March 29, 2018

Business may feel a little different than it did a few years ago, and, if it does, you aren’t alone. Nearly every industry is having to adjust to what experts are calling the Amazon Effect.

The online retail giant has altered nearly everything about the traditional ways business has been done, and it all comes down to a fundamental change in one thing: customer expectations.

How the Amazon effect manifests itself varies by industry because how every industry interacts with the customer is different. For those in the logistics space, it’s about the final mile and getting products to customers faster. A week’s wait to get something you ordered online is now an eternity. That’s forcing changes in warehousing, routing and the supply chain.

For manufacturers, the change is different, but it’s no less impactful. It’s a shift in expectations around visibility. And, truth be told, Amazon isn’t the only one to blame.

Many of these shifts are happening at the consumer level, but, as usual, those changes are bleeding over to the B2B space as well.

Expectations of visibility

For starters, customers are expecting, or soon will expect, visibility into the manufacturing process at every step. While they won’t want to watch each individual unit be made, they will want to know, at a high level, when each step of the process is complete. For this, you can thank your local pizza chain. Order a pie online and you can track its process from the first toss of the dough to the final cut of the crust – all online. Some chains will even tell you who’s making your meal.

It was a process that actually started in the shipping space. Tracking codes let you track your package from initial drop off all the way through the delivery process to your front door. Pizza companies saw the popularity of the feature, fit it to their business, and, boom, a shift in customer expectations. This idea of being able to follow each step of the process has become, or soon will become, the standard no matter what is being made or delivered. That level of visibility will be expected.

Expectations of accessibility

Customers are also developing an expectation of accessibility to the businesses they work with. Specifically, they want and expect to be able to communicate with these businesses in the manner that they prefer. For some it’s through email. Some still prefer a phone call. Others want to be able to make a comment on social media and get a business’ attention.

And no matter what method of communication they chose, they want whatever information they shared to also be shared inside the business. It’s no longer acceptable to ask a customer calling for service to share the same story repeatedly every time their call gets transferred. Their history of interaction with your business—no matter where that interaction took place—has to be available to anyone who needs it.

Meeting these expectations: CRM

Even though meeting these new expectations may sound daunting, it doesn’t have to be. Chances are you already have the software you need in house. And, if you don’t, here’s another reason to look into it. That software is CRM.

First, though, we probably need to change some mindsets about CRM. The main one: CRM is just a fancy Rolodex. It’s not. You should be seeing it as more than a place to store potential customer contacts and notes. What it should be is a high-level tool that integrates with all of your other systems, including those that help you run your shop floor. That’s how it provides the visibility your customers want and need into the manufacturing process. It’s how they can follow their order step-by-step, from initiation to final delivery.

Traditionally, manufacturers have worried about being too open with these processes, worried that too much visibility could give away their “secret sauce.” While that concern is understandable, it’s unfounded. There’s value in visibility. Communication with the customer isn’t giving away trade secrets. You are helping them interact with the process. And, in the meantime, you are shifting your relationship away from provider/customer to a partnership.

Finding the right CRM

Unfortunately, CRM has become something of a commodity. If all you’re looking for in your CRM is a place to store information on potential customers your sales team’s called on, you can find that easily. It’s relatively simple to spin up some software, create a few dashboards, and go sell a very basic CRM.

What we are talking about here, the kind of CRM that has the internal intelligence that will allow it to integrate with other back-end systems and organize all of your interactions with your contacts (including being able to independently monitor social media for mentions of your company and tie it back to specific customer records) is something more than that. It’s a hub for business intelligence, and building software like that takes time and experience. It takes someone who knows manufacturing and how you interact with your customers. So, don’t get blinded by pretty dashboards or a cheap price. Ask the right questions when you’re looking for a solution. Ask about integration with specific software. Ask about reporting. Ask about the AI that’s being used internally to drive the data you’re getting.

You should be demanding more of your CRM and your CRM provider, because your customers are demanding more of you.

The Amazon Effect in Manufacturing, Industry TodayAbout Mickey Patton:
Mickey Patton is President and CEO of Clear C2, the leading CRM for manufacturing companies. Mickey joined Clear C2 in 1998 and has extensive knowledge of how manufacturers can use technology to streamline and maximize their customer relationships throughout the most complex sales cycles and ecosystems.

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