Manufacturers are moving away from the product-centric models of the past and are now seeking new ways to connect with their customers, understand their needs and deliver products that exceed expectations

The manufacturing industry has always embraced change. Examples of this include Henry Ford driving the introduction of the assembly line to automobile manufacturing, World War II revolutionizing the process of large-scale production, and the Japanese manufacturing engines embracing Edward Deming’s thoughts on total quality management. It’s a certainty that manufacturers will seek continuous improvement.

2 men using a tablet in a manufacturing facility

Historically, though, the mantra for manufacturers has been to focus simply on driving efficiency and effectiveness within production operations. The basic belief has been that the only lever a manufacturer could pull to determine how effective they could be was based on how low they could get production and operational costs. This approach is very closed in its scope. It assumes that the best a manufacturer can ever be – the most success they can hope to achieve – is dependent solely on how well they manufacture and deliver products to customers.

In today’s customer-centric environment, manufacturers need to look outside the four walls of their organization and begin to focus on the external marketplace itself. They are collaborating extensively with their customers and are adopting more collaborative supplier and customer-oriented business models. These manufacturers know they must put more effort into actually engaging in the marketplace where their products are judged and where the customer determines the winners and losers. They priorities working more effectively in all aspects of their business and not just in the production and distribution areas.

It’s a new paradigm for manufacturing. By focusing on how well internal departments collaborate within their own organizations – specifically in the sales, marketing and service departments – these manufacturers are, in turn, able to engage even more closely with their customers, improve profitability, develop much closer ties with the marketplace and are top of mind in the battles for customer mindshare.

Technology and tools are now available that give manufacturers deeper levels of insight to become socially and digitally engaged with consumers and foster more intelligent and robust decision-making. Using a Microsoft Dynamics solution, manufacturers have the ability to communicate directly with customers in places and in formats of their preference. Companies can now find out what customers want and need. They can even monitor what customer sentiment is on their overall performance in the marketplace.

With Microsoft Dynamics CRM and our Industry Sales Accelerators for Manufacturing, we offer Dynamics CRM user templates that will help facilitate a connected marketing, sales and service environment. Manufacturers can now share information between departments and make intelligent decisions more easily than ever before.

Microsoft partners like ITVT Group in Germany also see the need for a more focused customer engagement model for manufacturers. ITVT sees compelling shopping experiences, individual support and a personal touch with every interaction as the way to be more productive and efficient. The ITVT solution is built on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015 and offers enhanced sales dashboards and reports, integrated marketing management, and flexible service functionality that allows field technicians a consistent mobile work environment on the device of their choice. Delivering customer and user value, it integrates collaborative processes from web portals via CRM and seamless ERP integration.

“Real-time information and intelligent customer, partner and machine/plant integration helps manufacturing companies deliver an outstanding experience to their business partners,” says Patrick Kreuzer, CEO of ITVT. “The ITVT CRM Industry Solution supports the business and delivers the agility needed in today’s highly competitive markets.”

While reactive decision making is important, the end goal is to achieve an environment where proactive decision-making occurs. The internet of things (IoT) has opened up the door to connectivity in a whole new light, where sensors built into products will automatically provide data in real time. Imagine a situation where a manufacturer can see how a product is being used and the actual performance metrics associated with that usage. This data allows manufacturers to determine if products are over-engineered or if there is a need for product enhancements. It also allows for immediate notification of issues in the field and the opportunity for proactive service engagements with enhanced customer service and potential upselling to customers.

Whether you choose to leverage the Manufacturing Industry Templates for Dynamics CRM or a solution like the one from ITVT, manufacturers now have the opportunity to get closer to customers than ever before. Using Microsoft, no longer are you limited to information provided to you by a third-party distribution channel on market activities. Now, you have a direct one-to-one relationship with the end-users of your products. You can effectively manage and monitor return on investment on marketing campaigns while tracking customer sentiment and feedback through social media. This holistic view of the customer engagement journey leads manufacturers to a marketplace where customer views get shared, issues get resolved, and expectations are exceeded. By intelligently engaging with customers, manufacturers can now truly delight their customers.

Bill Moffett is senior global industry manager for manufacturing at Microsoft Business Solutions