• Mike Shields

Making It in the Age of the Customer – For Manufacturers Only [infographic]

How you can transform your manufacturing business in five accessible ways.

Here is some clarification for you as a business leader in manufacturing - This series takes the generalities of ‘the need to be customer-centric’ and ‘the age of the customer’ and puts them into five practical and actionable dimensions for a very specific set of industries whose needs are being overlooked or ignored. I’m writing this specifically for manufacturing leaders who are frustrated with their inability to initiate, fund and realize what they know they need: A new way to engage, interact, and perform for their markets and customers.

I am one of ‘us’. I’ve lived my entire career in the world of customer engagement and business transformation in the manufacturing industry (for more years then I care to mention). During most of that time, first as a CIO and later as the C-level Marketing & Customer Care leader, my most common reactions to consultants and software salespeople was, ‘you’re not speaking about MY needs’ and ‘you just don’t understand what WE do’. Essentially, these sometimes well-intentioned and always self-assured advocates for their products/services were missing some essentials. They didn’t know what WE did, how WE did it, what WE could afford, and why WE weren’t already doing what they were pitching. They didn’t know MY business. I am not talking about knowing our specific products, services and customers… they didn’t understand the essential realities of our business model, the inherent complexities of our products and channels, and the range of people, capital and technology factors that we had to bring together to get a successful transformation. I’ve summarized these ‘misses’ into six key elements that generalists miss:

SIX KEY FACTORS missed by THE GENERALISTS [see infographic below]

  1. We are multi-channel – when you speak about ‘customers’ and ‘salespeople’, we are a community and network with a lot of diversity. We need solutions that bring us together but also enable us to keep our individual identities.

  2. Our Products are Adaptable – we make and sell technologies that are engineered for specific purposes; but may be adapted into many different applications and environments.

  3. Service Matters MORE – our products are expensive, capital equipment; and that means that efficiency, uptime and maintainability matter as much, or more, as the initial cost.

  4. Our Buyers and Sellers Need Knowledge – Our channel partners and end-customers range from very technical engineers to new ‘casual users’ with little familiarity with these technologies – all of these need knowledge and information in context for THEIR needs.

  5. Collaboration is KEY – We want to be seamless, and that means that we connect people and communities when they need help or have feedback.

  6. Our Systems are More Complex – In addition to the standard ERP and CRM needs, we have a full range of technologies and tools to support guided selling, product selection, sales configuration, order configuration and aftermarket upgrades/services. These need to be integrated.

When you put all of these into context, it presents major challenges for proprietary software providers and consulting generalists who simply cannot provide a comprehensive solution, instead offering e.g. a cookie-cutter CRM or Mobility software tool. Unlike ERP, which originated in Manufacturing, customer and channel-centric solutions for manufacturers have lagged, primarily due to the inherent complexities. What’s needed is a combination of process, data, and technology advances that are tuned specifically to the needs of manufacturers.

We’ve boiled this down to FIVE KEY ELEMENTS for Manufacturers to Transform their companies to lead in the AGE OF THE CUSTOMER:

By addressing all of these factors in a balanced, measured transformation program, manufacturers are getting what they need, and are avoiding the traps and mistakes of the oversimplified ‘buy new software’ solutions. We have spoken with leaders in literally hundreds of manufacturing companies who have bought CRM or some other specialized COMMERCE tools – only to be even more frustrated as they seem further away from meeting their needs. Worse yet, the money has been spent on a weak or impaired solution! How can you avoid this? For manufacturing, there is a specific set of key technology enablers that MUST be delivered in context. That is, you cannot ignore major elements of the solutions – process, data and technologies – because that will lead to failed outcomes. Instead, you will need to bring these into a balanced, measured transformation program – a lot like the journey to LEAN with the Five S’s – and only then will it ‘come to life’ for your customers, partners, and organization.

In our upcoming series, Manufacturing: Reinventing the Enterprise for The Age of the Customer we will cover five key imperatives that are within reach of companies ready to make the transition. Each of these addresses a practical and accessible response to the customer and market disruptions that are challenging most manufacturers to adapt. The most successful will dominate their industries within the next decade. As you’ll see, now is the right time to get on the right path. The simplicity and affordability of the solutions may surprise you. Stay tuned.