Challenges facing small and mid-market manufacturers:
Most small and mid-market manufacturers understand the value of an online presence, but they are facing other challenges in their respective industries just to stay competitive. Many are experiencing gross margins being driven down due to the lack of a skilled workforce and raw material pricing increases. Operating expenses are also rising as businesses spend time and resources in product development and innovation to stay cutting edge in their industry. This, combined with ever-increasing regulations and compliance issues, often pulls focus toward daily operations and does not allow forward planning.
Gaining a competitive advantage:
Selling “in-demand” products is no longer enough. Customers are demanding more and to meet those customer demands, it is vital to first anticipate their needs and second, to make doing business with you easier than doing business with anyone else. Finding creative ways to take work off of your customer and offering them something they can not get elsewhere is a good way to ensure they keep coming back.
Outsourcing your online strategy & customer engagement as an option
As a smaller or mid-size manufacturer facing these challenges, you may not have the infrastructure to optimize your online strategy around customer engagement. Turn that challenge into an advantage!
Larger enterprises are often slow to move and are tied up with enterprise IT systems which require much more planning to make changes. Robust, often turn-key technology solutions are now available to the SMB market at a 10th of the costs of enterprise systems. In addition, proven tactics and best practices in improving the customer experience and leveraging the internet to better engage your customers exist and can be easily implemented. All you may be missing is the know-how and diverse skill set to capitalize on these lower cost solutions and proven best practices.
At a much lower cost than hiring a full in-house team of diverse resources, hiring an eCommerce managed services firm gives you the best of both worlds. eCommerce platforms require constant updating and improving as your business grows and your needs change. Outsourcing your eCommerce efforts allows you to focus on your core business and on growing your revenue rather than investing your company’s time, money and resources into building and maintaining an ecommerce platform.
5 important considerations:
1. Executive level sponsorship: As a small or mid-sized manufacturer, you can not afford to delegate this to a staff member or manager to oversee. A successful engagement requires that your managed services firm understands the vision of your company. Knowing the strategic plan allows them to envision how to leverage the online channel to push your company’s vision and strategic initiatives forward.
The relationship with your managed service firm should not be viewed as a ‘staff augmentation,’ but rather as a partnership. Understanding online best practices often results in an out-of-the-box conversation to give your company a competitive advantage. A ‘just go do what I say’ approach is a waste of your investment and frankly a partnership any good managed service firm will not want.
2. Configurable options: Every company has different levels of technical or business expertise and a good managed services engagement will account for those skill sets already present within your company. From one end of the spectrum – a fractional eCommerce executive that participates in executive level, to the other end of the spectrum – more of an advisory role with someone more savvy with new technology.
Comparably, if your firm has design or development expertise, a managed services solution should account for leveraging your internal staff, as desired.
3. Integrated process: At a minimum, a managed services firm should meet with you quarterly to discuss business initiatives and online channel initiatives. These periodic strategy meetings should also involve brainstorming on how to capitalize on market opportunities and business initiatives.
In addition, it is imperative to meet with your managed services firm on a monthly basis to gauge their performance by reviewing agreed upon measurable metrics (increased revenue, cost savings, customer loyalty, brand exposure, etc.). A good managed services firm will have open lines of communication and have a process in place so that you may request, review the status of and update any current initiatives or discuss new initiatives.
4. Diverse skill set: A qualified managed services firm will have access to a diverse skill set to leverage for your online initiatives. This includes:
- Digital marketing & usability experts
- eCommerce Strategist
- Technologists / platform experts
- ERP/operations expertise
- Systems integration expertise
5. Your Gut: Far more abstract, but perhaps the most important criteria is whether or not you are comfortable with the firm. Do you you think they have your best interests in mind? Do they act like an extension of your team? Do they treat you like a child or do they act more like a mentor or coach helping to develop your own expertise?
Are you comfortable with the on-boarding process or do you feel as though they are rushing the process? A good online managed services firm will take time and invest in learning your business, bringing ideas to the table, even start laying out a plan before you ‘sign on the dotted line.’
The two primary issues faced when investing in online customer experience and engagement solutions. – the cost of the platform/technology and the skilled expertise (strategic down to tactical) to capitalize on this – is now affordable and features robust solutions. Hiring the right eBusiness managed services firm gives you the ability to stay competitive with and even react quicker than your competitors, all at a reasonable investment.