CRM for Manufacturers: A Necessary Investment For Increasing Sales?

Many manufacturing companies have had thriving businesses for decades without the help of a standalone CRM (customer relationship management) system.

Manufacturer Account Manager with Tablet Computer

For many manufacturers, the ERP system has served as the company’s shared repository of customer information.

Individual salespeople have managed end customer, dealer, and distributor personnel information as contacts in email.

A salesperson at a manufacturer who manages major accounts knows precisely who to stay in touch with. In their case, it’s the quality of relationships, not the quantity.

For manufacturers that do not have a CRM system in place, here are some of the places where we’ve seen customer data stored:

  • Leads are in spreadsheets
  • Accounts and sales history are in the ERP system
  • Contacts are in Outlook, Gmail, contact managers, and paper notepads
  • Activities (meetings and phone calls) are in Outlook and Google calendars
  • Opportunities are in spreadsheets

Should All Manufacturers Rush to Adopt CRM?

Many standalone CRM vendors rightly proclaim that the CRM offered by most ERP vendors is very basic. In the realm of small to mid-size businesses, most ERP vendor CRM offerings are not extensible platforms that can be used to build custom functionality and workflow on top of a basic CRM database.

At the enterprise level, Oracle and SAP now offer robust CRM platforms at a level that smaller ERP vendors cannot afford to build or buy.

Either way, there’s no point in a company adopting a new CRM system just because CRM gets a lot of press.

There need to be sufficient business drivers.

There are several costs associated with CRM beyond the cost of CRM licenses. If the business drivers for a new CRM are insufficient, no CRM system will produce an ROI, even under the best circumstances.

Business Drivers for CRM Adoption By Manufacturers

What are some of the business drivers that, as a group, may signal the fact that CRM systems should be evaluated?

Higher Quality Sales Leads

For years, many sales “leads” were lists of trade show booth attendees. Sometimes, leads were lists that were purchased from industry database vendors.

Increased digital marketing efforts are producing higher-quality sales leads compared to traditional methods. An increasing number of leads are people who expressed a business need for your product type or category.

Leads that are worth following up with need to be efficiently distributed to salespeople. Marketing should understand the disposition of leads so they can capture even better leads in the future.

We helped one of our manufacturing clients evaluate CRM vendors and marketing automation vendors simultaneously, as inbound market efforts were to be an essential value component of the CRM implementation.

Easier Collaboration Among Salespeople

In the absence of CRM, there are many traditional methods, such as email, for salespeople to communicate internally.

However, CRM allows for this if there’s a need for internal, online discussions relating to specific prospects, customers, opportunities, and other entities. Conversations can be directly connected to specific companies, people, sales opportunities, and more.

Salesforce’s Chatter, Slack, and Microsoft Teams are examples of this collaborative functionality.

Several of our CRM strategy & selection clients rated this type of cross-communication as a high-priority business requirement.

More Cross-Product Revenue Opportunities

Over time, many manufacturers develop or acquire new products. A manufacturer may inherit an entire sales team via an acquisition.

When existing customers are prospects for newly acquired products, CRM is an opportunity to facilitate conversations that can expose and facilitate new revenue opportunities with existing clients.

The best time to identify how technology can facilitate cross-communication and cross-selling is before investing significantly in a CRM system.

Better Forecasting for Production

For certain types of manufacturers, the sales department can provide necessary inputs into forecasting for manufacturing plants.

If spreadsheets and ad hoc communications between sales and production are too time-consuming or are not working, CRM can reduce the time and effort required to provide meaningful forecast inputs.

Smartphone Access to ERP Data

Many of today’s ERP systems have a traditional client/server architecture. For salespeople who work from a home office, a manufacturer’s IT department often sets up remote desktop services access to the ERP system for those salespeople.

However, the IT department doesn’t always have the time or the resources to build a smartphone application that gives field users easy access to ERP data.

If ERP data is synchronized to a CRM system that has a mature smartphone client, field salespeople will have easier access to data such as open quotes and sales order history while traveling from client to client.

“Mobile Client” must be more than a CRM feature checklist item. The methods for delivering ERP data to smartphones should be thought through in advance.

Adjunct Software Sales

Many manufacturers develop software programs, such as design software, to help customers with field applications of their products.

Software represents more of an event sale than a traditional stream of ongoing product orders from distributors. A software sale cycle is a natural fit for CRM, particularly the Opportunity Management component.

Product Registration and Asset Tracking

In a discrete manufacturing environment, sold products can be stored in CRM. Products can be linked to their current owners.

CNC Field Equipment

This data can be shared with the service and tech support teams when products are registered. A tech support rep can search for a machine by serial number and link that machine to a service ticket.

Each asset’s tech support and filed service history can be viewed within a CRM record.

We advised one of our customers who was looking into a new CRM system to add asset tracking and the relationship of assets to tech support cases as a requirement when evaluating potential CRM vendors.

Capturing Customer Input for Future Product Development and Improved Customer Service

A CRM system can be used to gather customer feedback in several ways.

This can be in the form of surveys that are sent out after a case is resolved. It can also be through the existence of customer communities, in which customers have a feedback forum.

We helped one customer specify a customer satisfaction landing page. Each closed case triggered an email with a link to the landing page. The survey results could be viewed and reported on within the CRM system.

Other Drivers

There are many other potential drivers for CRM in manufacturing. Some of them may be specific to a given manufacturer’s business.

Before investing in expensive CRM technology, it’s best to take a step back and examine needs on a business level.

Every manufacturing company is different. There is no “one size fits all” CRM solution for a manufacturer. Through stakeholder and employee interviews ahead of a technology investment, unique drivers will surface.

These drivers can be used not only to select the best-fit technology platform but also to determine the best way to shape the chosen platform to meet the needs of the manufacturing business.

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