20 May, 2024

Business 4.0: how technology is enhancing the business of manufacturing

27 March, 2018

By Paul Black, CEO, sales-i.

The advent of technology is a double-edged sword for businesses. Developments like Industry 4.0 – where automation, Internet of Things technology, cloud computing, data exchanges, and more are leading to the creation of ‘smart factories’ – are potentially transformative for companies in the industrial sector. They have the potential to reduce the need for human input and decentralise decision-making in the manufacturing process.

Transformation, of course, isn’t always painless – and with sophisticated technology comes certain uncomfortable questions. Will we also need to replace the sales, marketing, and customer service functions with machines? Will strategy become the business of aligning various computer programs? Will human input be entirely redundant?

Well, yes. And no. Manufacturing is being changed by technology, that much is true. But sales, marketing, and customer service are fundamentally people-driven disciplines, and the involvement of human beings will still be a precondition for their success far into the future. What technology can do is enhance these professionals by helping them to connect with customers more effectively and improve their day-to-day productivity and efficiency.

Customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP), and business intelligence (BI) tools can boost profits, but only if the user knows how to make the most of them.

Being aware of business technology trends can deepen this understanding. Here are three of the most important.

Customer data analysis

Research from sales-i indicates that many salespeople still make decisions according to instinct: 6% suggested that they made choices purely based on their ‘gut feeling’, and 40% suggested that they made decisions about new customers based on their experience of existing customer relationships. This is problematic for several reasons.

Rapport with customers is important, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. There are numerous different factors that can impact your company’s relationship with a customer: their business may have adverse financial circumstances, the economy may fluctuate in a fashion that does not favour your existing arrangement, or a competitor may undercut you with an offer that’s too good to turn down. Customer loyalty is far from assured. As for gut instinct, it can be useful – but only when followed up and confirmed with real evidence. On its own, instinct is not worth very much at all.

Customer knowledge and instinct shouldn’t be ignored, but they should be endorsed by data before any decisions are made. This is where analytics tools can be extremely useful: they can help you identify buying patterns and trends, allowing you to target your sales efforts precisely where they’ll be most effective.

If a customer is likely to reorder a pneumatic power unit, the technology will give you an accurate idea of when they might do so – enabling you to offer a discount or special offer before your competitor can gazump you. If there’s a drop in a customer’s spending, you’ll be alerted to it in time to act to resolve the situation before the customer defects. You’ll know when and how to start conversations with them, and you won’t need a specialist’s level of insight to get the most out of your data.

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