Dealers Use Online Portals to Manage Installed Sales
By Randall N. Olejnik
Managing installed sales orders remains a thorny problem for home improvement retailers and their trading partners. These orders typically require another company to supply material and build/fabricate/install the purchased products.
Whether it’s for countertops, cabinets, floors, doors, windows or other products, order information may be scattered across a complex network of individual store locations, manufacturers, distributors, fabricators and installers. As a result, network partners have no end-to-end visibility of order status and spend excessive time and cost tracking order progress. Today’s paper-based solutions slow down order fulfillment, lead to errors and delays, and compromise the customer experience.
New Technologies for Installed Sales
Cloud computing promises to be a game-changer for participants in the installed sales channel. By enabling easy access to a shared repository of information-a “partner portal”-cloud-based solutions create communication centers that integrate internal and external partners’ business processes using secured web technologies. This gives everyone in the network total visibility into the order-from creation to completion.
The good news is that it is easy and cost-efficient to participate in a partner portal when the solution is hosted in the cloud. This particular flavor of cloud is called software-as-a-service (SaaS) and it has several characteristics.
First of all, it resides on the Internet and can be accessed through your browser-anywhere, anytime. Implementa-tion is as easy as flipping a switch (well, almost). There will be others using the service to check on the status of orders or enter new information, just as you can, but your information is highly secure. Since the service is hosted by external parties outside your organization’s firewalls, it doesn’t require hardware or software purchases or need IT support or ongoing maintenance-a huge benefit.
You pay for what you use on a subscription model and can increase usage with only marginal cost increments. That’s the beauty of SaaS: fast start, low learning curve, minimal cost, no IT headache, pay for what you use.
While the economics of a SaaS-based solution are impressive enough, the story gets really compelling when you look at the business benefits. Every member of the trading network derives benefit through a shared partner portal for installed sales:
The partner portal for a retailer/ dealer represents a tracking and communication tool with all partners, from the time the order is placed to the time it is installed and completed. This includes consumers, for whom the retailer/dealer is their contact point. Having the portal eliminates many inquiries because consumers can answer questions themselves through the portal.
The portal for the retailer/dealer typically represents an order configurator, which can be used to price the job and eventually enter it into the portal for distribution. A partner portal will trigger the invoicing and payment to all other partners on the system, and sales analytics will improve warranty processing.
The retailer/dealer can leverage the relationships of the manufacturer of the material by using the fabricator/installers chosen by the manufacturer. This means that a retailer/dealer does not have to set up individual relationships with fabricators and installers for payment terms; this makes it easier for a retailer/dealer to enter a market where they didn’t have a presence before.
Oftentimes, the manufacturer is the sponsor of a partner portal because he has much to gain. A partner portal allows the manufacturer to not only sell product but also build a network of dealers, fabricators, installers and distributors whose combined force is used to sell his products.
As a communication tool, the partner portal represents a low cost method of sharing information with other partners. This includes distributing price lists, high priority notes, MSDS, product specifications, promotions, survey questionnaires, and a variety of brochures and collateral information.
As a secured web application, all partners must establish their own logins and passwords. Consequently, the portal always knows its audience, so promotions, pricing, and special offers can be directed to the individual, zip code, geographic area, or any pre-defined group. Importantly, the portal can provide an immediate view into the impact of the new promotion and/or price.
Gone are the days when a manufacturer announced a special promotion or price and had to judge its effectiveness based on orders for material at distribution centers. A partner portal lets the manufacturer see the actual retail sales as they occur.
Having visibility to the retail sales orders serves as a planning tool for the manufacturer, which is especially important when availability of material is constrained. The partner portal provides the manufacturer with the ability to process orders electronically, thereby reducing costs.
The portal uses the manufacturer’s network of distributors, from company owned and operated to public warehouses, and tracks rebates to distributors where material was priced differently from the manufacturer for a particular sales channel. Sales analytics helps stay on top of warranty processing, too.
The distributor may be part of the manufacturer’s operation, an independent, or a public warehouse. Regard-less of the circumstances, the distributor enjoys an electronic automated order entry regardless of how the order was entered by other partners.
The portal converts data into many different formats for integration to the partners’ business systems, which includes distributing pricing and promotions, managing rebates paid to the distributor by the manufacturer, warranty processing, and sales analytics.
The biggest benefit to the fabricator/installer is a constant flow of orders from the sales channels he is connected to. This reduces selling time and keeps his funnel full.
The fabricator/installer leverages the relationships built and invested into by the manufacturer to build his business. He will have a closer communication channel opened and can get quicker replies from the manufacturer, distributor, and retailer/dealer.
As with all partners on the portal, the fabricator/installer enjoys the analytics of sales and material purchases, plus the inherent ability to track warranty processing.
Time to Think Out of the Box
The way it’s been isn’t the way it always has to be. Enabling technology like SaaS solutions based on cloud technology pave the way for a new way of doing things in installed sales. Partner portal solutions are out there. The best news is that they solve real business problems for real business users-fast, economically, and with minimal organizational disruption.
– Randall N. Olejnik, is founder and c.e.o. of Cilio Technologies, Brookfield, Wi., creator of the Cilio Partners Portal deployed in the installed sales and special order sales marketplace. Reach him via firstname.lastname@example.org.