One challenge facing many businesses in distribution, manufacturing and technology is the need to ensure quoted prices meet the objective of the business. Too often a business finds that a sold project or order doesn’t generate the expected profit once it’s complete.
Although there are a number of reasons this may happen, one source of the problem can be inaccurate quotes, quotes missing important details or sales reps cutting corners to generate a sale.
One-way businesses try to address these issues is to place layers of approvals on sales reps. Criteria for approvals vary from business to business but may include one or a combination of project size, margin, discount or technical aspects of the project that require a product manager review. All these considerations can slow down the selling process and leave customers waiting for a quote.
In many cases, companies implement approval requirements but have no way of ensuring approvals are followed. For example, a company that relies on Word and Excel files to issue and track quotes, may require approvals based on discount or selling price. The challenge is that these documents are in the hands of the individual rep and reviewing quotes requires staff and managers to exchange documents and emails. If your sales staff is small this approach may be manageable, but once the team exceeds even a half dozen reps the process breaks down. Managers find they are spending too much of their day reviewing and approving quotes and auditing the process is almost impossible. In short, quotes get issued that fail the approval matrix or incorporate errors or missing items. Problems are further compounded every time the approval matrix is changed and the worksheet needs to be reissued to staff. Outdated copies can linger for months with obsolete information.
The need for management approvals is a non-value-added step. If they are needed, they must be simple, easy and efficient, leading to minimal delay to the customer. The best approach is a centralized on-line quote to order solution with integrated workflow approvals. Everything from generating the quote, to securing approvals, and issuing and tracking the quote is in one place. No external files (Word or Excel) get exchanged. Furthermore, if an approval is required notifications are automatically sent to authorizing managers and once approved, the sales rep is instantly notified. When approval criteria changes, the effect is immediate.
A good solution will provide approvals for various criteria with simple escalation. Different levels of authorization can be set for various management levels. For example, a sales rep may have the ability to quote to a specific discount. Within that discount level, they are good to issue the quote, but once outside their authorization the quote must be approved by the direct manager. The manager can approve, reject, or send the quote back to the sales rep with an alternate discount. In some cases, a project may require competitive pricing and the discount needs senior management approval. Again, an on-line solution can be setup to automatically flag all required approvals based on different criteria and escalation (e.g. size, discount, margin etc…).
Technical reviews by production managers can also be integrated into the approval process. Let’s say a customer needs a custom product or a complex system. Based on specific criteria the quote can be flagged for technical review. With everything centralized, it’s a simple process for designated experts to review a quote and provide approvals or send back to the sales rep for refinements.
Another key component to an effective management approval process is accurate and condensed information. This can be in the form of a report or on-line Dashboard. For example, the outside sales rep may be working discount down, but the approving manager needs to see the discount and price, plus the overall margin. A simple, on-line display of the key financial numbers (with detail drill down) allows the manager to quickly decide to approve or reject the request or adjust the sell price.
Quote approvals can be a tedious process and an on-going challenge for businesses. When an approval process is needed, the best approach is one that ties together quotes and the approval requirements with the sales reps and authorization managers in one integrated solution.