Not so long ago, a walk through a sales office was a bit like stepping into Grand Central Station during rush hour. Intense people running back and forth, phones ringing, printers clattering away, copiers running non-stop and in the background, the sound of animated conversation ebbing and flowing as deals were discussed with customers, sales managers, engineers and product managers. Workplace mobilization was different during these times.
The relative level of activity would ratchet up toward the end of the day, end of the week and end of the month. Walk through that office at the end of the quarter or fiscal year, and you might want to consider bringing along a couple of NFL-caliber pulling guards.
Ironically, no one hated being in the office more than a successful sales rep. Sales managers felt the same. Sales reps who spent too much time in the office were often the ones most likely to miss quota and the ones shown the door at the end of the month.
Cell phone pioneer, Cellular One, used to run a radio spot about this. Several sales reps are heard talking in the office about a particular colleague. The guy never seems to be in the office. As they talk about needing to water the office plants, the voice-over tells the listener that the missing colleague is on the road, with customers or closing deals. He is the most productive sales rep, and he never sets foot in the office. Why? He has a cell phone. They finish with the pretentious pronouncement that “he” is the Cellular One.
And so began the mobile age.
The Cell Phone Was Not Enough
The cell phone was a great liberator, but by itself, it would not get the job done. Sales reps were too dependent on other resources to completely free themselves from physically visiting the office. There were just too many other critical resources locked away in the physical office to allow the road warrior to have total unencumbered autonomy.
This frustration was felt by those who were locked in the office, as well. The cell phone, the laptop and assorted other gadgets enabled people to stay connected, but only a few really benefited. Sales was still largely practiced in person, one on one, so the rep would have to “call corporate” to get a question answered.
Left out in the cold by the hardware-centric mobility solutions were any number of business interests that were simply not helped by this revolution.
So while sales reps were able to “phone home,” they were still misquoting product prices. This was especially true for complex or complicated products or products that were included in some contractual or market subset. Companies maintaining GSA contracts with the US government found themselves financially exposed after GSA audits revealed that a sales rep had inadvertently discounted a product beyond the GSA-established pricing limits.
Additionally, sales reps were still saddled with the burden of piecing together all of the product and performance information needs to respond to an RFI or to produce a professional-grade proposal.
Engineering was still being besieged by performance questions related to the overall product or problems arising from some unorthodox proposed usage. Even worse, engineers were expected to make products work when they were sold into unorthodox usage applications. In other words, they had to make the lies come true. Business that should have been declined would place the company into financial if not legal jeopardy.
Product managers have always had issues with helping people see how their products can best be utilized. Product collateral, specifications, user stories and forums on usage could all fill that gap. Product management could definitely use some mobile capability.
Many companies find their production processes are still insulated from the selling and order-processing functions. Supply chain and inventory management, production scheduling and load leveling all suffer from this reality. Mobility in itself really offers nothing to the operations manager other than saving some steps across a shop floor by communicating via cell phone with workers on the line.
Putting Wheels on the Back Office
How can mobility be leveraged to deliver tactical and strategic benefits to the back office? Many applications are finding their way into the mobile world. The desktop revolution that brought corporate systems into the home via dial-up connections and emulation programs have matured far beyond those rudimentary solutions. Now systems are tailored to laptop, tablet or smartphone formats. Wireless has enabled full wide bandwidth connectivity making almost any device a connected device.3
Now, many of the issues raised above are mitigated by combining the mobile platform technology with connected apps that bridge the gap between customer and company, sales and buyer, front office and back office. By example, CPQ systems are putting the expert from corporate into the sales rep’s brief case. This is as much of a liberation technology as is the cell phone itself.
The sales rep sitting in the customer’s office has on-demand virtual or physical access via their laptop, tablet or smartphone to every expert in corporate. More importantly, the back office is assured that their interests are represented on several critical fronts.
Pricing is built into the CPQ solution, and this ensures that the assorted configurations, usage environments, product volumes and other parameters are included in the pricing calculations. Pricing was once a matter of collecting notes, measurements, requirements specifications and other variables that would be reduced to several essential metrics to drive a price calculation.
Mobilizing pricing has resulted in instant firm quotes for a much higher percentage of business than was previously possible. Additionally, the mobilized systems drive proposal generation and order entry.
Engineers and product management are also beneficiaries of this new mobility because it is their information and data that drives the business rules that enable the CPQ solution itself. Instead of spending hours per week reviewing orders, this level of back-office input is built into the configuration solution invoked by sales.
Operations managers and production planners have improved vision into the future via these field-deployed systems. This allows them to not only reserve production slots, but also to make necessary inventory and supply-chain decisions in support of anticipated parts, supply and production resources. No more waiting for orders to float in over the transom.
Mobility is made possible by wireless and cellular technology. It is made useful with CPQ and other functionality previously restricted to the back office but now extended across the enterprise and into the field.
1. David Tanner, Mobile Computing – Concepts, Methodologies, Tools and Applications, (pp. 1489 – New Business Processes), November 30, 2008, IGI Global
2. Using Mobile Technology Increases Productivity on Jobs, TechBrief, 2015
3. Matthew York, Mobile, Virtual Contract Management: From Back office to Out-of-Office, July 15, 2015, CPO Rising