The world today is driven by data, creating a change in mindset and way of working that is taking its hold on manufacturing. Alex Love, MD of Customer Experience Consultancy Enigen, says early adopters of change are defining new industry standards, while laggards will experience an uphill battle to compete.
In the not too distant past, B2B expectations were clearly different to those we experienced in the consumer world. Today, the two have blended; as individuals, we take our consumer behaviour and expectations of the channels we interact through, and the way we want to purchase, into the B2B landscape.
This offers an array of opportunities to us as manufacturers. Data-led product design, such as sensors (e.g. IoT devices) on products, allows us to get a better understanding of our end customers, without the need for intermediaries to provide the knowledge.
This allows for the reinvention of commercial models, providing competitive approaches to services such as maintenance and support. Subscription-based contracts and predictive maintenance allow us to fix manufacturing faults before they occur – often remotely through technology-enabled diagnostics.
Margins go up, as does customer satisfaction, and commercial differentiation is also much stronger.
So, what’s the point?
Connected data drives successful business, but most are fragmented or at least siloed in some form. However, customer data coming through the front office is the richest form of data.
Building your data strategy around customer engagement tools – such as CRM; configure, price and quote (CPQ) applications; web portals for managing the shift to automation; self-service portals (especially for lower value transactional goods) and marketing – reduces operational costs, quoting complexity and customer insight. Oracle is a good example of a leader in this space.
We can look at some examples of this; a manufacturer of high-tech goods (hardware) for example, is challenged by a very competitive landscape of disrupters. It’s a minefield for the consumer to understand the right solution for them. Depending on their size, they’re likely to sell through an intermediary, a VAD (value-added distributor) or a re-seller.
There are two customers: the consumer for whom they need to be relevant, understand their use cases and market appropriately to create demand. The distribution partner, for whom they need to be quick to react, personalised to requirements and provide a competitive price point.
With both of these cases, it’s not always easy to do without the right technology in place, potentially losing our place at the table if others deliver more value.
Some of our clients sell aggregates and construction materials. Demand is driven by the market and economy, but progress is hindered by technology and legacy processes. Many of the goods they sell are commoditised, and while pipeline has healthy growth, servicing that growth creates challenges.
A traditional sales model has meant field sales people transact low and high value products alike, impacting overall revenue and margin.
These organisations are gradually moving parts of their business to commerce portals, providing the customer with an easier way of procuring, while investing in human interaction for higher value orders.
To compete, it’s important to build a holistic strategy across the organisation that looks at data management, and then define your roadmap for change from that point. The technological advances available to us today allow us to utilise that data and enhance it to really make a difference to all areas of the organisation and the way we do business.