Customer Journey

Why manufacturing companies should change how they think about the customer journey

One of the toughest challenges that most businesses face is being able to fully understand the entire customer base - and most importantly potential customers - and how to engage each one in a way that leads to a sale. 

When it comes to marketing and sales, targeting and audience segmentation, it means that even traditional businesses like manufacturers must adapt their messaging, channels and customer journey touchpoints to service an increasingly diverse and fickle customer. This can feel like an impossible feat. 

So how can manufacturers reshape how to think about the customer journey, and how can you best strategize and implement processes and technology in order to capture the most leads and generate more existing customer loyalty? These are the main things to consider:

There is an increasing number of touchpoints with more autonomy

The modern customer journey - even within traditional industries - is no longer a straight line. Prospects and leads make an increasing number of touchpoints along their path to purchase, most of which are done even before they speak to a sales person or make an indication for sales-readiness. 

While manufacturers have long taken a standard approach to sales and marketing activities, it’s time to consider that the way consumers make decisions - even in B2B manufacturing - doesn’t differ much from how they make decisions for other types of goods and services. 

Consider that most research and information seeking will have happened before you may even know your prospect or lead. Autonomy in the customer journey is becoming commonplace - which at first can feel frustrating for businesses who are used to having more “control” over the conversation.

How to rethink this: Don’t try to fight it. Give leads more opportunities for information self-discovery. They can then learn more about your business and offers at their own pace, while you are still able to control the narrative. This can be done through content and more interactive online experiences via your website and third-party channels. 

Consider how you create these journeys on your website. Where are you using lead generation tactics such as call-to-actions and forms? What kind of follow-up and marketing automation do you have in place to nurture leads and deliver relevant and timely information to them? These should be some of the first foundational aspects you build as you rethink your customer journey.

There is a new demand for digital and self-service

It wasn’t that long ago that B2B manufacturing companies relied heavily on in-person sales, demonstrations and trade shows for their main sales activities. But as consumer behavior shifts increasingly online - even for B2B, and especially with current limitations for in-person events - you must learn to adapt. Similarly to the shift to initial self-discovery before a buyer reaches sales-readiness, even the buying process itself should have more options for self-service.

The key word here being “options.” Options for self-service are appealing to so many potential buyers, because they feel more in-control and less pushed, and gives them a greater feeling of choice. If a complete self-service option isn’t possible for your particular business, you can consider how online portals, or order questionnaires can expedite the sales process and still feel personalized for the customer. 

Plus, consider the implications of digital ordering and self-service. By automating the purchase process in this way, you can have a more complete data profile about your customers. This data can be leveraged for future marketing and sales strategies, understanding consumer behavior and allowing your business to understand gaps in the journey and where to focus more attention for improvements. 

How to rethink this: Look at digitizing the customer journey and self-service options as a way to increase sales volume without the need for hiring more sales reps, and as the best method for data collection and analysis. In order to beat competition, stay agile and grow the business, responding to the demand for digital is not only more appealing to your customers, but will benefit your business directly.

There is a greater need to focus on retention and loyalty

Most critically - businesses need to rethink the customer journey as no longer being a straight line or a “funnel” but rather as a cycle. Keeping existing customers happy so that they continue to make purchases and engage in a loyalty loop should be a major component of your marketing and sales strategies. Because competition is strong in many sectors, just one bad experience or lack of post-purchase engagement can lead a customer to take their business elsewhere.

While companies such as software or cloud service providers often talk about churn metrics, manufacturing companies should have the same mentality - reducing the number of customers who leave and don’t come back. Ensuring that you retain customers means you spend less effort and resources on new sales, which has a lower return on investment, and increases your average cost for acquiring a customer. 

Additionally, in order to capitalize on getting more from your existing customers, manufacturers should consider how to add services and other types of add-ons that can be upsold. Internet of Things (IoT), Industry 4.0 and increasing connectivity of hardware combined with services can become huge revenue generators for manufacturers, outside of normal product offerings. These can extend the customer journey within your business, and ensure that the lifetime value of your customers continues to increase.

How to rethink this: What are easy ways to start implementing services to your existing customers? How can you introduce customer appreciation programs? Reconsider the idea that once a purchase is made, a customer’s journey is over. Find ways to continue to engage them, motivate additional spend and keep them in a loop to make repeat purchases over time. 

The customer journey is ever changing and is often a very personal thing for many buyers. It’s increasingly difficult for businesses in traditional industries like manufacturing to know and understand each of their prospects and customers, without rethinking the approach to the journey itself. Consider that the journey has more touchpoints, is more autonomous, needs to be digitized and that it doesn’t end when a sale is made.

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