*Originally published on SecuritySales.com*
With customers’ integrated security solutions, the whole ideally exceeds the parts. Find out why internally interconnecting sales management and operations platforms can similarly reap substantial dividends.
A great chief operating officer must wear many hats and look good in all of them. It’s a role that would be impossible without the right software.
John Nemerofsky is COO of SAGE Integration, a national security integration provider serving enterprise clients from coast to coast. When he took the reins a couple of years ago, one of his first actions was implementing a companywide sales management platform. It proved essential in allowing him to address the key questions critical to running and growing the business.
“Without sales management software, how does a company know what quotes are out there?” he says. “Are they estimating accurately? Do they need to hire more people? How long will it take to begin work on a given installation?”
By having forecasting, reporting, quoting and approval processes all in one place, COOs like Nemerofsky, who is a member of SSI’s Editorial Advisory Board, have the necessary tools to make their companies run smoothly, efficiently and profitably.
Many executive management teams assume ERP software can handle CRM and sales management in addition to its many other intended functions. The all-in-one approach may be acceptable for some businesses. However, running a security integration company poses many unique challenges for which dedicated software is better suited.
Let’s take a closer look at the four leading rea-sons why connected, specialized systems, each doing what they do best, may be the best solution for a security integration business.
1. Quoting Ease & Accuracy
Systems integrators sell a tremendous number of parts. SAGE, for example, has more than 18,000 in its database. Ensuring all salespeople have access to the most current pricing for each manufacturer is automated and straightforward when integration exists among accounting, sales estimating and management software.
As new products and pricing are uploaded into the ERP, they become available immediately within each salesperson’s quoting tools. The integrated solution eliminates any free-floating pricing spreadsheets that notoriously leave room for error. The sales management software simplifies adding associated labor and configuring system design options, ensuring profitability.
It also calculates commission and payment plans, generates comprehensive proposals and contracts, and even handles electronic document signing — all the elements necessary for salespeople to close more quickly.
Russell White, vice president of integration and optimization at Allied Universal, says, “A generic ERP system is not designed to handle some of the unique aspects of quoting in the security systems integration industry. There are a lot of new, one-off types of parts and companies like ours need the flexibility to handle jobs anywhere from $5,000 to $1 million. A dedicated sales management solution integrated with an ERP system allows us to share data both ways and leverage software tools built for each job.”
2. Operational Efficiencies
Companies that forgo dedicated sales management software, hoping to “do it all” within a single ERP platform, erroneously believe that relying on just one system will lead to greater efficiencies. Very quickly, many discover their mistake.
For starters, customizing and maintaining a generic ERP solution to support the sales needs of a security integration business often requires fulltime programmers with expertise in the specific software system. Configuring the solution to handle sales of complex installations, commission structures, various pricing schedules, multiphase projects, and RMR involves ongoing meetings among stakeholders to define processes, extensive trial and error, and much frustration and cost for all parties involved. Even minor changes can require major effort.
Industry-specific sales management software incurs far fewer start-up costs and, once operational, can be modified and maintained without programmers on staff because it is fundamentally structured to support a security sales business model. The need for software feature customization is minimized. In most cases, a sales administrator can handle changes to configurations, system updates, or anything else that comes their way.
Nemerofsky says, “At SAGE, we don’t have anybody in-house managing our sales management software. It’s a hosted solution.” ERPs function best when their databases are not cluttered up with prospects that have never bought anything and who are not associated with any specific project.
Entering leads and prospects into a sales management solution keeps ERP databases clean. Then, once an opportunity becomes a sale, the customer data becomes accessible to the operations and accounting teams via the ERP. No data re-entry is required.
Operational efficiencies are also obtained through automated workflows that speed quotes through approvals and provide turnkey creation of customized proposals, best handled by dedicated sales software.
Stephanie Olson, business analyst at Washington Alarm, says its integrated sales management/accounting/operations solution has made the company run more smoothly. “We’re just a lot more organized, and we look more organized to our customers, which helps instill confidence in the services we’re offering,” she says. “It’s really valuable to have sales software flow and map so well into that greater operating system.”
3. Better Communications
One of the best ways to ensure customer satisfaction is to keep communication channels open. Customers may explain their expectations in detail to their sales representative, but if that information doesn’t get shared quickly and accurately with the rest of the support team, there are plenty of ways that jobs can go awry.
Robust sales management software can improve communication at every level. Mobile CRM tools, like text-to-talk speech recognition, make it easy for salespeople to record comprehensive notes directly within a customer’s file during or immediately following a meeting. These are visible to inside support teams and management, allowing them to pitch in as needed.
Site survey tools facilitate collaborative selling, allowing sales personnel and their customers to graphically design an installation together on a digital map or floorplan that automatically builds the quote. Notes incorporated within surveys inform operations and installation team members of technical details and customer preferences.
Proposal generation tools make it simple for salespeople to incorporate customized scope of work documents, presentation of pricing and systems at varying levels of detail, site survey drawings, delivery schedules, terms and conditions, and any other documentation necessary to ensure everyone has shared expectations.
Integrated electronic signing services save salespeople and customers time, take advantage of technology, and make it easy for all parties to have copies of contract documents. Then, once contracts are signed, the operations team can take over with full information.
At Allied Universal, White says, “After projects are booked and exported to our ERP, there are a host of people who become involved. We have our accounting team helping with the booking process and others working on the execution. The integration between systems provides everyone with what they need to proceed.”
4. Reporting Transparency
Reporting isn’t just about looking at numbers. It’s connecting the dots, identifying trends, and drawing insights to guide corporate strategies. Integrated CRM, sales and operations software allows management to see the big picture.
Chad Asselstine, Fire Monitoring of Canada’s (FMC) vice president of business development, says FMC’s reporting was “out of whack” before implementing an integrated solution. Now, he’s able to provide the company’s vice president of finance a clear look at the pipeline with visibility into what’s been sold, what’s in negotiation, projects that are actively being quoted and lead opportunities. The data is also used for internal finance auditing.
Reporting is only as accurate as the information input by salespeople. Well-designed sales management software makes data entry as painless as possible. Asselstine says that because all his systems are connected, he’s only asking his sales reps to enter in lead information one time. After that, the pipeline is automated. “The more you ask salespeople to do something repetitively, the less likely they are to do it,” he explains.
SAGE Integration relies heavily on reporting data when making decisions about how to run the business. Nemerofsky says, “When you’re evaluating the state of the company, reporting tells the story. We can separate existing sales from new sales. We can see the margin-per-salesperson and calculate their individual ROI. We can track lost jobs.”
Heed One’s Own Advice
Security companies counsel their customers on the benefits of integrated solutions. Choosing the best products for each security challenge and then connecting them through APIs or web hooks delivers value and capabilities that any single system can’t provide on its own. These same companies are best served by taking a similar approach to running their businesses.
Opting for separate, best-of-breed systems for sales management and operations, and then allowing each to complement the other through an integrated solution, will pay dividends in the form of smoother operations, better customer service, and greater profitability.