Increasingly, companies of all sizes are looking at CRM (customer relationship management) software to assist in their customer interactions. Manufacturers and distributors are no longer just waiting for customers to contact them with what they want. Instead, they are now forecasting and planning what will be in demand in the coming months using technology that helps them understand their customers. Back in 2017, a survey by Manufacturing.net and Manufacturing Business Technology found that 41% of manufacturers were then either currently using a CRM system or were in the process of implementing one. That number has since increased.
When it comes to selecting CRM software, manufacturers and distributors need to be aware that not all CRM systems are the same, and that they need to consider one that aligns with the way their business works, and with their specific requirements and processes.
How are you managing your sales leads, contacts, opportunities, and customer service issues? If you say a spreadsheet (or pen and paper), you may experience the following:
- Your sales and marketing teams may not be in alignment with customers or leads unless they have a meeting or follow a paper trail
- Data is duplicated by different staff members — or worse – data is inaccurate
- Marketing can update a lead’s contact information and forget to tell sales, and sales can change a customer’s information and forget to tell marketing; the same thing can occur when the customer details are stored in the back-office systems
- There isn’t a central source of history of customer activity that you can use to plan your business
Companies use CRM to organize data about customers and leads and to manage after-sales and customer service issues. You may hear some CRM vendors use the term “360-degree view of your customers.” That means being able to have complete insight into your customer data across the enterprise. It also increases the ability of different teams and departments to collaborate on customer-related activity and information.
Why CRM for manufacturing and distribution?
Companies are using CRM software targeted for manufacturing and distribution businesses to streamline their sales processes and deliver improved customer service.
Companies in these models and specific industries have some unique requirements. In many B2B and B2C environments, multiple people are involved in a set of complex processes when it comes to sales and service. A CRM for manufacturing and distribution recognizes that the account, i.e. the company, is the primary element of information and that accounts will contain multiple contacts. It will also allow for hierarchies of accounts, for example, subsidiaries of a customer can be classified under one head office, so you get an overall picture of what is going on in the whole business or group.
Improving the sales process
In nearly all cases, businesses invest in a CRM system to coordinate marketing and sales efforts so that they can achieve:
- Improved conversion rate of leads to customers
- Knowledge on when to follow up on high-quality, sales-ready leads
- Tracked engagements with customers
- Improved sales process by analysis of win-loss ratios
Instead of the information about an opportunity being on a sales person’s personal file system or in their head, a CRM application allows management and other team members to see where deals stand in the sales pipeline. With this information, you can track every potential deal against the orders your customers place so you have a full record of their sales history; when they initiated the conversation, placed the order, how much it cost, and its delivery. This historical data helps reveal the peak order times and downtimes for each customer, giving you better predictability of future opportunities or even potential risks.
A CRM system also enables greater collaboration between marketing and sales teams. With a centralized customer database, both teams can get to the key players in every deal. Also, sales and marketing can provide more detailed reports on their activities and the results they are achieving.
Moving your sales online
For the sales department specifically, a CRM built for manufacturing and distribution should make the generation of proposals and quotes easier and more visible. Apart from the accurate customer or lead information, a salesperson should be able to use CRM to view inventory by stock code and produce accurate quotes that take into account customer-specific pricing and promotions.
With access to customer history and inventory data, the sales team can use analytics to visualize trends in order histories and therefore assist in the demand forecasting, managing more efficient inventory levels, build more profitable product mixes, and of course, hit revenue targets. With more accurate sales estimates, production planning becomes easier.
Moving service online
The proper delivery of a product and after-sales services are as important for a manufacturing or distribution company as closing a new deal. A big issue is the management of warranties and handling of complaints, returns, and repairs:
- Tracking and resolving issues: A CRM allows your company to create a ticketing system for tracking, updating, and resolving issues. It gives customers a way to bring attention to problems and ensures no ticket slips through the cracks or gets forgotten. It also ensures a service agent has a customer’s historical information readily accessible and so they can provide a satisfactory experience.
- Customer complaints: A company can use its CRM to gather feedback from customer complaints about product quality and relay it back to the planning and production teams, as well as better understand the resolutions to those complaints and level of customer satisfaction as a result.
- Returns: For returns, a CRM for manufacturing and distribution should be able to log and track service tickets related to serial or lot traceable items and process returns to fix the items, cross-ship a replacement, or provide a credit.
- Warranty management: To provide effective warranty management, the CRM should include the capability to track warranties for inventoried items, current and in the past, and provide an automated escalation process to ensure high-quality customer service. As well, the warranty should dictate the billable nature of service and whether a customer will incur costs for parts, labor, or expenses to resolve a product issue.
- Data analysis: With data on complaints and returns, the service department can gather and analyze the data to assist in identifying process errors that contribute to product defects as well as post visual dashboards of KPIs to further drive success.
Manufacturing & distribution CRM for marketing
For the marketing team, it’s increasingly important to be able to plan and track activities like campaigns, promotions, and when COVID-19 is over, trade shows, and events. With CRM, marketing can define the tasks within the marketing team and monitor them to completion. With integration to an email distribution system, you can personalize marketing engagements, and track interactions and responses from customers and leads. As the market is moving to online platforms, a CRM system should enable you to create campaigns and promotions on social media like Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube.
Using analytical tools, a marketing team can compare estimated budgets and actual expenses to generate better ROI and cost reporting.
In many countries these days, there is legislation on data privacy – making sure that individuals’ data is kept secure and not shared without permission to third parties. The database of a CRM system should be stored in one location so you can track consent and opt-in or opt-out preferences, and delete or change information as needed. Access to the data should be controlled to restrict the visibility or modification of key data elements.
ERP and CRM
A few years ago, it was commonplace for companies to buy a stand-alone CRM application, simply because that was the only choice. The problem came when trying to integrate the CRM data with the ERP system. It was either costly to get the integration working, or involved quite a lot of time and effort by staff to ensure the data was synced properly and on-time. Furthermore, few CRM systems catered specifically for the manufacturing and distribution industries; they tended to be generic which required additional time and cost to customize.
That’s why manufacturers and distributors who currently have an ERP system should look at whether there is an available CRM module that complements their ERP application. Going this route is significantly more cost-effective than paying for a third-party CRM and will integrate with the ERP system seamlessly. By using a CRM as part of an overall ERP strategy you can combine data in real-time from the CRM with the ERP for a complete view of the order, customer, sales, service, inventory, and production environment.
It’s important these days to engage your market and buyers before, during, and after the sale. To achieve this, a CRM system is highly recommended. But manufacturers and distributors shouldn’t just look at whatever CRM system they know, but consider how the CRM supports their overall requirements and fits into their existing technology stack. If it comes as part of an ERP application, that’s even better.