As leaders of growing businesses we’ve all been there, sleepless night after sleepless night, your mind racing with niggles that you’ve pushed out of the way during the day. There are so many things to juggle in business, however one theme stands above the rest.
I speak to business owners and management teams every day about management software for their businesses, and the common theme of those sleepless nights is the feeling of control, or lack of it!
Where do you feel most out of control?
Sales forecast – do you have enough properly qualified opportunities in the pipeline?
Inventory – what’s the current value of my stock?
Data Accuracy – as we transfer data manually from one step to another, what has been mistyped or just missed?
Stock Accuracy – are we back-flushing our bill of materials to accurately adjust stock?
Pricing and Quoting – are we ensuring quoted product matches the customer needs and is actually feasible to produce?
Margins – are you making enough money on each sale?
Purchasing – how much cash is committed, and to which suppliers?
Goods Receivable – when can you expect support deliveries to ensure you meet customer/manufacturing demand?
Job Profitability – you know what you quoted, but did the actual costs exceed budget?
Customer Satisfaction – struggling to answer questions about orders and historic activity, and responding quickly enough to customer requests?
GDPR – have you got consent to communicate with customers, and for what purpose?
Serial Number Register – what products are out there, who do I stay on top of asset service history, components?
Sales Activity Tracking – what are people doing, how are they planning their time and tasks to meet customer expectations?
Daily Reports – laborious and inaccurate collation of data to get basic management information, or waiting till you get end of month or quarterly accounts to see if you’ve made a profit?
We built Flowlens in response to SME customers who needed an easy to use, ERP-CRM toolkit to help them grow.
Our customers may be small, but they think big. They make, refurbish, supply and service all kinds of tangible assets. From industrial plant & machinery, to ATVs, to street furniture, to intricate aerospace components, and even buildings.
We are proud of the range of industries and applications our product supports. But what’s the one thing they all have in common?
They all want to GROW!
They want a platform help grow their business. They want to grow their profitability. They want to enhance their customer service.
Our customers inspire us with their vision and determination to bring their product to market. They energise us with their passion for their businesses, their products, and their customers. We provide the tools that reduce wasteful manual effort and nurture customers for long term gain.
Our customers have integrated business processes, but the old tools were disjointed, manual and inefficient.
Building a sales pipeline and converting orders. Managing production, stock and operations. Delivering timely and effective customer care. These are too often disjointed, duplicated and inefficient processes. Flowlens unites these business critical functions in one system, removing waste to create an platform for business growth.
Our customers don’t accept the inefficiencies of outdated processes and ‘silo’ thinking.
Our customers don’t accept the inefficiencies of outdated processes and ‘silo’ thinking. They demand tools that nurture leads, convert sales, deliver on promises and develop relationships. They demand reliable business performance information. They demand simplicity, because complexity slows them down.
Our customers may be SMEs, but their vision and capability is huge, and Flowlens provides the tools to achieve that vision.
If you share that drive, determination and vision, we’d be delighted to have you on board. Please shoot me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org or book a demo.
How to eat the software elephant in your business.
Considering a new software solution for your business? Across our team, we’ve worked on countless software implementations across SME and large companies. In every case the more you prepare, the better the outcome. Prepare and plan your procurement and project implementation with these lessons in mind.
Keep your team on board
Different people and different departments will have a different outlook on changing systems in your business. You might be ready to drive change and achieve efficiencies, but is the business behind you?
Without team buy-in, short term patience and long term adoption will suffer. The change must be something that is worthwhile in the day to day work that each person carries out.
Some people may not understand how software can enhance their own effectiveness and help the company achieve its goals, but they will be aware of how their own work could be made more efficient. Most people will happily engage in a project that will give them more time for value-added activity, and reduce repetitive chores.
With most people working within a defined function, it can be difficult for them to understand the impact their work as on others. They may even begrudge change that doesn’t impact them, but has huge benefits for customers and profitability.
Get feedback and ideas from across the team and you’ll see greater buy-in.
Keep it simple
Most of us drive cars that are sold in various standard configurations. This standardisation makes it easier for the manufacturer to make, so it costs you less. It’s also cheaper to maintain, as your service mechanic will be familiar with the car.
We accept this simplicity in buying cars, so why not our business systems?
When considering software, we’re tempted to ask for special customisation and changes that suit particular processes that have grown up with the business? These changes cost money to define, build and maintain, and they also impact standard parts of the software, potentially preventing access to improvements the developer is making.
Consider examining your processes to reduce complexity and variability. Then figure out how the streamlined versions could be supported by existing software workflows.
This will have two benefits:
1. The software can be delivered faster ‘out of the box’, so you get a return quicker. 2. Enjoy your faster, leaner processes! (And hassle free updates to your software in the future.)
Keep it bite-sized
Can you eat an elephant in one bite? I thought not, then why would you try implement a new software system in one go?
It’s hard enough to make a change in business whilst keeping customers happy, and orders fulfilled.
Where are the most obvious weaknesses or inefficiencies in your business? Can you implement change here first, and reduce the risk, and free up time to tackle further challenges?
Often companies do not have strong purchasing and stock management processes. This function is relatively easy to bring into a new system, iron out the kinks in parts/materials coding, supplier lists, purchasing practices and goods received.
Another area is sales order processing. Getting orders out faster, means faster time to cash, but in many businesses this involves excessive paperwork. Making it easier for your sales team to secure orders, and you’ve got a clear success story to engage the rest of the business.
Keep your accounting package
You’ve probably invested heavily in your current accounting software and infrastructure, yet most software vendors have their own version built into their product.
Whether it’s a better option or not, you’ve no choice but to force upheaval on the Finance team as well as your Sales and Ops.
Modern cloud solutions are ready and able to integrate with existing software, whether it’s for accounting, marketing or any other purpose.
So now you can keep what is working, and tackle the core challenges that are really holding you back.
Keep your data clean
Your data is the lifeblood of the business. Readiness for a new software system relies on having good data to start. Look at your business KPIs and understand what data is essential to you. Most companies are spending time and money recording data that is no longer relevant or useful. Many also maintain multiple versions of the same data in different business silos.
When you think about your processes, how much legacy data collection and duplication can you remove?
Clean, consistent and relevant parts, customer, products and asset data will make your investment in software more powerful.
Keep the customer in mind
What will make your customer happy? Probably clear communication, fast delivery, fair pricing and a quality product.
Are your current processes optimised around your customer goals?
For example, think about capturing customer requirements in the sales process. Waste and cost often creep in because inaccurate requirements have made it all the way through to production. Worst case, you don’t find out until the wrong configuration has been delivered!
Help your Sales and Operations teams to define available products, options and upgrades. Quote only what you can deliver. Process orders based on an agreed bill of materials. Build only what has been signed off by the customer.
Start small, solve critical problems and bottlenecks: typically sales order processing, stock management and purchasing involve lots of manual effort. Address these inefficiencies and create time to address wider issues.
Don’t throw everything out and start again. Modern software can and should talk to each other. Make your existing investments work alongside new functionality.
Standard work makes money – how can you take variability out of your business and actually serve your customers better?
Keep your team on board, focus on the vision and how you will get there together.
Customer Lifecycle Management is turning business on it’s head, focusing on customer needs first, and delivering profits for the long term.
Bump into anyone from Flowlens, and it won’t be long before you hear the term ‘customer lifecycle management’, or CLM for short. But what is it?
Depending on your role in the business, there are a few ways to describe what Customer Lifecycle Management means. Firstly, CLM is a business philosophy, eradicating the ‘silo’ thinking that reduces customer satisfaction and hampers future profits.
With the customer at it’s heart, it’s a joined-up approach that builds long term value by ensuring that each part of your team understands their role in the customer journey. This not only means they’re focused on improving immediate customer satisfaction, but also how they capture information about future customer needs, and interact with other departments.
Secondly, it’s about competitive advantage, making your team so responsive and effective that the customer should never need an alternative. Your competitors can’t compete if your team is completely focused on meeting customer needs today, but also learning and communicating about future needs. By capturing data with each interaction, CLM enables the marketing and sales functions to build a stronger pipeline of recurring business.
Thirdly, customer lifecycle management is about simplification. Organisations now have so many overlapping systems and databases, that the customer experience is eroded by delays and inaccuracies. Customer lifecycle management seeks to centralise the customer data, and simplify the systems to the point that marketing, sales and operations are all contributing to a single, rich source of customer intelligence data, using software that is designed to deliver effective and profitable customer outcomes.
Finally, it’s about customer intelligence, analytics and decision making. CLM seeks to build a profile of customers that, in aggregate, can help you spot patterns, unmet needs, ineffective communications or processes, cost savings or R&D opportunities. It’s about real-time information at your finger-tips.
What it’s NOT.
CLM is not a spelling mistake. Commonly confused with ‘CRM’, you might think its just another system for managing customer interactions. In our view, ‘CRM’ systems have become part of the problem. They can be clunky, cluttered, and over-engineered, leading to poor adoption and poorer customer experience. CLM delivers a unified, tailored solution, delivered in collaboration with your team and your customers.
CLM is not just for the Marketing and Sales Teams. Across the business functions, and at all levels, Customer Lifecycle Management supports what the customer needs today, whilst capturing information about future needs. By supporting the workflow across the business, CLM removes obstacles, and creates rich information that can be interrogated in real time.
CLM is not ‘all or nothing’. Customer Lifecycle Management is about focusing on solving problems and improving the customer experience where it is needed most. It’s not a sticking plaster either, CLM should build trust and long term buy-in from all stakeholders, and this is best achieved by addressing immediate concerns, whereever they might fall in the lifecycle.
In summary, Customer Lifecycle Management has the potential to turn your business on it’s head, focusing on customer needs first, and delivering profits for the long term
Data Silos are Restricting your Growth. Do Something About It!
You’ve got a killer product, surging demand, and a world class team, but can your customer data stick the pace? Or will it hamper growth, innovation and your competitive edge?
Smart businesses understand the value of gathering, processing and leveraging customer data. This data needs to be joined up, and available on a common platform, to become useful information for smart decision making and exemplary customer service.
This is called Customer Lifecycle Management. Uniting processes across the business, with timely, relevant information.
Silo Data, Silo Thinking
If your teams can’t easily share useful customer information, what does that say about their capacity to serve customers, or respond to changing demands?
These silos come about easily, as data management is hardly the top priority when stretched resources must cope with customer, production and service demands. Ad hoc methods, usually based in spreadsheets, suited the available time, resources and departmental needs, without considering about the bigger, long term picture.
Left unchecked, this scenario will become a drag on the organisation. People at all levels spend their time manually gathering and processing customer data, which is soon out of date, and they have to start over again next month! The opportunity costs are difficult to calculate, but the risks associated with poor ‘information efficiency’ are huge.
Your customer experience is another major casualty, with a lack of joined-up data revealing itself in inconsistent communications, delays in service and ultimately, lost business.
What to do about it?
Restructuring your business information systems might seem like you’re trying to redesign an aircraft whilst it’s in flight. Fear not. With the correct methodology, linked to your company objectives, it is practical to implement a managed transition to a joined-up, streamlined real-time customer lifecycle management system.
What are your business priorities?
It’s easy to get overwhelmed, however by pinpointing the primary issues, or strategic drivers, you can quickly identify priorities. Often these will be in the areas of Sales, Production, or Customer After-Sales Support/Service, where crucial customer data is created and updated every day. Focusing on the core business priorities should bring fast and obvious improvements, but also help the team see their role in the bigger picture.
Is your whole team aligned around the customer lifecycle?
Often, company teams and departments use different terminology for the same thing, confusing for colleagues, and even worse for customers! Your company goals should drive all activities. Common terminology and data that aligns with these goals, instead of departmental silos, will enable people across the business to get ‘out of their box’, and understand the end-to-end nature of operations.
Simple Lifecycle Diagram
By first aligning the team under the goal of a shared business information resource, you will create the mandate for change. The benefits should also be clear. Better information will aid performance, it will help teams and individuals achieve their targets, it will help the company innovate faster, and most importantly, it will bring the customer closer.
Are your processes generating the right data?
With manual systems and spreadsheets, it’s tempting to add a few more fields to a form, or columns to a sheet, without considering the operational and management need for information. This incrementally increases the time people spend creating and maintaining data, instead of meeting their goals.
Instead, consider how the operations of the business will trigger information to be created and updated.
Does your sales team capture data that improves onboarding of new customers?
Does your Marketing department use sales pipeline data to refine lead generation techniques?
Do you customers have access to information and services without needing to call you?
Is everything you know about a customer available in one place?
Can you field service team gather information that could create new leads in the future?
Do you have real-time access to information from key business processes?
A Customer Lifecycle Management solution, such a Flowlens, supports your business and customer processes to achieve these outcomes. These outputs should become the natural, real-time, output that is the heartbeat of your organisation, without getting in peoples’ way. And, all this information is available to management in real-time.
The confidence that reliable, up-to-date information brings can not be underestimated. Decisions can be made, and opportunities seized.
Your customer data is now a valuable competitive resource, captured as your people, products and services help customers solve problems. This can drive insights into customer behaviours, product performance, partners, and much more that ensure you can keep building upon the value, and bring your customers closer.
Businesses that want to be successful, and get closer to their customers, with timely, accurate and relevant information, embrace the CLM process.
Smart businesses will go one step beyond, processing their customer data to make predictions based on customer data, helping to predict financial outcomes of behavioural changes, product launches, changes to pricing and marketing channels and many other factors.
Did you know that its 6-7 times more expensive to find new customers than sell to existing customers? How can you start to change your customer culture?
Encounter a business that doesn’t think ‘customer first’ and its usually a demoralising experience. Being told you can’t do something that seems simple, or ‘you can only get that over the phone’. These organisations have lost touch with their purpose, to deliver service and value, and to help their customers achieve their goals.
On the flipside, customer-centric organisations understand their customers’ goals, and structure themselves to ensure those goals are achieved. Their people have a ‘yes we can’ attitude towards problem solving, instead of looking for excuses or arcane rules to avoid helping out.
The Value of a Customer
Did you know that its 6-7 times more expensive* to find new customers than sell to existing customers? This presents a huge opportunity for upselling, cross-selling and generating referrals by encouraging stronger customer relationships. How can you start to change your customer service culture?
Listen to your Customers
Your customers are a rich source of information that can help you improve your products and/or service, yet how often do you ask for feedback or listen to comments in social channels? Gaining feedback could be as simple as inviting key clients for a coffee, but here are a few other ideas:
Make a list of your 10% most profitable customers, and ask them what you do well, and what you could improve upon?
Make a list of the 10% least profitable customers, and ask them why they don’t buy more from you, do they know about all your products and services
Examine customer support requests for patterns, and determine how quickly customers get a response
Create an online survey and circulate amongst customers
Ask for feedback on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn
Streamline Failing Processes
We often find that business processes that were once fit for purpose are no longer appropriate or effective. In conjunction with customer feedback, it can be easy to identify processes that cause frustration for customers, or even discourage them from buying more.
You don’t need to transform the entire business on day one, that’s unrealistic, but you can identify major problems and quick wins with some basic research:
Make a list of all the people, departments, processes that impact on the customer experience. Look for bottlenecks and information silos that can cause delays or confusion for the customer.
Cross-reference these with customer feedback and determine which processes are causing the most problems.
Show early intent by taking action to resolve the most frustrating problems. Ideally you will streamline the processes in order to profitably deliver what the customer wants.
Devise a roadmap for change based on your complete findings.
Help Customers to Help Themselves
Today, many customers don’t want to waste time waiting for information. Put them in control by offering online access to information and services about their relationship with your company. Whether its service or maintenance information, asset tracking, training content, analytics, or anything else you can automate and deliver electronically, you’ll save them time and money, and create goodwill.
Again, refer to customer feedback to understand what information is useful and important to them, and examine internal workloads to understand where repetitive, manual service requests can be automated.
Bonus tip, don’t be afraid to fire your customers.
Sometimes you can’t please all of the people all of the time. When reflecting on negative customer feedback, or unprofitable relationships, consider whether your company vision is still compatible.
The benefits of ‘firing’ customers include:
Releasing resource to deal with profitable customers
Removing the distraction of non-core or legacy services
Avoiding negative word of mouth
Creating a positive outcome by referring the customer to a provider who fits their needs
Our customer lifecyle management solution, Flowlens, can help you become more customer-centric, and align your team on that vision. To learn about how Flowlens can help your business become more customer-centric, please contact us, or call +44 2890 998597 to arrange a no-obligation consultation.
It’s no secret that the manufacturing sector is under extreme pressure. Between depressed export demand, rising input costs, and strong competition, manufacturers need new strategies in order to prosper.
Andrew Johnston, Senior Economist at the manufacturers’ group EEF, opened this morning’s seminar programme. He gave an illuminating summary of the challenges facing the sector, and the strategies being employed to meet these.
We’re exhibiting at SubCon 2013, featuring lots of leading suppliers and subcontractors to the manufacturing industry.
It’s no secret that the manufacturing sector is under extreme pressure. Between depressed export demand, rising input costs, and strong competition, manufacturers need new strategies in order to prosper. Andrew Johnston, Senior Economist at the manufacturers’ group EEF, opened this morning’s seminar programme with an illuminating summary of the challenges facing the sector, and the strategies being employed to meet these.
Andrew Johnston, Senior Economist at the manufacturers’ group EEF addresses SubConRecent performance has been poor, with a triple dip recession narrowly avoided through marginal growth in Q1-2013.
Andrew outlined how the ‘Other transport’ sector, including aerospace and shipbuilding, is performing well, along with mechanical equipment/machinery and electrical sectors. However construction materials is still suffering due to lower demand. In fact, ‘demand risks’ dominate the outlook for 2013 in spite of strengthening confidence across the sector. Issues include: the fear of further recession, input costs, exchange rates, increased raw materials costs, finance and supply chain capacity.
Andrew highlighted that innovation will play a vital role in strengthening UK competitive advantage, in terms of IP and value added, allowing differentiation from global competitors. The EEF has found that companies are focusing on several strategies in the near term in order to address these challenges. These include increasing demand from new and existing export marketing, commercialising new technology and products, and a focus on satisfying existing customers.
Maximising customer relationships was highlighted as a key strategy for ensuring sustainability and growth. With the cost of acquiring new customers up to seven times higher than serving existing customers, manufacturers can achieve additional revenues, and secure longer term relationships by increasing their focus on value-added customer support. This approach allows companies to capture more revenue across the product lifecycle, and be ready to sell new products or upgrades when it knows customers are ready to buy.
This is precisely for these reasons that we developed Flowlens a “customer lifecycle management” software that offers manufacturers an effective management analytics, and operational tool for managing customers, with proven methods for increasing retention and profitability.
Flowlens – Customer Lifecycle
It manages customer and asset data, sales, operations, service and communications, creating actionable analytics, customer segmentation and targeting, and efficient workflow and service management features. Flowlens customers achieve greater profits and lower costs, whilst securing customer relationships for the long term.