Many manufacturers discover that their most significant competitive advantage is their sales and operations planning department.
Sales and operations planning (S&OP) is an executive management process where real-time sales data leads to increasingly accurate financial forecasts, production plans, inventory, supply chains, etc. Each element continually informs the others.
Previously, sales teams manually adjusted quarterly plans to meet long-term forecasts over 18-36 months. Now, cloud-based, real-time data automates much of this process with the right tools.
This data allows the company to nimbly respond to complex challenges, including the need to innovate continuously, design, train personnel, and respond to changing market conditions while maintaining current manufacturing production.
It is a classic example of fixing an airplane while still flying.
Sales and Operations Planning Technology
To make the most of S&OP, all data needs to be adjusted in real-time. There are various Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) platforms that can help.
Because this process starts with sales data and revenue forecasts, technology (like ForecastEra’s Sales and Revenue Forecasting Suite, which runs on Salesforce) instantly turns this complex process into clear reports, forecasts, and dashboards.
This type of S&OP software streamlines a labor-intensive process so manufacturers can adjust their sales and operations planning to shorter-term objectives.
How Manufacturers Can up Their Digital Sales Game
A complete digital presence (website, social media, ads) will allow your targeted prospects to:
- Find you as a competitor in the marketplace. (Top of the sales funnel, awareness phase, basic research.)
- Understand the breadth of your offerings, exploring marketing materials on your website, including:
- Online training and courses
- Case studies
- Guides and glossaries
- Get detailed product catalog information (such as datasheets) about your products and services. Posting features or service comparison charts versus top competitors is vital. (Discovery phase of the sales funnel.)
- Move your sales operations to the cloud. This will only work for some types of manufacturers. You can use these online sales tools to see which product configurations are most popular with visitors to your site (which may be different from actual buyers).
- Online Product Configurators: Like many B2C eCommerce sales tools that allow retail customers to configure various options, online product configurators generate invaluable B2B sales information for manufacturers. Even if your customers can’t make their purchase on the platform, getting detailed information about what a customer wants can shorten your sales team’s time to close sales. Information about the most popular product configurations can inform manufacturing decisions.
- Automated Internal Quote Generators: For manufacturers, the sales process starts with a request for quote (RFQ), request for information (RFI), or other bids. Creating an automated “Configure, Price, and Quote” (CPQ) system can streamline deals and standardize deals made by salespeople in various locations. In addition, it feeds your sales forecasting system accurate data on discounts, standard order sizes, and high-demand features. This detailed view of customer desires allows manufacturers to make planning and supply chain decisions confidently.
- Integrated sales forecasting, revenue forecasting, and manufacturing demand planning software: To make your entire pipeline visible to manufacturing, you need to have sales, revenue, and demand forecasting tools that talk with each other effortlessly in real-time. ForecastEra’s Sales & Revenue Forecasting Suite does precisely that. By integrating with Salesforce, your entire team, from the factory floor to the executive suite, will access the relevant real-time data they need to make decisions.
How Manufacturers Can Achieve Sales and Operations Planning Excellence
Manufacturers need to sell to six to ten decision-makers.
Selling to these clients requires a high level of skill because you aren’t just selling a product, you are selling your company, processes, product quality, and the level of support you bring after the sale.
Sales teams need to get buy-in from many stakeholders, some of whom are on the org chart, many of whom are not. You need to have x-ray vision to see the hidden influencers. ForecastEra has a suite of products to help you (see below).
You are selling the item and its ecosystem, a complex web of purchases around the big purchase. Therefore, you need to craft a support system of deals and configurations that will satisfy various conflicting interests in the prospect company.
That means manufacturers need to use account planning tools like ForecastEra’s Account Plan Navigator to help them see inside their target company to find all the hidden decision-makers and influencers.
Use White Space Analysis to Reveal Pockets of Growth
To close manufacturing deals where others haven’t, you need to sell where they aren’t selling. That’s where white space analysis comes in. Instead of finding the usual suspects, white space analysis helps you understand the hidden prospects that fit the same profile as your main prospects.
Using a tool like ForecastEra’s Account Plan Navigator, you can use the built-in artificial intelligence (AI) to find geographic, vertical, and ancillary sales opportunities that you hadn’t seen before.