The Complete Guide to Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

In this guide, we'll outline an approach to digitisation of the front-office customer-facing functions for manufacturing companies.

Picture of Andrew Shaw Andrew Shaw

Published: 09 Nov 2023

25 minutes read

The Complete Guide to Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

The competitive battleground has moved to the front office - buyers are demanding B2C levels of online engagement and service. It's tough to know where to start, luckily we have built this guide specifically for you.

Do not scale up your manufacturing business without reading this informative eBook which reveals the secret tactics top manufacturers are using in 2023 to gain a massive competitive edge.



1. why Manufacturers Need to Digitalise?
2 . The 4 Stages Of The Manufacturing Digitalisation Curve
3. The 7 Fundamentals for Front Office Digitalisation
3.1. Smart marketing comms
3.2. Automating and aligning sales and marketing processes
3.3. Understanding your supply chain
3.4. Upselling and cross-selling through powerful data insights
3.5. Simplifying the buying experience
3.6. Transforming field service teams
3.7. Providing great customer service for the end user



With Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory Initiatives, new technology adoption continues apace in B2B manufacturing businesses. Now changing customer behaviour since the pandemic and increased expectations present the sector with new challenges and opportunities in the deployment of technology to enhance customer experience and service. Industry 4.0 continues to transform manufacturing processes with investments in production line automation, the use of the Internet of Things (IoT) technology, machine learning, and simple B2B eCommerce transactions.

While many manufacturing businesses see this as the end goal, the adoption of digital technologies in the production sphere means that this no longer gives companies that competitive edge and fails to address customer and industry changes, such as:

  1. Customer behaviour. Your end customer has moved online. As a result, the elevated, personalised digital experiences associated with B2C are seen as standard. Although B2B organisations are typically behind these curves, this change in customer behaviour presents manufacturing businesses with an opportunity to sell directly to the end-user, rather than through the supplier channels, as well as service and sell online.
  2. Cost pressures. A staggering 82% of manufacturers are predicted to raise their costs as energy prices, raw materials, and cost of labour significantly increase within the UK. Manufacturing needs to find new ways to drive down costs outside of production, such as marketing to drive sales, factory automation, and improving on-site efficiency.
  3. The workforce. Expectations of staff working conditions and practices have shifted. With remote or hybrid working, administration, support teams, and account managers are now siloed. Industrial companies can’t rely on paper, on-site filing cabinets, or knowledge held by a single person. Unified systems that create a single source of truth are no longer a luxury, but a
    must for manufacturers.

In order to meet these three core changes, B2B manufacturers need to digitalise their front office, or their customer-facing departments such as Sales, Marketing, and Service. Many businesses, however, are not stepping up to the challenge.

A McKinsey report characterised the manufacturing industry at only between 30% and 33% digitally mature. 

Similarly, SSG Insight found that in the next three years, only 16% of manufacturers were looking to automate Customer Service, and 14% Sales & Marketing.

To gain a competitive advantage, manufacturers must alter their deployment of technology, ranging from early investments in specific functions, to a change in the whole way in which their business and customer engagement is managed.

In this ebook, we'll outline an approach to digitisation of the front-office customer-facing functions. This has been developed working with our clients over many years. It is designed to deliver a manageable process of change that can be adapted to the business needs and resources of each client to deliver increased efficiency and profitability whilst mitigating risk.


The 4 stages of the digital transformation in manufacturing


Stage 1: Build the Base

In order to collect data on your customers, you need a way to capture the information. This is the first step towards digitalisation and requires establishing the foundations of data capture.

Before you start, you’ll need a database of all the companies in your organisation's ecosystem. This includes but is not limited to:

  • Distributors
  • Stocklists
  • Installers
  • Specifiers
  • End customer organisations

These are your core customer groups. You will be able to segment their data and details you collect on-site, or currently have in your systems, including the name of their organisations, role, and core contact information, such as email address. With targeted marketing, the data on these core customers and segmented groups will be enriched through appropriate collection methods, such as forms.

In order to collect this data, you will need two core elements: personas and a Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) plan covering each of the groups in your ecosystem.

Personas are fictional representations of your core customer groups, based on users already logged in your database. Grouping together core buyers allows you to understand who you’re selling to, what they’re interested in, and if their needs are met while engaging with your business, whether this is online or offline.

SEO is a core part of your marketing plan that optimises your website to increase its relevance on Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). The key terms used must correlate to your intended persona, and help them find your website.

The data you collect on your personas will influence every aspect of your business, from Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service teams, to field agents, and every department should have access to, and oversight of, this information. Tracking and data collection tools will then be able to indicate how each persona communicates with one another, such as which installer uses which stockist, allowing every member of your team to make more informed decisions.

Building the base will minimise your internal costs by streamlining the management of your data sources - allowing you to make better, smarter decisions, easier.


Stage 2: Integrate Customer-Facing Functions

Establishing a base for collecting and storing data is only half of the battle. To achieve true digitalisation, actually capturing and storing that data is paramount in moving up the digitalisation curve. Without the correct data, delivering personalised customer experiences, and leveraging the power of automation is impossible.

All departments, including Marketing, Sales, Account Managers, and Customer Service teams must use one single system to store and collect their data, such as customer communications, purchases, requests, issues, and more.

Despite the benefits of working from a single platform, many manufacturing businesses typically buy separate systems to automate their sales, marketing, or customer service.

These systems include:

  • Content Management Systems (CMS) for websites
  • Email marketing systems
  • Lead scoring software based on customer behaviour to automate the process of deciding when a lead is ready for sales
  • Online chat bot services, providing both AI and human responses

Screenshot 2023-10-10 at 16.29.59

This is a procedure similar to an ERP. You integrate various component parts throughout the production process to create a better product. The same process can be applied to customer relationships using a Customer Relationship Management system (CRM).

While you may have some of these systems already in place, holding data across disparate systems will not generate the insights needed to automate, create efficiencies or generate revenue from every area of your business.

To do that, your business needs a single source of truth, containing all data to connect your internal staff and buyers to crucial information, with integrated applications to support the customer journey from beginning to end.

As customer data funnels into your CRM, you will have complete oversight of how each user interacts with your brand. With this information, you will be able to maximise your ROI by making smarter marketing, sales, and service decisions based on individual data. 


Stage 3: Automate an Omnichannel Customer Experience

Many manufacturers are benefiting from improved production line processes, but are yet to reap the rewards of using automation tools to also improve their customer relationships. Interactions with your clients.

This is made more complicated by the fact that customers interact with your business through multiple channels. Being able to integrate these channels and automate processes across them, creates an “omnichannel” customer.

This minimises physical contact with your customers and significantly reduces your manual processes, enabling each user to self-serve through web-based processes, such as:

  • Creating leads from your website and sending targeted emails based on user behaviour.
  • Automating sales processes by using internal systems to rank sales opportunities, and automating the delivery of information to both the potential customer and the sales team.
  • Managing customer enquiries with self-service applications, ticketing or online chatbot functions.
  • Utilise eCommerce to allow end users to buy directly from you or consider online marketplaces to build end-customer relationships.

This enables you to meet the end customers’ B2C eCommerce expectations by providing ‘hard to find’ information at the click of a button. This may include real-time updates for shipments, frequently asked questions, or generating returns. All end users benefit from a streamlined digital experience, whether they’re buying your products from your sales team or website, or are talking directly to a field service agent. Every team will have complete oversight of each touchpoint of the customer journey based on previous interactions.

Customer demand and expectations are continuing to evolve. The manufacturing marketplace is becoming more complex. Supply chains are increasingly volatile. For manufacturing companies to remain competitive, it’s essential to leverage the customer-centric opportunities that automation tools can bring.

Automating your omnichannel customer experience will help your manufacturing business attract new buyers, retain existing customers and provide revenue-generating insights for you across the entire customer lifecycle, providing you with a wealth of data from which to make informed business decisions. 


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Stage 4: Optimise & Personalise the customer experience

Your customer’s experience with you can make or break your business which is why the final stage of the digital curve is essential. This stage focuses on the ability to create personalised customer experiences.

Manufacturing businesses can no longer afford to provide a one-size-fits-all approach to customers. To stay relevant in a complex landscape, manufacturers need to focus on delivering personalised services to meet increasing demand and changing expectations.  The right digital tools can support manufacturing teams by strengthening customer relationships, improving the business reputation and inspiring loyalty among customers.

Customers today are demanding a B2C experience with businesses. For example, only two years ago, it would be common practice for a car buyer to visit a showroom, speak to a sales representative and order their vehicle in-store.

As digital channels have become more prevalent, customers can now virtually visit a dealership’s website and read targeted blogs or filter their searches to research different cars. Digital technologies now also enable customers to digitally create bespoke vehicles, in line with their unique specifications.

This level of customer experience also offers complete transparency, with built-in pricing calculators providing information to the user on the cost of their new vehicle. Their unique specifications are then created in the dealership’s warehouse and sent directly to the end user.

While this digital experience is self-served, it’s highly personalised, improving the customer experience and placing you in a strong position to engage your customer post-sale to generate better business outcomes.

There is now a great opportunity for manufacturing companies to sell directly to customers, incorporating personalised, digital communications, and driving a seamless purchase journey. Despite the benefits, however, many manufacturers are lagging behind in automating and personalising their customer journeys.

Optimising and personalising the customer journey at this scale cannot happen without the right implementation of automation tools. If your front end is still reliant on legacy processes, you will be unable to provide your customers with the seamless, personalised experience they expect.

To achieve this, your system needs to harness accurate customer data in order to use predictive analytics to proactively anticipate prospect and customer needs (e.g. make the right product recommendations).

The right customer relationship management (CRM) system will be the crux of your digital roadmap and is the tool that will help you move up the digital transformation curve.

A CRM is the digitisation tool that enables businesses to rise up the transformation curve.


The 7 Fundamentals of Front Office Digitalisation

Customer Relationship Management, (CRM), is a software system that helps to manage your relationship with customers. You can use a CRM to track and capture data on every interaction your customers have with your manufacturing business.  This data is then stored in a central, easily accessible database. Collecting this information can be as simple as filling in a form online, to having a member of your team manually add it to your database. This is the foundation for your digitalisation journey.

With the right investment, your CRM will not be a virtual Rolodex, but an active hub of data, funnelling vital information to your Sales, Service, and Marketing teams.

This data can be used to help you identify new sales opportunities and capture valuable customer insights to help you optimise your product offerings, remove friction across the customer journey and even gain competitive intelligence on market trends 
Although a CRM is a single software, there are multiple factors you need to implement to make the most out of your investment and begin to move up the digitalisation curve.

This cornerstone for transformation will help support your business by:

  1. Enabling smart comms
  2. Automating and integrating sales and marketing processes
  3. Gaining a greater understanding of your supply chain
  4. Providing data insights to help you upsell and cross-sell
  5. Accelerating and improving the efficiency of the sales process with Configure, Price and Quote systems
  6. Developing new sales channels, such as eCommerce
  7. Transforming your field customer service teams
  8. Providing great customer service to the end-user

1. Smart Marketing Comms

Online tech giants like Amazon have changed customer expectations in recent years. By mining customer data they have been able to enhance the customer experience with product recommendations that are personalised and based on behaviour. Now Amazon's customers have come to expect the same convenience and personalisation when they interact online with B2B manufacturers.

A CRM system is a vital component in delivering this experience.

A CRM isn’t typically thought of as a marketing tool, however, it is essential to finding new business opportunities.

This is achieved by capturing key customer information throughout the sales process, allowing you to gain core insights into a user’s behaviour.

This rich customer data will allow you to understand the typical journey of an end user, compared to a distributor. You’ll also gain visibility over the multiple touchpoints in the customer journey, touchpoints that your customer engaged with on their purchase journey. These insights give marketers the information that they need to create timely and personalised customer communications that engage the buyer and increase lead to sales conversion.

Using a CRM for your manufacturing business will provide you with valuable data to also deliver this level of personalised service. A CRM will enable you to see what content your customers or prospects have downloaded or viewed, the emails they’ve received, conversations they have with staff or chatbots, and any purchases that were made.

Ultimately, the more data you collect, the better your digital marketing efforts will be. The more data you can collect on the end user, the better you can drive sales directly or through your distributors.

Similarly, minimising human interaction throughout this process improves your ROI. With your sales team becoming less involved with each sale made online, marketing becomes the centre point for sales and revenue growth. By focusing efforts on creating an exceptional eCommerce platform and user experience, you will be reducing the overall cost per sale, generating more revenue per item.

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With the right CRM, you can automate core sales and marketing processes to create a seamless integration between the two teams.

Within your Marketing team, you can use a CRM to collect data throughout every online or sales interaction a user has with your company. Every product page they view, video they watch, blog they read, or item they order will be logged in your CRM and used to create a larger, more accurate picture of your buyers.

This behavioural data can be used to automate the process of assessing the prospect's readiness to buy and when they are ready for a direct approach from a salesperson. This is achieved through 'lead-scoring' - the process of attributing a score to each interaction.

At this stage, they are typically referred to as a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL).

For example, they could be awarded 100 points if their organisation meets certain criteria, and they have downloaded your pricing guide. Once they’ve reached this number, they will be flagged as a lead within your CRM, your Sales team will be notified, and a team member assigned a task to follow up with the prospect. If Sales find that they’re not ready to buy, however, they can be passed back to the Marketing team where they will be further nurtured, with automated, target email marketing, or personalised campaigns online.

Automated and integrated sales and marketing processes in a single system gives your team more insights, and access to in-depth reporting, whether they’re working from home or in the office.

If Sales and Marketing data are not brought together in a single platform, it becomes impossible for your team or key stakeholders to see where leads are being generated. But armed with this information sales communication can be informed, personalised and more effective.

A CRM gives your business the ability to standardise the sales process for some products, enabling the customer to self-serve. This makes Marketing directly accountable for the business’ revenue streams, nurturing prospects through targeted campaigns and driving customers to the point of sale. This will maximise customer satisfaction, increase product and service sales and generate greater ROI.

While this is all automated information, this can be tailored to your specific business needs. As your organisation scales, so will your automated alignment campaigns.


3. Understanding Your Supply Chain

Manufacturing companies typically operate in a complex ecosystem and, unlike other industries, supply chain partners and end customer user experience vary greatly.

A modern CRM allows you to identify various stakeholders in your supply chain; whether they’re distributors, wholesalers, stockists, installers, or end users, and opens up the potential for engaging directly with end customers.

Selling directly to the end user may risk channel cannibalisation. This is a difficult path to cross, as you will have to create a win-win for both yourselves and your distributors. For example, if you shift the power balance too far, then the distributor will be removed entirely from the buying process, destabilising your revenue stream within the industry.

You can use a CRM to manage the relationships between key players, creating supporting accounts within your supply chain without upsetting distributors and managing the market more effectively. As you will have segmented your database, every method of communication between each type of user engaging with your business is readily available online. One way to build direct end customer relationships, without destroying channel relationships, is to offer the end customer more than just products to buy, such as product information or post-sales support, and to use the end-customer interaction to strengthen relationships with channel partners.

For example, if you are a manufacturer who provides building products for installers through a distribution network, you will have prospects who source the product either direct from you, or from a distributor. Although they both buy your products, the procurement process is very different.

In order to maintain relationships with both sets of customers, your CRM will ensure that some leads that are made through your website will also pass directly to your network of distributors, helping them grow. In this instance, a CRM would help you to manage your relationships properly, and help avoid mix-ups, such as the wrong contact messaging a client, breaking the status quo of their relationship.

As a CRM collects data from sales, marketing, and service in one location, creating a single source of truth, this will give you a better overview of your customer. In turn, this will create a tailored, personalised experience at all times, across all channels of engagement with your customer.



Building an in-depth and detailed view of your customers and prospects allows you to increase the amount of revenue you can generate per customer by cross-selling and up-selling.

  • Cross-sell. With more insight into customer behaviour, you will be able to predict what customers will need before they may have realised. Emulating B2C businesses like Amazon, you will be able to recommend the right additional products or services based on customer preferences or past purchases.
  • Up-Sell. Building a profile of a user or company allows you to identify more opportunities for selling. For example, if someone buys a product with a warranty, before the guarantee period ends an automated email could be sent to them, upselling your servicing.

This is powered through the data collected in your CRM, and is based on information of companies, giving you insights into the size of an organisation, staff turnover, or number of employees. This allows you to identify an account you may be under-serving that has the potential to buy significantly more from you than they currently do.

2022 - 10 -Axon Garside - FRONT OFFICE DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION_ A guide for manufacturers (3)The right CRM will help you better understand your customer needs and enable you to create very targeted cross-sell campaigns. Your CRM data will help you identify the right products to offer to your customers - at the right time.

Cross-selling and up-selling for manufacturing businesses can be a rewarding marketing strategy, positively impacting your bottom line. With the right CRM tools, manufacturers are more equipped to capture every type of sales opportunity by making use of data and customer insights.



In B2C companies, end users can buy straight from websites without an account manager or service desk worker being involved. While the products are significantly different from manufacturing businesses, this self-serve dream can still be achieved for your company through a CRM. Plus, with more than 60% of customers looking for self-service options first instead of contacting a member of your team, it’s important to meet your customer expectations.

Automated tools, such as chatbots, allow customers to find the right information they need without human engagement. This will also benefit your business, as a well-configured CRM will log your user's unique experience on your website, including discussions with a chatbot to abandoned shopping carts. This then allows you to predict and automate follow-up responses without any sales or service agent needing to be involved.

A B2C example of this is ASOS. If you leave items in the cart, an email will be sent to your account 30 minutes before the order is about to automatically remove itself. This will generate more sales, by reminding customers of their order, helping them to make a snap decision.

Of course, manufacturing is significantly different to B2C businesses, and some of your product set will have complex needs, specifically around specification.

Configure, Price and Quote (CPQ) systems can help your account managers to quote complex and configurable products using off-the-shelf items. This will enable you to track what’s been sold together, how many of these configurations have been sold, and offer a similar configuration in the future.

ECommerce and CPQ is especially useful for cross-sell and up-sell opportunities, as you’ll be able to predict what your customers may want or need next.

This tool allows you to easily and quickly scale your business as you are selling directly to the end user without the reliance on stockists. With more information and insight on the end customer than ever before, this enables you to cross and upsell core products and services without a hands-on nurturing process from your Sales team.

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6. Transforming field service teams

It isn’t just your Sales, Marketing, and Service teams that are siloed, but your field service employees too. Constantly on the move, they’re unlikely to have the same platform or software that your internal teams use.

A staggering 90% of service managers agree that mobile workers influence a customer’s attitude to their company brand, and yet admit that insufficient technology stops them from working efficiently.

A CRM will transform the customer-facing experience field agents have with your buyers by giving them the exact same overview that your internal team can access. This means all interactions a customer has with your business can also be viewed by your field service agent, increasing the sophistication of the service your field team are able to provide. So, if they’re on the move, your team will know your customer will have just spoken to their account manager 10 minutes ago, and may be able to help them with their issue.

This not only benefits your field service agent, but your customer, by providing them with a unified experience with each person across your organisation.

Because of this oversight, you will be able to solve issues easier, with less repetition from the customer. This would minimise your cost-per-customer, heightening the chances that their fix would be right the first time a field agent arrives at their door.

Similarly, a CRM would transform your internal processes. Without messy spreadsheets, this alters the way your field service teams are deployed, giving them and your departments the visibility they need to make routes more efficient, and having the right stock with them for their journeys.

Likewise, this would empower key stakeholders in your business to see the effectiveness of your field service teams, and potentially invest more. For example, with the right CRM implementation, you can benefit from interactive dashboards that show real-time data on your field service teams. This will allow you to present to management teams the effectiveness of your new system, the cost-savings and the newfound efficiencies across your field service teams.



In your manufacturing business, although you will sell your products to a distributor, you will be dealing with issues and complaints that come directly from the end user. This creates a complex user base that is difficult to manage.

With a CRM, you will have a greater understanding of your supply chain, allowing you to better identify:

  • Conversations they’ve had with your team, either via email or on calls
  • If they’ve downloaded any product information documents
  • Anything they’ve bought from your business, including whole products or spare parts

Through the use of a chatbot, you could also automate this experience for common complaints and challenges. This would help both your users to self-serve and instantly get an answer to their question, and your service desk, by minimising the time spent answering common questions, allowing them to solely deal with more complex user needs. This insight and detail into the core customer base benefits both in-office, remote, or hybrid workers, with complete oversight into each customer interaction, logged in to your CRM, there will be no repeat information given to your customers. Leaving your customers feeling heard and understood, creates a greater user experience for all parties.

Ultimately, providing this great customer experience doesn’t just benefit your clients, but your business as a whole.

Minimising overall administration costs and automating the sales process will maximise your profit-per-unit, helping you to gain a greater ROI on your products while cutting the costs that your sales team spend per lead.

Similarly, by providing exceptional customer service, clients will be more inclined to buy more products from you in the future. If you’ve effectively mapped your customer journey,, you will also be able to predict and market relevant products to your customers through personal channels, such as emails.


How to introduce the digitalisation curve into your business

The manufacturing sector exists in an increasingly volatile landscape. Manufacturers have faced inflationary pressures, labour shortages,  supply chain challenges and a dramatic shift in customer behaviour and expectations.

These disruptions to the industry are compelling manufacturing businesses to regain control over their margins and identify new channels to attract, engage and retain customers across the purchase journey. In order to stand out from competitors, manufacturing businesses have no choice now but to digitise.

The light at the end of the tunnel and the first port of call for every manufacturing business is to execute a robust CRM implementation plan. With the right CRM platform, every team across your business, from customer service to sales and marketing, will be able to access the same valuable information - in one centralised platform.  Your CRM will provide your teams with a 360-degree view of your customers, deepening your understanding of their purchase behaviours and giving you visibility over the entire customer journey.

Moving your data from siloed systems into a single source of truth (your CRM)  will provide you with a greater level of consistency over your data, and a granular view of the activities that are generating revenue. This will allow you to work more efficiently and meet customer expectations for an omnichannel, personalised experience.

To successfully move up the digitisation curve, your manufacturing business needs to have the right support from all departments throughout the five implementation stages:

  1. Mobilisation
  2. Strategy & roadmap
  3. Design
  4. Implementation
  5. Continuous improvement

    Without the right roadmap in place for implementing your CRM, your business will be at risk. The most significant barriers to CRM implementation are a lack of user adoption, insufficient training and a lack of focus.
To prepare your business and get ahead of your competitors, it’s crucial that you learn the five stages to successful CRM implementation, and how you can begin moving up the curve today. Setting up your tool correctly will ensure that your CRM supports, rather than hinders, your manufacturing business model.

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