Embrace and Exploit Complexity with a Product Configuration System
Complexity is normal, but a product configuration system will make complexity work for you instead of against you.
Some people seem to feel the need to simplify everything. It doesn’t matter if they are discussing world events, politics or quantum mechanics, they preface their remarks with the phrase, “it’s really quite simple.”
The problem is, frequently, “it” isn’t simple at all. What’s more, pretending it is simple or it can be simplified is dangerous and misguided.
The fact is, complexity is the natural state of things. Humans are complex. Our interactions with our environment and amongst ourselves are complex. Our problems and our solutions are complex as well.
Frequently you will see advertising or marketing messaging that in so many words promises to simplify the complex. Almost without exception, these messages are incorrect, simple solutions that usually do nothing to resolve complex problems.
What does work, and what we really want, is for our problem to be solved despite the complexities involved.
Why You Need a Product Configuration System for Complex Products
Marketing any product requires the ability to succinctly explain how it effectively mitigates specific problems and creates advantages for the buyer. For simple problems, the product itself may be simple both in terms of design and usage. However, for complex problems, the product solution may be more complex requiring more flexibility and sensitivity to the specific situation.
Indeed, manufacturers build products to be flexible enough to address multiple applications within multiple markets. A family of products may contain 95% common parts and assemblies with the remaining 5% defining the specific use and market addressed by each individual model.
Consider the unassuming Dremel rotary tool. This is a handheld unit roughly the size and shape of an electric toothbrush. The unit is electrically powered and it accommodates a variety of attachments each of which performs a specialized task. These include drilling, sanding, routing, cutting, polishing and grinding as well as many other functions.
The economics involved allow the base unit along with a large selection of attachments to be sold in kit form. For bigger more complicated and expensive products, that model doesn’t work.
The product must be configured, calling upon many different parts, sub-assemblies and variations to address the need at hand.
A Product Configuration System Configures Complex Products to Address Complex Problems
The simple description of trucks is that they haul stuff; they move things from here to there. The complex description of trucks is that they move things to solve problems. They may move product from a plant to a distribution center. They may move water from a reservoir to a fire, a thirsty heard of cattle or an empty swimming pool. They may move garbage from your curb to a landfill. They might move heavy equipment from a tool yard to a worksite.
Regardless, if you sell trucks, it’s all about the job to be done. You can’t just sell a chassis and a box of tools to be used as needed.
Trucks are built to match the work to be done. They start with a base product composed of a cab, engine, frame, transmission and rear end. The rest is added in accordance with the task to be performed.
This makes the selling of trucks a complex process unto itself. Sales reps usually need knowledge of all those possible trucking tasks in order to properly sell the trucks.
How the Product Configuration System Harnesses Complexity
A good product configuration system comes equipped with an interview script. The scripting capability is a hierarchical series of questions designed to help the sales rep and buyer home in on exactly the right combination of parts and assemblies that best address the needs at hand.
In our trucking scenario, the interview script may open with a question inquiring about the general use of the vehicle. Is it going to haul stuff, or is it going to haul a tool or specialized capability?
Moving down the script for hauling, it will ask if the material to be hauled is liquid, gaseous, solid or particulate in nature. It will ask about flammability, weight and any hazardous properties that the material may possess. Even if the sales rep has never heard of the material or the nature of the job, the interview scripting will capture the needs of the buyer.
As each question is answered and each selection is made, the configurator will add this or that part or option selection, all the while compiling a bill of material and itemized pricing for the final product.
The end product may be a gasoline transporter, a garbage truck, a utility truck or a fire truck.
A product configuration system does the thinking for the rep. The rep doesn’t need special expertise, they just need to read the script, ask the customer the questions and post the correct answers.