For Australian manufacturers looking to compete at a global level, it’s time to look past automation on the factory floor. Here are five ways to optimise productivity across functions.

Contrary to general global trend, Australia has seen a significant reduction in the size of its manufacturing workforce over the past three decades. In the past 10 years alone, the manufacturing workforce has decreased by more than 100,000 people. There are a range of reasons for this downturn including government policy, the end of automotive production, a decrease in capital spending in the sector and intensified competition from overseas manufacturers.

Encouragingly, figures have stabilised over recent years and the total manufacturing workforce increased from 2017 to 2018. But the fact remains that Australian manufacturing must embrace the transformative innovations of digital technology to compete on a global scale. 

Many are already looking to artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and blockchain to revolutionise processes from the factory floor right up to the C-suite.  For example, by 2021, 25% of large manufacturers and retailers will be using blockchain services that enable collaborative supply chains and give consumers access to product histories.

With the shift in technology comes the need for new skill sets such as data analysis, digital literacy and advanced critical thinking. Successful manufacturers will upskill existing workers and focus their recruitment efforts on hiring for these emerging skills.

As manufacturers continue in their journey of digital transformation, there are five ways they can optimise productivity. 


1. Empower sales reps to make sales

 

Just like sales reps across other industries, manufacturing sales reps are burdened with tasks like managing emails, logging activities, inputting sales data and customer notes, finding the right person to contact, and creating follow-up tasks. These tasks get in the way of what reps are good at: making sales.

Indeed, our latest research shows that 59% of manufacturing sales reps expect to miss their quotas, perhaps because they spend only 37% of their time actually selling.

AI can help get sales reps back to the business of making sales. Our State of Service report shows for example, that 51% of customer service agents without AI say they spend most of their time on mundane tasks versus 34% saying that with AI. AI can empower manufacturing sales agents in the same way by automating those mundane tasks – automating information gathering, for instance, and handling routine enquiries. 

Cautious about the reception AI might receive from the sales team? It’s all in the delivery and the proof is in the digital pudding.


2. Feel the need for speed

 

Speed has always been a manufacturer’s great advantage – and the pursuit of it a source of great innovation. 

While the production line has most often been the focus of these innovations and has been transformed by robotics, agility and responsiveness are now expected at every level of an organisation. 

Smart manufacturers – those embracing the benefits of digital technology – recognise that velocity counts at every step. Yes, new technologies can speed up the rate of production, but they can also help speed up decision-making, consumer insight, sales agreement and product innovation.

Manufacturers must interrogate not just the speed of the conveyor on the factory floor, but the processes involved in everything from handling leads to securing meetings. 


3. Clear out the toolbox

 

With the pursuit of speed comes a demand for maximum efficiency, and it’s not currently being met for many manufacturing sales teams. With reps relying on around six different tools to do their jobs, valuable time is lost in switching tools. Unintegrated systems can cause significant drops in productivity.

The solution is to reduce the number of necessary tools while using data sources essential to the wider business. This can get complicated fast. Especially if, due to mergers and acquisitions activity, a company is operating multiple backend systems. When it comes to bringing these together, some issues to consider are:

  • How do your sales and service teams get the real-time product, price and customer data from systems to manage orders, resolve cases and serve customers?

  • What third-party applications are currently integrated into your CRM system?

  • Do you have a data warehouse today and how do you use that data?


4. Bring your channel partners on board

 

Beyond the factory floor, manufacturers’ paths to market are also undergoing change. Just as customers have higher expectations when it comes to customer experience, they also demand product and service availability across a wider array of channels. 

As a result, channel partners – dealers, distributors, wholesalers, resellers – are under pressure to make the sales cycle easier and faster. 

The complexity of logistics and coordination involved can be helped by employing the tools of AI. AI can help streamline journeys to market as well as nurturing partner engagement and empowering channel partners with the right tools and insights.


5. Make your quotes count

 

Manufacturers’ quotes – an essential part of closing a deal – have traditionally been at the mercy of massive catalogues with thousands of SKUs. The quoting process was manual, slow and error-prone. A frustrating system of hand-written quotes and faxes could see manufacturers lose many prospects. 

Manufacturers need to ask themselves how sales reps are generating quotes, how long approvals take and what collaboration with channel partners looks like. 

Digital solutions like quote-to-cash tools can streamline the quoting process, reducing the sales cycle time and improving channel partner relationships.

With manufacturing set to get more complex, there has never been a better time for organisations to engage the digital technologies that will see them compete successfully on the world stage.

 

For more insights on the changing landscape of customer service, read the full State of Service report here.