March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 09.04

Finding Success One Link at a Time

An industrial supplier's sales force finds happy trails with a new Palm-based CRM application.
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By Eric M. Zemen




When your customers are so impressed with the technology your sales reps are using that they ask how they can get the same thing, you know you’re doing something right. Bearing Belt Chain is a Las Vegas-based supplier of bearings and power transmission materials that has been doing something right for more than 40 years.

Heavy industrial users are Bearing Belt Chain’s largest customers, but it also serves Good Humor Ice Cream, McCarran Airport, Wal-Mart, the local hotels and casinos and other diverse businesses. According to President Steve Philpott, “Where auto parts and truck parts stop, we start.”

With such a long list of customers, it’s no wonder that the sales team has its hands full. A little less than two years ago, the company’s 10-member field sales force found itself becoming almost too busy, primarily compiling records and follow-up materials—in short, spending too much time on paperwork.

A Celestial Event

Philpott knew it was time to act and contacted software company Intuit Eclipse. “We had the Eclipse software installed in 2000. During that time they were working on being able to push the data into Palm devices, and Intuit fit with what we were looking for from servers down to small devices. We tried laptops, but in our business environment they were too big, more than we needed to get the job done, and, worst of all, getting destroyed,” notes Philpott. Intuit designed the customer relationship management (CRM) software that Philpott’s salespeople now use on their PalmOne (including PalmIII and Treo 600) handhelds.

According to Philpott, installation was “transparent to us. They took care of all of that with very good support and good documentation.” When it came time to train the sales team, Intuit set up a webinar. A short three hours later and the team was trained. “We were up and running the very next day,” says Philpott.

With the old paper-based system, a sales call would require the salesperson to fill out a form, which would then have to be entered into the company’s system. This was proving efficient enough in terms of collecting information, but too cumbersome and time-consuming overall.

The CRM software allows sales reps to download to their handhelds each client’s sales histories (quantity, price, product), the order status and their accounts-receivable base. A salesperson can also see how his or her coworkers are working with a client. Salespeople can input data following a sales call, including orders, and that info is downloaded to the company’s server at the end of each day. Anyone at the company can bring up that particular customer’s account and see any sales call reports and field comments, or whatever other information is pertinent. That comes in handy when the customer calls and their specific salesperson is unavailable. Help can be provided by anyone at Bearing Belt Chain because the customer record has the up-to-date information that the salesperson collected on his handheld.

As long as the sales team is “religious about synching and keeping their schedules up, everyone has access to the customer information,” notes Philpott. “The system lets them highlight the customers they are going to see and knows to download the right sales history. The team only carries specific sets of info at a time, a day in advance.”

Each worker’s day actually starts the night before, when he hard-syncs his Palm. The next day’s schedule is downloaded, so he knows exactly who he’s meeting with the next morning and can go directly to his first account. All the customer data, going back two years, is also synched, so sales workers have access to all the information. During the sales call, they can make comments, close calls out and order brochures, before going to the next customer. Cash and credit card payments are processed when the devices are synched at the end of the day.

It has provided Bearing Belt Chain’s salespeople with the means to get more done with less paperwork and to be more accountable. So far the response has been “very enthusiastic. It’s allowed them to give up a paper reporting process that most people hated,” admits Philpott. Less time spent on paperwork also means more time spent interacting with customers—a characteristic that is vital to Bearing Belt Chain’s success.

Managing Fewer Headaches

Such a consistent information flow makes life easier for Philpott as well. He gets his sales call reports sooner and without difficulty. And the information is highly usable. “I always had a challenge getting the paperwork from the guys on a timely basis. Now I can go in and look at a particular salesperson and do a snapshot of any day or week, check their call load, see if they’re generating leads and so on. I can also do a hot key to each sale and find out the exact margins. It’s been very beneficial,” says Philpott.

The response from customers has also been positive. “We have actually had customers ask for demonstrations for their management to see if similar models can work for them,” says Philpott. “The PDA is easy to use on the shop floor and can be configured to suit many purposes.”

This solution has helped make Bearing Belt Chain a low-cost provider. “People see how intelligent the sales staff are and it endears us to customers, makes us closer. Manufacturers will look for particular people and we’ll know right where to send them. We know more about a customer and his usage than he does, which gives us real good credibility. And the margins have improved noticeably. We have very high profit margins for our industry.”

It has also helped the Bearing Belt Chain Company keep its costs down and its feet on the street. Before, one sales rep could handle 20 accounts; now he or she can handle 50.

Bearing Belt also added engineering formulas to the handhelds so they can do calculations for things like air-handling devices and energy-efficient motor calculations. Instead of writing down notes, taking them back to the office, pulling out books, doing calculations and getting back to the client, reps can take out their handheld and give the customer an answer in the field.

Philpott says he is interested in making the system wireless at some point in the future, but for now is happy with the ease-of-use, report-generating capabilities and functionality of the solution. Bearing Belt is also considering using the PalmOS devices to capture signatures and manage routes for the company’s three drivers.

Still, the biggest benefit to Philpott’s mind is that, “It makes my people look very intelligent.”•
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