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The Evolution from Systems of Engagement to Systems of Agility

By Jim Goldfinger - April 21, 2020

To say we are living in unprecedented times is the understatement of the year.   As I reflect on the decades I’ve spent in the CRM industry, I often lament that the bulk of the evolution has been more focused on the underlying platform instead of utilizing the technology to advance the interests of the business.  From a capabilities perspective, I see many companies using the same basic features we had in our solution 30+ years ago when I started out with the leader at the time, Brock Control Systems.

Since that time, the platforms have migrated from Unix to Client Server to Web to Cloud and while the capabilities have evolved to a degree, the uptake by customers has been slow.  To a certain extent, the advancements have been limited as much by muted aspirations than anything else.   I’ve also observed customers hesitating to customize solutions to their needs based on the fear that they will hamper future upgrades and innovations. Or that industry-leading solutions like Salesforce had best practices built-in so why look to adjust them.  That is a holdover of an ERP mentality and is not as relevant to a solution like Salesforce.com, which is built for adaptation without risk of disruption. The real best practice is to leverage the capability to distinguish your organization’s strengths and differentiators.  Otherwise, the end users will think that they are working for their CRM system and wishing the system was working for them.

If ever there was a time for the system to do the bulk of the work and bring value to the users, it is now.  And most especially for many manufacturing companies dealing with massive disruptions and reorientations of their supply chains. Our world has changed on a dime and continues to adjust at a relentless pace. The next normal may be better than now, but it won’t be like it used to be for quite some time to come, if ever. Companies who don’t leverage the inherent benefits of highly adaptive customer supporting systems to meet these changes will be left behind by their competitors who do.

Over the last several years, I’ve been touting the value of Salesforce.com as a system of engagement that can sit on top of any number of systems of record to create relevant 360-degree views and actionable insights. The focus there was the openness of the system and the power of tools such as MuleSoft to bring meaningful data together.

Now I would say we need to take this concept to the next level and focus on the platform as a system of agility more than a system of engagement alone.  I am especially encouraged by the capabilities Salesforce has introduced in their Manufacturing Cloud offering, adding deep demand forecasting capabilities to bridge the gap between Sales and Operations. Demand planning in the past has often relied on prior performance and recent trends, and based on a predictable model, often without direct input from the field. The need to match demand to supply has never been more important and at a much more granular level than ever before from a product mix, geographical distribution, and timing perspective. This requires close collaboration with customer-facing sales and service agents.

The addition of Tableau for visualization could not have come at a more crucial time. Tableau capabilities to track the COVID-19 virus (Tableau.com) have been relied on by millions of us to visualize the spread and help anticipate current and future hot spots as well as areas most likely to start opening up for business.  Combining this data with key customer and supply chain data can make or break companies’ capacity to survive through this most challenging time. Meeting demand in near real-time with the right products at the right place is critical.

I’ve kept in touch with many of my manufacturing clients, and several have commented that while some areas of their business have been significantly depressed, other areas have picked up some of the pace. For example, companies who may be selling a portion of their goods to the healthcare industry are picking up business in that segment.  And for that industry, certain geographies like the North East of the United States are the most critical today, but that demand may shift to the Midwest next.  Adjusting selling, services, and demand planning activity to calibrate to these realities as quickly as possible will be critical to the future health of business.  As Wayne Gretzky used to say, we need to go where the puck is going, not where it is. In this case, it’s moving faster than ever before, and in directions we haven’t seen or anticipated.

For companies who have made the investment in Salesforce but haven’t really leveraged the inherent power of agility that is foundational, now is the time more than ever.  For manufacturing companies who haven’t explored or implemented the power of Manufacturing Cloud, coupled with the strength of MuleSoft to bring the systems together and Tableau to visualize the present and future, I would highly recommend doing so before it’s too late.

If I can help you in your own evolutionary journey, don’t hesitate to reach out directly to james.goldfinger@customertimes.com

Stay safe and healthy.

This post was originally posted on LinkedIn.

Jim Goldfinger

Jim is the Chief Customer Officer at Customertimes. He has more than 30 years of experience in the enterprise software industry, having worked with both software and professional services companies ranging from venture backed start-ups to some of the largest software companies in the world. Jim has held management roles across Sales, Marketing, Product Management, Product Marketing, Professional Services, and Corporate Strategy, and he has personally helped 500+ clients across the globe leverage technology to improve customer-focused operations.