How Equipment Manufacturers
Can Create More Value from
Customer Relationships

The business case for CRM technology into EM companies—  with Sikich as your consulting partner

We need EMs to succeed

Equipment manufacturing (EM) plays a key role in the economy. EM companies’ products are almost too many to name. They make it possible to perform medical procedures, run automated distribution facilities, produce electronics and food, motor vehicles and rocket ships – and so much more. EM customers use these products to fuel their own success, whether it be by making, distributing, or servicing their own customers. As individuals and as companies, we all benefit when EMs do well and suffer when they don’t.

Many EMs specialize in a certain kind of equipment for a particular market segment. Often, they commit large investments over many years to innovate and create Intellectual Property, secure patents, and deliver value in a unique manner. Over many years, many of them also build teams of account reps and service organizations of industry insiders who know how to win customers and maintain productive and profitable relationships with them.
In this blog, we consider the critical role of customer relationships in the EM industry and how EMs can use technology to maintain their health. Three scenarios based on real-life experiences in EM companies illustrate how customer relationship management (CRM) software can help you do better by your customers and team members.
Engineer and Factory Worker using Tablet in workshop


Why should you think about CRM, and what can you and your customers expect from it? Customer relationships are a critical asset. CRM can help you do well by treating customers right at every touchpoint.

Customer relationships at risk

Today, some EMs find that workforce turnover and changing global conditions expose their customer relationships to the liabilities of discontinuity and competitive takeovers. The pandemic accelerates and intensifies many of their challenges that were already present.

The traditional EM approach to selling and serving customers is relationship-based. Some of the most successful sales reps travel along with customers for many years. Much of the insight regarding these customers and their needs lives in the heads of long-term account reps and field service managers.

Due to the large-scale generational change that is underway right now, many of these customer-loyal employees are about to leave the workplace. When they take their experience with them, they may force their successors to start from scratch and make it difficult for sales and service execs to get a firm handle on the business. These departing professionals likely have an excellent understanding of customer motivations and their buying journeys. However, they might never have taken the time to document their expertise, and now they may lack an effective way to pass it on.
Industrial Engineer in the Hard Hat Uses Laptop

Challenges in global growth

Globalization has made the management of customer relationships more difficult for EMs. When customers can be almost anywhere in the world, it’s much harder to get to know and work with them in the traditional, face-to-face manner. This has driven some to set up global sales organizations with local reps in key geographies or establish international dealer networks, thereby pushing the manufacturers one step back in the supply chain—and further away from their customers. Finding ways to work with their far-flung teams and business partners and keep trading relationships alive without the risks and costs of travel—or with convenient travel being curtailed during the pandemic—can be a challenge.
From an executive perspective, it may be increasingly difficult to have insight into those customer relationships and formulate strategies on how to best nurture them. That can be a real threat to a company’s ability to retain customers and grow.

Why is CRM SOFTWARE a good idea?

CRM software can enable EMs to manage all customer relationships, communications, buying histories, customer preferences, and commitments in one single resource. CRM applications also give managers and executives a way to consolidate and review account data, see how their reps and teams perform, offer assistance, and make timely course corrections.
The best of today’s CRM systems are easy to use, even for sales reps who may not be thrilled by the promise of a new technology tool. If CRM lives in the cloud or is delivered as software-as-a-service, sales and service reps and their managers can access it from anywhere and on any hardware device they like. And as manufacturers globally struggle to find new talent, investments in modern technology provide evidence to new recruits that you are company that they want to work for. Your use of tech can help you attract and retain the best and brightest recruits.

From basic priorities to strategic opportunities

If seasoned reps in your EM business are about to leave, your first step should be to bring their notes and insights into the CRM environment. EMs we know have created various practices to overcome new-user hesitancy. Sometimes, the new software tool is so attractive and easy to use that even reluctant technology users won’t balk at recording insights and customer data. Sometimes, EMs reward their reps for documenting their knowledge and account histories. Other organizations find embedding processes critical to the reps job (like pricing or quoting or accessing promotional material), or to their performance measures, is the most effective way to drive consistent user adoption.
In any case, you can immediately start benefiting from that new transparency to improve sales management and service delivery. Once experienced reps adopt the CRM software and seed it with data, onboarding new talent can be painless and fast.

However, you can use CRM for much more:

What does CRM mean for YOUR customers?

No matter how and where customers prefer to do business and interact with their EM, you can manage the entire engagement consistently in the CRM software. Invitations and records of past virtual meetings, phone conferences, and face-to-face meetings. Emails, instant messages, shared documents and contracts, photos and diagrams—you can attach all these things to a customer record and keep them easily accessible. Your customers might not know that you’ve brought a new set of tools into your business, but will anything at all change for them?

For one thing, communications from your company might be more timely. A response to a sales or service inquiry may arrive faster than before, because the equipment manufacturing company’s employees could act and coordinate their steps immediately instead of researching the account or waiting for somebody else do to so. Even promotions can be more meaningful and compelling, because it’s easier to incorporate known customer interests and plans into your marketing.

When customers connect with your sales and service reps, they may meet new people, but thorough recordkeeping in CRM will help your team members interact with customers as if they had worked the accounts for years. What’s remarkable, in that case, is what doesn’t change for customers—they don’t feel like they need to train a new person, because it’s clear that they are known and appreciated at a company level.
When other businesses lose sight of their customer relationships as people come and go, CRM allows you to demonstrate that your company is different. You’re well organized and professional, and losing an experienced employee won’t slow you down or compromise customers’ experiences.
factory worker standing next to boiler and holding tablet


Sikich recommends Microsoft CRM solutions that we deploy and support, and which we can help you evolve as needs change. We use a proven, nondisruptive approach that follows your priorities for productive change.

Keeping CRM real, simple, and practical

CRM may be easy to use, but it’s still a complex software product. Technology providers can take missteps if they are not deeply familiar with their customers’ industry and business model or with CRM technology. Poorly planned and managed CRM projects can fail or may never deliver the benefits companies hope for. Some customers invest in technology that is too difficult to use. Or, they omit one key step—getting buy-in from sales leadership. In those situations, user adoption typically starts small and stays that way, eventually causing a CRM project to fizzle out.

Sikich makes use of industry-best practices that incorporate our experience from many successful CRM projects for EMs, and we also bring our project management expertise to bear. Our teams follow a simple, predictable, step-by-step approach to bring CRM into your EM business.
We focus on realistic outcomes that make a practical difference for your people. We engage with the sales and service teams and execs who are the key audience for a CRM deployment, and will also work with IT to make sure our solutions fit into your technology environment and strategy. Most important, we work with you to understand what you want to accomplish, help you take the right steps, and assess the results. We start small and follow your lead in evolving your CRM initiative.

Comfortable, easy-to-use technology

For many EMs that want to focus on managing and growing their business without distractions from complex technology deployments, Microsoft CRM solutions are the best fit. They are designed for real people in businesses who need to get work done, not expert users who have the time for experimental technology. Sikich relies on several proven Microsoft products to deliver CRM and customer insight capabilities:

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement (CE)

Suite is a multi-module cloud solution that provides sales, customer service, field service, and marketing functionality in a consistent, intuitive, highly usable manner. You can deploy these capabilities in a sequence that reflects your priorities, adding apps anytime. Sales functionalities are specifically designed and ready to go for a variety of professional roles. With enablement for virtual agents, remote assistance, product design collaboration, and listening to what customers say, the broader Dynamics 365 CE offering delivers mixed reality, artificial intelligence (AI), and data analytics to help you break new ground and get ahead of the competition.

Microsoft Power BI

Lets you unify data from many different sources to build dashboards and reports that help you understand customers and steer the company toward growth. You can give all team members the ability to make decisions based on data and be confident in making a greater contribution to your EM business.

Microsoft Power Apps

Make it easy to quickly build targeted apps to meet specific information needs for users of various devices and operating systems. Using templates and simple steps, the people who know the business best can create apps to extend, improve, and innovate how information and content are shared, and refocus workflows on customers.

Microsoft Dynamics 365 Customer Insights

Is a purpose-built, intuitive data platform to deliver 360-degree, realtime insights and enable personalized customer experiences. Using Customer Insights, you can substantiate hunches and impressions with realtime data, understand customer journeys, and build on your team’s expertise to deliver rewarding customer experiences that can sustain long-term engagements.

Scenario 1:

Equipment manufacturing sales executive moves the business forward.

Amy manages the sales team for a company that designs, manufactures, and services industrial kilns and ventilation systems for companies which produce ceramic products. She used to meet with each of her reps every week to review their accounts, current activities, next steps, business expected to close over the next 30, 60, and 90 days, and address roadblocks. The day before their weekly meeting, every team member forwarded a spreadsheet with updates to her. Sometimes, people forgot to do this, or didn’t get the file to Amy until minutes before the meeting. Projections listed by the sales reps were often overly optimistic and made reliable, meaningful forecasting hard. Occasionally, reps called in from the road, which resulted in less than productive meetings. When the sales team grew to a dozen people all over the country, managing and supporting them took almost all of Amy’s time, leaving little energy for proactive planning or helping a new rep get started.
Once the EM deployed Microsoft Dynamics 365 CE and the technology partner’s consultants created dashboards and reports for company execs, Amy’s life became easier. She now holds her individual and team meetings in Microsoft Teams, where people can see each other and remain engaged. The reps happily lost the chore of providing weekly updates. Meetings are no longer a recurring calendar item, but Amy and her reps simply connect when they feel the need. The reps often log their activities and communications on their phones through Microsoft Outlook. An Outlook connector pushes the data into the records in the Microsoft CRM software.
Amy pulls automated reports to see what reps accomplished, which customers and prospects they pursue, and what their forecasts are. She can deliver her own summary report to the leadership team based on this information. When a rep closes a large volume of business in record time, she can dive into customer histories and see how timing and the right actions worked in the company’s favor. On the other hand, if a rep has difficulty converting leads to prospects or is behind in terms of close numbers, Amy can see how that rep’s activities may differ from those of other reps and why they might not be as successful.
What’s important to Amy is that she feels she understands the reps much better and can more effectively support them. As a valued, executive colleague, she can offer timely guidance in a consultative fashion without being intrusive. She is also more confident and effective in partnering with the rest of the executive team. When her colleagues ask her about sales—for instance, when the marketing VP wants to know how a certain lead generation campaign translates into prospects and new revenue—she has an answer within minutes.
Business Woman talking on an office phone

Proving the CRM solutions internally

Like the businesses of our EM clients, Sikich’s success depends on healthy customer relationships built on trust and shared goals. We use Microsoft Dynamics 365 CE internally and experience the benefit of this solution every time we connect, communicate, or collaborate with a prospect or customer. Like many clients, we needed to adjust quickly when the pandemic hit, replacing most in-person meetings with virtual interactions. With our Dynamics 365 CE apps, we managed that transition without disrupting the business or losing any accounts. When conditions change and we can again travel to meet customers in person, we will still use our CRM software to manage relationships and opportunities.

Works like and with the tech tools you know

If you know Office 365 apps like Word, Outlook, or PowerPoint, you will probably find the Microsoft CRM solutions familiar and comfortable. You don’t need extensive training to get used to them and perform the every-day functions that matter most.
When we deploy your CRM software, we also connect it with your company’s Office 365, SharePoint, or Teams applications to make it easier to engage with customers and colleagues, work together to win and serve accounts, and create and retrieve contracts and documentation. You don’t need to navigate multiple applications to do your job, but can spend the whole day in a familiar environment. We usually create these connections by means of smart design, building configurations that take only hours—as opposed to integrations, which typically take lots more time and expense, and also need IT to keep them updated and running smoothly.

From crawl, to walk, to run

Once your sales and service teams are in a flow with the new tools, we can show you how to achieve more with CRM. For instance, some EM clients find it valuable to bring in data from LinkedIn, Yelp, ecommerce systems, and social media to better understand customers’ behaviors and decisions.
We take you through the steps of pulling information from a variety of sources to build dashboards, so you can review such business conditions as account revenue or profitability for certain products, timeframes, and customer segments in a single screen. This is another example of using smart design—as opposed to expensive and time-consuming integration development—to deliver the data feedback you’re looking for.
When you’re ready, we can add machine learning capabilities to your CRM. For some EMs, machine learning can enable next-level opportunity management. Overcoming the limitations of human attention spans, machine learning can help you pinpoint customer decision and purchasing patterns and take the right step when it makes a difference. Using data from multiple sources within and outside of your business, you can score customers and opportunities and help your reps hone in on the most promising accounts.

Scenario 2:

New sales rep hits the ground running

After Paul lost his job selling specialty equipment for food manufacturers, he was glad to land at an equipment manufacturing business that makes automated production equipment for companies that manufacture soups and sauces. Paul’s new employer has customers and production facilities all across the country, but expects Paul to work from home.

In his previous job, Paul used spreadsheets to track his results and had a basic app to manage communications, meetings, and commitments with customers. When he invested the time to keep these tools updated, they worked for him, but as soon as he got busy or forgot to enter a detail immediately, errors crept in and some customers were left hanging when they expected a response.

During the interviews, Paul learned that his new position became available because a team member of many years retired. His new boss mentioned that the rep recorded all her notes from customer conversations, decisions, and purchases in the company’s still-new Microsoft Dynamics 365 CE system. On his first day, Paul receives his company laptop and access to the CRM system. He explores the software and finds it easy to figure out how to do things. He is anxious to get working, because there is already an alert from the manager—who also uses CRM—urging him to contact a customer who had mentioned an upcoming purchasing decision.

Paul finds the account and reads the previous rep’s proposal and conversation notes. He feels that this customer is likely going to be open to a meeting to discuss next, best steps. He leaves a voicemail for the contact and follows up with an email.

Next, Paul reviews all active customers assigned to him. Several are planning equipment upgrades and new purchases. That means he can begin working with them, already well aware of their needs, budgets, and schedules. He realizes he will probably not have the painful income drop that he suffered in other companies as the newcomer in a sales role. The personnel change doesn’t interrupt the flow of business, and Paul can pick up where the former rep left off. He spends the rest of the day making calls, sending some more mail, and getting updates from customers, all of whom sound welcoming. A production manager says that he heard about a new ingredient-mixing tool the company is working on, and during the conversation Paul quickly accesses a SharePoint folder to share news about the product’s capabilities and ETA. The customer and Paul agree to meet next month so he can develop a proposal.

In the afternoon, the manager wants to know how things are going. Paul clicks on a button to create a summary of what he’s been working on, sends it to her, and they chat over Teams. He feels good about his first day at the new company—he can already show some results and feels at home in the new organization. Later that evening, Paul finds an encouraging response from the first customer he contacted and sets up a Teams meeting for the next day.

businessman working with laptop at home office

Managing services, keeping customers happy

Warranty maintenance and field service are important sources of revenue for many EMs. Data-collection and reporting software can take in internet of things (IoT) data from sensors on the equipment you install at customer sites. You can proactively identify potential breakdowns or performance lags before they become problematic, dispatching technicians without interrupting the customer’s processes.
By connecting the software that enables insight into customer equipment with your CRM tools, you can easily make account updates and determine what the best engagement model for any customer is. Do they subscribe to your services, regularly paying a set fee, or do they prefer to have every service event treated discreetly? Who do you contact first, in what way, and who comes next if you dont reach the person who originated teh service call? No distracting ambiguities get in the way when all these details are saved in your CRM system.
While your employees are at customer sites, they can use their tablets or laptops to look up account details in CRM, find equipment documentation in the content folders associated with the customer, and get their work done efficiently and safely. If they upsell or cross-sell any parts or services, they find all information and files in the CRM system.

Taking the lid off service innovation

When it comes to services, you can bring more of an innovative edge to your CRM environment. If you truly want to transform how customers receive field services, you can furnish your teams with mixed-reality devices and apps like Microsoft HoloLens 2 and Microsoft Dynamics 365 Mixed Reality Remote Assist. Your technicians may then be able to perform inspections and assessments remotely, before they travel to the equipment location. And, once onsite, they can connect with your engineers and product specialists, give them access to share the mixed reality, and resolve customer issues together right there and then.
The cost of mixed-reality technology has come down with increased adoption and standardization, but it still has the awesomeness of a great new thing that customers may find attractive. Especially if you operate outside of the realm of large global enterprises doing business with each other, you might be taking several giant steps ahead of the competition by adopting mixed reality now.

Scenario 3:

Equipment Manufacturing customer revives a supplier relationship

Doba works at a company that helps dentists source, purchase, and finance dental equipment for their practices. One of her suppliers is an EM that produces electric, air-driven handpieces. The company is known for the quality of its products but has undergone turnover and other organizational change. Some recent product deliveries were late, which meant dentists could not open or expand their practices as planned. The lead times for warranty service and repairs are longer than they used to be. Doba is no longer confident in making firm commitments that involve the EM’s delivery schedules and has been looking for other options. But it takes time to identify new suppliers, negotiate terms, and become comfortable with them.

The EM’s VP of sales and distribution calls Doba and asks her for another opportunity to continue doing business together. He tells her that they have recently hired new account reps and upgraded their CRM technology. He is asking for six weeks to turn things around, and if the EM’s efforts don’t work out, he will help Doba transition to another supplier. She agrees to this without making any promises.

Next, Doba receives both an email and a call from Sean, her new rep. He knows that some dentists are asking for a particular handpiece design that the EM did not offer before, but the company now has a new product that could fit these requirements. He offers to ship a sample to Doba’s company or to any dentist who wants to try it. She is surprised and pleased that he is aware of the dentists’ request, and immediately thinks of one who would be happy to test the new handpiece.

Later that week, the EM’s field services manager contacts Doba with a list of dentists whose older equipment needs certain parts replaced before it breaks down and forces appointment cancellations. He offers to coordinate with her on reaching out to these dentists to tell them what needs to be done and schedule the work. He already has an email drafted that he forwards to Doba. All she needs to do is add her personal touch, sign it, and send it to the group of dentists. Over the next couple of weeks, she hears from them how the service appointments went. The EM service reps showed up on time, had all the tools and parts they needed, and completed their assignments after hours or during lunch breaks. Several dentists thank Doba for a great job in managing these service calls.

Sean gives Doba leads of new dental practices that open in her region, which the previous EM rep never did. Soon, she notices that delivery lead times have shrunk. When she helps a dentist put an equipment order together, she can ask for delivery within ten days. This used to take as long as a month, and it was often difficult to schedule installation for a particular day. She can only assume that the EM now has a better feedback loop between sales and production, and that Sean has a more effective and accurate way of forecasting and planning.

Doba no longer feels that she’s doing business with a traditional EM, but with a customer-focused, highly motivated, fast-paced company. Before the six weeks’ trial is over, she tells Sean and his boss that she is looking forward to continue working with them.

businesswoman looking up with a smile


What’s a joint effort with Sikich like? Our consultants partner with your team members to deliver results in a fast, low-risk, best practices-infused process. we share expert guidance both informally, and also in a structured, document manner. You are always in control of the collaboration and any follow-on projects or service engagements.

Managing change to your advantage

Every time you change how people do their work, the company culture also shifts. Sometimes, everybody welcomes the new tools and processes, but very often early, enthusiastic adopters set the pace. Others follow them when they see that the new approaches are effective, although some may remain hesitant. It’s part of a Sikich CRM project to assist you in managing the organizational and cultural changes that accompany a major software undertaking. Some steps Sikich typically takes include the following:
We help you communicate with the sales and service reps who will be the initial users of the new software, so they can look forward to technology that is designed with them in mind.
If you need to secure sponsorship from the CIO, the CFO or even the VP of sales, we collaborate with you to prepare conversations and achieve the commitments you seek.
When executives wonder what the ROI of CRM might be, we work with you to develop realistic projections.
We connect with your most influential team members to gain their support and speed up user adoption, diving into their use cases to show them how CRM can help them succeed.

EM industry experts deliver CRM that fits your business

Part of what makes the Sikich team effective in working with equipment manufacturing businesses like you is that most of us had other careers before we came to Sikich. Our consultants, project managers, and team leads were involved in both successful and flawed CRM projects in manufacturing and EM businesses before they decided to pursue technology innovation full-time. That gives them an invaluable inside perspective, which allows for instant reality checks when working with our clients.

Sometimes, Sikich has to help a client turn around a CRM project that is taking too long, runs over budget, isn’t delivering what the company expected, or meets with user resistance. In those situations, we often find that the EM’s previous technology partner allowed the effort to become too complicated. Just like we do in new projects, we follow your priorities and make sure the effort is contained and predictable.

Getting to results rapidly

When Sikich delivers CRM solutions, you can put them to work immediately. We have developed a rapid methodology, HEADSTART, which reflects our experience and best practices from many successful CRM deployments over many years. You know exactly what to expect, when. You can run sales, service, and opportunity management, along with reporting, in your CRM environment within weeks rather than months. You don’t even need to have Sikich consultants travel to your location. We can perform software implementations remotely through the cloud, so there’s no risk to your team members and you don’t need to delay your CRM initiative until the pandemic ends. Your Sikich teams rolls out the new CRM tools without disrupting your workflows, but makes sure they fit into them. We manage to firm deadlines and conditions, and your Sikich project manager will always be available and accountable. We meet your most urgent needs first, but also configure the CRM solutions in such a way that they can serve you for years to come.

Taking the next step

Sikich will gladly help you explore the CRM opportunity for your EM business. Get in touch anytime to have your questions answered or move forward.

Contact Debbie Altham, Senior Director of Sales and Marketing, at or (303)597-2471 to arrange for a demo or set up a free consultation.

Explore our HEADSTART for Equipment Manufacturers solution and have a look at some of our featured case studies.

Ready to explore how Sikich expertise and the right CRM for Equipment Manufacturers can help you?