A customer-centric focus is the critical success factor for a customer relationship management (CRM) payback. While many manufacturers have effectively utilized a myriad of lean technologies, there is significant confusion about how to translate these lean techniques to the sales and marketing divisions of the enterprise.
Manufacturers exhibit at trade shows collecting thousands of leads that are discarded or languish in a basic database. Meanwhile, kaizen events on the plant floor or back office are conducted frequently (as a demonstration of commitment to the lean practice of continued process improvement), but the greatest remaining area of waste in the manufacturing business process is sales and marketing, which remains virtually untouched.
With more than fifty percent of all North American manufacturers lacking a dedicated marketing director, there is still an imbalance of engineering- and operations-focused senior manufacturing executives who are visibly uncomfortable in approaching lean CRM.
Some ERP vendors offer industry specific CRM solutions; many do not. Bolt-on generic CRM solutions are frequently sold as the panacea; few are. Larry Caretsky, President of New Jersey-based Commence, (www.commence.com/mfg), developers of a stand alone industrial CRM solution, suggested that most ERP companies offering CRM have shortfalls.
“Managing the sales cycle and sales representative performance, marketing campaign management and integration with customer support are not provided by ERP tools,” he said.
CRM is not the strength for most ERP systems, which often utilize an add-on module but are rarely a full CRM package. In many cases, industrial customers who require full CRM capabilities are relegated to third party products or services.
Stand alone industrial CRM solutions provide effective lean CRM processes as long as the vendor truly understands the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the manufacturing sector; most do not. Generic databases do not address central issues facing all industrial operations. According to Caretsky, “Smart industrial organizations gather several key data points during customer research, which helps to define a CRM profile.”
Some ERP vendors have proactively addressed CRM as a critical lean aspect of the manufacturing enterprise. Toledo-based Technology Group International (www.tgiltd.com) has developed a customized comprehensive industrial CRM solution.
Rebecca Gill, vice-president of TGI, notes several key reasons for purchasing an integrated ERP/CRM solution. Full integration allows:
• Access to data in manufacturing, distribution, and accounting.
• Instant notification of credit issues.
• Instant capability to promise data for both manufactured and distributed products.
• Direct tie between anticipated sales and related costs.
• Instant access to historical information like sales, returns, on-time payments, margins, and other data.
• Integrated dashboards that go beyond the typical sales funnel; show true margin comparisons.
• No need to re-shuffle sales data, or re-evaluate, or re-key. Data is all available to dice and slice as needed.
• No lag time between data syncing or replicating. Management staff has live, real-time sales data.
• True 360 degree view of the customer for the organization and not just the sales representatives.
Expertise in industrial CRM is more significant than whether fully integrated in an ERP system or stand alone industrial CRM; vendor experience in industrial sales and marketing trumps the selection of technology.
Thomas R. Cutler is the President & CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based TR Cutler, Inc., a manufacturing marketing firm. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.