Connections for Success

 

10.15.13

Big Data Strategies for Manufacturers and Distributors
Mark A. Thomson

Going back in time to mainframes and punch cards, many manufacturers and distributors have used computers for decades to control their inventories, place orders and keep track of customers.  Isn’t it about time to put all of that information to work? With big data, now you can.

“Big data” is a marketing buzzword used to describe any large set of electronic information that can be analyzed by businesses to increase efficiency.  Using these latest customer-behavior analytics applications, you can crunch your internal databases to see how your conclusions compare to those of your competitors, as well as more effectively analyze, track and predict your customers’, employees’ and inventory’s behavior.

Think of big data as the book recommendation function on amazon.com.  When purchasing a book, Amazon customers are provided a list of titles they also may be interested in.  These recommendations are generated through a patented software process that makes an educated guess — based on historical data — on consumer preferences.  These same software tools can make predictions about every aspect of your business (even if it is not books) from sales to marketing return on investment, to employee retention and performance.

Here are two areas where big data may help improve your business:

Sales

Many manufacturing and distribution firms still adhere to the tried-and-true sales funnel that includes the various stages of prospecting, assessment, qualification and closing.  Overlaying large proprietary consumer-behavior data sets over your customer database may allow you to reach conclusions about the most effective way to close a deal with your prospects.  It can also be used to help understand the life cycle of customers which can lead to modified selling decisions and more cross-selling efforts.   Some of the best cross-sell models will act as a personal shopping assistant to recommend additional products that have an association with a specific customer.  This can be a great way to turn a lower-value customer into a higher-value customer.

Warehousing

After years in the business, you may think you know your inventory pretty well. But do you, really?  Using big data, you may be able to determine what is causing that shortage, which can allow you to better manage your inventory and correct the problem.  Other key warehouse areas that can be targeted include fulfillment rates, order accuracy and returns.  Not only will better information be gathered on inventory needs, but performance information will be assimilated to guide training, personnel decisions and process improvement.

Big data manipulation provides a growing resource to provide management with key information for making sound business decisions.  As always, nothing replaces management’s ability to make sound judgments based on information available.  However, the key is always to find the right balance between management’s intuition based on experience and big data accumulated from your company’s information systems.

If you have additional questions about big data strategies, contact Mark Thomson at [email protected] or 312.670.7444.

 

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