Technology applications are making it easier for manufacturing businesses to run more smoothly and operate with greater levels of efficiency.
For example, Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platforms are constantly improving. And their improvements deliver more and more ways that manufacturers can solve problems in areas like operation flow, CPQ and sales forecasting, for example.
At the same time, CRM systems like Salesforce are using data analytics to generate customer insights and those insights are driving greater customer acquisition, satisfaction and retention levels.
This is all good because manufacturers face challenges both internal and external every day. Anything that can lighten the load has to be beneficial.
Eric Satterthwaite, a V.P. of Sales at Gerent, is very familiar with many of those manufacturing challenges; he spends his days talking with manufacturers about their issues – their ‘pain points’ – and he has zeroed in on several that tend to bedevil the manufacturing sector constantly.
One Ear, One Voice
When a customer calls, emails, or texts a manufacturer, it’s critical that those within the manufacturer hear and speak as one.
What this means, Eric explains, is the ability to offer “one ear to the customer so that the customer is able to say something to one group within the company. And it's the same as saying it to every group in that company. So, if they tell their salesperson, ‘hey, this is what we're doing’, or ‘where's my stuff’, or whatever it is, that information hits the warehouse, it hits accounting, it hits customer service, it hits whoever it is that needs to see it,” he says.
Conversely, if someone in the company’s sales department wants to communicate with the customer, everybody else in the company understands what that messaging was. In other words, everyone’s in the loop and on the same page – at all times.
“Internally, it's big, too,” Eric continues. “ Because you have these different data silos, people working, doing their own thing, not knowing what the other groups are doing. ‘One Ear, One Voice’ removes those barriers. So even if it isn't client facing, you want to remove those data silos so everyone knows what's happening inside the company.”
One area that needs particular attention is sample management, more specifically, keeping track of samples sent out to prospective customers or to distributors who want to see a product sample before ordering.
Often, requests for samples are taken by phone or email by one person who then has to communicate the details to other employees, track the progress of the sample, make sure it gets sent out to the right prospect or customer and then alert Sales that there’s a new lead to follow up. Without a proper, centralized system to track such activity, Eric maintains, there’s no way of ensuring all these steps are completed.
“It leads to customer dissatisfaction because if your customer says, ‘Look, every time I call there for a sample, it's hit or miss, and it takes too long for me to get what I'm looking for. And half the time nobody even responds to it. You know what? I'm going to a competitor’, that’s a problem because it goes right to customer satisfaction, doesn’t it?”
Oftentimes, samples can be expensive, something that keeps accountants and CFOs awake at night. Hard surface materials like granite or marble, for example, are costly, even from the quarry, so careful tracking of such items is critical to ensure material costs are kept under control. The ‘low-tech’ method of using spreadsheets to track such activity doesn’t do the job and many companies, according to Eric, lose hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in samples that have gone astray.
Sales Forecasting versus Production Planning
If there is one major, overriding challenge in manufacturing companies, it’s the age-old problem of accurately matching sales forecasts in one year to production schedules in the next. Far too often, as Eric has heard from his manufacturing clients, a company begins production planning based off a sales forecast, orders in raw material, warehouses it, finances it and begins to produce.
The nasty surprise occurs at some point well into production.
“What we've seen a lot is you'll go eight, nine, 10 months into the year, and all of a sudden, it's a crisis because now the manufacturer realizes, ‘wow, the customer should have bought significantly more product based on what they said, and now we're sitting here with this product. How are we going to get rid of it? We're going to lose money. We're now going to have to dump this and sell it at pennies on the dollar to other companies who might want to take it on’.”
What’s The Solution? CRM!
So, how does a company address these challenges as well as others that we haven’t touched on?
There are many solutions offered by Salesforce. Here are several Salesforce CRM solutions designed to solve these problems:
• Track and manage customer communications visible to all
• Store and update multiple documents visible to all
• Manage SLAs (Service Level Agreements)
• Portal-like technology
• Allows customers to self-service remotely
• Work with channel partners or distributors
• Track sample requests by way of Service Cloud and pinpoint their location
Configure Price Quote (CPQ) Cloud
• Effectively track quotes
• Effectively bundle products and services to offer discounts based on previous customer ordering habits
• Pre-programmed quoting rules
These are just three straightforward software solutions from the Salesforce product shelf that solve many different problems for manufacturers – solutions used by Gerent every day, according to Eric Satterthwaite, because they work so well when implemented properly.
If you’d like to listen to the full interview with Eric Sattherthwaite, you can stream or download episode 3 of our podcast series, Ahead of the Curve, titled Practical Uses of Technology in Manufacturing.
You can also contact us to learn more about how to make your manufacturing business more efficient, profitable and customer-centric.