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.”

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Doubling down on digital manufacturing; Data driving predictive maintenance; Electric motors and generators; Rewarding operational improvement
2017 Lubrication Guide; Software tools; Microgrids and energy strategies; Use robots effectively
Prescriptive maintenance; Hannover Messe 2017 recap; Reduce welding errors
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Mobility as the means to offshore innovation; Preventing another Deepwater Horizon; ROVs as subsea robots; SCADA and the radio spectrum
Research team developing Tesla coil designs; Implementing wireless process sensing
Commissioning electrical systems; Designing emergency and standby generator systems; Paralleling switchgear generator systems
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Featured articles highlight technologies that enable the Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies to get data more easily to the user.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me