How Customer-Focused Technology Drives Manufacturing Growth

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There are probably a thousand different words used to describe or categorize manufacturing types, modes and processes.

Process versus discrete, make to order, make to stock, repetitive, job shop, additive and assemble to order are just a few. Some of these terms describe the high-level production process, others describe the level of variation addressed within the production process and still others may describe the actual technology used to fabricate a product.

During the configuration phase, CPQ can interrogate the ERP, supply chain and inventory management systems, as well as the production scheduling systems to advise of any potential delays or other constraints that might delay the order.

If we look at manufacturing types on a continuum, one end would feature the highly repetitive, high-volume, lowest-product-variation type of output. Think in terms of paper clips or bullets. On the other end, we will find manufacturers that are comfortable turning out runs of one or thousands of products that feature high variability and multiple process requirements to complete. These manufacturers may be contract or complex on-demand manufacturers, and they are comfortable with and offer total product personalization and specialization.

With the notion of mass production came the requirement of standardization—standardized parts, assemblies and models. Almost immediately, buyers began to feel constrained by the lack of choice available for the products they purchased. This phenomenon is memorialized in the supposed Henry Ford utterance, “You can have any color you want as along as it is black.”

For the customer, the bargain struck was lower price in exchange for less personalization. We bought products that addressed most of our specific needs, and we settled for compromised solutions that helped but did not totally solve our problems.

Mass Customization

Technology has evolved to a point where the demand for more specialized, unique and personalized products can actually be met at a reasonable price. As the hamburger joint suggests, we can all have it our way.

This change has also affected how products are marketed and sold. Self-educated consumers or customers are far more comfortable identifying exacting product requirements with less reliance on sales reps to educate or guide their search for product knowledge and possible options. This doesn’t imply that “selling” is a dead profession; it means that it performs a different role than before.

Manufacturers understand this change. They understand that concentrating their efforts on gaining a better understanding of what their customers want and how their customers see themselves in terms of achieving success is their own path to success.

The Technology and Management of Mass Customization

The digitalization of the manufacturing, marketing and selling processes has truly enabled the customer-centric approach to business, and it has delivered similar economies of scale to short-run, personalized product manufacturing that previously were only found in mass-production, make-to-stock-type shops.

Product Design and Management

Engineers and product managers design products based on highly adaptable, reusable product assemblies. The same chassis for a large sedan might also be used for a light truck or van. The same basic engine may be configurable to not only address fuel economy during extended highway use but also deliver adequate power for pulling heavy loads in an urban environment.

Designing the product means the design is inherently adaptable for future models and configurations to address requirements that may not even be understood at the present time.

Marketing in the Mass-Customized World

The central message to be conveyed is no longer, our product is best, rather it stresses capability and dependability as a partner—you can rely on us to help you achieve your goals.

This must be backed up by providing value to prospects in the form of educational resources, information and facilities to help them more fully understand their own needs and requirements. Customer portals and websites that feature rich downloadable resources for the prospect are central to establishing the manufacturer or seller as a partner in the ongoing quest for success.

CRM systems and marketing-automation systems that track and categorize online behavior of web visitors help Marketing identify potential market needs as well as needs for the specific visitor. Equally important is how this information is provided to Sales. There is more to it than simply dropping a contact list on a sales rep’s desktop that contains the prior week’s website visitors with job titles, phone numbers and email addresses.

As the visitor refines their resource selections and informational search criteria, other material should be made available based upon those selections. At a point, some other level of contact should be established such as a follow-up email or phone call to confirm that the individual is getting what they need to accomplish their goals.

Selling

The selling process is well underway when the sales rep and prospect first make contact. The whole interactive online process, looking at behavior and recommending additional material, is the beginning of a dialogue with the prospect. That interactive process is what guided selling is all about.

For Sales, this means forgetting about what you have to sell and concentrating on what the customer wants to buy. CPQ technology makes this process easier for the sales rep and more responsive to the needs of the prospect.

Interactive question-and-answer scripts within the CPQ system guide the sales rep and prospect through a tree of questions, requirements and product options. This process enables the configuration, pricing and quoting of a finished solution that’s customized specifically for the prospect’s needs.

Order Processing and Manufacturing Execution

Once the solution is accepted, CPQ delivers a fully formatted BOM and part listing, complete with pricing and SKUs, to facilitate the entry of the order. During the configuration phase, CPQ can interrogate the ERP, supply chain and inventory management systems, as well as the production scheduling systems to advise of any potential delays or other constraints that might delay the order.

Once ordered, those same systems are notified of the specific demand requirements related to part or material needs required to fulfill the order. Operations management updates the production scheduling system and the job is scheduled. Then, logistical requirements are addressed, and acknowledgments are delivered so all the particulars related to the job and its delivery are confirmed to the customer.

Technology and process work together to ensure that the exact solution to address the specific needs of the individual customer are built, delivered and implemented as required. This is how customer focus and partnering for customer success works.

After the sale, follow-up continues to ensure that the customer is realizing the full benefit of the product or solution they purchased.

From this foundation, the buyer/seller partnership may grow, and the quest for success becomes a joint venture. The customer participates not only in product development but also in the selling process as a referenceable account. The seller responds to the ongoing needs of the customer by building products that address known issues that face the individual customer as well as the specific market involved.

Customer success equals buyer success.

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