Creating value and stronger relationships with partners, distributors, and customers
Manufacturing is no stranger to transformation — lean processes took hold in the 1970s, outsourcing defined the 1990s, and automation marked the 2000s. Now a fourth wave — Industry 4.0 — is digitizing the sector with a rise in data and computing power, analytics and business intelligence, new interfaces, and more options for transferring digital instructions to physical reality.
While Industry 4.0 promises efficiency, process effectiveness, and even a shift in value from products to data-driven services, the benefits extend far beyond manufacturing output. According to the IDC, two of the top ways manufacturers say they are applying big data and analytics to their businesses are to support sales and marketing activities, and to understand and target customers. Additionally, the desire to improve customer acquisition and retention, as well as introduce new or improved products and services, are both cited as significant initiatives driving IT investments for manufacturers.
The digital transformation inherent in Industry 4.0 allows you and other manufacturers to adjust to all business challenges — including improving the customer experience, or how you interact with distributors, partners, and customers. And this adjustment is coming none too soon. McKinsey surveyed 300 manufacturing leaders in January 2015 and found that, at that time, only 48 percent of manufacturers considered themselves ready for Industry 4.0 — but 78 percent of suppliers said they were prepared.
To meet the needs and expectations of your suppliers, distributors, partners, and customers, you must move forward with adopting a digital foundation that can not only improve production, but also add value to your entire supply and distribution chain. The technologies your business uses to organize, collect, store, and analyze data, create and publish content, and manage content across digital and offline channels is the digital foundation that will help address the sales and marketing activities needed to deliver exceptional experiences and contribute to top-line growth.
Deliver the B2C-like experience your customers expect.
For several years, B2C brands have been investing in digital marketing practices that deliver personal and relevant experiences to customers, and ultimately increase revenues. While the business models of B2C and B2B differ, the people engaged in the experiences are the same — they are using the same digital devices to explore consumer and business products, and to find ways to add value to their investments. This leaves B2B players with the need to reach out to all types of customers with better experiences — experiences that are personal, built on data and analytics, and that are fluid across all touchpoints.
Your technology foundation needs to be robust enough to deliver the right content to all of your distribution partners how and when they need it. By making their jobs easier, you’ll ultimately improve efficiency for everyone in the supply chain — a true win-win.
Managing digital assets — such as photos, video, copy, slides, etc. — with your digital foundation is a key factor in transforming how you interact with your value chain. The benefits of integration range from faster on-boarding of new distributors and customers to enhancements that improve the speed and reliability of content distribution to the ultimate customer. The more seamlessly you can engage with customers, distributors, and other partners, the faster you will realize ROI from becoming an “experience business.” According to the PwC Global Industry 4.0 survey, most companies expect digital technology investments to pay for themselves within two years.
Maxim Integrated streamlines customer engagement.
As you adopt the model of an experience business, the evolution of buyer expectations requires that you give attention to both interactions facilitated by distributors and other partners, as well as direct-to-customer engagements.
Maxim Integrated, a semiconductor manufacturer, reinvented its interactive digital experiences by transforming the company’s website. An open platform that integrated with Maxim’s existing platforms — such as SAP, Salesforce.com, and Oracle Eloqua — as well as its product information systems was high on its list of criteria.
Now, the company has the ability to track every online interaction with any of its more than 9,000 products as site visitors are efficiently lead through an online experience that recommends solutions and helps customer audiences make fast decisions. This enables Maxim Integrated to better understand how its customers use its website, and to deliver specific content based on where each visitor is in their buying journey. Ultimately, by combining operational systems with front office tools, Maxim will be better connected with partners and customers in real time.
For Maxim Integrated, the benefits of implementing a cohesive digital platform were seen in four main areas.
“We designed our new website to help our audience make fast decisions,” says Robert Reneau, director of digital marketing at Maxim Integrated. “We wanted to improve the online experience for our customers, partners, and our internal teams looking for recommended solutions. Now, with our digital platform, we can offer our customers and partners relevant content faster.”
Focus on meeting customer expectations.
Econsultancy’s 2017 Digital Trends survey found that customer experience is the most important differentiation tool for competing in today’s global marketplace. Digital manufacturing enterprises have the resources to be focused on designing and customizing user-friendly solutions for every player in the value chain.
Implementing effective experiences across your value chain also requires an understanding of what users within your ecosystem need at every engagement point. The ability to collect and analyze data is an essential tool for anticipating what users need, and for delivering the right solution at the right time. Improving the experience for the ultimate user of your products translates into better efficiency.
For example, it’s easy to forget how important a powerful and effective search tool is in the context of a user experience. “A company has documentation for thousands of product entries, often available in multiple languages,” says Andrew Arocha, group vice president at Adobe. “If all of that documentation is digital, I can index it and make it searchable, and that ability offers tremendous gains in efficiency.”
The ability to know how to constantly improve your experiences is another benefit to a digital system that can track customer engagement. At DuPont, built-in web analytics give the marketing team download, usage, and asset statistics that they can utilize to determine what people want to see. “We have limited time and budget, and we want to focus our teams effectively and not waste time creating materials they won’t use,” explains Joanne Hewitson, global digital marketing lead at the Crop Protection Division of DuPont. This information helps them clarify their best opportunities.
Making the right tools available online, and easy-to-use, is key to ensuring that your customers get what they need from your website.
Get out of your own way.
Let’s face it, it can be challenging to replace existing systems that you have invested a lot of time and energy into building. But for manufacturers, integrating new digital solutions into their technology mix promises to improve both efficiency and competitiveness.
“Manufacturers must decide how and where to invest in new technologies, and identify which ones will drive the most benefit for their organizations,” says Deloitte’s Cotteleer. “In addition to accurately assessing their current strategic positions, successful manufacturers need a clear articulation of their business objectives, identifying where to experiment in newly emerging technology ecosystems. They need to overcome the inertia of legacy operations and develop a test-and-learn approach.”
The benefit of starting with a foundation for an improved web experience, such as implementing a robust content management system, is that it improves the productivity of your entire value chain, as well as internal groups. Content is easy to manage and access, web pages can be updated, personalized, and localized with drag-and-drop functionality, and customer groups are easily segmented and targeted. Your ROI will come from higher conversion rates, increased sales, improved distributor relationships, streamlined supply chain management, and better after-sales support.
Integrating digital solutions into manufacturing enterprises is already resulting in higher revenues and lower costs. If you’re looking for bottom line data to justify your decision, here it is: PwC interviewed 2,000 people across nine major industries and 26 countries and concluded that, over the next five years, digital integration will increase revenues by 2.9 percent per year, while reducing costs by 3.6 percent. This underscores the value manufacturers will find as they shift their focus from producing the best product at the lowest cost, to using data for valuable insights on how to deliver the best customer experience.
Enhance your distributor’s digital experience.
Improving your value chain must first benefit and engage distributors, suppliers, resellers, and all of the partners that connect you with your customers. Your digital foundation needs to be sophisticated enough to deliver content and information to all of your distribution partners how and when they need it. By making their jobs easier, you ultimately improve efficiency for everyone in the supply chain.
For example, make it easy for distributors to access the data and materials necessary to help sell and support your products. They need automated tools for functions, such as responding to questions from prospects, requests for proposals, price quotes, and technical support.
Because distributors represent your company, your system should be capable of facilitating customization based on factors such as geographic regions and vertical market segments. Distributors, just like your customers, will speak different languages and have different requirements for compliance, depending on their global location. They need localized support, customized for their end users.
Fundamentally, your digital platform needs to facilitate the development of a brand portal for all of your distribution partners, so you can empower them with the same experience business tools you would use to reach your customers directly.
By delivering the right information at the right time, and by providing localized marketing and branding assets, you’ll create better engagement with prospects and customers. This will translate into improved efficiency and higher profitability for both you and the value chain partners you work with.
Bridge online and offline worlds.
For both customers and distributors, your digital solution needs to synthesize virtual and physical business processes. What this means is that you need an extensible digital platform that can connect with everything from computer-aided design and manufacturing systems to inventory management software. An important factor in an enhanced value chain is being able to connect the dots between information, product data, and the design, shipment, and use of those products.
Eaton Corp., a power management company and Adobe customer, is using a digital platform with customized APIs that enables it to integrate partner and customer information with real-time data from its back-end production systems. This enables the company to transform a hodgepodge of website and legacy tracking systems with a single system that can access, analyze, and connect customer and production data in real time.
For one example of how Eaton’s digital platform can now facilitate the customer journey, consider — hypothetically — the experience of an engineer from a heavy equipment manufacturer who needs a hydraulic cylinder for a new product design. The engineer types “hydraulic cylinder load” into the search box and is immediately presented with an online tool for providing specifications, such as the load that will be put on the cylinder, and how quickly that load needs to be pushed or pulled. Almost instantly, Eaton matches its products with the customer’s needs, and the automated system recommends several hydraulic cylinders that meet the specifications. The system even provides CAD specs and drawings that the engineer can immediately download and test as part of the new design.
‘This is one example of how digital integration can save manufacturers and their customers enormous amounts of time,” says Bella El-Harazin, Area Vice President at Adobe. “The customer gets access to a customized solution without having to pour through specifications from different companies. And Eaton now has presented a potential customer with exactly what is needed: A specific set of hydraulics from Eaton. Instead of relying on something chosen by a purchasing manager, based on straight price competition, the engineer quickly found the perfect solution online.”
Find more value in your value chain.
By integrating your technologies into a solid digital foundation that helps you collect and analyze data, create and publish content, and manage it across digital and offline channels, you can transform how partners and customers engage with your company. Improving the value chain means using this digital foundation to maximize efficiency from the initial prospect inquiry all the way through post-sales support.
Manufacturers like Maxim Integrated and Eaton have discovered that digitally integrating business resources that are essential to operations, production, marketing, sales, and delivery improves audience engagement, and bolsters their own competitive position in the marketplace.
While the transformation process is an investment, there is significant ROI waiting for companies that cross the digital divide. Your strategic plan for improving your value chain should start with solutions that offer the biggest return on investment for your company, and for your partners and customers. In today’s marketplace, ROI directly correlates with customer experience you deliver. Make your company irreplaceable to your customers, and the profits will follow.
Learn more about how digital experiences for distributors and customers can help manufacturers improve efficiency, experiences, and growth, or read about more best practices in our #manufacturing series.