Why is Configuration for Front-Line Sales Reps in Industrial Manufacturing Becoming More Important?
With the consumerization of B2B sales in industrial manufacturing, configuration is getting significantly more important for customer-facing sales processes, and an omni-channel configuration experience is an imperative!
Configuration for Front-Line Sales Reps in Industrial Manufacturing Industries
Over the past 15 years I have had many controversial discussions on the importance of configuration for front-line sales reps in industrial manufacturing – with sales managers, sales professionals as well as IT managers and experts. On the one hand, there have been industrial manufacturing companies where the sales rep has always needed configuration capabilities while talking to its customers. For those companies, mobile sales solutions with configuration capabilities have been a pre-requisite to sell complex items such as compressors, boilers, robots, commercial vehicles and other configurable products and solutions in shorter sales cycles, as well as to meet the expectations of their customers during professional sales meetings.
On the other hand, there are many industrial manufacturing companies where the sales reps have not seen the value of being able to directly configure a quote during a customer meeting, especially sales reps who sell complex machines and equipment in long sales cycles with complex configuration and pricing. They have always claimed that successful sales reps need to focus on engaging with the right customers, plan and prepare professional customer interactions where they sell the value of their complex products and discuss the commercial aspects of the deals. These types of sales reps often include additional experts to help close the deal of configurable, complex products anyway. So, they invite their back-office colleagues to cover the configuration of the quotes in detail, working closely together with the technical experts on the customer side. For them, configuration is not something they really need as part of their mobile sales solution.
However, with rapidly changing B2B sales processes in industrial manufacturing, CPQ (configure, price, and quote) in the front office is suddenly getting highly important for most manufacturing companies who sell configurable products and solutions using a digitalized sales process.
Today’s CPQ is about engagement & experience, not back office processes. CPQ is a critical tool enabling buying and selling experience transformations across all channels, and it is integral to driving growth in B2B commerce.
Source: Forrester Research, Inc.
Why Configuration is Getting More Important for Sales Reps – Finally!
Driven by the customers of industrial manufacturing companies (e.g. their procurement managers) and to react on changing market situations, industrial manufacturing companies are transitioning to a consumerized B2B sales process with a consumer-grade customer experience and a global reach. Sales reps will continue to play a major role in the success of industrial manufacturing companies – however, their role is changing. For more information on this change and the impact on sales professionals please read my other blog on this topic.
With the digitalization of the B2B sales process, web channel solutions like eCommerce as well as customer and partner portals will play key roles in the B2B sales processes of industrial manufacturing companies. Using a one-stop-shop, customers such as procurement agents have direct access not only to all valuable information on products, but also to self-services. They could cover certain steps of a sales cycle with the digital channel and directly configure quotations without any interaction with a sales professional (shown by the grey process steps below).
However, once they feel they should talk to a sales rep to discuss the commercial aspects of the deal, they do expect that the sales rep has a complete overview of what the they are interested in. The customers do not want to waste time telling the rep everything again, but expect the rep is well prepared for the meeting and knows all this information already. Now that the customers will be able to configure the products before talking to a sales professional, the sales rep also needs access to the customer’s configuration to prepare a professional customer meeting. While talking to the customer (shown by the orange process steps in the picture above), they might want to adjust the configuration. So, the mobile sales solution for the sales rep needs to provide CPQ capabilities to cover these needed. To make it very clear, access to the configurations of customers from different sales solutions (web channel / e-commerce, sales rep’s sales force automation solution including mobile sales, and the call center) is mandatory for a true omni-channel buying experience, and siloed sales solutions are no longer acceptable!
Therefore, being able to see a customer’s product configuration before or during a customer meeting and to change it together with the customer will be important for every sales rep who sells configurable products and solutions in an omni-channel sales approach. A multi-channel approach and siloed sales solutions with different front office configuration solutions are no longer accepted by the customers of industrial manufacturing companies.
Consider the Bigger Picture
There are more reasons why configuration will get more important for front-line sales reps: industrial manufacturing companies are planning to provide configurable service contracts to offer cost-attractive contracts to all of their customers, configurable software and digital services, configurable EaaS contracts (read my blog on this).
To ensure a fast adoption of configuration solutions by the front-line sales reps, the configuration solution needs to meet the usability requirements of sales professionals and their analytical needs.
To simplify the sales process for configurable products and services, industrial manufacturing companies need to consider both the traditional feature-based configuration as well as an needs-based configuration: this data-driven guided configuration (powered by machine learning algorithms) simplifies the configuration for customers, partners and sales professionals, and hides the complexity of a feature-based configuration. For an optimal product configuration, technical feasibility as well as functional desirability and financial viability should be considered.
A streamlined and simplified configuration process requires high automation: the front office configuration solution needs to leverage the configuration pattern of the back office configuration solution, with a deep integration of both configuration solutions.
I am very interested in other thoughts on the importance of CPQ for front-line sales reps who sell configurable machines, equipment, contracts, software, and services in industrial manufacturing industries. Any additional requirements and best practices you would like to share would be most welcome.
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Dietmar Bohn is a Vice President of Industry Solutions Management at SAP SE, focusing on customer centricity and digital transformation. He brings more than 15 years of CRM experience from both outside and inside SAP and more than 25 years of industry experience. Dietmar has held various executive roles spanning CRM strategy projects, CRM implementation projects, CRM development and CRM product management. Before joining SAP, Dietmar has held different management positions in R&D, IT and Global Sales & Marketing organizations at Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG. Dietmar holds degrees in Electrical Engineering and in Telecommunications.