronger.
For the current year, they estimate the market volume to be 392,000 drones worth US$1.6 billion. Sales and revenue are set to multiply by 2025. North America is by far the largest market for commercial drones, followed by Asia and Europe.
Exploring the Drone Sales Cycle
There are slight variations to the number of phases contained within a sales cycle, but the most common descriptions include six phases: Prospecting, Qualifying, Proposing, Negotiating, Closing, and Referrals. The uniqueness of drone technology is something that needs to be considered and potentially addressed at every point in a drone program sales cycle.
Changing the way we communicate and approach this technology might sound simple, but there are numerous gaps in our collective knowledge, despite the never-ending supply of innovation and curiosity this industry offers. That can mean differences in the way we communicate, prioritize tasks and solve problems. Often, we can be looking at the same issue but through different lenses. Solving those problems means being able to better understand where they often begin, which requires an in-depth look at the drone sales cycle.
Enterprise clients are often bombarded with communications from companies seeking to do business with them – not just DSPs, but all sorts of contractors, consultants and others offering products or services. Most enterprise clients will have a standard method for handling solicitations. Often times these processes are organized based on the department / functional area affected and type of product, which many DSPs would fall outside of.
There are some significant prospecting challenges in the drone program sales cycle that need to be addressed at this stage. Many of them stem from the fact that numerous companies do not publicly share information about their use of drones. Effectively prospecting what type of organization might have an interest in starting a drone program can be difficult when there’s little information about others that have or are going through a similar process. This limits the potential pool of publically identifiable prospects by default. There is little that can be done to overcome this barrier. The only solution is time and tenacity. As a DSP gains momentum and builds their reputation within the drone market, other opportunities will begin to show themselves.
The DSP Qualifying Process
In a traditional qualifying stage, after you have your list of prospective customers you’ll need to identify an actual person or group to contact in order to verify whether or not they are a good fit for your offering.
Some methods used in contacting prospects during the qualifying stage include cold calling, email campaigns, face-to-face meetings or contacting people through social media channels. The overall method for qualifying prospective customers is to conduct a preliminary needs assessment. These can be as informal as a 5-minute phone call or as formal as a site visit or demo, depending on the product/service being offered and the size of the client.
The qualifying stage can be challenging for both drone service providers and technology stakeholders within enterprise companies. DSPs should expect to invest a lot of time in this stage identifying the right point of contact and gaining initial buy-in from said contact.
Traditionally, companies will pitch their services/products to their potential customers at this stage. This phase is especially time-consuming in emerging markets where needs and offerings are still being developed and/or fine-tuned. This can put a strain on UAS service providers that may otherwise not be felt in more traditional industries. Common tactics in the proposing stage include in-depth demos, additional needs assessments, other intake efforts and of course, presentations.
This is the phase where your potential customer will ask questions and voice concerns. Responding to their concerns and questions is a good sign as it signifies engagement instead of an outright rejection.
DSPs are more likely to agree to tailor their product or service in order to land the client. This is partly due to the emerging nature of the industry and partly the nature of tech-heavy industries. This can cause confusion and puts both parties at risk of diluting the quality of the deliverable. Customization or changes may seem like a good choice at this time, but the DSPs are the experts on drones and the enterprise is the expert on their needs. Ineffective communications during this stage can result in ineffective solutions. Customers have more power in the UAS industry during this phase than other well-defined industries and they don’t always wield that power effectively because they don’t come into the negotiation prepared with a holistic understanding of what they will need to establish a drone program. Look for tips on how to prepare your company to use a DSP in the last article of this series.
Sales in the UAS Industry typically involve the DSP working with a technology stakeholder or operations manager that must gain additional approvals before they can agree to any service or product. Every time a change is proposed during negotiations, the chain of communication and approvals must be accomplished again. This is time-consuming and all involved should expect delays.
Both parties agree to what will be provided and at what costs. Documents are signed and the work begins or the product is sold.
As previously mentioned, due to the lack of standardization surrounding drone programs within more enterprises, it is not uncommon for DSPs to discover additional stakeholders within the company that must be involved in order for their product/service to succeed after the business agreement has been executed. This is why it is imperative for enterprise companies to involve as many areas of the company as possible early on in the program formation process. Failing to do so will make it harder for the business relationship to succeed.
This is a standard aspect of any sales cycle. The service provider seeks additional business leads through referrals by (ideally) satisfied customers. In the UAS industry, some companies prefer to keep their drone operations confidential which can hamper DSPs ability to publicize their success. Others have specific communication policies and procedures, so again, public recommendations/endorsements or recognition can be time-consuming or simply impossible.