Industryweek 3419 Proactive

Taking the Proactive Approach

Jan. 3, 2013
In order to claim a position in the forefront of the market, a manufacturer must anticipate and be well prepared for market changes long before they happen. Success today is all about being proactive, not reactive.

Just a few years ago, the ability to react in a timely manner was considered a hallmark of strategic prowess. Today, however, simply responding to rapidly changing market conditions is not enough.

In order to claim a position in the forefront of the market, a manufacturer must anticipate and be well prepared for market changes long before they happen. Success today is all about being proactive, not reactive.

In today's manufacturing market, anticipation is critical to being prepared and beating the competition to any opportunity that may surface. Hungry competitors are eagerly awaiting those same inklings of economic recovery, emerging niches and new customer RFPs.

The manufacturer that is first to release an appropriate product, establish a supply chain that taps into a new geographic area, or launch a marketing promotion aimed at a surfacing demographic is more likely to stake claim to the opportunity.

The first to arrive in a market is often the one who ends up owning the dominating market share.

Recognizing a trend is too little, too late. There will already be a line of other manufacturers who have the new customized product, flexible supply chain and tailored pricing structure in place.

Anticipating market evolution is the first step in being proactive and beating the competition to emerging opportunities.

Engineering, Design and Product Innovation.

Product introduction is the real test of a manufacturer’s ability to respond in a nimble, agile manner to today’s fast changing market conditions.

The innovation must not only meet the demographics’ expectations (perhaps even before the intended audience knows what it wants), but it must also be engineered in a way that anticipates the availability of raw materials and costs.

Gambling on availability of resources, costs and supply chain avenues is risky, at best. A vague plan is not sufficient either. Prospective customers, even in an emerging marketing or niche demographic, want proven solutions.

The New Rules of Customer Loyalty

Maintaining customer satisfaction is another area in which speed and responsiveness are critical factors to the manufacturer’s success. Building customer loyalty is no longer about merely answering a customer request or complaint.

Nurturing a long term relationships with customers today means anticipating their needs, supporting their ongoing priorities and preventing obstacles from getting in their way. Front line personnel need to be able to spot potential issues early -- while there is still time to intercede, formulate a solution and communicate it to the customer.

Increasing Productivity

Optimizing the productivity of the workforce is also a factor in developing an agile company culture -- and key to increasing profitability.

In today’s highly competitive environment, every opportunity to increase productivity is essential. The ability to make actionable decisions based on real time data is one way to empower personnel to achieve more during their day.

Convenient access to relevant data helps personnel to make well-informed decisions, streamline processes, anticipate needs, focus on priorities and plan strategic use of resources.

In addition to the technology advances now available, manufacturers must also offer the training on using the available resources and support a company culture that encourages employees to be attentive to customers’ needs. Recruiting and retaining talent is, therefore, one of the necessary steps in creating an agile workforce.

With adequate intelligence gathering tools, people who know how to use them and top management’s willingness to embrace change, a manufacturer can transition to a flexible, agile business model that is more likely to survive extreme market pressures.

Once the manufacturer develops processes for continually observing, tracking and evaluating influencing factors -- whether they are competitive threats, reliability of suppliers, customer opinions, economic projections or supply chain viability -- the manufacturer must then also decide how to internalize this intelligence and empower fast reaction.

Eliminating Barriers and Layers

Contextual decision making tools are only the beginning. Manufactures must also reexamine the rigid layers of command that were once so essential to building a strong organization.

Today, those intricate systems of checks and balances can truly impede progress, letting an organization get bogged down in hierarchy and reluctance to make decisions without a committee and a full scale risk analysis.

On the other hand, if guidelines are established for responses, data is reliable and proper escalation alerts and safeguards against extreme reactions are imposed, personnel can have the confidence to take immediate response to fast changing situations, such as a sudden delay in delivery of raw materials or a price-cut by a competitor.

Beyond that, the company can also change its total mindset -- moving from a reactive management style to one that stresses taking corrective measures and making continuous improvement.

When the company moves into analytical, preemptive mode, it can set flexible goals, build upon successes, shift strategies based on critical influencing factors and continually refine systems. Reactions are controlled, measured and practical, yet timely and not delayed by unnecessary layers of approval and review.

This agility and speed of response is what separates the manufacturers who will survive the onslaught of market challenges today and the ones who will actually flourish and prosper.

Mark Humphlett is the director of Industry Marketing responsible for Infor's manufacturing industry strategy. 

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