In the past 20 years software and hardware development has improved enough to make once expensive and high maintenance software available to smaller companies. One of the ways it is delivered is through online hosting services. With the coming of cell phones and laptops, hosted services have bridged the communication gap to allow the road warrior to work anywhere, from abroad to the office. Now, with the internet, reps can access their data from any location without the overhead and headache of maintaining their own systems or remote connection software. It’s a different world where high powered sales force automation software is available to users at every level of functional need and price point. How does that affect reps and agencies in their day to day activities? Let’s make a wish list for a sales force automation system that would satisfy a rep’s needs and let’s see if it’s reasonable to expect that a hosted system could deliver that at an acceptable cost.
Judging from my past experience as a CFO for manufacturing companies, reps and agencies have a demonstrated need for:
Benefits of having a system that could do all this would be improved communication with principals and customers, streamlined sales processes, getting a clear view of the sales pipeline and gaining a competitive advantage over reps still doing things the old way. Finally, you’d own all the information in it forever; it would not be in the control of a principal. In fact, it could also help in securing desirable lines of product since you could demonstrate success in your markets and show that you can efficiently and effectively serve just the kind of customers that principals are looking for. Side benefits are that you don’t have to buy or install any software and system upgrades and improvements are all handled by the software provider.
My point is, in order to fulfill all of this, you’d need the kind of system sophisticated manufacturers have, but it’s clearly within the realm of possibility to expect that systems like this can and will exist at a reasonable price point for reps and agencies, especially given the relative ease it takes to do the necessary program modifications. No need to reinvent the wheel, just give reps a hosted location to work from and modify the interface appropriately.
Hosted systems are the wave of the future and ones that satisfy unique needs at a reasonable price are here today or are just around the corner. When researching systems you should expect a reasonable subscription fee, a free trial period so you can test it, discounts or lower fees for multiple users and a discount, or extra months free, if you pay for a year upfront. Expect the interface to be reasonably intuitive and the training will probably be a web-based tutorial or possibly in a webinar format. Basic reports will likely come as part of the package, but custom reporting, and data import services may cost extra. For more sophisticated users, look for systems that allow you to export your data into a spreadsheet format that you can download onto your computer. This puts the transaction data directly in your hands and allows you to analyze your own data or create your own custom reports.
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Tony McConn, CPA is President and co-founder of TrueSales Corporation and developer of http://www.RepQuotes.com , a quote-to-order management tool specifically designed for the needs of independent reps and agencies. He has also been an ERP system implementation consultant and a CFO for manufacturers in a variety of industries. TrueSales also features enterprise level quote to order management software at http://www.wrighttools.com and product configurator software at http://www.configuratorplus.com