Optimizing the Industrial Purchasing Experience

In today’s industrial marketplace, it’s becoming increasingly important for companies to differentiate themselves from the competition. A major component of creating that distinction is offering customers a seamless, easy, and quick buying experience. This is a significant challenge when the products involved are complex, costly, and often must be customized.

Companies who embrace this challenge and offer a richer, more educated, and faster purchasing experience will grow and succeed.

When my business partner and I built a factory in 2005 to manufacture custom loading ramps and gangways for truck and railcar loading applications, a major goal of ours was improving the sales process to optimize the purchasing experience for customers. We sought to develop a tool our sales team could use in the field with the client to design a product and deliver it more quickly.

The reason? Selling engineered-to-order products can present many obstacles. Industrial product sales cycles are long and multifaceted. Product designs are typically customized to fit the customer’s needs; they would typically require extensive upfront engineering, and are often complex to measure, configure, and build. In addition, channel partners require high levels of assistance with RFQs and design validation against field conditions.

Our background was in sales and so we understood firsthand and had a full appreciation of the problem. Therefore, we decided to build our own sales resource selling platform and hired developers to design a 3D configurator software tool. I call it a video game…but in reality, it’s a design engine run on an iPad that’s programmed with numerous engineering algorithms running in the background. In fact, our specific program has more than 170,000 rules written into it.

Customized Yet Produced En Masse

The software helps solve complex challenges with a simple, visual tool designed to configure products rapidly and quote immediately. A sales person can build 3D configured-to-order product renderings and generate accurate quotes. The software also allows the customer to view renderings and even dimensionalized approval drawings, complete specs with parts, pricing, and bill of materials along with real-world, real-time, production-ready information.

Using such a tool eliminates the need for sales personnel to develop manually configured unique solutions for each buyer. It can reduce the cost of quotes, increase productivity of sales, and also reduces the expense of incorrectly configured orders.

The industrial sales process typically includes sales personnel writing down measurements in a RFQ format and then providing them to the engineering department to design the product in a 2D drawing along with a quote. In that case, customers and sales people often go through several revision cycles until clients realize what they want.

This process entails several negative factors—but a major one for the customer is that product development is lengthy. In our operation, it used to take months for companies that needed to purchase custom loading platforms and gangways for their major truck and railcar loading applications to measure for specs, determine the appropriate products, and pinpoint costs.

Use of the custom configurator software tool allows a sales person in minutes on an iPad screen to digitize complex engineering rules and guide the development of custom, configurable products. Using such a system can reduce development, design, and delivery time from three to four months to approximately two to three weeks, streamlining the supply chain.

Providing sales teams with simpler solutions to close deals can reduce the number of sales calls, shorten the sales cycle, and increase productivity of sales visits. Success in the highly competitive industrial industry requires companies to have the ability and the agility to continuously utilize effective approaches and processes to optimize customers’ supply chains.

Looking into the future, the winners in any market segment—whether a company is selling conveyors or shelves or chemicals or doors—will be those who optimize and master the customer buying experience. Providing clients with a visual, efficient, and quick buying experience can make all the difference.

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