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Investing in the customer: The key to success in manufacturing

It’s an exciting time for the manufacturing industry—with numbers reporting in at a 20-year high, there is a whole lot of optimism circling the space. This prosperous time can largely be attributed to upward global GDP growth, continued low interest rates, and favorable geopolitical and tax policy changes. In turn, there has been a positive shift for decision-makers and how they choose to invest.

However fruitful these benefits, there is still a challenge: where do you invest for the future? There are a ton of areas to invest in, and manufacturing organizations are scrambling to figure out where to place their bets. Do you hedge on your commodities (e.g., product innovation and equipment upgrades) or your systems (e.g., customer experience and legacy systems)?

It’s certainly no easy decision, and there isn’t a clear line as to what each organization should do. But there is no doubting the long-term value in bankrolling customer-facing systems enhancements. In a recent webinar, Tony Kratovil, industry senior director of automotive and manufacturing for Salesforce, makes the case for investing in your customer’s sales lifecycle.

 

Meeting customer expectations

For years, manufacturers have placed a majority of their efforts into providing quality products at the lowest cost. Today, however, customers have more power and greater expectations in the buyer-seller relationship. This has caused a paradigm shift in the focus of industry leaders from product focus to customer-experience centricity.

“That type of model doesn’t really have any table stakes in the industry anymore,” Kratovil says. “What we see pretty consistently is a shift for manufacturers to focus on the lifecycle view of the customer relationship.”

Where before the product did the talking, now the customer experience is equally important. From the initial inquiry and the sales process to shipping the product and providing support afterwards, being able to knit these steps into one cohesive, common customer experience is key. This is easier said than done, though.

The manufacturing industry is inherently complex. Most companies have vast product catalogs and configurations that are unique for each customer. From there, you have to determine each customer’s quote based on applicable pricing, approvals, and discounts. And throughout this process, you are constantly keeping tabs on supply chain management and whether or not there’s a backlog of orders or a lack of inventory. Not exactly a formula for a cohesive or common experience.

This streamlined process is important for the modern customer. The success of a manufacturing company is now measured in its ability to sell efficiently. A recent Harvard Business Review study found that manufacturers who make the buying process easier are 62 percent more likely to win the deal. Paving a path of least resistance and developing transparency in the buying process are key differentiators in the industry today.

Now, you must be itching to know—how do you achieve this new customer lifecycle management model and begin to reap the rewards of the investment?

 

Three components for manufacturing sales efficiency

In order to reach a maximized sales process, Kratovil lays out a few steps for eliminating bottlenecks and driving productivity:

Implement a single, connected sales platform: You first need to begin with a broad, commonized framework. Now, most manufacturing companies out there are utilizing multiple ERP, customer, order management, and pricing systems. Your goal is to put a layer on top of all of those components in order to characterize who your customer is.

Streamline sales from inquiry to order: Once that’s in place, you can begin to look at the lifecycle. This can really start with a fairly simple approach and build upon the basic process to develop a robust system to handle any type of configuration.

Empower a scaled partner network: It’s important to take this customer-centric process and disseminate it to your channel partners. This helps simplify the chain of events and creates a fluid workflow for both the customer and in your revenue acquisition.

“From a customer perspective, whether they are dealing with sales or support, you want to see these lines blurred,” Kratovil says.

 

There’s no denying that your product or service is still the bread and butter of your manufacturing organization. Now you have to place an emphasis on where that bread and butter come from. Focusing on the customer experience in the sales process is how you gain a competitive edge today, and Simplus can help guide you to that competitive edge!

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