A CRM includes all applications, tools, and integrations necessary for manufacturers to manage their customer and channel touchpoints. It also provides real-time customer data such as leads, opportunities or sales forecasting, actual sales, service tickets or cases, and much more, articulated in reports, dashboards, and artificial intelligence recommendations.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solutions are instrumental in decision-making not just for sales and customer service but by various departments within an organization such as marketing, channel management, accounting, and even operations.
The ideal CRM for manufacturers software has evolved into a larger dynamic platform that goes beyond basic customer interactions and that enables manufacturers to adapt to changing markets, and mitigate market pressures.
If you’re more the Youtube type, you can watch this conversation, which covers the rest of the items discussed in this blog post.
Although it may change in the near future, there have been serious disruptions to the manufacturing sector since the beginning of 2020, including supply-side slowdowns in raw materials and components, as well as production interruptions in most geographies.
This adds to the underlying long-term changes in market expectation that have surfaced along the digital revolution. Customers in both B2B and B2C sectors expect better experiences across all their touchpoints.
As an example, in the B2B space, 69% of channel partners aren’t able to differentiate offerings from competition. This is where better digital experiences, with more self-service, mobile and easy to use touchpoints can make a difference.
Starting With a Few Key Questions
To stay competitive in business, manufacturers must leverage their CRM to build deep relationships with their customers and distributors to retain and gain a fair share of the market.
If you are in the manufacturing sector you may be asking yourself the following questions:
What are the key concepts to keep in mind when implementing a CRM in the manufacturing industry?
Read on for guidance towards the answers that work for your company!
Manufacturers need to consider different factors before implementing a CRM, including the state of their sales, customer support, channel management, ERP integration, company culture, and more.
This is because CRM optimization can take many paths depending on your priorities, the existing software you are using, and the complexity of your channel and quoting processes.
Here are some big concepts businesses should keep in mind when implementing a CRM for manufacturers…
Although similar, there is a major difference between ERP and CRM platforms.
A CRM is designed to manage the customer relationship, including automating, personalizing and keeping a trace of every interaction. From there, the information can be used and shared in real-time with various departments to ensure your company is delivering the best customer experience across departments.
For example, if the marketing team sends out emails about a promotion, and a customer calls his sales rep about the promotion, the sales rep can see in the customer’s profile the email in question. Later on in the life cycle of that customer, if he calls the customer service about the status of his order, the agent has access to the order information from the sales rep’s order or contract, and doesn’t need to ask the customer to repeat the whole story.
With the help of a CRM like Salesforce, manufacturers can:
In other words, a CRM for manufacturers is geared towards giving your teams a 360-degree view of, and control over, the customer experience.
The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system, on the other hand, focuses on your supply chain, production, and inventory. It may or may not be integrated to your accounting system and to your shipping platform / or that of your shipping providers. The main function of the ERP is the management, tracking and costing of supplies, orders and production. It is very much internal, back-office-focused. It doesn’t manage most of the customer touchpoints.
To simplify, you could say the CRM is the front-office that manages the customer experience (other than product usage), while the ERP manages the back-offices, with a focus on the inputs and outputs of production.
Once the difference has been understood, your teams will be better able to identify which part of your company’s strategy will leverage which platform.
Furthermore, and this is the first critical element to remember from this article: the CRM and ERP should be integrated together. That’s right. Manufacturing companies who want to scale, or simply survive the current digital and supply chain disruptions, integrating CRM and ERP is the necessary first step… but how do ERP and CRM work together?
Let’s go back to our previous cross-department example. The ERP holds information that should be fed to sales, partner portals and e-commerce sites, which is the inventory levels, and ideally the delivery date to be expected for each product. With the ERP integrated to the CRM, all your “front-office” departments have this information in-hand to guide and answer customers during their journey. This applies to sales and customer service at a bare minimum.
The other way around, would be the CRM helping the ERP. Which is exactly what you get using the sales pipeline data of the CRM. In a CRM, every active business opportunity has an amount and a probability of close (%). Using this data, sales forecast reports can be made with opportunities that meet a certain threshold of probability. These forecasts can be shared to the ERP and the operations team to enable them to better plan the supply chain. Forecasting can be done overall, or for individual products, or product categories, to really help your company navigate the current supply chain and logistics disruptions.
A CRM like Salesforce, which boasts open APIs, enables manufacturers to integrate their CRM and ERP together, with a two-way flow of data, to support sales, customer service, operations and other departments.
What is certain is that companies need both solutions to scale and survive: CRM to improve sales and the overall customer experience; ERP to manage and optimize logistics and production-related operations.
The mistake most manufacturers make is thinking that their ERP can play the role of CRM. That simply isn’t the case. Just like you wouldn’t ask a CRM to do the job of an ERP.
A CRM focuses on customer touchpoints, while an ERP for manufacturers focuses on production and purchasing planning, execution and inventory. The difference is key.
The explosion of demand in a CRM for manufacturers is not surprising as the value it provides for the industry is undeniable.
With a CRM’s capabilities of unifying sales, marketing, and customer service on a single platform, it has become a must-have for all businesses.
But how exactly can this tool be leveraged to maximize its benefits? Let’s see how a CRM helps each of the following departments reach their respective goals…
According to LinkedIn State of Sales 2021 (USA & Canada), 70% of sales representatives say that their CRM is a very important tool to close deals.
Other widely shared statistics about CRMs is that they can help increase sales by up to 29%, and increase the accuracy of sales forecasting by up to 32%.
Without a doubt, some of the most important tasks facing sales teams are:
A CRM tool not only solves these key problems, but it does it at scale, namely through guided selling, automations and reporting that make the lives of sales reps easier.
Guided selling customizes the UI of the CRM to your sales process. When a sales rep accesses a Lead or Opportunity, the page itself tells them what the next steps are. Are we at a phone qualification step? A quoting step? An approval step? It’s all there, and it helps everyone implement the tried and tested sales formula that your company has perfected over the years, or new steps that may be necessary for a new offer that was just launched. Imagine how much easier it would be for NEW sales reps that just joined your organization if they had guided selling?
Reporting is expected, and is key, to track the progress of closed sales, quotas and other similar targets. But reporting can go much further. If you analyze the work of your top sales performer, you may notice that they spend their time on a specific mix of prospecting, emailing, calling, etc. Your CRM can surface this information and give points of references to managers and reps as to what the best use of their time can be for optimal business development and conversion.
Automations are the biggest efficiency drivers for your manufacturing production infrastructure. The same should be true for your CRM for manufacturers. In a typical week, sales reps can spend hours drafting quotes or contracts. This can be automated by using the right CRM tools, thereby saving every salesperson several hours per week, which they can spend prospecting or nurturing existing customer relationships. Automations can also be applied to approval processes, reminders about important tasks, and even automated emails that share key documents with Leads at a specific step in the qualification process. The human mind is for creative problem solving. Automation is for everything else. The more you are able to automate administrative work for your sales reps, the more time they can spend selling.
What is the first and biggest silo that a CRM should enable you to break within your company? The silo between sales and marketing.
With the rapid growth and adoption of consumer technology of the past 20 years, customers in all sectors (including B2B) have become increasingly knowledgeable and tech-savvy. They know what they want and have learned to weigh their options as they have multiple companies, products, and services to choose from.
Their trust in a brand is now intrinsically linked to the experience they get from it. They now expect a personalized experience from all businesses they interact with, especially if the differentiation between competing products is marginal.
This is where breaking the silo between sales and marketing becomes crucial, and the CRM is pretty much the only way to do it. Within your CRM resides all the qualitative information gathered by your sales team during the Lead qualification phase, as well as the ordering/customer phase. At the same time, within your marketing automation platform resides all the behavioral data of the same person consuming your marketing content before, during and after a sale.
Can sales data help marketing? Can marketing data help sales? Of course. When should that happen? As soon as possible!
Sales can use marketing data as conversation helpers, and to re-engage old Leads, by bringing up topics that are clearly of interest to the Lead or customer. The sales rep knows the person has downloaded white paper A, viewed case study B, and clicked on promotional email C. That is actionable data.
On the other hand, marketing can use qualitative information gathered by sales to further personalize marketing emails and dynamic Web content to be more relevant. If the sales rep has tagged a Lead as interested in offer 1, product family 2, and service package 3, marketing can nurture that Lead by sending it case studies or other relevant content about these offers. Furthermore, by breaking the silo between sales and marketing, companies can trace sales revenue back to the marketing campaigns that generated those Leads in the first place. From there, marketing KPIs are not just about the number of Leads, they can be about actual revenue generated. This, of course, requires integration of sales and marketing data through your CRM.
A CRM in the manufacturing industry should be expected to cover the entire 360-degree view of the Lead and customer life cycle. This inc
ludes providing a marketing automation module, or the ability to integrate the necessary 3rd-party marketing automation application.
In addition to what was mentioned above, the CRM-fueled collaboration between sales and marketing will enable your marketing teams to deliver the right content at the right time to the right audience. Here’s how:
Did you know that 53% of partners viewed existing content provided by vendors/manufacturers as mediocre or worse. However, 75% of partners in the same study ranked content as important.
CRM for manufacturers shouldn’t be understood merely as a sales improvement tool. It can be, and should be much more.
Customer service, or care, is one of the business functions that has been the most disrupted by the digital revolution. For a time, everything revolved around the optimization of call center queues and call duration. Since then it has greatly evolved into a complete omnichannel experience combining FAQ, call, email, chatbot, SMS, service/ticket portal, knowledge base, and social media monitoring/posting.
Did you know that for 69% of consumers the first reaction to an issue is to try to resolve it themselves? However, less than 33% of companies offer the necessary self-service options?
Obviously, businesses looking to scale, transform and upgrade their customer service experience and efficiency can benefit from a CRM.
But how specifically can it improve the daily activities of your support staff? Let’s dig in…
We’re all human, and we react accordingly. Setting up your teams to deliver solid customer service at scale is a great way to increase customer retention. 78% of customers will forgive a company for its mistake after receiving excellent service.
As critical as any other part of your CRM is how it helps you manage, engage and leverage your distribution and go-to-market channels.
In this context, customization is the golden rule of any good CRM for manufacturers because of the diversity of channels that they use:
Enabling and supporting these channels can be quite demanding for your teams. And equipping them with a platform that can manage these various scenarios is not less demanding.
As a business, your CRM should be able to accommodate the particularities of the sales process of each one of your channels. This means the ability to customize lead, contact, opportunity and account records for every channel. The sales guidance, quoting and contract tools and template should follow suit, as it is very common to have various product catalogs, pricing and approval policies based on each channel. And within those, you may have specificities for different account types, namely based on size or volume of business (account pricing or multipliers, etc.).
This also applies to customer service channels and processes, and marketing segmentation as well.
Depending on the situation, you might be bigger or smaller than your distribution partners. If you are smaller, you may be requested to feed the platforms of your partners with your product, pricing and documentation. A CRM with open APIs will make it easier to implement automated synchronization between your CRM and your partners’ platforms. This strengthens your relationships by enabling your partners to resell your products with the latest and most up to date data. If your ERP is integrated with your CRM, you can also relay inventory information via the same integration.
If you are bigger than your distribution partners, or have a relationship where they would find it useful to access your information directly, you can service them using a partner portal. A robust CRM should include a portal module that enables you to create one or multiple portals.
Partner portals can be leveraged extensively to create value-added touchpoints for your partners, and where they can:
In the Salesforce world, the module to create dedicated partner portails is Salesforce Experience Cloud (formerly Community Cloud).
Whatever partner programs you are offering or planning to rollout, make sure they are straightforward and easy to navigate for your partners, as up to 73% of partners say vendor channel programs are too complex. Easy of use starts with giving them all the information they need to get going, and automate the journey as much as possible so they don’t have to always “figure out” what the next step is.
E-commerce transactional sites are becoming more and more unavoidable for many manufacturers, whether they are B2B, B2B2C, or B2C. In a B2C setup, every customer is treated the same, with transparent pricing. However, in B2B and B2B2C scenarios, they must support the account and pricing model prescribed by your channel management practices. Which is why a CRM for manufacturers should offer channel-specific features to support the following:
In the Salesforce world, the modules used to create e-commerce sites are called B2B Commerce, B2B2C Commerce and B2C Commerce.
Although this isn’t the case for all manufacturers, many now sell connected products.
How does that relate to a CRM? Well, again, a CRM with open APIs allows manufacturers of connected products to share product usage data to sales, customer service, marketing, and operations. Each of these departments can gain valuable insight into how each customer or account actually uses products. There will be patterns:
This synergy between connected product usage and front-office business function may not be the first thing manufacturers need to put in place. But it should definitely be on their 2 to 3 year CRM roadmap.
Some manufacturers offer to manage the maintenance of equipment. If that is your case, you should also expect your CRM to play a key role in those services.
Accurate product information coming from your ERP and reflected in your CRM enables sales and customer service to give the right information to customers enquiring or needing maintenance.
As well, it enables you to offer predictive maintenance services if your products have a predetermined and/or scheduled need for maintenance, parts changes or other similar intervention.
Tasks, reminders, renewals and notifications can be automatically sent at specific dates to your customers as well as your own sales, customer service, operations and field service teams.
Management of the contracts, and service requests, related to maintenance services should all be handled by the CRM.
If you have connected products, the automations can even take effect based on actual product usage instead of predetermined dates or time intervals.
The CRM, just like it assigns Leads to the right sales rep, and support requests to the right customer service agent, can dispatch servicing requests to the right technician or team based on a wide-variety of criteria. From the servicing location, technicians should be able to enter information in the mobile app of the CRM.
Every touchpoint is tracked. Every customer interaction is logged. And all of the data is kept at the disposal of the teams who need it within the company.
Consider every topic mentioned above. With the right CRM you actually get data every step of the way on all these internal and external actions and touchpoints, which enables you to report on them.
After automation comes optimization, which is exactly what reporting using your CRM data enables you to do. Whether it is sales, customer service, marketing, channel management, e-commerce, connected products, or servicing and maintenance, Manufacturers should look forward to improving their practices using real actionable data.
Before you get too excited, consider the following. Reporting only works if you have data. So the first step is always to set up the desired process in your CRM and with your teams. Roll it out so you start improving your customer and employee experience. Then start looking at the data you collect and fill any gap you have in data collection. This gives you your initial “state of the art” of where your company actually is in terms of performance and evolution. From there set realistic or stretch goals against which you measure your performance. This is where proper manufacturing CRM reporting will enable you to:
Manufacturers can often feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, customers expect better experiences, especially digital and personalized experiences. On the other hand, supply chain disruptions due to a myriad of factors is pressuring operations like never before.
Being able to rely on a robust and flexible CRM won’t fix raw material or component shortages, but it will definitely enable you to:
An effective CRM implementation should allow your business to improve over time.
Every week, every month, and every quarter, your CRM administrators or consulting partner should be able to add automations and reports that make the lives of your teams easier and enable them to do more than before.
Approach your CRM like a product to which you add features over time. The features are all built into the capabilities of the platform, but you may have to activate and customize them to fit your business needs.
Nevertheless, your “product owners”, in consultation with your different departments, should be able to identify pain points and opportunities to add value for your business, and deploy them as part of an ongoing backlog.
The CRMs of today were built to evolve. Make sure you select a CRM that fits the bill, and doesn’t lock your teams with a fixed set of features that are hard to adapt to your business realities.
And, by the way, this is where we come in. You can call upon the SOLJIT Team any day of the week to ensure you maximize the return on investment of your CRM.
Jean-Philippe Bernard (00:00):
The first thing that comes to mind is trying to make your CRM like an ERP. To me, that’s the biggest mistake that I see in the market. A sales cycle is never as linear as a production cycle of any sort.
David Lamarche (00:20):
What big concepts should manufacturers keep in mind when it comes to their CRM and what’s around it?
Jean-Philippe Bernard (00:35):
With regards to the CRM, there are a few things that they need to do and take into consideration. One of them is acknowledging that a CRM is not an ERP. Manufacturing companies need to realize that those two tools are two distinct tools that serve two very different purposes. Companies need to focus their CRM on everything related to customer contact to get good visibility and a good understanding of their customers. The 360-degree view of their customers is really important. Doing that facilitates any interactions that they can have with their customers using a solid CRM.
David Lamarche (01:14):
You mentioned the ERP. With the ERP and the CRM working together, what can be leveraged by manufacturers to get the best returns?
Jean-Philippe Bernard (01:28):
What we’ve noticed to be the best combination among a few of our customers is the ERP interconnected to their CRM. A reason why it’s so powerful is that it brings the two sides together. An ERP is very robust, very defined, and very structured. It helps manage all your production and inventories, as well as any supplies currently in transit to be produced and to be shipped. On the other hand, the CRM allows for a more human touch: a more customer-centric approach to how you handle your customers. When you connect the two, you produce a highly positive customer experience that is supported by very efficient production or manufacturing machines.
David Lamarche (02:16):
Can we dive into the details, into more tangible things? Going down one level, what types of automations, applications, or integrations should the companies focus on, alongside their CRM to get the most right now.
Jean-Philippe Bernard (02:36):
One of the first tasks is to deliver comprehensive information to the customer-facing teams about what’s going on on the production side. For example, bringing back information about invoices, orders, the status of a specific order, etc. By bringing it through the CRM, it’s incredibly easy for team members to have the information they need when they interact with the customer. They have a better understanding of the account status and what’s going on. That’s one of the key things. The other point correlates to how you manage your business and how you manage the churn. Let’s say that you leverage the various reporting capabilities and alerts in your CRM, for example. If you’re expecting 100K a month from a certain customer, and it falls short to 50K the following month, an alert will warn you that this customer’s revenues have dropped by more than 20%. You can act quickly and investigate. That can give you great insights on what’s going on in the market, and let you know whether a competitor is eating at you, at one of your customers.
David Lamarche (03:47):
When you’re talking about the customer-facing side of the company, you mean sales and customer support. Which teams can use a CRM to take their company to the next level?
Jean-Philippe Bernard (04:01):
Truly everybody! Inside sales, direct sales, channel managers at manufacturing companies; they can all leverage a CRM. Most manufacturing companies do business through a network of distributors. The CRM can really help you have a clear understanding of who your big end-customers are, as well as how to efficiently manage your distribution network.
David Lamarche (04:36):
Jean-Philippe Bernard (04:37):
How does it give you insights into the business? When you’re managing your distribution network, you need to know who handles what, which customer is handled by whom, who the distributors are, what type of business flows through which type of distributors. The CRM allows you to have that granularity and to bring the information to life for the people to manage it. Reporting and dashboard capabilities are where you’ll notice the most significant benefits. It’s what we call having a 360-degree view of the customer. You can have the same information about the distributors and other players. The main benefit of a properly set up CRM is the capacity to build relationships between those people. You can pivot very rapidly in reaction to what’s going on and who does what. That provides you with even more insights into your business.
David Lamarche (05:34):
If I’m trying to put these things together: your different sales teams, inside sales, sales, partner managers, customer service, etc. All the information related to their customers is in the CRM, which is connected to the ERP. I also have the ordering flow and details, and that enables them to sell better and service better?
Jean-Philippe Bernard (06:00):
Yes, precisely. For a lot of manufacturing companies, the market dynamics are quite complex. I’ll give you the example of one of the customers we’ve been working with. Traditionally, they were doing very large building projects via a specific distributor. By implementing a CRM, they’re now able to track those projects themselves and have a lot more direct interactions with the actual building builder, who is a general contractor. Plus, with the status of that project, they can now lead their growth themselves with those large building constructions. Without a CRM, they couldn’t. They did not have that ability because they were somewhat blind to what was going on in the market. The CRM brings everything to light, enabling the executives to take decisions and then realign their sales force and activities.
David Lamarche (07:08):
All right. When it’s appropriate, their inside teams have all the information they need. They can push some of that out to their partners who need it. They’re also fed information by their partners because they’re connected to their CRM. Sometimes small improvements. And we went a bit into the details. We didn’t go too deep. I do want to look at small concrete examples. Small improvements can sometimes generate big results. What is a small optimization that you can do in your CRM, that seems insignificant but can end up generating a lot of upsides for manufacturers?
Jean-Philippe Bernard (07:45):
One of my favorite ones relates to reports and dashboards. Reports pulled from ERP systems are usually pretty static, meaning you only have one real view of something. One thing that I really like to do with my customers is to grab one report and pivot it multiple times in the dashboard. With a click of a button, you have the whole thing refreshed with real-time information. You’re then able to see the same situation, but from multiple perspectives at the same time. That gives executives some very good insights into what’s going on, what’s going well, and what needs to be acted upon, and they can react accordingly.
David Lamarche (08:32):
Good example. I want to go on the opposite side of the coin. Sometimes you’re implementing a CRM, or upgrading it, or adding more stuff, and people focus on things that won’t give them good returns. Right? What is an example of something that shouldn’t grab people’s attention, that they shouldn’t focus on? Or at least that they should deprioritize from their to-do list.
Jean-Philippe Bernard (08:57):
The first thing that comes to mind is trying to make your CRM like an ERP. To me, that’s the biggest mistake that I see in the market. ERPs are meant to be very specific, very structured, robust. But CRMs, they’re not meant to be like that. A sales cycle is never as linear as a production cycle of any sort. The biggest mistake that manufacturers should avoid is trying to make their CRM too strict. Give the ability. Don’t put a lot of validation rules. Don’t think that you can add 40 questions that the salespeople need to fill before they get to a certain status, etc. Start by keeping it simple and, as you use it, understand what’s missing to generate the next value and invest in that specific improvement.
David Lamarche (09:54):
With modern platforms like Salesforce, you can typically improve by increments very quickly. You don’t have to plan two years ahead. No, no, no. Do what you need for the next month. And then for the next month and the next month and the next month. Going back to a higher level, the market is moving very fast. Of course, everything was disrupted by the pandemic. There were supply chain issues due to the pandemic, but also due to other factors. If you look at everything that’s happening and the speed at which it’s happening, how can a CRM help a company navigate these disruptions?
Jean-Philippe Bernard (10:35):
The CRM will help navigate through all the changes and the market dynamics by providing you with better insights into what’s going on. That’s really a key driver, especially with manufacturers. They need to get closer to their end customers. That should be their target. With technology right now, the actual supply chain is getting shorter and shorter. Companies need to make sure that, whatever they do, they understand their larger customers and what’s going on with them—and not only from a marketing standpoint. How to try to secure sales directly, but then fulfilling it through their distribution network. But they need to have a very good understanding of what’s going on with the end-users so they can react to the market dynamics.
David Lamarche (11:26):
Going back to the people: if a company’s working on their CRM, that’s going to be an internal project. There might be an external service provider that works on that project. If I’m a manufacturer working on my own digital acceleration project, what mindset should I have to get the best outcomes for my project?
Jean-Philippe Bernard (11:57):
Keep it simple. Don’t try to boil the ocean. I’ve seen so many times what I call analysis paralysis. Because if you try to put in a system with a very complex process, you can put it on paper, you can draw boxes, but at one point it becomes too complex, even for a human brain to be able to process it. So, go one step at a time. There’s an old saying I like: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
David Lamarche (12:34):
I hadn’t heard that one. We talked about the right mindset. What would be the mind traps to avoid? So, if that’s the right mindset, what mindset or assumptions should companies avoid when working on their own projects?
Jean-Philippe Bernard (12:51):
I think it’s the mindset shift from how projects were run you know, 10 years ago, 5 years ago, 20 years ago, compared to the capabilities of the new platforms. The mindset they should avoid is thinking that if they don’t describe or list all their requirements right now, they won’t have another shot at implementing them. The new platforms allow users to drive digital acceleration to make changes every month. That’s what they should leverage. Think, go with the priorities, and then build on it; add functionalities as you go along over time.
David Lamarche (13:33):
I have one last question for you. What do you wish for manufacturers who are trying to navigate this environment, trying to grow, trying to seize these opportunities or mitigate the risks they’re facing? What is your wish for all the manufacturers out there?
Jean-Philippe Bernard (13:53):
I would wish for them to get into that digital acceleration path, to move from a digital transformation, which is really static in time, to invest a little bit every month to get better every month because the market changes every day, every month. They need to have a similar improvement track. They need to align how they do things to how the market is evolving. That’d be my wish, and the good thing is that the current platforms really allow you to do that. They should seize the opportunity.
David Lamarche (14:26):
All right. Thanks for dropping by, Jean-Phillipe. I’m sure we’ll talk again soon.
Jean-Philippe Bernard (14:31):