Mechanizing large sales networks

These days, there is a lot of discussion around the benefits that could software has on Small/Medium Enterprises (SMEs); and it does! But today, I’d like to focus on another area that SaaS could have great impact on: the case of large sales networks.

First of all, let me define what I am focusing on: A large sales network is a distributed network that sells a specific range of products and/or services in a large geographical scale and/or from a large number of outlets (outlet being a dealership, a franchisee etc.). Usually, this network is operated by a “big” enterprise (not an SME), such as an exclusive importer in a country or the franchisor etc. Up until today – because of the fact that the network operator is a large enterprise – it is more than likely that software systems have been deployed by this entity to mechanize this or the other network operation. Some typical functions that the Operator would like to streamline are incoming sales orders from the network, visibility of stocks across that network etc. If the operator has been around for some time, it is more than likely that they have deployed some kind customized web-based system to execute these functions. They have either developed it in-house or they have purchased some customizable platform.

Having defined the scope of this discussion, let’s see what are the challenges that these networks are facing and how SaaS can help them:

  • Unified customer database :If the network needs to have instant access on all customers, regardless of their initial geographical show-up and have a clear picture of the customer’s previous transactions with that network, then we are talking about a unified customer database. And this cannot be achieved using stand-alone software deployments in each and every outlet of the network; unless you want to consider replicating customer data from all locations to all locations. I have seen this and, in my opinion, it does not work.
    But if the outlets were working in a multi-tenant SaaS environment, they could have access to one common customer database, while still keeping their privacy on other, more personal data (such as volume of sales, local accounting etc.). Naysayers will argue that sharing the customer database is a bad practice; and maybe they are right – in case of competing outlets. But it is possible that the outlets are not in fact competing with each other if, for example, the outlets are geographically too far apart. Anyway, this is business discussion which does not concern the technology issue that we are discussing here.

  • Customer experience :It is more than probable that you want your customers to enjoy the same (exceptional?!) experience when they are doing business with your network. For example, you need all price quotes to have the same look’n’feel, printed in a format that you have pre-approved and including all disclaimers that your – central – sales policies require. Another example is the seasonal discounts that you may give to a range of products or customer profiles: How can you be sure that all points-of-sale will abide to this or that sales policy? What if the sales software that produces sales quote was controlled by you, centrally, and you were able to setup discount policies…

  • Software upgrades :This is not an issue for your sales process, but unfortunately it is an issue that you have to cope with. If your points-of-sale were “islands of technology” and there was a new software feature that you’d like to deploy or a bug that required immediate response, handling of a large number of them (and probably in different time zones or languages) could be a pain. Of course, today’s technology has addressed this issue in many ways, but it is my belief that no solution is better than this of the cloud software “instant deployment” feature. If you upgrade you central server, then everybody gains instant access to that new feature.

    There are more comments that one could make on this issue, but using a little of technology and a little of the sales process itself, I think it is now evident how an architecture of centralized software can help the network operator. Now, there is one more question to answer: this deployment will be done on a private or public cloud? This is a question that I’ll try to answer in one of my next posts.
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