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Turning Off Buyers

Are Your Sales Channels Turning Off Buyers?

July 27, 2022
A look at how data-savvy manufacturers are unifying the 'before and after' customer experience.

The pandemic’s disruption of traditional sales channels posed challenges for manufacturers, and as a result, some have significantly altered their customer journeys. They are improving their portals and web capabilities to create a new kind of customer experience, in addition to continuing to sell through their retail partners or distributors. They're also looking at new revenue streams, such as direct-to-consumer (D2C) channels.

Manufacturing enterprises traditionally sort customer buying processes into two distinct buckets—the buying experience and the post-purchase sentiment. In the buying experience, marketing emails, social posts, web content, customer reviews and other content creates awareness and provides information. The manufacturer has a product and a target audience that it seeks to influence so they get interested, learn more and buy.

The post-purchase bucket includes customer service interactions, website support portals and chat that determine the customer’s experience as a product owner.

But some manufacturers are now looking to upgrade that approach by blending the buying and ownership processes into a single, unified experience. Almost every manufacturer is looking to increase their parts and services business in the coming years—and this requires detailed data on how different types of customers interact with products and services to properly identify what works, what doesn’t, and what needs to be optimized to drive customer engagement, loyalty, and growth.

A unified, end-to-end buying process also offers manufacturers more visibility into customer behavior for their direct-to-consumer (D2C) plans.

If you're a manufacturer that’s accustomed to selling to distributors, your customer journey stops there, without knowing much about your end user. However, to add subscription-based models, end-user data is critical for understanding customers and creating the right experience for them. A 360-degree view of the end user can help architect the ecosystem needed to sell directly to consumers, including logistics and purchasing experiences that differ from channel partner sales.

For example, a home appliances manufacturer that sells to major retailers may not sell its washers and dryers direct to consumer, because they don’t want to undermine their channel partner relationships. However, they can offer ancillary products, like appliance accessories and specialized detergent, directly to customers. Those direct sales can build stronger customer relationships, generate customer data to refine products and customer-experience strategies and even deliver higher profit margins.

Other manufacturers might choose to install remote sensors on their products to collect usage and performance data to alert customers when it’s time for service or replacement, providing a proactive versus reactive customer service.

Building the Customer Experience Ecosystem

Many manufacturers’ channel partner buyers and end users are now digitally native millennials who expect a robust selection of online products and services and would prefer a salesperson-free experience. They want to go online, research a product, and proceed to the shopping cart without intervention—and do this in the most convenient fashion possible. This is a major shift from the traditional customer experience, which relied on sales guidance and consultations.

To build this kind of buyer-centric experience, manufacturers should review their digital content and platforms to develop a more guided selling approach that allows the customer to configure, price and quote (CPQ) what they need without a salesperson. This requires new CPQ tools, more search options and more subscription models with new pricing structures for bundled products and services.

It is also important to establish digital continuity from how the product itself is engineered all the way to how the product is serviced, meaning that everything in the value chain must be part of the customer-experience ecosystem. For example, a niche software developer needs to consider their partner ecosystem as part of the customer experience – headset manufacturers, visual product configurators, platforms, and more. In addition, the new ecosystem must include the e-commerce engine, site analytics for customer touchpoint data and machine learning to collect and analyze data on product usage for new development options.

Manufacturers also need to make sure they have the team members in place to enact this transition and support the new customer journey once it’s in place. This holistic approach maximizes the potential benefits of the end-to-end customer experience.

Organizations that are just starting to build end-to-end customer experience can start by investing several weeks in redefining who their target customers are and building strategic roadmaps. With those elements clarified, the next step is to generate ideas about how to sell differently to different types of customers, and then imagine a transformational roadmap for each one.

Comparing the ideal process to the existing experience will reveal the gaps that organizations need to close to create a seamless customer experience. For some companies, the gaps may be organizational; for others, there may be technology or content gaps. Knowing your organizational shortcomings makes it possible to define the cost of building out a new strategy and identify solution partners to bring your strategy to life. This will be the key that unlocks manufacturers’ ability to meet the new expectations of their existing customers and establish connections with new ones.

David Harrelson is vice president of digital customer experience at Capgemini Americas. He has over 25 years of business development, executive management and digital consulting experience within high-growth organizations covering a unique mix of software sales, digital strategy, creative design and digital technology enablement in both domestic and international markets

Shashank Mane is head of sales and go to market for the Manufacturing Market Unit at Capgemini Americas. He has over 25 years of experience helping clients deliver transformational products and services in the manufacturing market. He along with his team advises their clients on how to capitalize on the biggest manufacturing trends to create competitive advantage through market differentiation. 

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