The global manufacturing industry is one of the world’s most competitive according to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Manufacturing Competitiveness Index. The recent economic downturn made life difficult for manufacturers, forcing many find ways to reduce costs and boost productivity, with advanced digital technology such as CRM manufacturing software suddenly becoming a key differentiator.
In fact, CEOs from the 6 leading manufacturing nations (US, China, Japan, South Korea, Germany and India) indicated that the best way to put distance between themselves and the competition is through the effective on-boarding of CRM manufacturing software.
Not only because of its role in cost reduction and productivity, but also recognizing the need to shift to a more customer-centric business model.
Exponential output improvements mean companies have to offer more personalized experiences to attract new business and reduce the number of paying customers leaving to competitors.
But with all the options available to companies, how do you decide which CRM manufacturing software to choose? What exactly is it you should be looking for from your provider?
Role of CRM in Manufacturing Sector
Before we can decide which software to choose it’s important to understand the specific role of CRM in the manufacturing sector.
The first and perhaps most important aspect manufacturers should look out for is a CRM’s ability to help accurately forecast sales for the upcoming month, quarter and even financial year. Mobile CRM systems automatically collate data from the field enabling managers to analyze historical trends, peaks in demand, macro and micro economy fluctuations as well as product seasonality.
This gives companies a good idea of how much raw materials will be needed for production, optimize inventory levels while still meeting and exceeding customer expectations. Accurate forecasting also allows manufacturers to determine an optimum supply rate further reducing expenses associated with excess production levels.
Now there are many sales forecasting processes available to managers (Exponential Smoothing and Simple Moving Average being the two most popular) that are all dependent on the quality of data input into the CRM – something we’ll get into a little later on.
A further role of CRM in the manufacturing sector is to provide insight into team performance through detailed sales reports.
Sales reports are the only real tool managers and directors have at their disposal to track revenue, opportunity status, sales pipeline and any other number of metrics determined important enough to monitor.
With this information they can plot a course of action to improve individual and team performance. This can be done by adjusting the sales strategy, supporting reps and clearing blockages in the sales funnel or even organizing specific selling skills training sessions.
Again, as was the case when sales forecasting, data accuracy is critical when conducting reports. If it’s inaccurate, incomplete or worst case scenario, non-existent, sales managers are left blind to what’s really happening out in the field.
Best CRM for Manufacturing Companies
The top CRM for the manufacturing industry will typically include the following characteristics:
- User friendly interface
- Integration with other business software
- Work offline
User friendly interface
This might seem like a minor detail at first but actually, it should be right there at the top of your list when looking at potential providers.
Why? It all comes down to data input.
So many areas of sales management are affected by the quality of data input into the CRM system (reporting and forecasting being just two) as it’s the base on which all important decisions in the company are made upon. If the data is of poor quality it will be mirrored in management’s decision making.
How to solve it then?
The people entering data into the manufacturing CRM will typically be your front line sales teams. These are the guys meeting with customers and prospects on a day-to-day basis – conducting meetings, orders and other sales-driving activities.
If the tool they use is slow, cumbersome and hinders their ability to work efficiently it will be abandoned. And if the CRM is abandoned, what data are managers and directors using to make their decisions?
This is whey when looking at potential providers you must keep usability front of mind and include front-line users in the decision-making process. Ask them to trial out the system either through a free-trial period or if the provider allows it, a 2-3 month pilot. This will give your field sales reps enough time to become familiar with the system and if the feedback is positive, you can then be confident that when rolled out company wide there shouldn’t be any problems with user adoption.
Another usability-related CRM manufacturing software feature to look out for is mobility.
Considering the amount of time manufacturing reps spend on the road away they are going to need a CRM application made specifically for a smartphone or tablet.
While strong in many areas, particularly data analysis, traditional CRM vendors like Salesforce and MS Dynamics struggle when it comes to mobility. These giant systems are built to operate on desktop computers housed within HQs and office buildings, meaning that when they are converted over to mobile, users struggle with this hybrid system.
Try looking for vendors that offer a native mobile application for both Android and iOS (the two largest mobile operating systems) to maximize user adoption rates among your front-line field sales reps and increase sales productivity.
The ideal manufacturing CRM will freely integrate with other digital software used by other departments across the business.
This would include:
- Email marketing software: Mailchimp, Hubspot, Salesforce Pardot
- ERP: Epicor, Oracle Plex
- CRM: Salesforce, MS Dynamics
If a fluid transfer of communication can be established between differing software stacks, data can be centralized and better managed. This means data can be pulled from previous email marketing campaigns and the ERP to allow reps to offer a hyper-focused customer experience, something that will help your products or services stand head and shoulders above the competition.
Another key characteristic of CRM manufacturing software is its ability to work seamlessly both on and offline.
With manufacturing field reps often working out in remote areas of their sales territory internet connection isn’t assured. However, they still need access to CRM data to help sufficiently prepare for an upcoming meeting, the product catalog, order status and whole host of other information that’s stored within.
But if the CRM only works when an internet connection is established then makes life extremely difficult for your team.
A couple of questions to keep in mind when speaking to your provider about offline capabilities are:
- Is there an offline fail safe for an unexpected loss of connection while using the app?
- Will input data be automatically registered as soon as a connection can be established?
- Can salespeople still access product information offline?
- Does the app run a smoothly offline as it does online?
The answers to these questions, along with information gathered from the usability, mobility and integration capabilities of the software should be enough to help whittle down your list of potential suitors.
Manufacturing CRM Case Study
One example of a manufacturing company able to successfully implement a CRM is the British designer, manufacturer and supplier of kitchen and bathroom units JT Ellis & Co.
Their need for manufacturing CRM software became apparent after a lack of sales process visibility, data management started to seriously hinder their business operations.
Seeing as their sales team was primarily field based, it was clear the chosen provider needed to have serious mobile capabilities – a tool that provided visibility to management yet was user-friendly enough that the field sales team would adopt it.
“The mobility for operating out in the field was really important to us as beforehand there was a bit of a chasm; what happened outside of the business on the road tended to remain that way,” said Tom Ellis, Managing Director at JT Ellis & Co.
“So we needed something that was going to allow people to operate on phones, iPads and to get access to information in real time but also feed information back to us.”
As a result JT Ellis & Co. selected ForceManager as their CRM manufacturing software provider.
The mobile CRM’s ability to effectively organize client data such as account info, contacts, images and site details gave management previously unattainable insight into the entire sales cycle from manufacture, supply right through to installation.
As you can see the best CRM manufacturing software providers are both mobile-first and user friendly. This ensures optimum system adoption by front-line sales reps and consequently, higher quality and more frequent data entry helping managers with their tactical decision making. This usability allows enables field reps access information quickly to better understand customers, identify opportunities and close sales more quickly.