Using this solution as a framework can helps industrial distributors better target and control sales opportunities.
Maximizing the effectiveness of the salesforce is a critical goal for industrial distributors of all types and sizes. In order to provide their sales representatives with the necessary information to sell effectively in an incredibly competitive marketplace, some industrial distributors have turned to customer relationship management software (CRM).
But it simply isn’t enough to invest in just any software offering. Every distributor is a unique outfit, and each faces unique challenges and opportunities. Those that choose to invest in CRM solutions must tailor them to meet the needs and goals of their respective companies, and they must also try to maximize the return on investment. This is no easy task.
“Distributors deal with lots of different vendors, lots of different product groups, and the knowledge and intelligence is golden,” says Matt Hartman, President and CEO of Tour De Force Solutions. “Everything a customer is buying from you is an indicator to identify what they are not buying and you should be selling.”
Building Relationships That Last
According to Robert Sinfield, Product Marketing Manager, Senior, at Epicor, a CRM solution offers many key benefits to a distribution operation. First and foremost, it allows salespeople to effectively control interactions with their customers through a formal process using automation and workflow management. It is also designed to increase customer service by sharing customer information, as well as improve traceability. Lastly, it is meant to allow a distributor to collect all the sales data in a single system so the organization can track and monitor sales opportunities more easily.
“Using a CRM system provides organizations with a framework and information source to better control and target sales opportunities,” says Sinfield. “However, the real benefits of using a CRM solution are seen when organizations start to look at an embedded solution that delivers CRM functionality within the ERP back office.”
Embedded And Centralized
Embedded solutions offer greater transparency to the sales, customer service, and marketing teams within an organization regarding the past, present, and future relationship with the customer.
Quite often, salespeople are under pressure to locate specific information in a limited amount of time. A quality embedded CRM solution will centralize everything about the customer in one place, so sales representatives don’t have to navigate between different applications to arrive at the information they need.
“Most companies have methods to provide information to their salespeople, but it is so cumbersome, so clunky, and so time-consuming, people don’t use it,” says Hartman.
Familiarity Breeds Success
Most modern CRM solutions allow users to work in familiar, mainstream computer applications. For example, Epicor’s Information Worker platform allows users to work in programs such as Microsoft Office Outlook, Word, or Excel. This means users require little or no training to start using the application. Furthermore, the Epicor Internet Component Environment (ICE) platform allows organizations to deploy their CRM screens using a number of different options including Web-based screens, portals, or even mobile devices. The ability to use commercial search capabilities with Epicor Enterprise Search means that users can easily search and find customer data.
“This means users require little or no training to start using the application,” says Sinfield.
Obviously, familiarity with applications allows for the information to be accessed and digested in a meaningful, convenient way. But there is a catch. While users may be comfortable with the applications tied to the CRM solution, there may be aspects of the solution they do not understand. This could prevent the distributor from maximizing the return on the software solution investment.
What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
Most industrial distributors recognize a CRM solution can help them with sales reporting, sales funnel management, itineraries, calendaring, and contact management. However, it can also automatically create tasks or alerts after pre-defined milestones, time periods, or other parameters are met. CRM analytics also can help managers understand trends and key selling scenarios which may be important for identifying future opportunities. However, if the solution does not seamlessly integrate with the ERP system, it could be a major stumbling block for the salesforce’s efforts to get accurate information quickly and easily.
“The biggest challenge industrial distributors have when they start to go look for a CRM is that they are looking for something that they really don’t have expertise in evaluating,” says Hartman. “So it has got to be transparent. The data has to be going back and forth and it has to be completely seamless.”
According to Hartman, the CRM also must provide all the needed mobile functionality to the salesforce.
Getting Up To Speed
Another major challenge of implementing any software solution is ensuring its users understand how to operate its features. Since every CRM solution is different, every implementation process is also different.
According to Tom Patterson, VP of Consulting & Support Services for MBS Dev, the implementation process varies quite a bit from business to business.
“Nothing is perfect out of the box, and companies may find that they get more functionality and value out of their CRM when paired with a well-defined consulting engagement,” says Patterson.
The implementations vary based on functionality implemented such as Sales Management, Contact Management, Marketing Campaigns, Call Center, Customer Service, and Telephony, he adds.
While some sales managers and other users still resist putting information into a CRM system, the technology is becoming increasingly prevalent and should continue to be more widely adopted in the future, says Patterson.
“As CRM becomes more integrated with everyday business applications like email and spreadsheets, adoption rates should be higher and data quality—and what companies can learn from that data—should continue to improve,” he adds.