Manufacturing supply chains have come a long way since the 1700s. Back then, production and distribution was largely local. So, if you needed tools, you’d approach the village blacksmith. If you wanted shoes, you’d visit the nearest shoe-maker.

Then, with the industrial revolution, came railroads, cars, and other modes of transport that made it easier to supply goods across geographies. However, some things remained stuck in the past. For instance, data on supply chain operations continued to be managed manually on paper.

That changed in the late 1900s with the advent of computing. Software like spreadsheets and ERP systems greatly simplified and accelerated order tracking, inventory management, logistics, and more.

Today, we’re entering a new age – Supply Chain 4.0 – where advanced technologies like AI and IoT are making supply chain operations even faster, more efficient, and flexible. Supply Chain 4.0 focuses on:

  • Digital transformation: Digitisation in supply chains is no longer merely a nice-to-have – it’s essential to the resilience and agility of manufacturing operations. In fact, 86% of manufacturing leaders say that digital transformation is a critical or high priority over the next 24 months. Meanwhile, McKinsey reports that the pandemic has only accelerated digitisation in supply chain and customer interactions by as much as three to four years.   
  • Connectedness: Traditional silos between suppliers, manufacturers, distributors, and buyers are fast dissolving. We’re now moving towards a connected and collaborative supply chain ecosystem where every player has a shared view of customers, logistics, inventory, and other relevant data. So, they can better anticipate and meet customer needs. 
  • Sustainability: No longer can supply chains afford to be thoughtless about the resources they consume, or the waste they produce. Consumers, employees, investors, and governments are increasingly upping the pressure on manufacturers to measure and mitigate the environmental impact of their supply chains.  
  • Customer-centricity: The success of  supply chain operations will increasingly hinge on the quality of customer experiences delivered. Those supply chains that can anticipate and give customers whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want it, will create a powerful competitive advantage and exceptional customer advocacy. 

Of these four Supply Chain 4.0 imperatives, customer-centricity is arguably the most important. When manufacturers put customer satisfaction first, the other three imperatives – digital transformation, connectedness, and sustainability – will flow naturally from there.

Building a customer-centric supply chain starts with understanding the customer

Gone are the days when customers were content to receive goods through the manufacturer’s preferred distribution channels and delivery time windows. Now, they expect anytime-anywhere delivery with the ability to modify, track, and return their orders easily. 

Customer behaviours are also changing. The post-pandemic customer is digital-first. They use multiple channels and devices to work, shop, and connect with friends and family. When they engage with companies, they want to have a unified and consistent journey across touchpoints.

These demands aren’t just limited to B2C segments. B2B customers also want faster and more connected experiences from ordering to delivery – much like the service they’re used to on popular ecommerce platforms.

In the face of these shifts, what does it take to build a customer-centric supply chain? Here are a few key factors: 

  • Accurate demand sensing and aggregation
  • Seamless and fast order fulfilment
  • Improved efficiency in the end-to-end supply chain
  • Innovative products and services that keep up with customer expectations
  • Personalised 1:1 customer service at scale
  • Connected and trusted customer experiences

Shipping with CRM: The future of customer-centric supply chains

Most manufacturers want to build customer-centric supply chains. But that’s hard to do when each business function – be it sales and operations planning (S&OP), logistics management, or customer service – operates in silos. Without a way for these functions to collaborate and share data, it’s difficult to deliver connected supply chain experiences. 

Compounding the challenge, supply chain management has traditionally been a back-end process that’s separate from customer-facing processes like CRM. So, supply chain stakeholders don’t always have access to the right customer intelligence that can help them make customer-centric decisions. 

The need of the hour is an ‘engagement layer’ like a manufacturing CRM system that bridges supply chain management with CRM. This integration enables data to flow seamlessly between systems. As a result, supply chain participants have a complete and integrated view of customers that helps them forecast demand accurately, plan inventory better, and more. They also have visibility into the supply chain which helps them update customers about delivery processes, timelines, return status tracking, and more. 

This is what we at Salesforce call ‘shipping with CRM’ – marrying the inside-out process of supply chain management with the outside-in process of CRM to create seamless customer journeys.


Want to know how you can ship with CRM?

Learn more about Salesforce Manufacturing Cloud here.

Here are some of the ways manufacturers can innovate with this unified approach to deliver great customer experiences: 

  • Contract/ tender management: By integrating supply chain management with CRM, manufacturers can better anticipate customer needs, plan capacity, and use those insights to optimise contract and tender management. For instance, instead of entering into a rigid logistics contract wherein shipping schedules are fixed, manufacturers can enable dynamic agreements wherein shipping plans are adapted in real time based on spikes or dips in customer demand. This kind of flexibility can help save costs without compromising on customer experiences.
  • An intelligent control tower: With better visibility into the supply chain, manufacturers can use an AI-based control tower to predict supply disruptions, optimise logistics routes, minimise shipping time, and more. So, customers are sure to receive the products they need on time and in full, leading to higher customer satisfaction.    
  • A flexible logistics network: Through an integrated view of logistics operations, manufacturers can efficiently plan same-day deliveries, on-hour deliveries, curbside pickups, and more. Even if a regular shipper is suddenly unavailable, the manufacturer has the data visibility they need to dynamically re-route last-mile shipments, and keep customers updated.
  • Omni-channel inventory: With a consolidated and real-time view of inventory, manufacturers can confidently fulfil in-store, online, and mobile orders. They can also give customers accurate data on the products available, and prevent costly underselling or over-selling.

How can Salesforce help you ship with CRM?

Salesforce Manufacturing Cloud integrates data from back-end supply chain management and ERP systems with a front-end CRM platform. So, manufacturers get a 360-degree view of customers, products, invoices, inventory, contracts, logistics, and more. This single source of truth helps them provide a truly end-to-end customer experience across in-store and digital channels. It also fosters trust, transparency, and accountability across the supply chain.

Multiple business functions –from S&OP, to manufacturing and logistics – are unified on one platform. So, they can communicate and collaborate with each other to make the customer journey seamless. And with a consolidated customer view, they can effectively predict demand, identify upselling and cross-selling opportunities, and minimise bottlenecks in fulfilment, invoicing, and delivery. 

Salesforce’s customer-centric digital transformations are already generating tangible results for leading manufacturing and logistics firms: 

  • 20% increase in customer satisfaction
  • 20% increase in productivity
  • 50% reduction in idle time

With Salesforce, every supply chain stakeholder has the data they need to be successful. This enables manufacturers to deliver outstanding experiences that create customers for life.


Want to know how you can ship with CRM?

Learn more about Salesforce Manufacturing Cloud here.