During an ERP rollout, manufacturing marketers in small and medium- sized enterprises often find themselves on the outside looking in. Sam Gupta, Principal Consultant at ElevatIQ, says marketers should be integrated into ERP initiatives because of their unique ability to identify new products and new markets. In this week’s episode of The Kula Ring, Sam talks about what marketers bring to the table that service personnel might miss, and how providing all team members with access to real-time ERP data can improve customer experience.
How an ERP Rollout Can Benefit From a Marketing Lens Transcript:
Announcer: You’re listening to The Kula Ring, a podcast made for manufacturing marketers. Here are Carman Pirie and Jeff White.
Jeff White: Welcome to The Kula Ring, a podcast for manufacturing marketers brought to you by Kula Partners. My name is Jeff White and joining me today is Carman Pirie. Carman, what’s shaking?
Carman Pirie: You know, look, I feel like I need to disclose to our listeners that we’re recording this episode reasonably early in the morning for me. I mean, it’s not early for a lot of people, I realize-
Jeff White: That’s true.
Carman Pirie: But it’s early for me. And therefore, there’s minimal shaking at this juncture. But I look forward to shaking later in the day in some way, shape, or form. Yeah.
Jeff White: There should be more shaking later. Well, my daughters own a cake business and were up at 5:00 AM starting today’s orders to get them before school, so I’ve been up for four hours. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Well, see, now if I was up at 5:00 and there was cake around, I would be shaking, because I can’t not eat it.
Jeff White: No. These are for sale. You can’t eat them. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: See, this is a problem.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, looking forward to today’s show.
Carman Pirie: Are we gonna promote cakes?
Jeff White: Well, we should. Yeah. @miamocakes on Instagram. Check it out.
Carman Pirie: Check it out. Or for all of our listeners, you get to pay a 200% premium for the cakes. Just because-
Jeff White: It’s an incentive.
Carman Pirie: It’s nice. Yeah.
Jeff White: Yeah. No, I think my daughters should make more money.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, I think so.
Jeff White: Keeping the entrepreneurship genes in the family.
Carman Pirie: Indeed.
Jeff White: I’m looking forward to today’s show, though, because my daughters do not actually have an ERP for managing the business.
Carman Pirie: Exactly.
Jeff White: They don’t even really have a website yet.
Carman Pirie: You know, they are a burgeoning food brand.
Jeff White: Manufacturing brand. Yeah.
Carman Pirie: Exactly, so they are going to require an ERP in the future, and when they do, today’s guest can help them out, I think.
Jeff White: Absolutely. Joining us today is Sam Gupta. Sam is the Principal Consultant at ElevatIQ. Welcome to The Kula Ring, Sam.
Sam Gupta: Thank you so much for having me, guys. I’m super excited to talk to your fun listeners.
Carman Pirie: Look, Sam, yeah, it’s great to have you on the show, and first off, tell us a little bit about ElevatIQ and what it is you all do there, and let’s go from there.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Sam Gupta: Well, before I do that, I would like to touch a little bit on your comment about getting up early, so in my case, it was 8:00, because you guys are one hour ahead, and I was feeling really bad, to be honest, but then I heard Jeff talking about being up for four hours.
Carman Pirie: This just all goes to reinforce just how lazy I am early in the morning.
Jeff White: We weren’t trying to put it there, but that’s where it’s ended up.
Carman Pirie: It’s a reality.
Sam Gupta: And one more comment, I guess. I mean, since your daughter does not have ERP, she’s going to be super overworked, she’s going to be up for the whole night, and there are gonna be a lot of conflicts, so it’s going to be an interesting conversation. Now, coming back to my journey, I have had a slightly non-traditional path when it comes to the journey of an ERP consultant. For a living, yes, I do ERP consulting, but when I started my career, I was a programmer. I wrote the programs for a living for a long time, and in the ERP world, most of the ERP consultants, they don’t really start as the programming background. They typically start as the business background. But in my case, I had a different journey.
I started doing a lot of programming, I was consulting for banks, I consulted for technology companies, and then moved to the real ERP financial consulting space just because I was equally good at technology as well as business. I did that for roughly 10, 12 years, and after that we started doing a little bit of independent consulting and the startups. I actually wanted to go after every shiny industry out there, and every shiny idea that I could possibly think of. I was doing that, so we explored startups in the medical device space, we explored startups in the funding space, and real estate, coworking, oh my goodness, you name it.
What that gave me is number one, a lot of failures. And those failures gave me a lot of learning. And also, the cross-functional perspective. Cross-functional perspective meaning when I was doing enterprise consulting, I had no idea how to sell in the SME market. I had no idea how sales and marketing people think. Even though we did a little bit of sales and marketing in the enterprise world, but in the enterprise world, the sales and marketing is going to be fairly, fairly different.
When I was going through my journey of going through these startups, I had to work with a lot of different people who were like 10 years younger than me, and I was super proud of that experience, because they taught me some of the things that I did not have. I had to acquire a lot of sales and marketing skills, and when we started the journey for ElevatIQ, and what we are trying to do as part of ElevatIQ is we are a slightly non-traditional agency. We are trying to productize our service offerings, because I always wanted to create the products, but then when we tried to pitch to investors it would take a lot of time to get their attention, and then we would not get investments. What we wanted to do is we wanted to create the revenue channel first before we can productize.
That’s the focus of ElevatIQ. And then we have a media channel, as well, which is called WBS Rocks, which is more from the sales and marketing perspective, and the whole idea of WBS Rocks is we are more of the professional podcaster is how I would like to define, professional community developer as well, so I’m a LinkedIn influencer, I do a lot of work on LinkedIn, so if anybody’s looking to develop their own white-label communities that we can do using WBS Rocks. Those are two startups that we have. ElevatIQ and WBS Rocks. That’s about my journey.
Jeff White: You’re a busy guy.
Sam Gupta: I’m a busy guy. We all need to be busy.
Jeff White: Absolutely.
Carman Pirie: I think it’s this interesting journey that has really led us to the point where you bring a fairly unique perspective to the idea of who should be involved in an ERP rollout, maybe who should control some elements of it, and you know, frankly I just think a lot of manufacturing marketers find themselves kind of-
Jeff White: At the mercy.
Carman Pirie: Yeah. A bit on the outside looking in when it comes to an ERP rollout. And well, I guess Sam, that’s not your point of view. You think they should be a little closer to it. Talk to us about the role that you see marketing playing in an ERP initiative and what they’re bringing to it that others might miss.
Sam Gupta: Let’s talk about some of the trigger points why manufacturers typically go for an ERP. And most cases, it is going to be seen as either the finance or operations initiative, or it could be an IT initiative, which is also slightly rare. For the most part, the CFO or COO is actually going to lead the initiative. In most cases, the problems that they are going to face in the business are going to be either they have a lot of waste problem, or they are acquiring a new contract that their existing ERP cannot support, or people are complaining about their ERP, that it’s not working, and their life is not as easy, or maybe they have a lot of admin work that they are not able to keep up and they feel that the ERP should be updated.
If you look comprehensively at these triggers, then it is really the operational initiative, what you are trying to do is you are trying to reduce your admin overhead, and that falls in the bucket of your CFO or COO. But since I have a lot of experience working with sales, and marketers, and obviously I studied marketing in my school as well, and one of the things that really caught my attention when I was doing consulting in the ERP world was what they teach in the school is going to be number one, pricing, and number two, customer experience. When we look at the pricing, typically pricing should be done by marketers. But when you look at the ERP, typically it’s driven by the finance people, and the reason for that is because in most cases, especially in the SME market, it’s very rare to find a system or a team that has complete access to the finance data. And sometimes that could be because of fear, just because the small to medium-sized businesses don’t feel comfortable giving access to financial data to let’s say their sales and marketing people, and then they might feel that it could be a slightly frightening experience overall, just because of the internal communication. Also, with respect to the access of the data, right?
The majority of the departments are going to be slightly more isolated with respect to access to the data that they have, and with respect to their roles and responsibilities, as well. Now, some of the organizations, obviously the organizations that are going to be slightly more forward-thinking, are going to have all of these departments integrated, they are going to give them access to the data as much as they can. And when you provide access to the data to let’s say your marketing team, what they can do is they can really act on that data, they can combine that data with the industry data as well, with the market data, because in my mind, when I look at the pricing initiatives, when I look at any of the initiatives that you are doing from the product perspective, then what you need to do is you need to have 30% of your internal data, 70% of your external data, to be able to decide what initiatives you are going to have for your marketing, what initiatives you are going to have for your product, what initiatives you are going to have for your packaging.
Carman Pirie: Sam, I think I just want to just highlight that a bit, because I think it’s an easy and in some ways very quick thing to say, but I think there’s a lot of insight in that, this notion of 30% of the data you ought to be analyzing is yours, and then 70% is market data, and I bet if most marketers look themselves in the mirror and said, “Is that the balance that I’m…”
Jeff White: Is there even any outside data?
Carman Pirie: Right. Yeah. Am I investing in that at all? Am I investing and correlating that with data and trying to find patterns, et cetera. Now, yes, the large, large global manufacturers would have that discipline. You don’t need to go much further down into the midsize manufacturing category before that’s gone away. And I just think it’s really important to highlight. I think there’s a great learning in that, Sam.
Sam Gupta: Yeah. Also, one more point I would like to highlight, even at the bigger companies, even if they might have access to the data, it is going to be in the form of static reports. They don’t really have live connections to the ERP. The data is not really embedded as part of your transactions. You cannot really get the kind of interaction that your financial people are going to have. You cannot really drill into your transactions. You cannot really analyze what is happening in the market, what is happening with your product, what is happening with your customer, why they are dropping, why they are returning, so that’s a compelling insight that marketers don’t have.
Typically, even in the bigger organizations, what they are going to have is they are going to have things like Tableau, or things like some sort of BI platform, where they are simply going to get let’s say overnight data or something like that. Overnight feed. That is actually going to go to your Tableau and the data is going to be let’s say one day old. In some industries, that may not be a problem, but if you have the live connection there, you can really analyze what is happening in your market, what is happening with each of the transactions? How we can personalize this experience. And if you really want to personalize the experience, you need to be live with your data, with your system.
Jeff White: And I have to imagine too, having access to that kind of data as a marketer, and in conjunction with the sales team, as well, is going to enable you to sell better across the organizations that you’re selling into, to better understand what their needs are, how they’re ordering things, how you can optimize that experience for them, see opportunities for cross-selling, all of that. Especially in this COVID era, where so many manufacturers, especially in that midmarket and larger scale, are trying to optimize the sales that they have with existing customers and maintain and expand those relationships, knowing how your financial data and the market data is playing out is going to give you the knowledge to be able to truly improve the CX experience for those customers.
Sam Gupta: Exactly. And in fact, if you look more from the cross-functional perspective, yes, we are talking about marketers having access to financial data, but it goes the other way, as well. In my opinion, everybody should be a marketer in the company. Everybody should be financial people in the company. Everybody should be salespeople in the company. In my books, if I were to design the ideal company, I would probably provide accountability to every person in the team. Bringing the customer should not only be the responsibility of the salespeople. It should be everybody who should be social media marketers because at the end of the day, it is your brand. Your company survives because you have a really good brand and customers are coming to you. And also, in my mind, when I think about bringing the customer, satisfying your customer, also from the customer experience, even if you get the sales order. Even if you close the customer, your responsibility does not end there. You have to also think about what happens after that.
Let’s say if you are not able to fulfill the promise of your sales order, whatever your sales and marketing team is going to commit to your customer, what is going to happen? The customer is going to return. Okay, they are going to complain. And nowadays, obviously social media is very powerful. If the experience is not going to be aligned to what they were expecting, they are going to go to social media and they might talk about your brand in a negative light. That is something that you don’t want.
It might be that only one customer that you are talking to right now, he might not be pleased with your offering, but it could be one to end scenario, where if he talks, and let’s say if he’s the influencer in his industry or our industry, it could be pretty bad, because now they are going to have influence on a lot of people who are going to come to you, and buy, and they are going to talk about this experience. And this is especially relevant in the expensive purchases. Because in the expensive purchases, influencers are very influential, obviously, in the B2B marketplace. If influencers hear that this company is not doing as well, then obviously they will not feel comfortable in recommending that company or talking about that company publicly.
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Carman Pirie: I like the idea of just thinking about marketers versus operations personnel, finance, et cetera, and how they would think about an ERP implementation. I mean, so much about an ERP implementation is about efficiency gain and eliminating waste. I’ve been playing with this notion that waste isn’t the opposite of efficiency, necessarily. Marketers would be looking at it through the lens of what are the opportunities that this gives me to deliver a better customer experience, and that may not be eliminating waste at all. That may actually add expense in some way, shape, or form. But it also adds value to the customer that can be monetized. I think it was Rory Sutherland, the British ads guy, that talks about the hotel doorman fallacy, like you can get rid of the doorman. Sure, like it’s easy when you think about it. There’s automatic doors now and things like that. From an efficiency perspective, there’s lots of reasons. But then when you think about all the things that the doorman or woman, door person I guess these days does in front of a hotel, some of those things can’t be replicated by-
Jeff White: Nor can they be quantified.
Carman Pirie: Right, right. In a very nice hotel, that doorman might be the experience that brings you back.
Jeff White: Yeah.
Carman Pirie: And a pursuit of efficiency, I just see these odd parallels between that story and this notion of how a marketer thinks about ERP, versus finance, versus operations, and-
Jeff White: And therefore, why they should be involved in this decision.
Carman Pirie: Yeah, and this notion of if an ERP is at least in part about improving CX, then it needs to have a marketing lens, doesn’t it?
Sam Gupta: Yeah. In fact, that’s a very interesting point, and I have two stories that I would like to share here with respect to looking at the same problem from the waste perspective versus the opportunity perspective. Let’s talk about waste a bit. There are two ways to look at the waste. Number one is you can simply look at it as waste and you can think of this as how I can reduce this and how I can let’s say increase my bottom line by reducing my cost. And the second could be how I can monetize that waste?
And that is the marketing lens in my mind. And there are two possibilities here. Either if your marketing is involved in exploring these opportunities so that they can tell you how to be more opportunistic with your waste problems or efficiency problems, or you can teach your finance people to be slightly more marketer, and the only way they can do it is if they talk to customers. This cross-functional knowledge is very important.
Two stories that I would like to mention here is number one, so I was working with one of the food and beverage companies, and they used to get this waste as part of their production line that they had no idea what to do with it, so typically what they would do is they would not even account for it financially and they would donate it to somebody who could actually take advantage of that waste. They had no idea how to monetize that. And that was pretty good meat, because they were in the meat industry, and if they created products around that, then they would get roughly… So, their product was selling for let’s say $100, okay? And their waste could have sold for roughly $50. That was the potential of that waste. Even though it was waste, it was not waste for the person who would consume that waste as food.
And they were in the pet industry. In the pet industry, obviously, there are gonna be regulations in terms of what nutrients your food is going to have. But if you are controlling that process, and if you are able to monetize and control that waste, you can create a product around that. Now, if you want to create that product, you have to be a marketer. You have to think more from the opportunity perspective as opposed to thinking more from the finance and operations perspective, where you are thinking that, “Okay, I’ve got this waste. I’m probably getting maybe 100 pounds per line or whatever, and how can I make it eight? Or how can I make it six?” That’s going to be my finance and operations perspective, but what is going to be my marketer’s perspective? That is going to be, “Okay, I’ve got this 10 pounds. Okay, what can I do? How can I create a product around it? How can I sell it to the new customers?”
Now that has a marketing perspective that they cannot do unless they have access to data. They need tons and tons of real-time information to be able to act on this and make business decisions.
The second story that I’m going to be telling you is going to be related to packaging. As you know, I’m a podcaster myself, and I talk to super, super-bright people, and I was talking to one of the packaging guys, and he was talking about how powerful your packaging could be. Just by changing the packaging, you can create new product lines. Then, he spoke about why these packaging innovations typically don’t go well in the market. And he mentioned that what happens with the packaging innovation when you take this idea from your concept to the final phase of the product, what happens is marketing comes up with the idea. They are going to say that this is what I need. This is the kind of packaging I need. Your procurement is going to talk to your packaging supplier and then finally operations is going to try this idea and there could be a possibility that the packaging is not standing out on the line, or maybe customers are not liking the packaging. It’s not really working.
But marketers typically are not involved until that step when they are simply proposing the idea. They have no clue what happened to be able to iterate, and in my mind iteration should be part of marketing exercise when you are creating the product. You don’t really have the agility, and by the way, this is not just for marketing. This is also for engineering, because they are the ones who have actually created the design. Now, if they don’t get the real-time data back, because obviously your operations and finance people are going to tell them, “Okay, this is what happened.” But there’s a little bit of translation involved.
Just because these guys don’t really have the engineering or marketing background, so… You might lose a lot of information in translation. If marketers had access to data, then you can create these products just by changing the packaging, just by doing the packaging innovation, and how you can imagine how powerful that is going to be. You are exploring new markets, you are exploring new products, and again, I’m not even talking about CX here. CX is going to be completely different, because if you have access to the complete data, marketers are involved in every touchpoint in some shape or form. I’m not saying that marketing should take over finance, but at least they should be involved. They should have access to the information. They should have access to the real-time insight, so that the translation is not involved in the process.
I find these two stories really, really powerful from the perspective of marketers, how we can look from the perspective of opportunity as opposed to from the cost of production.
Carman Pirie: I do think if we were to advocate marketing being in control of finance it would be a charming way to solve that lower marketing budget problem that a lot of people face.
Jeff White: Just gonna slide a little more money over to marketing now. Not to bounce around too much, but I think, Sam, where this really comes to life, of course, where marketers may actually have seen their ability to influence ERP, or at least have access to it so that they can understand it, is when ERPs get integrated with ecommerce. And of course, this is a huge initiative amongst manufacturers. Distributors, as well. You know, who are getting into moving more of their business online. Can you talk a bit about what marketers should look for in terms of ERPs and integration as it applies to pairing that with modern ecommerce platforms?
Sam Gupta: So, I’m going to respond back with a story of an ecommerce company, and I’m going to be talking about the system landscape a bit, and the problems that they have faced, and I think your audience will be able to relate with this a bit more. Basically, the company that I’m talking about, they were the manufacturer, they were trying to go to DTC, or D2C, however you want to put it. It is direct to the consumer. They had an ecommerce platform. They had some of the distributors, as well. But they were trying to go to D2C, so they had implemented a new commerce platform, but in the backend they just had QuickBooks and they were using some of the add-ons for the QuickBooks. The problem that they were facing is number one, they did not have access to the loyalty data of the customer. Because ERP systems typically don’t carry the loyalty data.
Unless your ecommerce systems are going to be integrated or fully integrated with the ERP, and when I say fully integrated, the integration could be in integrating just with the field, or it could be a native integration where you are sending every data field that the ecommerce system is going to care for or the ERP system is going to care for, and also this has to be bidirectional. It cannot be one-directional. When people think of the integration, they are simply thinking of integration as sort of the catch term. It could be very light integration, or it could be very, very heavy integration.
The problem that this customer was facing is number one, they did not have access to the loyalty data. Customers could not go and do these self-serve, some of them in the self-serve mold, so they did not have access to their… let’s say if they wanted to see invoices, if they wanted to see their account information, if they want to see what orders did I place with this manufacturer, they did not have access to that. And obviously, that was a huge CX issue, because they have to maintain this information. They would rather like to see, “Okay, how many orders did I place in this month with this manufacturer? What was the price that was quoted to me so that I can compare?” And this is the information, this is the customer experience aspect of the problem that they did not have access to.
And the reason for that is because the ecommerce system would not let them do this and even if it was allowing them to do some of the data publishing for their customers, it will be an incomplete story. And because of that, what used to happen is in some cases, they used to be double-dipping. When I say double-dipping, sometimes the payment is going to be there in the ecommerce system, but that would not reflect in QuickBooks. Sometimes they will just get the product for free. Sometimes there will be a return and that cannot be reflected in the QuickBooks.
And by the way, this is just the customer-facing story. Now, let’s talk about the admin side of the story. From the admin perspective, they had to reconcile this data in three different systems. They had like five people in the admin department, and the only thing that they did is they were reconciling this ecommerce data, manual entry of orders to let’s say ERP, then they had to port some of this data back to their ecommerce system, because the ecommerce system needs to know about taxes, the ecommerce system needs to know about some of the loyalty data that they were carrying, ecommerce system needs to know about the account, the product, the pricing, there are lot of things that the ecommerce system needs to know.
In most cases to answer your question, the ecommerce to ERP integration is very light. In fact, ecommerce system is never thought of as a complete ERP portfolio. ERP systems are not supposed to do the ecommerce and even if customers think that you know what, I’m an ecommerce shop, and I would like ecommerce capabilities as part of my platform when I’m acquiring ERP, but ERP systems were not designed to be ecommerce system. Ecommerce system is a completely different system. ERP system is a completely different system.
When we are looking at the enterprise architecture of a company, we need to look at, “Okay, what are the things that an ecommerce system does really, really well? What are the things the ERP system does really well? What are the things my product information system does really, really well?” And how can we draw these lines in terms of having that necessary integration? And when I define the necessity of the data, it’s not only going to be in terms of the operations. It’s also going to be from the decision-making, because when you make these decisions, you are going to require far more information than just your operational aspect of the problem.
To answer your question, do we see if the ecommerce systems are integrated with ERP? It’s very rare. Okay, they are very siloed typically. Even in the bigger companies it’s very siloed. Even if they claim that they are integrated, it’s going to be just a couple of feeds, a couple of data elements that may be integrated, but it’s very rare to see that.
Carman Pirie: Everyone out there that doesn’t have their ducks in a row can feel a little bit better now.
Jeff White: Is this where we pitch Synchrostack?
Carman Pirie: Exactly. Yeah. I think this has been a real pleasure chatting with you and I’ve gotta say, I started this talking about how it was early in the morning for me. Not only do I feel like I’ve learned a lot about ERP in this conversation, but your enthusiasm has rubbed off. I feel like I’m waking up. So-
Jeff White: Finish this up and head straight to the espresso machine.
Carman Pirie: Indeed, indeed, indeed.
Sam Gupta: So, you are not going to be shaking anymore I guess in the afternoon hours.
Jeff White: Yes, there will be more shaking now. Yeah. Thanks for joining us, Sam. It’s been a great conversation.
Sam Gupta: Of course. Thanks, guys, for having me. Really appreciate it.
Carman Pirie: All the best.
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Sam GuptaPrincipal Consultant, ElevatIQ
Sam Gupta has been a thought leader in the digital transformation space for nearly two decades, with the primary focus on financial systems and ERP. He has been part of large transformation initiatives for fortune-500 corporations but now spends his time consulting with SMEs as a Principal Consultant at ElevatIQ. Sam regularly speaks at industry conferences and contributes his experiences through many popular blogs and publications. He also hosts a podcast called WBSRocks focused on business growth through digital transformation and ERP where he interviews top influencers and executives from ERP, Supply Chain, Manufacturing, Digital Transformation, and Accounting.