Front-end sales tool brings newfound simplicity to complex products manufacture
Just because a company makes complex products doesn't mean configuring a sales proposal or a sales order needs to be complicated. Unfortunately, complexity is too often the case for sales in high-tech, industrial equipment, health care, and software/services. But that's not the case for best-in-class companies, which typically employ sales processes and technology that enable their sales forces...
Just because a company makes complex products doesn't mean configuring a sales proposal or a sales order needs to be complicated. Unfortunately, complexity is too often the case for sales in high-tech, industrial equipment, health care, and software/services.
But that's not the case for best-in-class companies, which typically employ sales processes and technology that enable their sales forces to spend more time selling.
“Besides ensuring consistency, automating access to marketing content saves sales time,” says Gretchen Duhaime, senior research analyst for customer management technology with Boston-based Aberdeen Group . “If salespeople don't have collateral readily available, they are burdened to create it themselves or work with marketing to draft it, which takes sales representatives out of the field or adds to support staff workload.”
At Colton, Calif.-based Williams Furnace Co. , for instance, a legacy configuration, proposal, and sales tool could process orders for only about 40 percent of Williams' extensive product line—and wasn't integrated with the IT structure.
Making matters worse, the system wasn't user-friendly, couldn't provide adequate detail about customer orders, and comprised a mix of automated and manual processes. For example, salespeople often would use black markers to cross out boilerplate information in their proposals that did not apply to a specific configuration, and had to manually copy and paste other information into the system, says Bill Hein, a company VP in Williams Furnace's applied/engineered products division.
The answer for Williams Furnace was Lean-Front End Software (LFE), an on-demand solution from BigMachines that streamlines configuration, pricing, quoting, proposal generation, and order management.
Lean-Front End enabled Williams Furnace to produce a complete set of branded documents for salespeople, eliminating the cut-and-paste action from multiple documents with multiple formats.
These documents include a quote summary, performance characteristics, product marketing information, CAD drawings and installation schematics, engineering submittal output, and terms and conditions.
Further benefit from automating the process, Hein says, involves how Williams' sales engineers often must supply as many as 100 to 300 pages of technical and business documentation on some systems—a process that could take up to three days to produce manually with the previous system.
“Today, after a product is fully configured online, it takes just seconds to print out the 'as configured' documentation,” says Hein.
With nonvalue-added tasks eliminated from the process, manual workload on quotes and orders has been significantly reduced, Hein says. Since the company started using the new front-end system, quote volume has increased and sales are up “generously”—all without the need to expand customer support or the applications engineering staff, he adds.
It's important to note that use of BigMachines' LFE solution benefits partners and resellers as well, says Jeff Braunstein, Web marketing manager at Spectra Logic , a data archive and back-up solution supplier.
Ensuring sales had the most up-to-date information was no easy feat for Spectra Logic in the past. While a few major products are introduced each year, there are price, product, and rules changes made several times weekly, Braunstein says.
“Our goal is to provide real-time product and pricing updates to sales—both internal employees and resellers—and since we have more than 500 partners, it required considerable effort with our old system to get updated information out to everyone,” Braunstein says. “Today, several thousand users are able to log in via a Web portal and use the BigMachines solution to quickly and accurately configure quotes.”
Annual Salary Survey
After almost a decade of uncertainty, the confidence of plant floor managers is soaring. Even with a number of challenges and while implementing new technologies, there is a renewed sense of optimism among plant managers about their business and their future.
The respondents to the 2014 Plant Engineering Salary Survey come from throughout the U.S. and serve a variety of industries, but they are uniform in their optimism about manufacturing. This year’s survey found 79% consider manufacturing a secure career. That’s up from 75% in 2013 and significantly higher than the 63% figure when Plant Engineering first started asking that question a decade ago.