Amid the uncertainty that Brexit is bringing to UK businesses, it’s imperative that manufacturers don’t take their eye off the ball when it comes to investing in digital transformation, especially in the competitive battlefields of marketing, sales, customer experience and service.Technological innovation remains top priority, with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems fast emerging as the go-to platform for the sector to push ahead with Industry 4.0, while mitigating some of the risks posed by the current political and economic turmoil.
“At a time when manufacturers need to plan for efficiency and innovation, anything that holds back investment in enabling technologies is a real threat. […] Manufacturers must use [their Brexit plans] as a means to create a ‘business as usual’ scenario where they can confidently continue their much needed investment and improvements.” – Tom Leeson, marketing strategist for the manufacturing sector.
1. A Shot In The Arm For Productivity
The fourth industrial revolution concerns digitisation in every area of the manufacturing business, going far beyond the traditional focus, namely the product.
ERP software is widely used to streamline production, but its data pooling, analysis and workflow functions are not designed to manage relationships with your customers, suppliers, vendors, distributors and extended value chain. Your competitors are waking up this, recognising the untapped commercial potential that lies in mirroring the principles of ERP in customer-centric business functions.
Indeed a global study by PWC in 2016 pinpointed “customer access, sales channels and marketing” as one of the top three areas for investment by 2021, by which time nearly seven in ten manufacturers expect to have achieved a “high degree” of digitisation and enterprise-wide integration. A UK-focused report from the same company showed that nearly nine in ten manufacturers are “ready to invest” in new technologies to boost productivity.
This is precisely where CRM comes in. Powerful data management and multi-channel engagement capabilities can transform the productivity of your sales, marketing, service and support staff. Some of the ways that previously labour-intensive and error-prone activities can be enhanced include:
- Organising all your contacts, emails and documents inside a single, centralised application to enhance data transparency and consistency
- Embracing Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) and Mobile CRM to give staff access to the data they need anytime, anywhere to maintain relationships and speed up their work
- Using task scheduling and visual analytics tools to prioritise and manage workloads more effectively
- Removing the need to manually input and analyse performance spreadsheets.
As one of our manufacturing customer’s states:
“We use Maximizer CRM to keep track of all our customer interactions leading to increased customer satisfaction and retention, while simultaneously improving our in-house efficiency.” Marco Faggion, Sales Engineer, Aersud Elicotteri S.r.l.
2. Boost Sales Visibility and Opportunity Insight
Without the right digital tools, manufacturers risk making important strategic decisions without real-life, data-driven knowledge of their audiences. Ultimately this could lead to a costly mismatch between customer expectations, delivery and experience.
One of the most fundamental and transformative benefits of a well-implemented CRM system is the visibility it provides into your sales cycle. The sales team can:
- Deep search, segment and filter vast volumes of records in real-time
- Use data visualisation features and automated workflows to forecast, track and manage leads, opportunities and proposals through the pipeline
- Deliver standardised and best practice sales processes, communications and tools via templated action plans
These tactical gains help your team streamline sales activity, time their approaches more effectively, predict bottlenecks and exploit all up-selling and cross-selling opportunities. They also open the doors to converting data into strategic, actionable intelligence.
This is where manufacturing’s digital data pioneers will really shine. Using your CRM’s dashboards and customisable reports, it’s straightforward to identify key accounts and vital performance metrics, analyse customer or product profiles and spot emerging trends. Greater understanding of buying patterns will contribute to developing more accurate just-in-time production forecasting, and you’ll even form a more rounded picture of your customers’ needs at each stage of the sales process so that you hone your digital sales, marketing and service approaches.
3. Drive The Customer Experience (CX)
“Find models outside your industry – and take the lessons they have to offer to heart. The changes you make based on what you’ll learn will likely be transformational.” – Micah Solomon, influencer and customer engagement thought-leader
Manufacturers aren’t traditionally known for being front-runners in Customer Experience but as this quote nicely encapsulates, companies have to get up to speed with the changing attitudes of today’s connected buyer whose expectations of a digital-first, consistent and service-orientated experience are just as high as in any other sector.
This requires you to demonstrate a thorough understanding of your customers’ needs and expectations, and to personalise your interactions accordingly; to provide consistent messaging and satisfaction regardless of communication channel; and to deliver an experience that plays to the modern preferences for flexibility, choice and control.
In practice, your CRM-powered data infrastructure puts you in a strong position to meet these demands. All relevant staff can be given access to a centralised, 360-degree view of each account, complete with full contact history, in real time. This vastly increases your ability to provide quick, accurate and joined-up responses to enquiries, and also provides the springboard to the bigger-picture data analysis we described above.
The same research we cited earlier showed that over seven in ten manufacturers globally “predict their use of data analytics will substantially improve customer relationships and customer intelligence along the product life cycle.” CX isn’t just a nice-to-have: eight in ten organisations globally report that improved CX boosts revenue.
4. Scale Up Predictability, Agility and Resilience
CRM can also contribute significantly to helping you cushion the impact of economic volatility in the run up to (and potentially in the wake of) Brexit.
For instance, it’s never been more important to keep close tabs on your sales pipeline, on a day-to-day basis and at a wider level. What trends are emerging, and what are they telling you? Now is not the time to be in the dark. CRM helps you to gauge exactly what is happening and to respond quickly to changes – but also to strengthen existing relationships through smart, informed engagement strategies.
Financial belt-tightening is inevitably on the agenda, despite the pressing need to continue investment in digitisation, and this is one reason for the growing popularity of Cloud software. The Cloud deployment option gives all sizes of manufacturer access to enterprise-grade CRM at an affordable, per-user monthly price, also building additional scalability into your business.
These are just some of the ways your CRM can shield you from a degree of market volatility and prepare you for changes ahead. There are many others – including the area of digital data governance – which we address in our blog on managing Brexit uncertainty.
How to build foundations for the future while navigating uncertain times is the challenge facing all UK manufacturers at the moment.
Industry 4.0 is radically changing the way your competitors do business in sales, marketing and service, and nearly nine out of ten manufacturers expect to see cost reductions and revenue gains from their digitisation initiatives over the next five years.
All-inclusive CRM software is being adopted by companies like yours to find smarter ways of boosting salesforce productivity and managing the modern customer lifecycle – from acquisition through to retention and expansion. Making the right technology decisions now will deliver short-term advantages by ramping up resilience and adaptability as the economic climate changes, in tandem with long-term strategic benefits including increased productivity, competitiveness and profitability.