Selling Big with Technology
Recurring sales, sometimes called "annuities" because of predictable and cyclical occurrence, are an important part of the print and promotional industry. A car dealership orders the same calendars every year, a rec softball league the same T-shirts, a bank the same order of pens—these orders can add up quickly for a distributor, and can become an important and reliable source of income in an otherwise unpredictable industry.
But what if you want to sell these companies more? Say the car dealership would also like an order of decorated coffee mugs as part of a holiday gift for its staff? No big deal, right? You help the client find some mugs they like, get a quote from the supplier, handle their artwork, and seal up the order. But what if they also want to order decorated floor mats for their repair shop? And they maybe aren't interested in buying, but would like to get a quote? And they'd also like to look into branded air fresheners, decorated pens, and maybe some new uniforms for the sales staff?
Now, imagine that all those requests are happening at random times, at quantities that are sometimes small and sometimes large, and sent by multiple people on their staff. The marketing manager needs new direct mail pieces, the owner's secretary needs crystal awards, the garage head needs another order of branded gloves. Now imagine that it isn't just your car dealership client that's like this. It's the softball league. It's the bank. It's the school, the deli chain, the brewery. Are you starting to see where this is going?
Selling "deep" to clients is an oft-recommended sales strategy, but also one that, applied at enough depth and to enough clients, will eventually collapse against the weight of practicality and logistics. Either you hire additional staff to keep up with the orders that are at the very bottom of selling deep—the orders for 25 more branded caps, 200 new decorated envelopes and 15 more uniforms—or you start leaving money on the table. Unless ... there's a third option?
What if there was a computer program that could let your customers order what they wanted from you online, whenever they wanted? And it would keep the mass of small orders from your clients organized? And it could connect directly with your preferred suppliers?
Enter: Enterprise Software
Enterprise software is the technological solution to the complexity problem faced when selling as deep as possible to your clients. It's named after the kind of sale it facilitates, the "enterprise sale" (i.e., a large, multi-part sale that has both a long duration and complex parameters). An example of an enterprise sale would be providing all the branded collateral for a chain of banks over a period of five years, or the complicated car dealership example detailed above.
Enterprise software varies in size and complexity, but the general premise of the software is that it streamlines and automates the ordering process between yourself, your clients, and your suppliers. At the most basic level, this simplification is achieved through customer relationship management (CRM) software that's combined with an e-commerce platform that connects to various suppliers' own systems somehow. However, enterprise software can be much more sophisticated than that.
Susan Godfrey, marketing director for E-Quantum Software Inc., Reno, Nev., described some of the deeper solutions E-Quantum's QuantumNet enterprise software platform offers. "With QuantumNet you have the ability to give your clients an integrated e-commerce catalog," she said. "That catalog can include printed items, promotional products, office supplies, apparel and web-to-print."
She explained that Quantum Net's e-commerce catalogs can be customized to individual buyers, letting you control what products a given client is allowed to browse from. The settings can be narrow, say to three products from a specific envelope supplier, or broad to the point of letting them search the entire SAGE database. Quantum Net's software parameters can also be restricted by user, letting you set restrictions on who at a company can search by what, what budget they're allowed to spend, or even if they need to get their supervisor's permission first.
What's the Value?
The value of enterprise software is three-fold. The first, and most obvious, benefit is automation. The whole point of enterprise software is to allow to sell more to a larger number of clients. "To be able to grow a distributorship, you really have to automate the processes in your companies," said Godfrey. Beyond that though, and what separates enterprise software from more basic e-commerce solutions, is the ability to control and customize the customer experience.
Through stores personalized to each customer, you're able to expose clients to products they might not have known you can provide, without turning them loose on the entirety of the print and promotional industries. You can hand-pick the suppliers and items your client will work with, letting you limit their choices to items you know are of good quality, are provided by a reputable source, or simply will best serve their needs. This controlled product curation keeps you a valuable part of the sales equation, since your opinion and expertise still guide their buying experience. It also allows you to deepen your relationship with customers, since they'll have to ask you about adding to products to their store.
How to Evaluate Enterprise Software
Integrating enterprise software into your company is no small matter. Not only will it be a core part of your company's workflow, but it will also directly interact with your customers and supplier partners. Therefore, it's important to be able to determine whether a particular software product is a good fit for your company. Dale Denham, MAS+, CIO for promotional distributorship Geiger, Lewiston, Maine, shared his thoughts on how to come to a good decision.
"Evaluating e-commerce platforms today is a very, very tough business when you are looking outside of this industry at 'standard' e-commerce systems," he said. "Most distributors should not look beyond the industry service providers, because the cost is at least $100,000 to set up a reasonable website with product data, and keeping the product data up-to-date is very expensive. Geiger has our own platform, but also uses industry sites as well.
"The most important trait to look for from an e-commerce platform is how flexible it is for your needs without too much complexity," he explained. "The more flexible a system is, the more complex it likely is. In the promotional products industry, the features are pretty much set in stone so you can't do much beyond the basic feature set. That is a good thing, and makes evaluating the options much clearer than having to evaluate a platform that requires choices and development," he said. "For the average distributor, the primary decision needs to be how easy the site is to navigate for their client base. If using your site is hard, your clients will easily go elsewhere. The back-end features of changing the options doesn't amount to much for the typical promotional products distributor."