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5 Critical Steps To Optimize Productivity for Manufacturers

What does digital transformation mean to the business of manufacturing? And, what questions should you ask at each of the five critical steps to optimize productivity?

By 2021, 40% of manufacturers will have undertaken a complete, factory-wide digital makeover, that will include more artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and blockchain. This digital transformation has major implications for the factory floor and associated supply chains and will impact the business side of manufacturing.

While technology is a major driver of this transformation, demographics are not far behind. Deloitte and The National Association of Manufacturers indicate that 2.4 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled between now and 2028. There are a couple of factors that contribute to this dire prediction. Firstly, over a quarter of manufacturing workers are set to retire over the next ten years. Secondly, manufacturers are unable to find the talent they need in the face of historically low levels of unemployment. To meet this challenge, companies like Amazon are making significant investments to train existing employees in technologies such as machine learning.

1. Spend more time on what matters

Manufacturing sales reps report that they spend 37% of their time selling in an average week. Time they spend to check account history, contact information, or order status is time lost on closing deals, in many cases, this can contribute to reps missing quota. It is perhaps not surprising that many manufacturing sales reps put their hope in AI as the technology that will improve sales efficiency.

Ask these questions to help assess whether reps can allocate their time more effectively:

  • How much time are reps spending on selling versus administrative tasks, such as entering email, meeting, and contact data?
  • How many discrete tools do sales reps use in their day-to-day
  • Can account reps identify which opportunities hold more promise and prioritize those?

2. Deliver at speed

Speed and manufacturing have always gone hand-in-hand, ever since Henry Ford’s innovation of the first moving assembly line reduced the time it took to build the Model T from more than 12 hours to two and a half hours. While agile principles or lean manufacturing may seem limited to the production line, all modern customers expect responsiveness and speed. To deliver at speed, ask your organization:

  • How long does it take new team members to ramp up?
  • What is the process to handle inbound leads? Are leads routed automatically?
  • How many meaningful conversations does it take for the team to secure a meeting?

3. Integrate systems to unlock sales productivity

Maintaining velocity means providing sales teams with systems that allow highest value activities to be prioritized with minimal time spent switching. Yet sales reps report they rely on at least six different tools to do their job. There is a cost associated with this tool switching: multitasking is estimated to cost up to 40% in lost 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 (M&A) 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 in order 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. Enable the channel to maximize growth

Beyond the factory floor, manufacturers’ paths to market are also undergoing change. Customers have vastly higher expectations when it comes to product variety and personalization, not to mention greater choice of buying channel. For example, manufacturers of aftermarket parts built to standard specifications face a world of ever-increasing transparency. Online options have had an impact here: nearly 15% of U.S. B2B sales are expected to be via digital channels by 2021.

Yet channel partners in the form of dealers, distributors, wholesalers, or resellers remain important. These partners face the same pressures as their suppliers: not only do they wish to sell more products, but they also want to make the sales cycle easier and faster. Some central questions facing channel sales are:

  • How do you get new partners up to speed?
  • After initial onboarding, how do you keep existing partners up to date about new features and products?
  • How do you forecast channel pipeline and recognize revenue?

5. Build better customer relationships through better quoting

Ultimately, the goal is to get you to close more business. Central to this final step is creating the quote. For manufacturers with product catalogs with thousands of SKUs, this was often a manual, error-prone process that would slow down the deal flow and leave prospects frustrated.

In the case of Mitsubishi’s Electric Cooling and Heating Division, the introduction of a quote to cash tool streamlined their quoting process and increased collaboration with distributors. Reps no longer needed to quote using hand-drawn faxes, emailed PDFs, and more than 200 different information sources in Excel. This means the sales cycle time is drastically decreased, while 30% more proposals are documented, and now, quote approval has dropped from two days to just two hours.

When it comes to pricing, these questions are a useful starting point:

  • How do sales reps, especially field reps, generate quotes today? How long does it take them to generate a quote? 
  • How and when are services and warranties positioned?
  • How do you collaborate with resellers and distributors? How do you share the product catalog/price book etcetera with channel partners?

The manufacturing industry will only get more complex, but this opens up opportunities for savvy players to deploy technologies to increase productivity and collaboration.

To start on a digital transformation journey, ask yourself these critical questions and when you’re ready to wade into the reeds check out this Trailhead or our Boost Sales Productivity ebook.

Eric is Director of Product Marketing at Salesforce Industries, driving global awareness for Manufacturing Cloud and Energy & Utility Clouds. Over the last 20 years, transforming customer and employee experiences has been at the forefront of his career within and in partnership with industry leaders around the globe. Connect with Eric on LinkedIn and engage him in a conversation on how you too can transform and revolutionize your industry. Or, learn how this native Midwesterner is discovering his international roots with fresh pasta, bread, and homemade liquors.

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