November 22nd, 2019 /
Is your manufacturing company ready for the next five years? How about the next 10? If your immediate response was not a resounding “Yes!,” read on.
Traditionally, manufacturers would create their products and outsource the sales and marketing functions of those products to a distributor or dealer. Then, it was up to those third parties to connect with customers directly. The model was very linear with the manufacturer on one end, the customer on the other, and the dealer/distributor somewhere in between.
Now that’s all changed. Customers have greater demands. Buyers are more empowered. And information and products are not only more widespread than ever, but also readily available at the click of a button. For manufacturers to compete they need to meet their customers wherever they are—usually online—losing the middle-person in some cases, and using them in others. The linear model of old has turned into a web of opportunity—except a lot of manufacturers aren’t navigating the threads with ease, they’re getting stuck.
At Shift7, for instance, we see our manufacturer clients in various states of pain. Usually, they don’t know where to put their resources, time, and energy and as a result, get stuck in reaction mode. Their attempts to meet the needs of various distributors, dealers, customers, and internal stakeholders fall short and they only get things done ‘halfway.’ In the end, nothing is actually organized and there’s no value added to the tasks they’ve completed. It’s our job to help remedy that, bring added value into the equation, and optimize processes for the future. Below, I break down a few key points for manufacturing companies planning their next five years…and beyond.
Lay the Foundation
We’ve talked about the importance of getting the foundational elements right in an earlier article, namely your content, commerce, and product information management (PIM) systems. The goal is to find a balance of these three systems that works for your business. A lot of our clients are unaware of how important PIM is, and that it is truly the foundation of the optimization strategy.
Think about it this way: a manufacturer is a product maker—you better have your product suite in order! While you can have a superior product, it will lose out to lesser products if you do not have thorough and consistent content for it, e.g. solution-oriented product descriptions and technical specs, that live across multiple channels, from your website to a catalog to your distributors’ and dealers’ websites, catalogs, and more. A PIM takes care of aggregating your products and content for you, thus creating the best experience for you, your buyer-partners, and most importantly, your end customers.
Once the PIM system is in place, the next step focuses even more closely on building onto that customer experience. The goal is to create the most effective experience for the customer at their point of engagement, wherever that may be. How?
Know Your Customer
Historically, a lot of manufacturers outsourced sales and marketing efforts to other firms. Because of this, they have little insight into who their actual customer is, where they’re located, where they shop, and how they explore different channels. This lack of customer research is a huge miss! Especially because all of this information is out there, and whether or not you decide to use it to your advantage, one of your competitors probably is.
Understanding the customer journey is imperative to creating a useful, usable, and desirable experience—one that builds retention and loyalty. A customer journey map is a great tool that sheds light on the entire transactional process, from the initial trigger, e.g. need a new product, to what your customer is thinking and feeling at each touchpoint throughout the process beginning at awareness through purchase and beyond. At Shift7, we work closely with our clients to create user personas by interviewing actual customers, we do research, and build customer journey maps based on our findings. The amount we can learn is impressive, and when strategically applied, sets our manufacturer partners up for success.
Be Aware of the Empowered Buyer
Finally, the notion of the “empowered buyer.” It’s that idea that you may not know your customer as well as you thought, which, I realize, contradicts what I said above. The point here is awareness. Understand that it’s becoming exponentially more challenging to understand buyer behaviors. It’s important to create an experience that is consistent and accurate, but that does not guarantee that your customer won’t decide to purchase from somewhere else out of convenience. Understand their perspectives, find and engage them, and realize that you’re not going to win them all (and that’s ok).
Preparing your business for the future doesn’t have to feel daunting. It begins with performing a thorough review of your current business practices and digital expertise, identifying strengths and weaknesses, and then creating an action plan to get you to where you want to be. Get a solid foundation in place, know your customers, and remember, you don’t have to do it alone! Consider partnering with a digital expert who understands how your business has operated over the last 50 years and knows exactly how to prepare it for the next 50.