By Audrey Spangenberg
There’s money in the clouds, and manufacturers of all sizes are making the big grab—especially when it comes to streamlining sales processes, winning deals, and increasing customer satisfaction.
Companies are starting to realize the considerable benefits of offloading everyday sales tools and applications in this results-driven, cost-cutting economic climate. The result is less strain on IT departments; a more streamlined sales supply chain; and happier customers. And those are just a few of the tangible advantages cloud computing offers.
There’s no doubt technology has come a long way from the clunky, disparate tools and systems that are notorious for slowing down sales cycles and being expensive to maintain and upgrade for any company’s IT department.
But with the advent of cloud computing—on-demand, Internet-based computing with shared resources, software, and information—applications are updated automatically, without headaches.
It’s an IT services delivery model that is ideal for manufacturers that need both scalable and virtual resources—and who doesn’t need that kind of flexibility when it comes to managing a sales process?
Complex Products, Integrated Data
Manufacturing companies with complex products and even more complex sales cycles are taking a much more serious look at cloud computing to help them streamline tools and systems so their sales teams can better focus on the business of selling and making a profit.
They also want a central point that helps them easily integrate disparate systems and better manage data from different sources within the company automatically—instead of the tedious process of manually transferring information from one silo to the next.
After all, inadequate information could translate into lost sales when data from sales quotes, for example, aren’t accessible from a company’s order entry system. In this sense, cloud computing and multi-tenancy for manufacturers is about making sure that all data between engineering approvals, discounting, and other sales processes are integrated—and that there are no interruptions in those data streams due to upgrades to the quoting solution.
Saving Money, Increasing Productivity
With a world and national economy still in a state of transition, and with new technology that’s helping increase profits, manufacturers also are looking intently at cutting costs. For example, management consulting firm AMI-Partner’s World Wide Cloud Services Study shows that more businesses are adopting cloud computing services and software applications not only to streamline applications, but also as a cost-reduction strategy (“Cloud services momentum is on track among SMBs,” AMI-Partners press release, August 12, 2010).
When businesses consider the hardware and software upgrades necessary to keep essential applications current and competitive, the cost can be formidable, as many businesses have experienced with ERP implementations in the last decade. And that sticker shock has them looking for other options up above.
Today’s manufacturing-specific cloud offerings cover such critical applications as project management; inventory management; and configure, price, and quote (CPQ) that are essential to the sales cycle. Manufacturers that choose the cloud model over traditional internal IT department implementation have the freedom to become much more agile businesses—and that alone can help avoid many of the hurdles that can negatively impact the bottom line. This model is also complimentary to ERP systems—which means companies can get even more value from such a system.
Multiple Systems, Multiple Frustrations
Ask anyone on a manufacturing sales team about their biggest job frustration, and many will point to the time and hassle it takes to deal with the disparate tools and systems they use to manually piece together customer quotes, produce proposals, get internal approval and buy-in, customer approvals, and finally make the sale.
In Gartner’s Key Issues for Growing a Manufacturing Business report (March 2010), the analyst group found that manufacturing companies must focus on “supporting initiatives related to innovation; sales, marketing and channel effectiveness; customer and regulatory requirements; disruptive technologies; and supply chain effectiveness.”
The current prospect-to-revenue process is far from innovative—instead, it’s a bumpy road of fits and starts that begins with lead generation, and sometimes ends with order entry, payment, and shipping. It’s certainly not the smooth, consistent sales cycle most companies’ customers and sales teams would prefer. Disparate applications and pools of data, usually from cumbersome Excel spreadsheets, tend to be manually transferred from one application to another, and critical information often can be lost in translation—or simply unavailable from the beginning.
Other challenges include getting access to unavailable—yet valuable—data that could be a boon to the sales process if it were shared, such as names and addresses the marketing team collects via lead-generation systems. This is the kind of important information that could help a sales team easily and seamlessly create quotes, proposals, and contracts—if they had access.
The result of all these challenges is the same: longer closing times and delayed quarterly forecasting; redundant data entry; blurred management visibility into product positioning and pricing—and a giant headache for everyone dedicated to making and closing a sale.
One System, Data for All
Innovation is key to growing any business, and companies that are using the same processes likely will get the same results. Lucky for us, cloud computing has spawned a stream of innovative approaches for organizations to help them streamline the sales process.
Cloud computing makes the admittedly tedious manufacturing (and industry standard) CPQ process a much sweeter pill to swallow—with sales- and manufacturing-specific software applications located in the cloud and ready when you are. Cloud-based CPQ systems can bring disparate data from multiple sources together in a virtual information nirvana that’s instantly accessible to everyone in your company at every level.
The only desktop software your sales team needs is a browser to instantly access the agile sales tools, systems, and applications that live in the cloud. There’s not as much strain on a company’s IT resources—or as much frustration throughout company departments—when essential applications are located elsewhere.
Upgrades to such systems happen automatically, on time, and without stress or interrupted customer orders. And that translates into considerable cost savings when it comes to your company’s bottom line—and to your salesperson’s bank account.
Make The Sale and Win With the Right Technology
Because the cloud prevents any complicated internal processes that slow things down, manufacturing companies and sales teams can configure, price, and quote quickly, easily, and error-free to shorten the sales cycle, make the sale, and make money.
In the case of CPQ applications, it’s the technology in the cloud that can help sales teams match the right quotes to the right customer needs, and close the deal. But it also helps your business give the customer more than it asked for—including more accurate price calculation; less downtime to configure and send quotes to waiting prospects with open checkbooks; easier proposal generation; more salesperson control in adjusting pricing to seal the deal; and better overall efficiency—from initial prospect meeting to the final sale. And that’s the hallmark of any successful sales team.
At the end of the day, it’s about winning—winning the sale, winning and keeping the customer satisfied, and staying ahead of the competition. No matter how complex the product or configuration process, cloud-based CPQ applications can make it simpler, easier, and considerably less frustrating.
Audrey Spangenberg is CEO of FPX, LLC, a global provider of multi-tenant, on-demand Configure-Price-Quote applications to automate and simplify product pricing and configuration. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.