How manufacturers can accelerate growth in the ‘new normal’

Posted on 3 Aug 2020 by The Manufacturer

Now that government has published guidelines to help Britain return to work, Dan Hayward, regional vice president for Salesforce, offers six ways manufacturers can ensure their operations are best placed to succeed.

Manufacturing has been one of the industries most impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic, with supply chains for many components, products and materials being disrupted.

Many of us won’t go back to the way things were. To get back to a ‘new normal’, businesses are having to reimagine and redefine business models and supply chains.

At Salesforce, we think of this crisis in three distinct phases: Stabilise, Normalise, Accelerate.

The first priority is to stabilise – take care of your employees and customers. Form a dedicated crisis response leadership team to define options, risks, and courses of action, and execute based on immediate priorities.

Once stability is achieved, the priority shifts to normalise – evolve your operating model for the new normal. Here, the focus is on resource prioritisation and programmes that enable you to engage customers and serve their needs more effectively at scale, while also ensuring business continuity.

As the future becomes clearer and options emerge, the priority evolves towards accelerate – prepare to move out of the crisis in a stronger state, more resilient and relevant than when you went in. This will require a dedicated team to model options, redesign processes, mobilise your company, and communicate effectively through the change.

So, how can manufacturers best respond to this crisis and prepare for a post-Covid-19 future? Here are six key questions business leaders are asking and how digital provides the answers.

1. How can I maximise sales while teams are working from home? 

Anyone working in sales has probably seen their job become much harder. Face-to-face relationship building has suddenly been replaced with having to sell over distance, at a time when many customers have more on their mind than simply buying your wares.

However, like you, customers are looking to successfully navigate through this current period. The most important question to be asking customers is, ‘how can my business and I help you achieve your objectives?’ 

Elevating your position from supplier to valued partner means developing strategies to get to know your customer better and ensuring that that information is kept in a centralised system, enabling everyone to work to a mutual view of account and opportunity, enabling your reps to manage the end-to-end sales process from home.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to help sales teams stay motivated and productive, now more than ever, something that relieving them off manual administrative tasks has been proven to help with.

Automation and AI-powered tools can help make their lives easier and enable them to spend more of their time on targeting and engaging with customers.  These tools also ensure that accurate scenario planning can be built into sales forecasts and helps breakdown the tendency workers have to operate in isolated siloes.

Another way of helping salespeople focus their attention on managing key accounts is to set up and deploy a digital commerce platform. Offering customers an intuitive, user-friendly portal to self-service and re-order online enables your business to ship greater volumes of product more efficiently, while focusing key talent where it’s needed most.

2. How can I ensure my communications sends the right message? 

Marketing is rarely easy in times like these. Many businesses may feel that activity of any sort currently carries a risk and allow lines of communication to dry up as a result. Yet, it’s crucial you talk to your customers as regularly, if not more so, than before.

They may be feeling anxious, stressed and sensitive, but they will also be keen to learn how they can navigate a path through the crisis safely for their business and employees.

Sending out blanket communications to all customers and prospects runs the risk of alienating your audience, people want to be spoken to and dealt with as individuals. Rather than predicting how people are feeling, take the time to find out exactly and respond accordingly. This is a proven way of building customer trust and gain valuable insights to help sharpen your marketing message more broadly.

Capturing customer data allows marketing teams to analyse, segment and hone communication to individuals, swiftly creating empathetic and personal touchpoints, alongside sharing useful, relevant information, in real-time.

Storing this data in a centralised hub makes it easier to distribute consistent, unified messaging. The hub can also be used to display goals, progress and wins in one accessible place, encouraging collaboration to keep your marketing team firing on all cylinders.

3. How can my pricing strategy more closely follow demand? 

Pricing discipline and accurate demand forecasting are more important than ever, but many organisations still struggle to achieve them. Their inability – largely because of a separation between sales and operations, and inflexible back office systems – will likely impact your recovery efforts, so now’s the time to join the dots.

Growing numbers of manufacturers are using data analytics to create that critical alignment between sales and operations, helping them to accurately set pricing levels and adapt to changing market demands.

Having greater visibility into your volume and pricing commitments increases the accuracy of your forecasting and scheduling, maintains pricing discipline, helps manage and expedite the end-to-end sales agreement lifecycle, and incentivise salespeople to prioritise the metrics that offer the greatest business impact (profit margin as opposed to revenue).

4. How can I improve my field service response times with fewer staff? 

On the surface, the measures implemented to counter Covid-19 may appear to bring your field service offering to a standstill. But that doesn’t have to be the case, not if you use it as an opportunity to adopt a more intelligent way of delivering this service.

Industrial customers expect exceptional service powered by knowledge and data, and digital can help you deliver that despite social distancing. Powerful mobile apps help your field service technicians stay safe by maximise their time on site, optimise job scheduling and deliver a personalised service through improved information flow, agility and responsiveness.

All of which helps to increase successful first-visit resolutions, lower your costs and increase business revenue. 

Directing customers, where appropriate, to your digital commerce platform for them to self-service and re-order reduces unnecessary site visits, helping you to allocate your field workers appropriately.

5. How can I successfully manage a shifting supply chain? 

Supply chain disruption is arguably the greatest business impact manufacturers have faced as a result of Covid-19. It’s certainly not easy to maintain business continuity in the absence of key suppliers, materials, markets or distribution channels.

One thing has become clear in the weeks following the virus’ outbreak – traditional supply chains built on single points of supply must become a thing of the past. Many manufacturers have quickly woken up to the advantages offered by more transparent, optimised supplier management, supported by strong two-way communication from partners, suppliers, distributors and customers.

You might think that creating such an ecosystem would take months or years to implement, but versions of them can be quickly realised by layering real-time analytics tools on top of your existing ERP and supply chain data sources. Once that initial system is up and running, it can then be codified and transition into a more richly functional, longer-term solution.

Blending this information with data from your sales and marketing teams helps close the loop, ensuring that you’re not just listening to and interpreting your customers’ needs, but your mobilising your supply chain to swiftly deliver upon them.

6. Given everything that’s going on, why should I be prioritising digital now? 

At the time of writing, the lockdown is still in effect and people are, quite rightly, still focused on the health and welfare of themselves and those around them. Business owners are still concerned about the future of their operations and the ramifications any financial shortcomings may have on their employees, clients and partners.

It’s worth considering that in prior downturns, successful businesses were those that didn’t hold out for markets to improve, according to global management consultancy, Bain & Company.

Instead, they pivoted sales teams to focus on top priority accounts and prospects, they focused on improving the customer experience, they shifted their marketing to take advantage of digital channels, and they leveraged data analytics.

The net result of these actions? These businesses achieved 14% higher growth in nominal EBIT, on average, compared to those who sought to ‘slash and burn’ their way to other side, cutting R&D, scaling back on sales and marketing activities, and laying off valuable talent.

Others tolerated poor results, waiting to see what would happen before finally acting. More often than not, their actions were too late as they had fallen behind in product innovation while their market had moved on and customers had changed allegiances.

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