Manufacturers reps, Agencies, Third Party Account Executives… No matter what you call them, there is a good chance that as a Manufacturer you are augmenting your sales team with representatives who are not employees of your firm.
Independent reps can be a great way for Manufacturers to deliver sales coverage to regions outside of their local markets without the burden of investing in new offices… But what happens when you want to provide these independent reps with the same sales tools that you have provided your internal reps? Don’t bother asking your colleagues in Finance or IT to setup these independent reps as ERP users… the answer will almost always be NO.
So where to go from there? Before embarking on this brave new world, let’s take a look at some of the challenges that our Manufacturing customers have faced when it came to working with independent reps who don’t have access to their ERP system:
1) Lead Followup – Your company spends time and money generating leads and distributing them to independent reps. How will you measure which leads provided the best ROI? How will you measure which reps on their lead conversion ratio? Most importantly, how will you tell if these leads are actually being followed up on or not?
2) Opportunity Management/Forecasting – How will you gain visibility into the deals that your independent reps are working on that they expect to close this week, this month, or this quarter? Some Manufacturers that we come across aren’t made aware of an order until the PO gets faxed in. I would hate to be in charge of material planning in that environment! Inaccuracies in sales forecasting trickle down to manufacturing and inventory with a significant impact on profitability.
3) Quoting – How will you ensure that all of your independent reps are correctly issuing quotes for your products with the latest pricing and inventory levels?
4) Sales History – How will your independent reps keep track of which of their customers bought what products? More importantly to them, how will they keep track of the commissions that they are due for the orders they sold?
5) Promotional Collateral – How will you ensure that your independent reps are presenting the most recent literature about your products?
Certainly all of these issues can be managed manually by adding headcount to your sales operations team, but that is expensive, slow and often times riddled with errors from manual data entry.
So what’s the better option? CRM systems like Salesforce.com have native functionality designed to securely share information with independent reps through partner portal applications. Salesforce is a cloud based application which means that it is built to integrate with your back office ERP system so that you can have all of your Sales data in one system! What you are left with is a robust solution filled with automation to solve all five of the challenges that we addressed above. With this architecture in place we are helping our Manufacturers improve the management of their independent sales teams without needing to grant them licenses to your ERP system.