How to Choose the Best Manufacturing CRM Software


  • Inventory, asset and resource-based industrial companies have different CRM requirements that are only satisfied with applications built for the industrial sector.
  • The best manufacturing CRM software must go beyond simple customer activity management and satisfy operational processes unique to the industry.
  • The top 4 CRM for manufacturing systems are designed to accommodate industry specific requirements such as product innovation, indirect sales channels, highly configurable orders, field service support, IoT, AI and more.
Johnny Grow Revenue Growth Consulting

Customer Relationship Management software is the underlying technology to support business growth. Yet for many manufacturers it is little more than an electronic rolodex and fails to drive systemic revenue growth. For those considering a new system, or possibly just redesigning their current system, this article shares several capabilities of how this technology can fuel industrial growth strategies.

The Best Manufacturing CRM Software

The best manufacturing CRM software goes well beyond simple account, contact and opportunity management. Industrial companies require more advanced capabilities. Fortunately, several solutions are designed to satisfy these industry requirements and accommodate the objectives and shared below.

Best CRM for Manufacturing Business

Technology That Improves Innovation

Manufacturer growth and profits are directly aligned with product innovation. And the single best source for innovation is your customers. CRM for manufacturing uses tools such as customer segmentation, Voice of the Customer, rich customer data, telematics, IoT and other automation to acquire, measure and forecast customer insights that improve innovation.

Most industrial executives believe they know what their customers want. They are partly right. Their inaccuracy lies in subconsciously inflicting their own bias, treating customers as though they are all the same, assuming customer wants are static, and that all customer wants translate into willingness to pay. It's important to recognize that even small inaccuracies in customer preferences will result in deterioration of R&D, marketing promotions, sales offers and the introduction of new or improved products.

CRM for manufacturing software is designed to engage customers and capture insights to create better products. We're in the age of the social customer. Customers will tell you what they want, and how to improve your products, but you have to ask them.

Their input is invaluable in steering R&D to produce the products that are enthusiastically embraced by customers and produce customers that make repeat purchases. But to automate this process you need to gather and record customer feedback by customer segment.

Manufacturing CRM software supports this process with social engagement tools for customer input, crowd sourcing tools for target audience collaboration, self-service tools for on-demand feedback and surveys to measure product satisfaction. These applications include advanced capabilities, such as Voice of the Customer, customer insights and digital crowdsourcing. They can scale innovation by automating the capture, categorization and tabulation of customer insights.

Industrial companies that use these tools to collaborate with customers during product design, production, distribution, sales, service and returns lower their investments and create more valuable products.

Consumer Insights Dashboard

Failing to verify exactly what each customer segment wants at each point in its supplier relationship creates a cascading effect that degrades R&D investments, marketing offers, sales effectiveness, support services and the customer experience.

The impact incurred in any one of these areas is a significant financial loss that often goes unrecognized by industrial executives. If your application isn't telling you how to create more innovative products, you're missing a big opportunity.

Technology That Empowers Partners

Many manufacturers sell through indirect channels such as distributors, retailers, resellers, business partners and independent sales representatives. The upside is that the indirect sales channels lower sales cost and create a multiplier effect. The downside is a loss of control and poor visibility to sales processes, customer demand and customer relationships. That last item of poor customer relationships can degrade brand development, demand planning and repeat sales.

It's easy for manufacturers to distribute sales content, price lists and leads to partners. It's hard to get timely and recurring feedback. A lack of engagement creates a lack of insights and generates many recurring questions. What ever happened to those leads I sent? Why did you use the wrong customer price list again? What's this quarter's sales forecast look like?

CRM for manufacturing software includes capabilities for Partner Relationship Management (PRM). These PRM systems are designed to deliver sales enablement to indirect channels. They can also drive digital engagement that shifts one-way conversations or content flow from the manufacturer to the partner to two-way engagement that gets feedback from partners.

PRM supports partners with flexible programs and margins. Capabilities include indirect channel sale methodologies, online partner portals (for education, sales assistance, sales orders (including CPQ), sales returns), lead management processes (registration, distribution and visibility), a shared 360-degree customer view and partner dashboards.

The increased automation enables manufacturers to better manage and scale partner programs with fewer partner management resources. That also empowers partner managers to better focus on the larger or more strategic partnerships. Most importantly, these PRM systems automate partner onboarding, accelerate time to value, improve the partner relationship and grow mutual success.

Simple Order Processing with CPQ

Many manufacturers are becoming more competitive by becoming more agile. They are shifting from standardized products to more customer-oriented production methods such as configure-to-demand and make-to-order. But producing timely and accurate quotes for small quantity, technical or highly configurable products can incur excessive time, delay sales cycles and frustrate both salespeople and customers.

The best manufacturing CRM software solves this challenge with Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ) capabilities. CPQ software helps salespeople quickly quote configurable and complex products, which are often governed by operational constraints, compound configuration rules and razor thin margins.

Some CPQ solutions operate as rules-based or constraint-based order entry configurators. More sophisticated CPQ solutions apply more dynamic and sophisticated logic that better supports more customizable products.

Grow Service Revenues with Field Services Management

Providing services is now more lucrative than making products for most manufacturers. Field service management software is the technology to support this high margin revenue growth stream. Post-sale services also provide an opportunity to differentiate with service. That can directly aid other revenue growth strategies such as increasing customer acquisitions, growing customer share and improving customer retention.

To support these and other industrial growth strategies, CRM for manufacturing applies specific field service management capabilities that drive downstream revenue growth.

These capabilities reduce cycle times by automating resource and asset-based processes such as case entry, work order management, technician dispatch and reverse logistics (i.e. RMAs, depot repair). They reduce labor costs by optimizing labor consumption and workload balancing. They reduce other, often more hidden costs, such as warranty expense and contract leakage.

They aid field service staff with mobility, a 360-degree asset view, inventory visibility, and real-time access to online instruction and knowledgebase content.

They grow revenues by maximizing contract attach rates, renewals and up-sell.

And most importantly they improve the customer experience using capabilities such as customer entitlements, Service Level Agreements (SLA), real-time digital engagement (i.e., digital signatures and onsite receipts) and online customer self-service.

The best manufacturing CRM software solutions go even further to improve the customer experience, asset uptime and profitability with artificial intelligence (AI). The AI forecasts highly accurate proactive and predictive maintenance, optimizes labor scheduling and dispatch, improves spare parts staging throughout the service delivery chain (missing parts are the number one reason for return visits) and maximizes First-Time-Fix Goals (repeat trips are the top cause of unprofitable jobs.)

Internet of Things

The best manufacturing CRM software systems have shifted from tacit integration support for Internet of Things (IoT) sensor operation to built-in capabilities that better leverage customer data and customer facing business processes. In fact, applying sensors to products can show how the product is being consumed and mimic the 360 degree customer view with a 360 degree product or asset view.

These systems further combine the high volumes of IoT data with AI to apply that data for preventive maintenance or replacement, shift from reactive to proactive support models, avoid costly unplanned downtime, and increase operational performance and uptime.

Industrial business processes incur a profound change when item utilization is viewed in real-time. For example, product replacement becomes predictable, inventory control becomes continuous and product forecasting becomes more accurate. Built-in and extensible support for IoT is an area of significant differentiation among CRM for manufacturing solutions.

Business Intelligence with AI and Machine Learning

The next information renaissance is being brought by the combination of Big Data, such as IoT sensor data, and AI. These two symbiotic technologies can uncover and leverage data that is absent, hidden or unappreciated. That data can then be used to deliver actionable information capable of changing production processes, customer engagement and manufacturer business models.

For example, sensory-based data fed to AI systems can flag deviations, identify patterns and permit simulations that facilitate timely and low-cost experimentation to improve product performance, quality and longevity. However, this is only the tip of the iceberg as when this machine generated big data is linked with customer attributes and behaviors it becomes a valuable source to deliver real-time information about consumer preferences, customer intent and market demand.

Taken a step further, AI can harvest social and unstructured customer data for improved demand forecasting. And even small improvements in product forecasting models result in fewer stockouts, less idle inventory, decreased cash flow requirements and most importantly, more satisfied customers that get your product when and where they want it.

The best manufacturing CRM software systems offer prebuilt dashboards, template-based data transformation pipelines, predictive analytics and statistical models that convert IoT or other big data into actionable analytics.

Data Transformation Pipeline

When considering AI and manufacturing big data use cases, I advise companies not to create yet more disparate applications and siloed data repositories. Instead make big data attributable to the product and customer records in your customer relationship management system.

Even More Technology Capabilities

There are many other purpose-built application capabilities to aid manufacturers. They include things like as e-commerce, guided selling, intelligent promotion (up-sell, cross-sell and bundling) and seamless integration with ERP systems. Some applications also facilitate lean processes by maximizing staff productivity and identifying waste or removing steps that do not add value to the customer.

The Top 4 CRM for Manufacturing Systems

We are often asked what are best manufacturing CRM systems? The short answer, based on market share and our experience from having implemented these systems for more than three decades, is Microsoft Dynamics 365, Oracle, Salesforce and SAP. The longer answer and a much deeper analysis is available at the top 4 CRM for manufacturing businesses.

CRM for Manufacturing

How to select the Best Manufacturing CRM software.

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If you are evaluating CRM software and would like some expert assistance, we have a structured software selection program delivered on a fixed fee basis. By focusing on the most important factors in the industrial sector and the key differences among the market leading vendors we can usually reduce the time needed by more than 50 percent.