Overcome Digital Transformation Challenges in Manufacturing

Digitalizing the sales process can immediately improve customer experiences and competitiveness.

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A manufacturer’s digital transformation often begins by implementing solutions aimed at increasing efficiency, cost savings, and innovation. For some industries, however, first digitalizing the sales processes may be a smarter strategy.

Richard Blatcher, Director, Industry Marketing and Business Intelligence at PROS, says, “The purpose of digital transformation, ultimately, should be to enable a company to improve customer experiences and build a competitive advantage. Yet, many digital transformation projects fail to do that.”

Blatcher says, in many cases, manufacturers lack clarity on which processes to digitally transform, and they don’t have the means to measure the impact that those technologies have on their operations. “This leaves the business no better able to serve its customers, even after long and expensive projects,” he says.

How to Decide Where to Begin Digital Transformation

Blatcher says manufacturers just beginning their digital transformation journeys should choose projects that make the most measurable and meaningful impacts. “In the case of automotive manufacturers, for example, the focus should be on points of interaction between the business and its customers. Unless digital transformation supports that priority, the manufacturer won’t deliver customer experience improvements fast enough or in a way that scales adequately to meet the needs of online, digital-buying preferences.”

PROS recently conducted research, asking B2B buyers what they prefer when dealing with manufacturers. Key findings include:

  • 72 percent of buyers agree that personalized offer recommendations have enabled them to get more value from vendors
  • Two years from now, 49 percent of manufacturing buyers expect to make the majority of their purchases online
  • 70 percent of buyers of manufactured products agree on having greater loyalty for products available across different channels
  • 33 percent say they make at least 50 percent of purchases through digital platforms
  • 70 percent of respondents who buy from manufacturers indicated that their company buys subscription-based services due to their convenience

Digitally transforming interactions with customers to accommodate these preferences will have the greatest impact on revenue and market share. “It will also be a far more effective as a defense against disruption of the market by competitors, ultimately offering a critical first-mover advantage to the businesses that can master sales the quickest,” Blatcher adds.

He also stresses that the automotive manufacturing industry, like many others, must embrace omnichannel or cross-channel selling. Customers demand the ability to engage with dealers, distributors, or the brands themselves when, where and how they want. “The digitally transformed sales process enables every interaction to be delivered in a way that is consistent and optimized for that customer and that transaction, ensuring the best possible experience and the maximum value for both buyer and seller.”

Advice for Software Developers

Blatcher offers three tips to software developers providing solutions that will help manufacturers digitally transform their sales processes:

  1. Easy integration, implementation, and adoption: Continuing with the automotive example, companies often have many disparate IT systems across the various business functions, and software tools are necessary to support successful digital transformation, user buy-in and fast ROI. Blatcher recalls, “I visited one automotive OEM that had over 200 different tools related to its manufacturing product lifecycle alone. With increasing complexity of products and processes, being able to quickly and easily integrate these tools with critical business systems is key.”
  2. The ability to collect and use data: Blatcher points out that digital transformation gives manufacturers the ability to gather huge amounts of data and rapidly extract insights and intelligence from sales data. “Businesses that can rapidly learn from signals the market and their customers send and are able to spot opportunities buried in the data they collect, can deliver a better overall customer experience because they better understand their customers and their needs,” he says. “Yet, the volumes of data and the speed at which that data changes have now outstripped human capacity.”
  3. AI-powered tools: Software developers need to equip manufacturers with the power of machine learning and AI to consume, evaluate and extract insights from the market and customer data.

“AI-powered tools already feed marketing organizations’ insights into buying intent and preferences. Broadening the use of AI tools to better evaluate the overall market for customers and gain a deeper understanding of buying behavior will enable businesses to deliver a more agile, informed and intelligent selling process, tailored for every customer,” Blatcher says. “Without AI, the sales process will be too slow and miss critical market and customer signals that could undermine the business and its competitive edge.”

The features of your solution will significantly impact how a manufacturer can engage with customers, understand them and personalize products and services.

Blatcher comments, “The digital transformation of the sales process not only provides immediate benefits but those benefits compound over time. This gives a business the ability to ultimately — and transformationally — outperform an increasing number of global competitors.”


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Mike Monocello

The former owner of a software development company and having more than a decade of experience writing for B2B IT solution providers, Mike is co-founder of DevPro Journal.