The Next 10 Years: Profile of the Future-Ready Manufacturer

In his private notebooks, author Albert Camus wrote: “Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”

For the future-ready manufacturer, these words ring true. As we pick up the pieces in the aftermath of the pandemic, we all appreciate the idea of readying ourselves for the future. But what are the critical tools we must have to achieve this? I believe it is a hybrid strategy that demands both mindset and technology.

I start where I think all great things in life begin – with people. First and foremost, manufacturers must be resilient. A key piece of the future-ready manufacturer is the ability to quickly sense issues or problems, understand what needs to be done, and then take action to remedy those issues and problems. This is the marriage of technology and sensibility.

Analytics, AI and data transparency play roles in this sensing part, as does having a system of engagement to speed collaborative decision-making and execution. The ability to sense, diagnose, decide, and execute more quickly than your competition is a competitive differentiator.

The future-ready maker will also break down silos. With supply chain woes, getting product to market is as much a challenge as selling it to a kaleidoscope of changing customer demands. While technology like cloud computing can provide tools for collaborative work, trusting team members and critical partners while tearing down silos that limit channel partnerships is just as important.

Why is future-readiness a top priority? Ch-ch-ch-changes . . .
Three words: sales and service.
For sales, the pandemic required us all to engage with customers and partners virtually rather than in person. Companies are realizing the huge productivity benefit from virtual engagement when compared to the old way of traveling for face-to-face engagement.

In the service space, there was a significant amount of time that field service technicians couldn’t enter a customer’s facility to make repairs. As a result, we saw much greater adoption of remote repair capabilities leveraging direct internet access of a product to implement product fixes or video imaging (think Zoom calls with a remote technician) to enable a remote expert to help diagnose problems and guide a local resource to make the repair. Through these capabilities, manufacturers kept customers up and running during the pandemic, and reduced their cost to serve by not having to dispatch a repair person.

You might not think talking about service is relevant for makers, but it is for the future-ready manufacturer. Salesforce surveyed 750 manufacturing leaders from around the world for the company’s Trends in Manufacturing report. While it’s true we are left with a trail of uncertainty post-pandemic, the challenges give way to opportunities.

According to the report, more than nine in 10 manufacturers reported that customer demand, production capacity, distribution lines, and more were impacted while over half of participants consider the changes to customer service and sales capabilities to be permanent. In a broader perspective, 95% expect some changes to be permanent.
What an interesting time to be alive. We have a front row seat to the acceleration of the future-forward business model.

Manufacturers, too, became faster and more agile out of necessity. They came to realize that understanding their customer and what they are going through defines being future-ready. Understanding others comes from listening, observing, sharing. This, as the report reveals, is a line in the sand as 3.5 times as many future-ready manufacturers are able to react rapidly to market changes compared to those who feel unprepared.

No doubt there is greater emphasis on the customer experience as a brand advantage. And while looming price increases,  distribution and logistics, and production and supplier capacity are important, being future-ready leans heavily into getting a manufacturer’s sales capabilities, marketing and sales enablement ready now.

What stands in the way for manufacturers? 

Salesforce’s report found that parts of the sales process are still manual. Between 47% and 57% stated that sales activities like logging sales data and customer notes, managing administrative tasks, generating quotes and proposals, prioritizing leads and opportunities, and determining actions steps on accounts are right now being done manually.

One of the things that the pandemic surfaced was that some manufacturers who are dependent solely on product sales saw revenues drop off with nothing to replace them (assuming they weren’t manufacturing things that took off during the pandemic like swimming pools, DIY home improvement things, new homes, ventilators and mask, etc.). If those manufacturers had recurring service businesses (think things like strong aftermarket parts programs, accelerated service level agreements, predictive or proactive maintenance agreements, etc.), they would still be receiving revenues during the pandemic, thereby diversifying their revenue streams. Salesforce’s survey showed that future-ready manufacturers embraced services more fully than unprepared manufacturers by a significant amount, proving that more diversified revenue streams level set future success.

Lastly, sales and operations are riding the tsunami wave of personalization and digitization in 2021. I don’t see this ending any time soon. Just as e-commerce continues to take on more brick-and-mortar attributes, manufacturers ”have doubled down on digitizing their sales and operations” the report stated. This, participants said, improved product application (like matching product capabilities with customer needs) and faster reaction speed.

Hello, future-ready manufacturers, let’s talk August 5

One thing I know is this: every day we have a chance to reimagine the road ahead. True innovation comes through collaboration. That’s why I hope you’ll join me on August 5 for “Preparing for the Future of Manufacturing.” This live Salesforce webinar features Cindy Bolt, SVP Manufacturing Industry Advisors, WiseMedtech founder Dr. Hassan Rashidi and myself.

We’ll be talking about the weakness revealed during the pandemic and the opportunities to justify larger-scale change and adapt to new landscapes that will be key for the future of manufacturing. Bring your questions as we explore the characteristics of the future-ready manufacturer, the reimagined workforce via automation and operational efficiency and how personalization, and digitization will continue to be rising trends in 2021 and beyond.

Manufacturers have always played the long game

The modern manufacturer has a great challenge in getting ready for the future. But they have also shown, throughout history, that nothing is too great to overcome. Manufacturers survived the Great Depression, Y2K, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Great Global Recession and, of course, a global pandemic. Through a resilient mindset, automation and operational efficiency, they will continue to compete and win.

My core belief is that real growth lives at the crossroad of technology and humanity. For manufacturers, this is where success may be found over the next 10 years and beyond. As Camus points out, we must give “all to the present” and really understand what changes will carve out a more promising future.

On occasion, Salesforce Industries partners with thought leaders to share their expertise and their insights on key manufacturing trends. The opinions in this article are my own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Salesforce Industries.