Manufacturers selling complex products have a golden opportunity to transform complex sales cycles into seamless, automated experiences, stealing a march on their rivals. But failure to transform could spell disaster.
A CPQ (configure, price, quote solution) with a robust product configuration tool is all you need to protect your business from the rapid pace of change. With a product configuration tool, you can:
- Free sales reps from spreadsheets, catalogs, and manual sales processes.
- Let customers personalize, customize and configure highly complex products independently (self-serve).
- Provide fully immersive buying experiences with 3D product visualization.
- Embrace game-changing technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
- Automatically generate CAD drawings, lightening the load on engineering.
- Send product configuration data and files directly to machines on the shop floor.
- Scale freely without increased complexity and costly IT infrastructure investment.
- Break down silos and complete your sales loop by unifying CPQ with ERP, CRM, CAD, PLM, and more.
Read on as we explore how a product configuration tool will future-proof your business in a time of immense uncertainty.
Let’s jump right in.
The future of manufacturing
From machine vision that inspects products for defects and uses AI to make decisions to AR apps that provide real-time product configuration information to buyers situated thousands of miles away, tomorrow’s technologies are changing industries today.
The future of manufacturing involves a seamless connection between the physical, biological, and digital worlds. This transformation has a name – The Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Here are a few examples of The Fourth Industrial Revolution in action today:
- Technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality let customers interact with products before they buy.
- Customers personalize highly technical products with product configuration tools that put them in complete control without any “human” input from sellers.
- Manufacturing lines use sensors and condition monitoring software with AI to predict failures before they happen.
- 3D printing enables manufacturers to produce small production runs at speed, including consumer products and industrial parts.
- Small-scale local production helps manufacturers unlock agility (check out EV’s low-cost micro-factories.)
The rise of product configuration tools
When today’s buyer approaches a manufacturer, chances are they already know what they want.
They’ve spent days researching potential purchases online, visiting the websites of every supplier, weighing up the pros and cons of each product.
If you want to win the customer, your online experience must be even better than your sales reps. It has to give buyers the independence they crave, empower them to configure highly complex products, and make a pain-free purchase online.
Embedding a visual product configuration tool into your website makes this possible.
With a product configuration tool like KBMax, prospects can play around with your products in 3D, educate themselves about every option, and sell to themselves in the process.
Product and pricing rules built into the product configuration tool ensure that every configuration is optimized for customer satisfaction, profitability, and engineering efficiency.
Once they’re happy with their configuration, buyers can place an order immediately. Or they can save their selection, enabling a sales rep to follow up. Either way, it’s a frictionless experience that saves time and money for buyers and sellers.
How a product configurator will future-proof your business (from high-touch to low-touch and beyond)
We’ve witnessed a complete 180 in how buyers want to interact with sellers in the manufacturing industry.
We’ve gone from high-touch to low-touch.
Manufacturers with the most knowledgeable, charismatic sales reps are being displaced by those putting buyers in the driving seat.
Why has this turnaround occurred? The answer is fourfold:
i) Buyers are used to dealing with companies like Amazon, Uber, and Netflix in their personal lives that they’ve come to expect the same consumer-like buyer journeys when they buy for business.
ii) Digital natives are beginning to dominate senior buying roles in large organizations. They’ve grown up with the internet and don’t have the same aversion to making big-ticket purchases online as their predecessors. Having to transact with a human is a major turnoff.
iii) New technologies have come to the fore, making it possible for manufacturers of complex engineer-to-order products to enable buyers to self-serve.
iv) The pandemic has supercharged digital adoption, normalized remote work, and put a temporary stop to business travel. Buyers want to buy any time, any place, through any device.
A visual product configuration tool gives manufacturers everything they need to provide a smooth and immersive remote buying experience. But that’s not all. The hidden value of these tools reaches way beyond sales.
Product configuration tools automate the entire end-to-end engineer-to-order process, from shopping cart through to shop floor. They give manufacturers the agility and flexibility they need to respond to a dynamic competitive landscape characterized by rapid change.
Here’s how product configuration tools will help manufacturers dominate their industries for years to come…
1. Free sales reps from spreadsheets, catalogs, and manual sales processes.
Self-serve is the go-to-market strategy of the future. But that doesn’t mean the death of the sales rep. It just means sales reps will have to be more creative when it comes to extracting customer value.
If they want to be creative, they need to get their heads out of Excel. Configuring, pricing, and quoting manually is a huge waste of time and robs sales reps of strategic thought.
CPQ software automates configure, price, and quote. It shortens sales cycles from weeks to seconds. Sales reps can work faster, smarter, and close more high-value deals with zero mistakes thanks to product and pricing rules.
2. Let customers personalize, customize and configure highly complex products independently (self-serve).
B2B eCommerce has changed. Today’s customers don’t want to read detailed product descriptions and look at generic images; they want to learn by doing and configuring products in a personalized environment.
With a visual product configuration tool embedded into your website, any B2B eCommerce store can affordably provide an Amazon-beating shopping experience. Companies benefit from higher engagement, higher conversion rates (+40% for KBMax customers), more sales, and greater customer satisfaction.
You can embed KBMax into any eCommerce platform, such as Magento.
3. Provide fully immersive buying experiences with 3D product visualization.
Now, let’s take configuration further with 3D visual product configuration, which shows customers computer-generated images of exactly what they’re buying before their product has been manufactured.
Demand for personalized products is skyrocketing, and customers are prepared to pay more for personalization. With 3D visualization, you can display and sell an unlimited number of product options, changing dimensions, colors, and features with the click of a mouse.
Buyers can purchase big-ticket items knowing that finished products will appear as they did on-screen. 3D visualization reduces purchase anxiety and aids decision-making. Returns and refunds fall as a result.
4. Embrace game-changing technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR).
The augmented reality and virtual reality markets are snowballing, predicted to more than quadruple in value by 2024. These technologies are set to revolutionize the engineer-to-order industry, and a robust product configuration tool will be primed to leverage these technologies.
With AR built into your product configuration tool, you can overlay configurations, specifications, and other data over real-world objects. For example, a car dealer can show customers the different alloy wheels available by pointing their smartphone camera at a car.
With virtual reality, customers, engineers, and sales reps can step into simulated realities to interact with products as if they were literally in front of them. Customers can experience your virtual showroom from anywhere in the world.
5. Automatically generate CAD drawings, lightening the load on engineering.
The KBMax product configurator can auto-generate CAD drawings and send them directly to engineering and production teams. This automation cuts out the back-and-forth between sales and manufacturing and moves customers through your sales pipeline more quickly.
Crucially, CAD and design automation replace the menial, time-consuming, repetitive tasks that rob engineers of valuable R&D time and create engineering bottlenecks. With a product configuration tool, you can let your engineers focus on innovation to secure the future profitability of your business.
6. Send product configuration data and files directly to machines on the shop floor.
One of the little-talked-about future-proofing capabilities of a product configuration tool like KBMax is sending data and files from visual product configurators directly to machines on the production line.
This extra layer of automation eliminates opportunities for human error that occur downstream. It gets products into customers’ hands faster, increasing agility and responsiveness.
7. Scale freely without increased complexity and costly IT infrastructure investment.
As you scale and adopt new technologies like VR and 3D visualization, your investment in IT infrastructure will balloon. You can avoid these costs with a product configuration tool that lives within a SaaS environment.
Pure SaaS (software-as-a-Service) solutions are easy to implement and infinitely scalable. There are no hardware costs, upfront fees, or ongoing maintenance costs. You pay to use the service, which the vendor fully manages. Upgrades, fixes, and downtime are no longer your concern as you scale freely.
8. Break down silos and complete your sales loop by unifying CPQ with ERP, CRM, CAD, PLM, and more.
If you have siloed apps, your business isn’t ready for the future.
Silos make effective data analysis impossible, create access issues, duplicate work and effort, slow you down, and undermine the quality of your data.
Using KBMax Connector, you can pull and push data from all your apps to the product configurator to complete your sales loop.
By linking inventory management, resource planning, product lifecycle, design, customer relationship management, and sales together, you can build efficiency into your sales cycle and banish data silos for good.
Here are a few examples of requests:
- Link KBMax to your inventory database, so your product configurator shows available configurations only.
- Link KBMax to Salesforce CRM to suggest discounted rates for customers based on past spending.
KBMax Connector can read/write databases, and it has a full REST API. You can connect all of your systems, apps, and data to your product configurator to transform your relationship with data and future-proof your sales loop.