“Sell more, and sell it more quickly” is the mantra for many an industry. But if there’s one impediment to rapid selling, it’s product complexity. Buy a PC online today, for example, and you may have to navigate through 500 core options — some top-level, others stemming from choices you make — not to mention an array of accessories and add-ons.
To tame this product complexity and proliferation for salespeople and customers, and to streamline proposal generation and price quotes for products, many companies work with Innoveer to integrate a “product configurator” with their CRM system. Top candidates for such technology include anyone selling goods that come in various shapes, sizes, bundles, and with “similar but different” names and SKUs — from businesses in the high-technology and manufacturing sectors to over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and even financial services.
To discuss how and when to use a configurator, I spoke with Melanie Gipp, Director of Marketing for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at configurator developer (and Innoveer partner) BigMachines.
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Which industries typically have the biggest product configuration challenges?
Gipp: Industries in which companies have products that are very complex or have very large product catalogs. We started in the manufacturing industry, but now we have customers in the high-technology, software services, telecommunications and even finance, amongst others.
For example, BigMachines is being used by Kodak to configure the large, commercial printers it sells, as well as the services associated with them. Kodak has integrated BigMachines with its Oracle CRM On Demand software, which enables in-house salespeople to more easily create quotes and close sales.
Other businesses are using BigMachines more for e-commerce purposes. For example, AGCO — a manufacturer of tractors and farm equipment — has opened its systems to distributors. So, dealers that want to buy an AGCO tractor can configure it through the AGCO website and order that system. That’s a relatively new use case for us.
If companies aren’t using a configurator such as BigMachines, what are they doing?
Most often, we replace Microsoft Excel and Word. And that’s shocking to hear — how these really large corporations have binders with price books that never get updated. Furthermore, every salesperson creates their own proposals, there’s no standard corporate design even on them. Plus prices may be wrong, product descriptions inaccurate, and products incorrectly configured.
During a configurator implementation, do you face resistance from salespeople?
Sometimes, but that resistance comes with any new system that you’re implementing. Our goal is to design the BigMachines application for salespeople, and make it — and their life — as efficient as possible. That’s so they can more quickly produce accurate quotes and give better data to sales managers for planning and forecasting. That, of course, gives managers better control of their sales team. All of which can create friction, obviously. But these are the same challenges that a regular CRM implementation would bring, no doubt.
How much time does BigMachines buy salespeople?
BigMachines customer Siemens reports that they were able to reduce the time required to generate a quote by 65%, and at the same time increase quote volume by 25%. Other advantages for the sales person are the ability to more easily create an error-free quote, and the guided selling process, which eases their workload and allows less experienced staff members to create valid quotes.
Likewise, one of our customers that develops financial software, Bottomline Technologies, found that using BigMachines increased sales productivity by 25%. After 18 months, it also led to a two-thirds reduction in the company’s 90-day debt, meaning that the company was more quickly invoicing customers, and thus getting paid. Likewise, it saw an 85% reduction in accrued revenue, which does wonders for cash flow.
What’s the number-one challenge when implementing product configurators? As with implementing CRM software, it’s to ensure that users not only adopt the new software, but embrace it. Accordingly, when implementing a configurator, balance management requirements (price enforcement, standardized reporting) with must-have capabilities for salespeople (faster and easier quotes and sales, easy pricing).
Meanwhile, while product configurators help organizations streamline and automate their product configuration and pricing, many companies also stand to benefit by cleaning house. Namely, they should always clamp down, aggressively, on creating new product names, options, bundles, SKUs and configurations. Master our related, top tips for controlling product proliferation.