Engatech hosted a plant tour and presentation at the Coleman Associates/HTC site on the 10th in Houston Texas. The event was full with standing room only. That led me to think about other times we have done “outside” events and reflect on trade group meetings where we have done plant tours. Overwhelmingly, plant tours are the most popular event that local interest groups hold. Having gone to my fair share of them, I wanted to get some background on why we all frock to going thru a plant with a group when we wouldn’t be caught in the same room with many of the attendees at these events on a normal day. So let’s go over some of the science behind this.
Per the Harvard Business Review, in general there are three reasons people like to take plant tours.
“There are three primary reasons for taking a tour: to learn, to assess, and to teach. Although those objectives overlap to some degree, they lead to very different types of tours. Learning tours are undertaken by people who believe that an operation has a feature or an ability that is valuable; they want to find out precisely what that ability is and how it works. Most often, the goal of a learning tour is to bring back the knowledge acquired on the tour to replicate the capability. Assessment tours are undertaken to determine how well a plant is doing either along an important dimension of performance or in terms of its ability to fulfill its role in the company’s operations strategy. Teaching tours are undertaken to pass knowledge from the visitor to the plant being toured. The three types of tours demand different questions and focus on different parts of the site.” (Upton, Harvard Business Review.)
The most plant tours are the one where I go to a plant to learn about a capability and to interface with knowledgeable experts at that site. This allows me to determine whether the technology is something that I want to consider without identifying myself as a prime target for a pitch. It is a relatively risk free way to doing a “look see” without having to interface with a company’s sales department or give away too much information when I am evaluating. The same reason that I take plant tours applies to why I go to the Texas State Fair and look at cars (for out of state readers – trust me on this one. If you go to the State Fair of Texas, which is the largest state fair in the USA, you want to see the car displays.) By going to a “display” I can see the tech, access the information in a risk free environment where I am a part of the crowd, and get to find out more info and even ask questions without being singled out.
So why does being part of a group seem popular in assessing tech? Because you can ask tough questions and the answers are perceived by the recipient as being less biased and more truthful in a group setting away from the “sales call.” I can ask by-standers and other attendees their opinion, perhaps even get some insight that I can’t get from the literature or a website. Often I can gather tribal knowledge about tips and techniques on hardware or in use processes on the plant floor from tours plus get to observe the comfort of the operators when they are using the tech or software. Plus I can do this without as much of an influence from the vendor on what answers I am being given or what I observe.
This shift goes along with the shift in sales development seen during the past 10 years as internet searches become the preferred means of gathering information versus face to face meetings and trade group conferences. Going to a plant tour offers a chance to go behind the scenes a bit to find out how the tech works in real life and get reviews from users all at once. The current thinking about the sales process is that prospects have gotten over 80% of the information used in making a buy prior to the final transaction and the trade show, showcase, plant tour and internet search are all part of the prior research. Prospects now are better informed, have a better idea of the features and benefits prior to a sales call, and want specifics on performance, pricing and solutions before they interface on a one to one basis with a sales professional.
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