The Quote Machine

 Business is Too Good

A manufacturer of complex, automated drilling equipment had a 6 month backlog on quotes.

Their machines drill up to 30 concurrent holes concurrently for products ranging from skateboards to automotive to military aircraft. Business was growing so fast that they had outstripped their ability to respond to inquiries. Their sales team was stressed and their prospects were frustrated. 

It’s likely that they had lost millions of dollars in revenue because they couldn’t respond to inquiries within a reasonable time.

The specification process requires analysis of many different parameters including hole sizes, material type, number of holes, hole depth, power type, controller environment, and so on before correct equipment can be specified.  It takes at least 6 months of training before a new sales engineer even knows the right sequence of questions before the specification process.   More than 6 million product configurations are possible.

To make the challenge more interesting, the product line was in a state of continuous change. Products were being added and updated, which put specifications in a state of constant flux.

Automation is a megatrend driving business-to-business marketing. Management for this company was keenly aware that prospects want immediate answers provided by self-service mechanisms, available 24 hours a day. Sales had to track responses to

Architecting a Solution

We followed the engineering lead through his process. We analyzed his sales forms, correspondence, and calculations from initial contact to order fulfillment.

Our first task was to develop an algorithm that would idealize his process and make it digitally repeatable. Then we had to provide a friction free user experience so that even technophobic customers would enjoy the specification experience.

The database design included a “Choices” table for every question, a “Sessions” table for every quote request, and a series of “Spec” tables containing equipment configurations. Since updating was very important, we provided cut and paste ability from Excel to the database, accessible through a management dashboard. Twelve generations of changes are available for restoration, if mistakes are made.

32 spindle drill head

We boiled the customer requirements down to 14 questions that had to be asked in a specific order.  Each answer affected choices available for subsequent questions. For example choosing “Wood” or “Titanium” limits the range of drill types, drilling depth, and the number of possible spindles.

When inquirers hit “Submit” on a completed form, the details of their inquiries are automatically sent to the sales team and management. The precise equipment configuration is specified with 100% accuracy. Sales simply has to put a price on the package and follow-up with the customer.

Realtime pricing is in the cards.

Result

Quotation time has been reduced to same or next day. The quote-to-sale conversion rate is substantially higher. The rate of business growth has accelerated.

Some clients still need high touch customer service. These tend to be older clients who are used to premium service. The digital natives – the people who grew up with technology – prefer self-service, 24 hour access to solutions. 

The surprise is that new sales engineers have used The Quote Machine for training. By going through the process, they are able to learn the product line and understanding how customer requirements affect machine configuration. So the quote machine is assisting and “mentoring” a new crop of salespeople, helping them quickly achieve status as highly qualified solution providers. 

Future Forward

Integration with CRM, automated marketing, maintenance notifications, realtime automated pricing . . . all of these are in the plans for the next two years, as we help our client automate and refine their processes and grow their business.

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