14 December, 2018

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.


To run a business is to inevitably suffer operational and administrative headaches. But while the persistence of these headaches is undeniable, some can be eliminated. Our research also revealed that 17% of professionals are actively struggling with manual data entry, 9.5% struggle with outdated spreadsheets, and 6% don’t know how to prepare for meetings adequately. These are problems that can be fixed – ideally not by your sales or marketing team, who would prefer to make better use of their time.

When they’re overburdened with these menial tasks, they’re spending less time nurturing customer relationships and enticing new prospects. Many of them can – and should – be automated. Modern software can use built-in task bots to complete data entry, reporting, and collating tasks on behalf of human employees – meaning you’ll never be anything less than fully ready for a meeting.

If you can unify these processes in a single technology platform used across the entire company, even better, as this will help to avoid information silos and break down barriers in communication. More and more tasks will be automated in future, and it’s best to prepare for this as well as you can.

Mobile and cloud computing

We often talk about mobile and cloud technology as if it’s the future, but this neglects the fact that it’s very much the present. The sooner your company can get on board with it, the better.

Mobile and cloud computing have redefined CRM, ERP, BI, and other software applications. Software-as-a-Service solutions are now widely accepted as more scalable and less costly than product-based solutions. They don’t require any significant investment in physical hardware – no setup, no installation, no maintenance fees. The off-site data centre handles all of it while your business enjoys the benefits.

We found that 11% of professionals still struggle to access information while outside the office – and 34% find it difficult to access timely information to use while selling. Cloud solutions promise to change that, allowing salespeople to gain full visibility into their history of customer interactions. Insights can be delivered near-instantaneously, and information can be updated and reviewed in real time. What’s more, they’re quite reliable: many of these solutions experience under 1% downtime each year.

Technological change in all aspects of business is inevitable, but it doesn’t have to be burdensome. Take the initiative, use the right solutions, and be open to possibility, and you’ll prosper now – and in the future.


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