In 2022, everything feels like it's in flux, and market demand is always evolving. That’s why Propel Software decided to bring together five of the top industry minds to discuss how business is transforming for product leaders—and how they can stay ahead.
In Boston, we caught up with Daniel Snow (CIO of Liteboxer, formerly of Formlabs) and Bruce Richardson (Chief Enterprise Strategist at Salesforce).
Tom Shoemaker, Converged contributor and VP of Marketing at Propel, moderated the discussion.
How are companies today balancing the dual needs of supply chain resilience while also trying to innovate and bring new top-line revenue?
Snow: We've made a progressive set of moves towards a more space-efficient product. We started out with 8,383 units per container. So we tried redesigning our box a few different ways. Eventually, we created a wall mount, and that got us up to about 160,568 per container.
Richardson: Given that Salesforce is a CRM company, why are people coming to talk to us about supply chain and asking for our thoughts on product design? Well, I think it's because of all the products we have. Whether it's for sales, service, commerce, marketing—you need to be able to answer the two questions that customers asked most frequently during the pandemic: Where's my stuff? And when am I going to get my stuff? That's a huge focus. They want that visibility, and a lot of money is going into creating that visibility.
What are the key success factors for delivering a positive, total customer experience?
Richardson: In our business, renewals are everything. We're betting on maintaining very high renewal rates and very low attrition to get the customer to renew. The challenge is data about the customer is stored in 1,000,001 different places. It's not always easy to access that data, so this is going to be a constant quest to try and improve the customer experience.
Snow: That was a key advantage for us: being able to create this end-to-end connection between the commercial side of the business and the product side so that our sales reps can see all the way down and say specifically, “There is a supply chain constraint and I've got x number of units or there's X delay on this shipment.” Overall, they have a deeper understanding.
At the same time, it was healthy to give the engineering side of the business visibility into the customer side so they could see where the demand is and what kind of customers are engaging in different industries. You can make better product decisions if your engineers understand your customers.
Richardson: There’s a story about Ford. Ford was one of the early companies to use palladium in catalytic converters. And the price of palladium was gyrating like crazy. There were only two places you could get it: one was in Russia, in an old prisoner of war camp that Stalin had built, and the other was in South Africa. What happened was, the engineering team at Ford was working to reduce the amount of palladium needed.
Meanwhile, the procurement team was trying to buy enough to guarantee that there wouldn't be a shortage of palladium. Neither side was talking to the other. And Ford ended up having to take a billion-dollar write-off. That was 20 years ago. So this idea that we're not collaborating more internally, and we're not listening to what marketing is saying is a familiar story, and it’s an old one.
The next panel was held in the Bay Area with three industry veterans: Michael Farr (VP of Operations & Plant Manager at MSA Safety), Frank Borovsky (VP of Industry Sales at Salesforce), and Jeff Hudgens (Sr. Manager of Configuration and Document Control at Sentient Energy).
How are your companies dealing with customer engagement now that you have to manage shipment delays? In other words, how has supply chain disruption changed the whole company-customer dynamic?
Borovsky: Online presence was already growing even for B2B, and it grew more so during the pandemic. The expectations now in the B2B space are similar to B2C. It's almost a given that you'll need to provide a full customer experience. The great news is that there are a lot of capabilities that are available that weren’t two and half years ago.
The issue now is that even if you communicate on-time delivery, folks don’t believe it. Customers want a human to give confirmation that the product is actually available. They want that reassurance.
Hudgens: Our customers, they get it, they understand it. Sentient Energy is in an interesting industry, within high-tech and the energy sector. And that sector just has longer sales cycles. The energy sector decisions take a lot longer to materialize, and it does take a long time to get that forecast locked in, and sometimes even after that, I still have to say, “We hate to tell you this, but it's even longer now.” It’s really about the forecast for our customers, and they get it, they understand it. It just takes some time.
Farr: Our customers are really tolerant, just amazingly tolerant of what's gone on in the last two years. We've had four price increases. They’ve been very accepting of it. We slip deliveries—not weeks, but months—because of product availability, and they've accepted it. I'm sure they’re in just as much pain as we are.
What characterizes some companies that are still scaling and growing super fast versus those that are tightening the screws?
Borovsky: It matters which industry you're in, and who your customers are—whether or not you have to be all things to all people. If you are in a situation where you have either dealers or distributors or end-customers who are repeat customers, then you have to be selective and you have to say, “I'm going to feed some of these customers, but I'm not going to feed others.” We have to make those hard decisions. It brings in the whole discussion around margins versus price elasticity. The good news is that there are tools to be able to determine that.
What are some of the key capabilities that you’re able to access, in terms of information, metrics, and decision-making, using a cloud software tool?
Farr: Before, we were spread all over the place and had to know who to go to to get the information in the organization. We knew that we wanted to get on one common platform. Having chosen Salesforce and Propel, we just saw the opportunity to start bringing in other parts of the operation. Namely, the quality side—completely—into it. Our third-party product approvals are all there, machine maintenance is all there, and of course, the training, and the documentation are there. And then with going remote during the pandemic, we’ve run not only our ISO 9001 audits, but our compliance audits as well for electrical safety and performance. Just like Jeff said, from sales opportunity to the backend service and support, every employee knows what's going on with the customer. It’s all connected.
For more insights about digital transformation for manufacturing companies, watch our session “Connecting Product and Commercial Teams to Deliver New Product Revenue Streams,” featuring industry experts Alexa Vignone, Geoffrey Moore, and Kirsten Allegri Williams.