The Sales Pipeline in Cold Print

November 14, 2007 by admin

When a sales representative of Oki Data Americas sells the company’s full line of color or monochrome printing and multifunction products to a company in the United States, Canada or Latin America, in most cases, a distributor or solution provider is part of the process. “We work closely with our channel partners to understand customer needs and deliver solutions that address them. Normally, if a company wants to partner with us for a business printing solution, our partners will purchase it from us and then deliver and integrate it for the customer,” explains Maggie Reed-Dominguez, Project Manager at Oki Data Americas.

Culture of customer service

Culture of customer service

With this business model, the Americas subsidiary of Japan-based Oki Data Corporation relies on its channel partners heavily before, during and after the sale. “At month end they provide us with point of sale data that we tie back to our opportunities and opportunities with extended roll-outs. This extended sales and win schedule makes forecasting challenging and complex,” Reed-Dominguez says.

Better executive snapshots

Until 2005, the existing forecasting system didn’t match the growing needs of Oki Data Americas, as it required re-keying the same information into different software applications like Excel, e-mail notifications, and into a forecast system with no tie to the opportunities. Reed-Dominguez remembers that “back then, everything was compiled from different systems on Excel spreadsheets, so the executive level only had a fragmented view of the sales pipeline. They received a monthly report, but they didn’t have a daily snapshot of what was going on, and no extended future forecast,” she says. What executives wanted from IT was a snapshot of the sales pipeline including filters and views in multiple dimensions, such as technology, vertical, or geography.

Company fact sheet

Company fact sheet

Rising business opportunities with strong company growth increased the need to change IT solutions: In 2005, Oki Data Americas started to look for an integrated sales force automation (SFA) system and investigated several options. “SAP Customer Relationship Management was the only application that matched all of our criteria”, says Reed-Dominguez.
One advantage was the possibility of integrating the SFA software seamlessly into the existing IT landscape: Oki Data Americas has been using SAP software since 1998. The company currently runs SAP Business Suite with SAP ERP, and also SAP Business Information Warehouse. As a non-hosted application, SAP CRM also met with the company’s strategic wish to own its fundamental sales data both legally and physically. According to Reed-Dominguez, the most important feature which led Oki Data Americas to adopt SAP CRM was that it was “the only application that we could customize for our specific business needs, especially regarding forecasts. When we started two years ago, that wasn’t a feature that was easily implemented with other CRM software.”

Little time for modifications

An ambitious implementation schedule of SAP CRM started after the go ahead was given by management in November 2005. Maggie Reed-Dominguez took part in the project: “We began blueprinting in December. After configuring the infrastructure in January and February of 2006, we customized the software during March. It was stressful, but we reached our goal to go live on April 26 before our national sales meeting.”

Oki Data Americas adapted SAP CRM to its needs. “By trial and error we had a lot of issues with capturing text. For sales, text in the form of notes and comments to management is very important. We had a lot of difficulty customizing or adding either text fields or a regular check box, for example, to identify special types of accounts. We had to push that modification through the CRM application and our enterprise portal,” says Reed-Dominguez.

Another issue appeared when Oki Data Americas sent its product and customer master data from SAP ERP over to SAP CRM. “In the beginning, we didn’t understand that it was a two way flow. For example, when a sales person in Chile changed the contact information of his customer in SAP CRM, it all went back to the ERP application. Everybody back in the finance area was wondering where this information was coming from,” says Reed-Dominguez. She also recalls that “some of the product data we brought over to our CRM application was just unnecessary there and made the product search more difficult for our sales people. If they looked for a printer, they’d get 16 different types when they needed only one or two. Those were the lessons we learned during the 100 days of implementing SAP CRM.”

Increased visibility

More than one year later, Maggie Reed-Dominguez sees how the effort paid off: “SAP CRM consolidates the forecasting data entry from the sales people into one report where we can identify first-rate or new customers and new needs. With the help of SAP CRM, forecasts are much clearer and more visible to operations and sales, so we’ve been able to lower our inventory cost.” Oki Data Americas has also solved inventory issues such as shortages on consumables or problems delivering a large printer order: “We are able to supply our customers better because we know in advance which products we must have on hand. We can report our inventory needs more accurately to our global distribution center in Japan and handle the orders via our worldwide supply chain.”

The implementation of the integrated SFA application not only led to a three-day-reduction per month in the amount of time required to prepare sales reports, eliminating re-keying and reformatting needs, it also significantly changed reporting scenarios at Oki Data Americas. “Before, we always dealt with past numbers, now we look at projected numbers and display and report them to the company via the portal. We were very focused on tables, now we use more graphics and alerts to communicate information,” says Reed-Dominguez.

According to Reed-Dominguez, increased visibility has allowed the company to tie together its corporate plan, sales revenue plan, and pipeline plan. “We are able to adapt if we see that there are going to be deficiencies in sales in a future quarter. Maybe there’s a marketing program for a product, or additional reach out to specific customers, or maybe some kind of meet comp or sales incentive.”

Keeping track of the budget

Improvements in lead management are another result of sales force automation at Oki Data Americas. “Before using SAP CRM, we didn’t have a clearly defined process. The leads generated through regional marketing events were dispersed to the sales representatives by e-mail. Now this process is part of the lead management in SAP CRM, so the sales force gets all the information automatically and in a standardized way,” says Reed-Dominguez.

The SAP application is contributing to better activity management, too. If a customer logs into the company’s website and communicates his interest in purchasing a product, the request is forwarded to the sales representative and listed as an activity. “Then it’s up to them to say ‘Yes, I contacted the customer by e-mail, by telephone, by meeting.’ So we can keep track of our marketing budget a bit better,” says Reed-Dominguez. To illustrate the benefit of SAP CRM to the company, Reed-Dominguez points to a seven percent increase in sales last year in what was a relatively flat market.

Listen to the sales force

After selling a product, building customer advocacy is considered essential at Oki Data Americas. That’s why service management plays an important role and includes the tracking of customers’ calls, exchanges or repairs. A project that Reed-Dominguez is currently working on is making the service data available for the sales force. “This functionality will create added benefit to sales representatives. They will be able to see how many times a customer has called and what issues he had with which product. With this information we can best serve our customers and provide quality products,” she says.

Oki Data Americas plans to incorporate sales people’s needs in the next step of evolving sales force automation. “The sales force drives the decisions concerning SFA and the processes to get the functionality they need,” says Reed-Dominguez. “What they want is a tool that provides them contact information, Blackberry integration, ease of use, and the ability to spend more time selling and less time updating. These are really simple things that we did not consider when we began implementing SAP CRM because we were focused on giving the executives the pipeline views and forecast improvements. Now our direction is shifting to provide sales with the best SFA tools and flow of information to benefit all our customers.”

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