We've all read a company’s "about" page on their website, claiming that their competitive advantage is their great customer service, and yet so many of these businesses are not taking advantage of software to better serve their customers. Even with social media and the internet providing consumers with much of the information they need to make an informed purchase decision, a knowledgeable sales team is still a valued resource in many industries. Traditionally, businesses have looked to back-end inventory and accounting software (ERP) with CRM or contact management tools as enough functionality for their sales team, but these tools often lack order taking features and analytics. Whether interacting with customers on location, at tradeshows or in a showroom, equipping your sales team with the tools and information they need in a timely manner can make a positive impact on your bottom line. To understand what functionality you need, first you need to understand your sales team.
Depending on the nature of your business and target market, you may benefit from using a small number of internal sales reps (employed and paid for by you) or an outside sales team (employed on a contract basis). If you employ a small number of internal reps, than it may be worth it to give them full access to your back-end inventory and accounting ERP system. This way they have full autonomy to view available inventory, access customer information and place orders. However keep in mind that many software systems charge based on number of users so this can become expensive. In addition, you may want to restrict your sales team to only seeing certain information, and although this can be achieved with different permission settings, there are other options as well. Consider implementing an online order portal or mobile sales application that is fully integrated with your back-end ERP system, as an alternative means of providing your sales reps the option to view inventory and place orders.
Another aspect to consider is where your sales reps are interacting with customers. Are your sales reps showcasing product in a showroom? At tradeshows? While on-site with customers? Depending on the location of your team, certain tools will be beneficial over others. Mobile devices are great for sales reps at a tradeshow or when visiting clients, but in your showroom you may want permanent workstations set up using software that can be accessed via the web. Will your sales reps have access to an internet connection for real time data transfer, or will they need to batch upload inventory and product information? Is it useful to show your customers product images or will they place orders using product codes?
Lastly providing reporting and analytics to your sales team can help them find opportunities and allocate their time appropriately. Timely reports that outline product sales volume, customer sales volume, seasonal sale fluctuations, sale by location, etc. are great tools for motivating your sales team and increasing their productivity.
Whichever tools you choose to provide to your sales team, full integration with your back-end inventory and accounting system is the best solution for a streamlined system. This means all inventory, sales and customer information is stored in one place and any updates get reflected across the entire system and set of tools. This allows reps to take more ownership of the sales process and their interaction with customers and also allows managers to easily check the activity of their team while using the system.