Volume 7 Issue 1 January 2006
Leveraging Technology to Make Business Transactions Easier
by Mike Wilson
We’ve learned that there are some pretty specific
things that customers (e.g. dealers, distributors, builders, contractors and architects) consider important to making
a particular manufacturer ‘easy to do business with.’
As a manufacturer of doors or windows, there’s no question product quality, brand awareness, reputation and price competitiveness are key factors in why end-consumers and selling channels choose your products. But “the way you do business” is becoming an increasingly important differentiator as well. In fact, the selling process is becoming one of the principle battlegrounds in today’s highly competitive market and figuring out how software technology can streamline key aspects of your selling process is essential.
The challenge in being “easy to do business with” begins with the fact that door and window products are about as varied as any product type in the world. Furthermore, door and window selling channels are diverse and multi-faceted. The home or building owner is the ultimate customer, but you may never interact with them. You likely sell through some combination of sales reps, dealers, distributors and retailers. A growing number of consumers are using the Internet to research door and window products, but architects and contractors still greatly influence whether your products are even considered. That adds up to a lot of different “customers” you need to satisfy in order to win the business your products deserve.
What Does “Easy” Really Mean?
In this environment of high product variety and multi-level sales channels, being “easy to do business with” is about understanding the needs of each participant and making it as simple as possible. This includes selecting, configuring, pricing, quoting or ordering the products that best fit their wants and needs. And the definition of “easy” is changing every day—the Internet is seeing to that.
Working with leading door and window companies and other building product manufacturers over the past several years, we have learned a lot about what “easy to do business with” means. What we’ve learned is that there are some pretty specific things that customers (e.g. dealers, distributors, builders, contractors and architects) consider important to making a particular manufacturer “easy to do business with.” The top ten things we’ve heard stated repeatedly are:
1. Quick access to accurate, up-to-date product information;
2. A fast, quick way to find and select the right product for their needs;
3. A fast, quick way to specify product dimensions, features and options;
4. Visual confirmation of the product they’ve selected and defined;
5. A fast, accurate price quote on standard product configurations;
6. A fast, collaborative way to define, quote and order products that go beyond standard offerings-i.e. specials or engineer-to-order items;
7. A fast way to create winning bid documents with associated configuration-specific drawings and documents;
8. A short order-to-delivery lead time-without errors;
9. A quick, easy way to find and order replacement parts; and
10. Access to CAD design blocks so they can easily ‘spec-in’ your products.
Achieving these seemingly simple customer-facing capabilities in a world of constantly expanding product variety and complex sales processes all but requires a new and integrated approach to the automation of key processes—processes that were probably being performed by trained specialists as recently as a few years ago. In addition to being intuitive and error-proof for the customer, these processes also require close, back-end control of product data and other elements such as images, documents, etc.
Fortunately, software technology for door and window manufacturers has been moving forward rapidly and cost-effective solutions are becoming available. Now is the time to focus on applying technology to the front-end of your business if you want to win the competitive battle for “easy.”
Mike Wilson is director of marketing and product management at TDCI Inc. in Columbus, Ohio. He can be reached at MWilson@tdci.com.
© Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved. No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.