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Thomas R. Cutler

Quality Insider

The Lean Frontier

Industrial customer relationship management

Published: Monday, September 11, 2006 - 22:00

The tagline to the 1989 film "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier" was “The Enterprise is back. This time, have they gone too far?”

With up to 10 years of continued process improvements on the plant floor, and in back office and distribution operations, manufacturers have finally arrived at the front door of customer relationship management (CRM). Many senior manufacturing engineering and operations executives are strongly resistant and assert that lean CRM is the final frontier in the lean enterprise process. Now that the quick gains have been achieved from eliminating waste in the rest of the manufacturing enterprise, the areas most neglected—customer service, sales and marketing—are front and center.

Achieving bottom-line benefits from the implementation of many of the CRM technology solutions that provide “electronic” connections and profound data analysis and reporting capabilities is only part of the quality equation. There are systematic processes designed to achieve significant CRM benefits including:

  • Planning and executing organizational and value-stream process improvements, particularly those issues affecting staff, culture and organizational issues
  • Applying the principles of lean enterprise, total quality management and value-stream analysis to improve customer interface operations
  • Justifying quality-coaching technologies, including self-organizing and autonomous agent-based solutions.

Larry Caretsky, president of Commence, developers of a stand alone industrial CRM solution, suggested that most enterprise resource planning (ERP) companies offering CRM have short-falls. According to Caretsky, “Managing the sales cycle and sales representative performance, marketing campaign management and integration with customer support are not provided by ERP tools.”

ERP-provided CRM: Not always the panacea
While many ERP vendors fall short on the industry CRM front, some have proactively addressed this critical lean aspect of the manufacturing enterprise. Toledo-based Technology Group International is an ERP vendor that has developed a customized industrial CRM solution. Rebecca Gill, vice president of TGI noted several key reasons for purchase an integrated ERP/CRM solution. Full integration allows:

  • Access to data in manufacturing, distribution and accounting
  • Instant notification of credit issues
  • Instant capability to promise data for manufactured and distributed products
  • Direct tie between anticipated sales and related costs
  • Instant access to historical information such as sales, returns, on-time payments, margins and other data
  • Integrated dashboards that go beyond the typical sales funnel and show true margin comparisons
  • No need to reshuffle sales data, re-evaluate or rekey. Data is all available to dice and slice as needed.
  • No lag time between data syncing or replicating. Management staff has live, real-time sales data.
  • True 360 degree view of the customer for the organization and not just the sales representatives

Indeed, stand alone industrial CRM solutions may also provide effective lean CRM processes as long as the vendor truly understands the nuances and idiosyncrasies of the manufacturing sector, but most don’t. Offering a glorified database satisfactory to any type of organization doesn’t address the central issues facing all industrial operations.

As Caretsky notes, “Industrial companies with complex products and solutions must be driven by quality best practices around industrial selling, rapid system start-up, effective sales team adoption and use. Each of these issues is a unique reality of quality lean principles for industrial sales and marketing.”

Trailers for "Star Trek V" suggested that, “Adventure and imagination will meet at the final frontier.” Perhaps CRM and manufacturing has arrived with Spock’s suggestion to, “Live long and prosper.” If the value of lean quality CRM isn’t achieved, then manufacturers will surely evaporate and be beamed up.


About The Author

Thomas R. Cutler’s picture

Thomas R. Cutler

Thomas R. Cutler is the President and CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Florida-based, TR Cutler Inc., celebrating its 21st year. Cutler is the founder of the Manufacturing Media Consortium including more than 8000 journalists, editors, and economists writing about trends in manufacturing, industry, material handling, and process improvement. Cutler authors more than 1,000 feature articles annually regarding the manufacturing sector. More than 4,500 industry leaders follow Cutler on Twitter daily at @ThomasRCutler. Contact Cutler at trcutler@trcutlerinc.com.