The term “Industry 4.0” refers to the transformation of the manufacturing sector by digital technologies, such as the internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, robotics, 3-D printing, visualization, virtual/augmented reality and analytics.

Automated management of assembly lines, inventories and even downtime for preventive maintenance has improved flexibility, throughput and productivity. The use of robotics in complex processes has helped enhance reliability and quality while reducing occupational risks.

This transformation has thus far largely been limited to shop floors. Yet, there are three pillars that support the business of manufacturing companies: sales, production and service. Unless sales and customer service are also transformed, manufacturing companies will not fully benefit from their adoption of Industry 4.0. This is especially true for companies that manufacture configurable and customizable products and deal directly with customers (i.e., without distribution channels).

Sales Challenges

The sales process for enterprises that manufacture modular, configurable and customizable products (e.g., engineered-to-order or made-to-order products) is inherently complex and long-drawn. Sales teams rarely possess all the technical and commercial expertise necessary to win orders on their own. For instance, some solutions may need customizations that require changes to the design, engineering or manufacturing.

Similarly, while some components of the solution can be manufactured in-house, others may need to be sourced from other suppliers, which will require input from the procurement and engineering teams. Thus, securing new business depends on experts from different functions collaborating efficiently to understand the customers’ needs, develop solutions and submit quotes to win orders.

In this context, manufacturing companies that continue to follow the traditional sales/account management approach face two distinct challenges:

  • Understanding customer needs

Often, the availability of technical experts to participate in customer discussions is a major bottleneck in the sales process. This is an area where mobile technologies and virtual reality can be deployed. For example, rather than use an entire day on travel for a two-hour customer meeting, an expert’s day can be productively utilized for three or four customer conversations, thereby increasing their contribution to the business.

Sometimes, on-site or face-to-face discussions are unavoidable. Even if the expert is traveling for such site visits, calls from an airport lounge or a car using the right enabling technologies can help other members of the sales team progress their deals, without having to wait for the expert to come back to the office.

  • Developing winning quotes

The ability to win an order is predicated upon the organization’s ability to submit a competitive and differentiated quote in time. Traditionally, sales teams have relied on emails and spreadsheets to ensure the relevant information is compiled into a quote. But this is fraught with various inefficiencies and risks that may impede the efficacy of sales. Emails are inherently asynchronous in nature: People see them at different times, and there’s always the risk of a key stakeholder not being able to access email. This can delay the entire quote submission process.

Sales managers tend to use templates saved in their laptops, so updates or changes to the latest formats may be missed, making it difficult to manage approvals for special discounts or nonstandard payment terms. In the absence of “one version of the truth,” it is challenging to hold team members accountable.

Addressing The Sales Challenges

The solution to these challenges lies in making it easier for internal stakeholders to work seamlessly on the same template, using the same data. This will go a long way in ensuring that product configuration complexities, inadequate transparency around pricing or delays in approvals do not affect the enterprise’s sales effectiveness.

Clearly, technology is essential for an efficient solution. While custom-built software is certainly an option, developing an integrated solution that is robust, secure and scalable can take months of effort, and an in-house effort will inherently tend to perpetuate existing processes, inefficiencies and all. In addition, different internal stakeholders may not have mobile access to various applications (this is an important consideration because sales managers and technical experts are often on the move).

An alternative is to implement an off-the-shelf solution. I’ve found that configure price quote (CPQ) software solutions do a good job of addressing these challenges by simplifying collaborative working through automating processes and bringing all stakeholders to a common platform.

The better CPQ solutions are customizable and can be integrated with the organization’s customer relationship management (CRM), product life cycle management (PLM) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. This allows different stakeholders to provide timely input, enabling more efficient tracking and management of leads, from initial inquiry to contract and beyond.

In my experience, these solutions speed up the process of developing and submitting quotes. In the context of time-sensitive competitive bid scenarios, even a few more hours to finesse the quote and proposal may be the difference between a winning bid and just another bid.

Companies that offer engineer-to-order, configure-to-order, assemble-to-order and manufacture-to-order services can consider adopting CPQ solutions to hone and maintain their competitive edge.

Effective Change Management Is Just As Critical

Selecting the solution that best fits your enterprise needs and finding the right implementation partner are necessary but are not enough to ensure your company will realize the expected benefits. Even the best solutions will be rendered ineffective if people do not use them.

Users need to first be told why a certain change is being brought in, and their questions, concerns and fears must be addressed. It is therefore important that representatives of the user community be involved in the selection of the solution. Only when users understand what’s in it for them will there be buy-in and commitment to using it.

Once the solution is deployed, users also need adequate training on using it efficiently and effectively. This applies as much to custom-developed software as it does to third-party products.

If done right, this can be an important step in the organization’s digital transformation journey, and the results can be used to encourage other parts of the organization to look at digital transformation possibilities in t

Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *