Traditional Businesses

5 Ways Startups Can Help Time-Tested, Traditional Industries Evolve

Disrupting a deep-rooted industry like mining requires adjusting your sales tactics and listening really, really well.
5 Ways Startups Can Help Time-Tested, Traditional Industries Evolve
Image credit: Karl Schoemaker | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Founder and CEO, Strayos
7 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Because well-established industries have been around for a long time, they generally have tried-and-true methodologies that yield proven results. Mining, for example, is such a time-tested industry; and it's been around as long as recorded history. So, why mess with something that isn’t broken?

In fact, an industry's willingness to adapt to new technology makes a difference. A recent study by Accenture discovered that going digital has helped improve mining operations by up to 47 percent, cutting costs and speeding up decision-making. These positive results from embracing tech have led 82 percent of mining executives to seek new digital solutions to achieve their business objectives.

Related: Want to Know What Your Customers Really Think? Try Working Side by Side With Them to Solve Problems.

So, what's the reason for holdups in implementing change? Most business owners are more than willing to discuss adopting new technologies, but they're reluctant to hit "go" on a project until they can be sure of its worth. Wise business owners want to make sure changes won't break their established infrastructure and that the pain of managing those changes deserves their time and energy.

For these resasons, the biggest obstacles to true disruption in traditional industries are changing the mindset of the people in them and convincing business owners to accept the value of the new product or service. Once they do greenlight something new, those leaders must then convince employees that the change is a good thing, particularly when what's involved is disruptive technology that could radically change or even eliminate positions.

Businesses trying to sell that disruptive technology to traditional industries might need to adjust, if not overhaul entirely, their sales tactics. 

The need to listen and learn when you're selling emerging technology

To sell is to educate, but before you can teach people how you can help them, you must actively listen to their problems.

In historic industries, it's not a lack of technology preventing disruption -- it's fear of the unknown. Fear that employees won't be on board. Business owners not only have to worry about how to overhaul their equipment, but how to get their employees on board with the changes. Leaders of established industries aren't afraid of the technology, but rather about what it will do to their business.

Five ways to ease any potential misgivings of heavy-industry business leaders

1. Don't try to be the expert in the industry; be the expert in your field. You can't walk up to these owners and start talking about the wonders of your product. You're the least knowledgeable person in the room in terms of understanding his or her industry.

So, recognize that fact and use it to your advantage. Get to know leaders' pain points. Hire experts to educate you on how the industry works and learn from them. You'll pick up on ways your products or services can make a difference in the targeted business.

I gain the respect of the mining engineers and executives I meet with by talking about how my software ties into their industry; I strive to be seen as someone who might actually be able to solve their problem. My not being a part of their industry doesn't give them pause once I can show that I'm an expert in my own.

2. Show industry leaders that you know and agree they can't be replaced. Time-honored, heavy industries are giants. Large-scale manufacturers, for example, employed 12.5 million people as of December 2017, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). With equipment that fills entire floors and plants that are the size of small cities, these industries' sheer size along makes them imposing and intimidating.

Related: 3 Storytelling Tips for Brands in Emerging Tech Sectors

But beyond physical presence, these industries -- mining, construction, manufacturing -- are truly irreplaceable. How they work may evolve, but the industries themselves will never go away. According to the same BLS data, they're actually thriving -- 196,000 manufacturing jobs were added in 2017.

Scare tactics won’t work. Time-tested industry leaders know their jobs won't suddenly become obsolete if they don't implement your technology. Rather, show them you understand and appreciate the value they bring to their communities.

3. Don't just sell -- prove that you care. If you go into any meeting with the attitude that you're the only one able to solve your prospects' problem, you might as well turn back around. Instead, show them why you can do it: because you care.

Ask about the business. How do they operate on a daily basis? What issues do they always seem to face? Take the time to understand a traditional industry's needs before you pitch your solution. Given the natural skepticism of leaders who have been doing things one way for a long time, your success or failure will come down to the relationships you build.

JetBlue is one company that doesn't miss an opportunity to create strong relationships with customers. When a customer tweeted the company asking for clarification about a fee policy, JetBlue not only immediately responded, but also had a local representative study this man's social media photo, then walk through the airport until he could be found for a follow-up conversation.

Taking the time to get to know your potential customers doesn't just help you make the sale. It also helps you understand how the industry is changing and identify new ways to target other prospects. Most importantly, you just may leave a lasting and positive impression.

4. Don't try to be flashy or cool. I recently attended the International Society of Explosives Engineers conference, where I learned that success is never about being cool.

I even tested this idea. My team and I organized a field demo of 50 individuals and talked to each one about our team and the way we work. The one thing we took away was that, across the board, these people were looking for someone to show genuine interest in their businesses, not simply push them toward a sale.

So forget being cool or offering anything flashy. Just take the time to get to know your customers.

5. Find and connect with an advocate. Advocates are your secret weapon when pitching to well-established industries. Instead of focusing on your technology or trying to build credibility, advocates can provide testimonials about how your product or service has improved their business.

Early on, I worked with several advisors and professors who were a part of the mining community. They helped me break into the industry and find a partner who introduced my company to many of its own customers. By working with this advocate, I was able to build our credibility before giving the first pitch.

Ultimately, every industry wants to be more efficient. Well-rooted, conventional industries, in particular, are always looking for ways to make what they do easier and safer.

Related: The Amazing Technology Disrupting Oil and Gas (Think: AI, 3D Printing and Robotics)

That's why, no matter how flashy or impressive your presentation may be, leaders won't care if they feel that you don't "get" their needs. To successfully partner with them, you have to be able to get into their world and realize that they know what they need far better than anyone else -- including you.

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