Since 2005, the beginning of the Digital Era, change has been sweeping through the manufacturing world at a pace rarely seen before, and those changes have accelerated tremendously over the past five years.
As a result, the shop floor is becoming increasingly automated, as is the sales process with the growing use of marketing automation software platforms such as HubSpot. Both of those changes are largely the result of improvements in computer technology, including the internet of things (IoT), machine learning, AI… which is accelerating the pace of automation, and The Amazon Experience.By The Amazon Experience, I mean that customers in B2B transactions – an increasing number of whom are millennials or Gen Z who grew up using computers -- want to be served at the same speed, and with a comparable number of choices, that they get when buying from Amazon. As a society, we’ve become conditioned to expect instant gratification as consumers, and industrial buyers, and influencers are carrying that mindset to their places of work.
Although developing relationships with customers is still an important part of doing business, expectations for instant feedback is real and is changing the dynamics, just as it’s no longer sufficient to take two weeks to get back to a prospect with a quote. By that time, in today’s environment, a competitor will have provided the part or component.
Given the widespread availability of data, it’s now more possible than ever to provide accurate quotes fast and forecast delivery times precisely based on equipment utilization rates, material delivery schedules and customers’ priorities. This model is similar to the one airlines use to determine how to best meet passenger demand on any given route.
Giving customers The Amazon Experience requires operational change. It’s not just a “sales and marketing thing.” You need to make sure you can profitably provide product X (or service) at a cost of Y. The need for such clarity means that your business strategy – not just marketing and sales strategies – must be aligned with the market, which means building flexibility and agility into the production line.
That shift in how the business is run means that a successful manufacturer these days builds to demand rather than building to stock.
What’s more, the customer-facing team has to be aligned with that mission, which means always responding within 24 hours to requests for quotes and other inquiries throughout the sales cycle, and for support after the sale.
Even in scheduled manufacturing environments, such as automotive seat production for example, flexibility is becoming necessary because retail customers are now allowed to select options and have the finished product delivered within a week.
In other industries where every order is custom – dental implants, for example – manufacturers (in this case, labs) must accelerate order fulfillment time. In today’s world, who’s going to wait two weeks for anything unless it’s a highly specialized product?
Another driving force that’s compressing cycle times is the emergence of 3D printing. I can tell you from experience that numerous manufacturers across a wide range of industries are struggling to figure out how they’ll be able to compete with such technology over the long term.
As manufacturers contend with the need to be more flexible than traditionally required while maintaining profitability, there is bound to be conflict. That’s because people in manufacturing and operations measure success in terms of cost-per-unit while sales and marketing people gauge success in terms of customer attraction and retention rates, and revenue growth.
Clearly, those metrics are not aligned, and it’s necessary for companies’ top and senior management to agree on a common set of metrics within the organization’s mission so the business strategy allows the company to provide The Amazon Experience in today’s marketplace.
That common metric is ROMI – Return on Marketing Investment. If a company spends, say, $50,000 on marketing during a specific time period (6-12 months) and net income from marketing (aka profits) increases by an equal or greater amount than the spend over those 6-12 months, then management should consider the marketing program to be a success.
Measuring customer satisfaction is essential to understanding how your customers think. Amazon does it all the time because it’s useful to take a deep dive and find out where customers got the motivation to buy from you. Was it due to word of mouth? Social media? Advertising? By learning the answers to that question, and to related ones, you can determine the strengths and weaknesses of your marketing campaigns and make adjustments accordingly.
It’s also useful to know how customers are interacting with your brand in the digital world, such as on social media platforms (LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram), and through e-newsletters and banner ads. If an increase in topline revenue is a significant fraction above the amount you invest in certain marketing activities, then you know that this particular marketing program is working.
When marketing programs fall short of the mark, it’s usually due to a combination of development and execution. That is, wrong messaging to the wrong audience in the wrong places. Diagnosing the problem and finding a “cure” could require a market mapping exercise.
I’ve also seen instances where the marketing department announces a promotion but doesn’t tell sales and distribution about it, so the idea fell flat on its face. It’s a prime example of how execution beats strategy every time.
Because there’s so much data available online, it’s possible to measure results almost instantly and course-correct in real time, if necessary. When one-size-fits-all messaging from traditional advertising is repurposed into digital marketing campaigns, failure usually results because digital media audiences are more specialized (fragmented) and expect targeted messaging that addresses their specific “pain points” compared to what’s usually found in traditional media sources which remain necessary for brand maintenance (we’re a player, so talk to us before you make a buying decision) but is insufficient as the core of a marketing campaign in today’s hyper-connected environment.
As buyers increasingly get their information from specialized websites, blogs and online forums, it becomes harder for marketers to “break through the clutter” of messages being disseminated due to relatively low barriers to entry (no printing & postage costs, no big-dollar ad development & placement fees).
Maintaining continual contact with customers and prospects through digital channels, and meeting their needs in lightning-quick fashion is the best way – if not the only way – to give industrial buyers and influences The Amazon Experience time and again.
Listen to the Podcast on Manufacturing Matters:
Episode 334: Manufacturing Matters – Creating An Effective Business Development Strategy.