Everyone reading this is all too aware of the challenges and required business adjustments that 2020, with its global pandemic, presented. Supply chains choked; travel restrictions limited customer sales and service visits; trade shows were canceled, drastically reducing new sales leads; new orders shrank; cash reserves dwindled; and everyone scrambled to pivot and stay afloat. Simply exhausting.
However, all is not doom and gloom. At the MTForecast conference, held the last week of October, we were presented with positive indicators in segments of several key manufacturing technology consuming verticals. Better times for business lie ahead. Equally important in the long run, however, are the lessons learned and new strategies and processes put in place to cope and survive. Could that be the silver lining to a year full of unpleasant surprises? Is it possible we have learned different ways to operate that might be better than what we were doing before? As we emerge from the crisis, could we be leaner, faster, stronger, smarter, and more competitive than ever before? As we move from day-to-day survival to the long game, I believe that will prove to be true.
In the spirit of assessment, I reached out to some AMT members active in exports and AMT’s international management teams in China, India, Mexico, Brazil, and Europe to find out what creative solutions they were seeing on a global scale, and what they were doing to facilitate the change. In the past eight months, there have been enough articles, white papers, webinars, and blogs to fill a library, so what I heard was not exactly a surprise, but it was still worth sharing, nonetheless, since the input was from our family-at-large.
Global site service
A major element of having a local presence in a foreign country to support your customers is giving them the confidence that they will receive the technical support they need by qualified folks in a timely fashion. Around the world, we are seeing a dramatic increase in the use of augmented reality (AR) to support customers when trained service personnel are restricted from traveling. This includes everything from low-tech video chats on mobile devices to full-blown AR systems with embedded content. These virtual solutions can be used to direct third-party field personnel or to up-skill the customer’s in-house personnel. However, in-person service is still preferred by customers when possible. In addition to logging hours for members who normally utilize in-house services at our China and Mexico tech centers, AMT technicians have been busy addressing the needs of members who usually send their own personnel from their U.S. facilities for service work. Our office in Europe has been busy as well, identifying and qualifying third-party service organizations in specific countries for members.
Global lead generation
In addition to our own IMTS, most major 2020 trade shows around the world were canceled. These shows are generally the most significant lead-generation tool our members have in foreign countries. In speaking with one member who is very active globally, I learned that 13 shows they were to participate in were canceled. Thirteen! That creates a gap in the sales-lead funnel that is very hard to replace. Many members have turned to IMTS spark and the new and improved Exhibitor Passport to help fill the void. That certainly captures a good amount of international leads, but specific, in-country sources can fill in the missing pieces. Our team in India has been working closely with a half-dozen members identifying potential customers in very specific verticals and segments that align with their technologies, products, and services. The same can also be said about our teams in China, Mexico, Brazil and Europe. Target identification is key. Nothing new with that concept, just some pivots as to fruitful sources.
Localized web presence
Speaking of fruitful lead sources, quite a few folks I spoke with have used this period to up their game regarding their web presence and social media activity, often citing IMTS spark as an example of what they are trying to achieve. In these days of severe limitations on trade shows, customer visits, hosting plant tours, etc., a vibrant web presence becomes very important. On the international front, there are local cultural and business norms that need to be considered in order to be understood, build brand awareness, grow traffic, boost leads, connect with your customers, and support your international distributors and in-market partners. Everything from showrooms to demos to product videos to webcasts can be utilized. Our overseas teams have been, and will continue to be, on call to consult with in-country recommendations and guidance to boost members’ virtual presence locally.
Global staff adjustments
The hardest thing anyone must do is to let someone go – not due to poor performance but out of economic necessity. It is heart wrenching and has been all too prevalent during this crisis. In addition to the emotional and economic toll on the employee, for the employer, it represents the loss of a valuable, trained, and integrated resource that will be expensive to replace when and if the time comes. Many members have been able to minimize this through negotiated salary reductions, reduced benefits, and reduced hours. When it comes to foreign staff, it is a bit trickier having to navigate different cultural norms and local labor laws.
Presently, AMT employs about 120 foreign nationals on behalf of our members, the majority in Mexico, China, and India. These “proxy hires” represent a critical aspect of the member’s foreign presence and success in the market. During this pandemic, AMT’s global teams have been able to assist members with delicate “adjustment” negotiations with their foreign employees to keep them employed and working on their behalf. The resulting reduction in force has only been about 5%, which, under the circumstances, has been considered a win by all.
Supply chain realignment
If there is one common global issue that has emerged in these trying times – other than trying to beat the virus – it is supply chain fragility. The re-inventing and re-thinking of supply chains is a huge area of focus and attention. AMT is currently releasing an entire series of white papers regarding supply chains and may be found on AMTNews.org, so I will not take up print space here. Suffice it to say, Mexico is poised to be a big winner as American companies realign closer to home. Our team in Mexico has been helping members locate and qualify suppliers for everything from foundries for castings to machine shops for micro-precision finishing. This trend will certainly continue.
Should you require any assistance with your foreign business or just want to bounce around ideas, please reach out to us anytime.