The products manufacturers are selling today have become increasingly complex; they’re more configurable, with more variation and different options. To avoid confusing the users, manufacturers must be able to put these configurations into the context of the user – they need to speak the language of the user and be able to easily provide them with relevant information.
All of this comes down to improving the customer experience, which ultimately will help drive sales. The way an organization manages the configuration lifecycle can play a key role here.
An increasingly complex ecosystem
Because today’s products are more complex, the challenge becomes how to present all of the information about the various options in an easy-to-understand way for both sales reps and your customers – given the fact that you’re dealing with users with multiple different backgrounds and different capabilities.
It’s a double-edged sword that you must handle carefully. You want to expose customers to all of the new and great possibilities you have for your product, but at the same time, you don’t want to overwhelm them. Instead, you want to help them as much as possible through the buying experience. And to do so, you need to take the configurator concept, which is typically the domain of engineers, and present it in the context of the user.
What customers wan
More and more, we see that enterprise customers want a buying experience that mirrors what they experience in business-to-consumer buying situations. They don’t always care about having lengthy conversations with dedicated salespeople. Increasingly, they’re looking for information that’s available to them on their terms, in a way that’s more easily accessible.
They also expect faster turnaround times. That means content needs to be available in different forms, and the applications you’re working with must be targeted and intuitive to the users.
To achieve this, you’ll need some best practices to make sure you’re putting information into the context of the user. Imagine, for instance, that you’re going to buy a car to drive your growing family from place to place. You probably don’t care about the kind of engine or about how a certain part is made. What you’re interested in is the gas mileage of the car, its performance and how many passengers it will hold.
When you’re targeting different user groups with different information, you need to be able to get the relevant info to the relevant customers. And you need to ensure that the choices the users make when purchasing the product are doable in the context of the product – that is, your company can actually execute on the configurations they want. It’s all about targeting the customer using persona analysis and other criteria to focus in on what your prospects are looking for.
CLM: A better way
Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) provides a better way to guide and follow the customer through the buying process. The nature of this process is that you gain a centralized configuration model that can be used in multiple different systems and across different channels, which thereby allows you to target different user groups but with the same data.
It enables a better ongoing relationship throughout the product lifecycle. When you go to a supermarket, you buy your food items and you’re done. But when you buy a car, you expect it to last at least a few years, and during that time, you’ll likely need repairs or upgrades along the way – it’s more of a continued lifecycle.
That’s similar to what goes on in the manufacturing world, like equipment and machines that will need to be serviced and upgraded throughout the product lifecycle. So, the sales process isn’t just a point-in-time, one-and-done proposition. CLM makes it possible to follow the customer not just through the buying experience but through the product lifecycle.
To get CLM right, it’s important to focus on centralizing your configuration when you create your models. You’ll be able to reduce mundane tasks and eliminate silos between the different functions in relation to your configuration knowledge. Centralization will enable you to react quickly to and work with the customers’ requests – and to adapt to a changing market where legal constraints or supply chain challenges can occur unexpectedly. It will also ensure your customers are always being guided toward a viable product.
Adding your configurator to your sales arsenal
Customers want to know that the products they receive are the right ones, and the expectation of manufacturers is that they live up to delivering that promise. For this, they need competent guidance. Using Configuration Lifecycle Management as an enabler to provide accurate information and details to your employees and customers ensures that the right details and correct information are provided to them when needed.
When customers and prospects are getting what they need in a timely manner, they feel empowered to make the best choices. This makes them favorably disposed toward your organization, which typically leads to high customer loyalty and repeat purchases. With greater speed and accuracy, better customer experiences and the likelihood of increased sales, CLM is an approach whose time has come.
About the Author
Jens Ellebæk is a consulting offerings manager at Configit, the global leader in Configuration Lifecycle Management (CLM) solutions and a supplier of business critical software for the configuration of complex products. He holds a master’s degree in software engineering and has over 15 years of experience in software engineering. His experience also includes international, cross-country implementation projects; he has contributed to configuration projects for more than 35 international clients.