New robot users: A growing opportunity and challenge
Robots are increasingly being used in industries outside of the manufacturing sector. This is not new. But, the pace of adoption seems to be growing, making it essential for robotics providers to get on the radar of these businesses – many of whom will be adopting robotics for the first time.
The International Federation of Robotics recently published sales statistics for service robots in 2022, highlighting impressive growth across a range of emerging applications:
- Hospitality (125% increase in robots sold since 2021)
- Transportation & logistics (44% increase)
- Agriculture (18% increase)
- Professional cleaning (8% increase)
Many robotics providers are used to serve manufacturing companies that are already experienced with robotics and automation. This makes sense when the automation applications are specific to manufacturing, such as welding, assembly, or machine tending. However, many fast-growing applications such as intralogistics, cleaning, packaging, and others can be found within not just manufacturing but many other sectors as well. Catering to these new customers presents a huge opportunity – including some challenges – for robotics providers.
New robotics users, new expectations
New types of customers will often have different expectations than existing ones. This can be a good thing, as it leads to sellers becoming even more customer-oriented – and it also often requires some adaptation from existing vendors.
Selling mobile robots to an automotive manufacturer, for example, may require a different approach than selling them to a retail store. The carmaker is used to robots and may already know who can provide the solution needed and what to ask for. They also understand what an integrator is and why robotics is often a custom-engineered solution.
Robotics providers used to dealing with educated customers typically make less effort to get on their radar and don’t need to provide guidance on the basics of robotics. This knowledge may seem obvious to the informed customer. For many businesses that are dealing with robots for the first time, however, it is not.
It’s hard to find the right sellers if you don’t know where to look
A key challenge for businesses that are looking to automate is how to find the right robotics providers. 42% of business leaders in a McKinsey survey mentioned this as an issue. For those new to robotics and automation, the number may likely be even higher: As a newcomer to the industry, where do you look for help?
With no existing vendor relationships to lean on, customers have to discover their robotics providers in other ways – through, for example, trade shows, online marketplaces, industry associations, and recommendations from peers. They will seek external validation from credible sources who can point them in the right direction of a solution and the business to provide it.
This raises the bar for robotics providers to get associated with key partners trusted by potential customers in these new industries. It also means providers must communicate their expertise within the new customer areas and provide social proof through client stories, for example.
New robot users need guidance
Businesses that haven’t bought a robot solution before also often need guidance in answering fundamental questions. If robotics providers cannot support these new end users accordingly, they risk losing out on the growth opportunity. Usually, this means understanding where the end users come from – and what they expect from a solution.
A farm or a retail store may expect a turnkey solution that works with minimal effort and expertise required from them – because that’s what they are used to for other machines. They may wonder about all the customization needed for a robot or why they must make a large upfront payment for a solution, even before it's built. Not to mention training, safety, and many other aspects.
The opportunity is for robotics providers to put themselves in the shoes of these customers and see where they need guidance. An educated customer may hesitate to invest because they need more technical details from the vendor, for example. For someone who is looking to automate for the first time, however, more technical information could easily have the opposite effect. Maybe they are unsure if the solution can meet their needs and don’t have the technical expertise to judge if it can. How could the robot seller provide this assurance in simple terms?
Some automation buyers are unaware of this knowledge gap and may attempt to make the technical specifications for a solution themselves rather than describing what it should accomplish. When the end-user has limited experience with robotics, this approach can lead to a solution not performing as intended. Acknowledging this knowledge gap and helping end users overcome it is essential to generate a successful outcome for the many new businesses looking to automate in the coming years.