The pandemic hit manufacturers hard, impacting everything from supply chain and production to sales and service. While many manufacturers expect a gradual return to normalcy in some of these areas by the end of this year, new Salesforce research shows that 57% of manufacturers consider the changes to their sales capabilities to be permanent.
One critical component to sales is channel partner relationships. Over the last year, manufacturers quickly reimagined how they interact with partners to drive continued sales and market share in the midst of disruption.
Our Trends in Manufacturing report surveyed 750 discrete and process manufacturers to understand the impact of the pandemic on manufacturing sales and operations, as well as changes in priorities and positioning. The findings reveal major differences between organizations that feel they are prepared for the future and those that do not. One of the areas of significant difference is channel partner relationships.
Consider that when it comes to channel partners, future-ready manufacturers (respondents who feel very prepared for the next 10 years) are nearly twice as likely to say they feel very satisfied compared to unprepared manufacturers (respondents who feel somewhat unprepared for the next 10 years).
Based on the insights from the report, there are three focus areas to help manufacturers improve their channel partner relationships and drive performance.
1. Make it easier for channel partners to do business with you
Historically, manufacturers have invested in product-centric improvements, such as developing products more efficiently, lowering production costs, and optimizing supply chains. However, in today’s markets, differentiation stems from the quality of your customer experience.
Future-ready manufacturers recognize the value of customer experience in order to stand out in the marketplace. They understand excellent customer experience crescendos from the manufacturer to the channel partner to the end customer. Shifting to a customer-centric approach, they are investing in technology that makes it easier for customers and channel partners to do business with them. Seventy-nine percent of manufacturers reported that a single source of truth for data across the customer lifecycle was a critical priority.
Technologies like a customer relationship management (CRM) platform can help break down silos by integrating data across legacy systems into a single platform. As a result, teams have greater visibility into the entire relationship and can extend information through the CRM to their channel partners. In this fashion, information such as leads, order status, pricing, and quoting capabilities, as well as customer service cases, are shared directly with partners. This enables them to provide a better customer experience. A CRM also can enable more accurate, collaborative forecasting – a priority for 81% of manufacturers.
Co-selling and co-marketing with partners are also critical. These arrangements open the door to new markets, helping manufacturers increase revenue and capture operational efficiencies. This in turn improves the manufacturer-partner relationship. Manufacturers can give partners access to a community page where they can configure price quote (CPQ) on their own, get visibility into their order status, enter and check status on service cases, and leverage new marketing materials and templates.
Future-ready manufacturers that have made it easier for partners to do business have seen strong results: 81% of future-ready respondents say their channel partners add value to their products, compared to 58% of unprepared manufacturers.
2. Incentivize partners to drive behaviors and engagement
The best relationships are mutually beneficial. Manufacturers deliver high-quality products on time and as promised to channel partners. Channel partners drive market share for manufacturers. In fact, 75% of future-ready manufacturers say channel partners drive enough market share, compared with only 49% of unprepared manufacturers.
Manufacturers can create this mutually beneficial relationship by driving partner behaviors with incentive programs. These programs encourage product adoption and ongoing engagement that win mindshare and market share.
By connecting your loyalty and rebate programs to a CRM platform, you can use data to better understand your partner’s preferences and buying behaviors. As a result, you can create engaging programs that show you truly understand your partner’s business. For example:
- Tailor programs to each partner and tie incentives to activities, such as completing onboarding or training
- Help partners understand how you can help them drive value through rewards like co-marketing funds
- Make it easier for your partners to understand thresholds and redeem rewards
3. Add services to your revenue model
Manufacturers are looking to services to create new revenue streams, as well as to increase the level of customer engagement throughout the product life cycle. Now, over 89% of future-ready manufacturers consider services important or essential elements of their value proposition.
Future-ready organizations are invested in a business model that bundles product, support, software, and other services in a single revenue model, which is known as “servitization.” Eighty-six percent of future-ready manufacturers offer servitization options and embrace a “service-as-a-revenue-center” model – nearly 10 times the number of unprepared manufacturers.
This shift to product and services not only generates incremental revenue. It significantly enhances the direct relationship between the manufacturer and the customer throughout the product life cycle. Services such as diagnostics and predictive maintenance, enabled by the Internet of Things (IoT), provide manufacturers with a flow of information about the status and health of the products they sell. They are able to channel that information to dealers to proactively schedule repairs and maintenance with the customer. This gives manufacturers an opportunity to enhance the customer experience and build brand loyalty with the dealer and the end customer.
In order to successfully build this model, manufacturers must move service offerings to the cloud. This allows manufacturers to build a portfolio around services and meet customer expectations as they emerge and change. It also enables manufacturers to collect and analyze customer feedback, which supports product improvement.
Take your next steps to strengthen partner relationships
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the speed of industry changes that were already underway and in some cases permanently changed how customers do business with manufacturers. Streamlined operations, strong incentive programs, and servitization can enable manufacturers to better serve their partners now and into the future.