In the manufacturing of large, complex products, where each order can be the culmination of several weeks spent selecting from hundreds of thousands of options, success is often defined by the accuracy of the end product. Yet with all the layers of communication between the salesperson and the assembly line, error rates for these companies can run as high as 90 percent or more – a very costly problem in a high-cost industry.
Unless you’re a user of Firepond software, that is. Customers of this niche CRM product, which optimizes the lead-to-order business process for manufacturers of complex goods, report such results as error-rate reduction from almost 100 percent to zero and reduction of the time between a needs analysis and proposal from about seven weeks to one hour. “Typically when you gather information in CRM systems, it’s static,” says Klaus Besier, CEO of Firepond. “Our system maps the information back to the product offerings and options.” In other words, a salesperson sitting down to do a needs analysis with a trucking company would enter all the pertinent customer information and be presented with a list of product recommendations based on the customer’s intended usage of those trucks. The system would then be able to figure out whether the recommended combination of options was manufacturable, come up with a price and financing options and then generate a proposal. The system has been a boon to companies like Freightliner, the world’s largest truck manufacturer, which offers around 180,000 options on its trucks.
It also has made an enormous difference in the sales process for one helicopter manufacturer. For a $10 million rotorcraft, Besier says it used to take the company six to eight weeks to go from the needs analysis to the proposal. With Firepond, it now takes one hour. Another company, which manufactures testing equipment for the chip industry, used to have a manufacturing error rate of near 100 percent due to the complexity of its product and the communication gaps between sales and manufacturing. With around 2,000 orders per year and a cost of $10,000 to fix each incorrect order, the inaccuracies were costing the company tens of millions of dollars a year. Using Firepond, “their accuracy rate is now 100 percent,” says Besier.
“Our system is driven by the customer,” says Besier. “A lot of SFA systems or supply chain management systems approach CRM from the inside out – they have goods they want to sell and are looking for customers to buy them.” Firepond, he says, takes a more customer-centric approach, enabling a customer to create a product to match his needs rather than trying to match his needs to a specific product. “It puts power in the hands of the salesperson or the customer himself,” Besier says.