‘Our automotive cloud allows OEMs to quickly respond to market demand’: Rajkumar Ravuri

OEMs can now constantly communicate with their customers by tapping into real-time data from the market. Autocar Professional spoke to Salesforce India Director, Rajkumar Ravuri to understand more.

By Mayank Dhingra calendar 25 Jun 2023 Views icon11724 Views Share - Share to Facebook Share to Twitter Share to LinkedIn Share to Whatsapp
‘Our automotive cloud allows OEMs to quickly respond to market demand’: Rajkumar Ravuri

Rajkumar Ravuri, Director, Industry Advisor, Manufacturing, Salesforce India talks about how the California-headquartered IT solutions provider, which is a global leader in customer relationship management (CRM) software and applications that focus on sales, customer service, marketing automation, and analytics among others, is leveraging its digital technologies to empower automotive OEMs in India make the switch to becoming more customer-centric, than being focused on the product, in an ever-changing world.

The company is driving a new philosophy of customer engagement at OEMs by empowering them to maintain constant communication with their customers, and become more agile by tapping into real-time data from the market.

What operations is Salesforce driving in the automotive industry?
Automotive is one of the key industries for Salesforce, and our focus lies primarily within the front-office solutions that used to be mainly known as the CRM or customer relationship management tools, but have now evolved
into several things spanning across marketing, sales,
and service.

The industry is witnessing its biggest transformation and the way it historically functioned, is now changing. Companies are moving from being product centric to customer centric, and the advent of the Internet over the last decade-and-a-half, has brought about a significant increase in the level of direct engagement of customers with brands, as well as automotive organisations, including OEMs, dealerships, and the extended ecosystem partners who are all navigating through the shift of being product first to customer first.

Salesforce is, therefore, empowering the underlying business transformation to not only help companies get closer to their customers, but also increasingly tap into the new-age data that is being brought back by virtue of vehicle connectivity. We harness that data with our Data Cloud and then layer it with our industry solution christened Automotive Cloud, to be able to float it across all customer-centric teams, including sales, service, marketing, and captive finance within the organisation. Moreover, the platform helps reach out to the extended ecosystem that could include EV charging partners, telematics suppliers, and vehicle dealers. We provide that single source of actionable insights to all the stakeholders with our integrated, and connected tools.

That is the core of Salesforce’s enablement for the automotive industry, and with our recent innovations in terms of the Automotive Cloud and Data Cloud that powers the IoT-centric data, we are empowering unique customer experiences.

Which OEMs are Salesforce’s key automotive customers?
Salesforce serves nine of the Top 10 global OEMs by revenue. In India, we work with India-headquartered OEMs, as well as those with which we have tie-ups globally. Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M), for instance, is a company on the verge of making the shift from being a product-centric player to a customer-centric organisation.

It aimed to deploy an intelligent way of engaging with its end customers by virtue of tapping into their needs through an omni-channel touchpoint system across the customer’s journey. That was the transformation Salesforce empowered for M&M, and now the company has a very seamless digital experience for its customers, who can monitor their order right from booking, through to vehicle status tracking, and delivery. The company has been able to maintain engagement with its customers by leveraging the Salesforce platform to keep end-to-end communication going.

Globally, Mercedes-Benz is also one of our key customers, and while we empower their customer communications, we also help their call-centre agents engage with their high-profile customers. Increasingly, we also aid their channel partners tap into a new-sale lead at the prospect stage, by establishing a conversation with the customer, and offering them a unique experience, as the company increasingly switches to a lean, centralised-inventory management retail format.

How is a CRM different from an ERP and is the Salesforce platform interoperable?
An ERP or enterprise resource planning software has always played the role of managing the core operational business processes, right from procurement through to supply chain, manufacturing, and logistics. However, with the industry increasingly becoming more customer-centric, and the need to fulfil every customer’s unique requirement, the role of the front-office platform has also evolved to transmit real-time data that links back-end operations with the market demand.

While Salesforce leads the front-end engagement, the aggregated data insights from the platform can help rejig production schedules, and determine the production quantity required for a particular variant, trim, or colour of a product, as per the demand. Therefore, our Automotive Cloud allows OEMs to quickly respond to market conditions, as well as enables the power of offering unique customer experiences, particularly in case of luxury OEMs despite them operating at a relatively large scale.

At the core of the Salesforce platform lies the Automotive Industry Foundation — which is based on standards, and therefore, it supports all leading automotive data standards, be it connected vehicle data, or the format in which vehicle dealers typically exchange retail leads or orders. Furthermore, the platform allows interoperability with third-party systems such as used-vehicle financing, real-time vehicle evaluation, and insurance platforms among others. Therefore, there are numerous possibilities to plug-and-play with the data, while the platform ensures complete data security.

How has Salesforce been enabling OEMs reduce wait times for customers?
Cutting down of delivery times has been a key wish for automakers as no customer wants to wait 8-12 months to get their vehicle delivered. One of the ways in which we are helping OEMs is with our Tableau-based data visualisation, which allows multiple data sets from across the enterprise — not just the OEM, even the logistics provider. We pull our manufacturing and automotive capabilities, and layer them with real-time visualisations to quickly trigger Slack — an at-scale collaboration engagement platform — and onboard delivery drivers, yard managers, and dealership personnel themselves, to ascertain where the actual demand is moving, and where is the most-urgent need for a ready vehicle to be shipped in the next 72 hours.

That is the level of granularity at which one needs to operate to make decisions and quickly pivot, and divert despatches bound for one location to the other, based on real-time demand. At the core of this, it is all about harnessing data, identifying hotspots, and converting data into actionable insights.

How is Salesforce evolving its core CRM offerings for the automotive industry?
Our customers do not want to deal with multiple systems and applications. For more than 23 years, our core offering — the Salesforce platform — which was developed by the company’s founders, offers its key tenets of being one of the easiest CRM platforms, which, at the same time, allows rapid scalability to serve thousands of customers.

Over time, we have layered it with different industry-specific processes, and capabilities, and today, the platform can help any customer to compose a unique business process, and configure the platform without the need of a technology developer. Even a business analyst could easily leverage the platform’s ‘no-code approach’ to configure their specific business requirements. Going forward, we are also integrating AI into our core products, including the Automotive Cloud, and this will bring recommendations powered by an AI engine. The engine would also consistently learn based on the responses chosen by an end consumer while interacting with the platform, and therefore, will allow for better, targeted communication between the brand and the customer.

ALSO READ: Mercedes-Benz India dealer Silver Arrows taps CRM software to double online sales conversions

This interview was first published in Autocar Professional's June 15, 2023 issue.

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