Britain’s manufacturing industry has remained relatively robust over the last decade despite the economic issues it has faced, with growth expected to increase over the course of 2014 as the macro situation continues to get slightly better for firms across many different sectors.

According to the Confederation of British Industry’s (CBI’s) latest Industrial Trends Survey, total orders improved over the course of March, although output growth and export orders eased when compared to February.

Despite this, the output and export metrics remained above average, with growth expected to edge up even further over the next three months.

Anna Leach, CBI head of economic analysis, said the overall picture was a positive one.

“Growth in exports is crucial to rebalancing the economy and ensuring a sustainable recovery. Over the last few surveys, manufacturing export orders have underperformed relative to overall orders as the UK’s domestic recovery has caught hold more quickly than some of our key trading partners – most particularly, the eurozone,” she added.

How can marketing help with the industry’s ongoing recover? As an essentially B2B sector, manufacturing has tended to lag behind when it comes to the adoption of new technology and innovative styles of advertising, but this could be set to change over the coming years.

Manufacturing and CRM

Customer relationship management (CRM) is just as important in the B2B sector as it is when working with consumers, particularly as the industry develops and buyers begin to expect more sophisticated methods from their cohorts.

There are a host of ways in which CRM software, if installed and utilised properly, can add value to the manufacturing industry and help firms move ahead of their counterparts.

Positive customer relationships

Buyers in the manufacturing sector are becoming more empowered, as the internet makes it considerably easier for them to search for alternative suppliers. This forces companies to pay more attention to what channels they use and consider how they manage their relationships.

Simon Bowker, UK and Ireland manager for Teradata eCircle, pointed out last year that businesses “must adopt a new approach to their marketing strategies and processes as well as the tactics they invest in”.

Co-ordinating digital and traditional channels is also important for firms that wish to work closely with potential buyers, he added, writing for The Manufacturer.

CRM can help with both of these processes, ensuring firms do not need to spend too much time or money on changing their marketing plans.

Sales forecasting

As the popularity of the CBI’s regular forecasts attests to, the manufacturing sector is extremely sensitive to changes in the economic environment, meaning that predicting how well a company will perform over the course of six months or a year can be difficult.

However, putting as much sales information as possible at the fingertips of everyone within an organisation is one way to ensure that everything is kept track of, and reduces the possibility of any disappointments or surprises.

The immediate dashboards offered by Microsoft Dynamics CRM software, for instance, mean that it will be easier to make responsive, real-time sales decisions based on an analysis of all the available data.

Improved customer targeting

Business marketers are becoming more savvy with regards to online activity, data and targeting – ultimately, they need to, as the channels through which buyers engage with providers has changed fundamentally as technology continues to develop.

However, more can still be done to ensure that firms are being as efficient as they can in undertaking these processes.

As the emergence of big data analytics has highlighted, companies have access to a great deal of information that can help them form plans and insights into how they wish to proceed.

CRM can help frame and contextualise this data, as well as making it available across an organisation.

A change of approach

Last year, Cassandra Whobrey, CRM product manager at Microsoft UK, told The Manufacturer that the industry is beginning to change.

She added: “CRM isn’t just a glorified address book: it provides a window into how your customers view you and your business. Who are they? What do they buy? What don’t they buy? When did they last buy? Geographically, where are they? How do they contact you?”

Firms that adopt this kind of technology before it becomes commonplace can gain a march on their competitors and take advantage of the insight it provides.