Optimizing Sample Management in Manufacturing

The longest business cycle in U.S. history is showing signs of ending; one of the leading indicators of its demise is becoming prevalent in the form of lower guidance on corporate profits and revenue.

Throughout what has been a rather weak economic expansion, it has been very difficult for manufacturers to raise prices to end users – even as their own input costs increase.

This translates into a profits squeeze. When profits come under pressure, cost control becomes paramount in organizations. One of the steps manufacturers can take to control costs is by optimizing their sample management practices.

Before any customer or distributor places an order for a product, they will want to see a sample. Manufacturers are usually quick to offer their samples without charge.

However, if the company’s internal tracking methods are not sufficient to keep tabs on those samples, several things can happen, all of which lead to an unnecessary increase in costs.

Missing Samples and Missed Opportunities

Often, requests for samples come via email or a phone call, says Eric Satterthwaite, a V.P. of Sales at Gerent. Whoever takes the incoming communication is then obliged to inform others who need to be involved. The next step is to ensure the sample request is fulfilled and the sample sent out to the customer. Finally, it’s incumbent on someone in the firm to let Sales know there’s a new lead they should pursue.

All too often, this process breaks down because there is no one individual or procedure designated to handle the request from start to finish.

What that leads to, Eric explains, are missed opportunities.

“Without having one system to be able to capture the request, make sure it gets routed to the right group in the company, make sure it gets fulfilled and that communications are then distributed internally to those who need to know and externally for proper follow-up, it’s all guesswork.”

The upshot is customer dissatisfaction, he continues. “If a customer says, ‘look, every time I call for a sample, it’s hit or miss and it takes too long to get it or nobody even responds. I’m going to somebody else’, then you’ve just shot yourself in the foot.”

Blowing a lead and losing a customer or prospect over a mishandled request for a sample is completely unnecessary, especially when it’s due to an internal failure to properly track the samples.

Here’s where costs can start to pile up.

The Failure of Paper-based Tracking

Manufacturers of high-end or high-priced products, like granite or quartz countertops for example, can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, creating samples and sending them out to the big box stores like Home Depot or Lowe’s or to fabricators around the country.

Tracking samples on Excel spreadsheets can be both inefficient and insufficient to keep a handle on what’s gone where and how often samples have gone to the same places.

Compounding the challenge are independent sales agents or distributors who may be submitting RFPs (Requests for Proposals) on behalf of their customers.

“So, the end customer may send out an RFP to five or six agents that all work with you, the manufacturer,” Eric continues, “and you have no idea who the end customer is. So, you might be sending out samples to distributors that ultimately end up in the same place.” If the manufacturer has no complete view of where, how and to whom samples are going, there is bound to be costly replication of product samples.

Effective Tracking With CRM

Fortunately, there is a solution to these problems that will contain costs through effective sample tracking and, at the same time, enhance customer satisfaction.

CRM platforms, like those developed by Salesforce and implemented by Gerent, provide a company with a 360 degree view of whoever they’re dealing with.

Sales Cloud, for example, allows a company to efficiently track and manage customer communications, store and manage documents like RFPs, sales orders, invoicing, etc.

Service Cloud permits top-level case management of service level agreements while Salesforce CPQ (Configure, Price, Quote) allows for fast and accurate pricing on request.

There are many other solutions, like Commerce Cloud to permit e-commerce transactions, all of which are designed to do one thing: provide a company with a clear, real-time, up-to-date view of a customer and make that view available to everyone in the company at the same time.

A shifting business cycle and global supply chains challenged by trade tensions are two elements outside the control of a manufacturing company. What is within their control are their business  operations. Companies are benefitting every day around the world from Salesforce CRM technology; they have gained the ability to see “the whole picture” whether it’s their back end operations or their front end, customer-centric activities, where the first steps are always taken to pursue and secure business.

If you’d like to expand your understanding of how this powerful technology can help to generate efficiencies and revenue, contact us today for more information.

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