Monday, July 25, 2005

Giving Customer Quotations over Internet


In complex business purchases, a price quote contains more than the basic price. It contains the delivery schedule, engineering details, manufacturing process details, legal terms & conditions, quality assurance details, contingency plans, risk mitigation plans etc. The quote has to answer all the questions asked by the customer and also answer all the potential or possible questions that will be asked by the customer.

The readers of the quote will be many and from different backgrounds. The VP or director of Engineering will be interested in the engineering details and schedule. The program manager will be interested in the overall price, schedule the engineering details, CFO will be interested in the pricing details, pricing terms & conditions, Company legal department will be interested in the legal terms & conditions, contingency clauses etc. Thus a quote will be read by many members of the customer organization and each member may give greater importance to a particular section of the quote.

Delivering a Quote
Usually, the customer firm will allocate a single individual to issue the Request For Quotation (RFQ) and that person will be receiving the quote. The common practice of delivering a quote is very formal. The quotation is printed on the company letter head, signed by a senior manager and hand delivered to the customer or customer representative by the concerned salesman.
The main advantage of hand delivering the quote is that one can learn the customer’s response through their body language and through the small chat at the point of delivering the quote.

Human interaction during handing over the quote also builds an interpersonal relationship which will be of immense value in the future. However, this formal delivery of quote has certain disadvantages: Firstly, the customer has to make copies of the quote for other members of his organization to read, a soft copy of the quote has to be emailed to and often printed by all the concerned parties. Secondly, and most importantly, the firm which delivered the quote may fail to learn about the customer’s preference. Salesman may fail to transfer his experience, insights and knowledge gained from that interaction to his colleagues and others in the firm. The firm has no knowledge of any progress or developments once the quote is delivered.

To overcome some of the disadvantages, one can turn to Internet. Delivering a quote over the Internet along with a printed copy will give great advantage to the firm. The possible uses & advantages of delivering a quote on Internet will be described in detail later in this blog.

Benefit from Internet Quote Delivery

Internet is a great tool. The usefulness of Internet need not be reiterated, but the usefulness depends a great deal on how it is used. Giving a soft copy over Internet will have the following benefits to the customer:

  • Customer now has the freedom to read the quote at his leisure
  • Easy distribution of quote - many people can read the quote at once.

The real big advantage will to the firm delivering the quote. Some of the common advantages are:

  1. By having a user ID & password to access the quote online, the company can track who is reading the quote, how many times it was read & when it was read or accessed.

  2. By splitting the quote into multiple pages, the company can track who is reading which section of the quote. Depending on the time spent on that particular page, one can estimate the level of customer interest in that section of the quote.

  3. By having the sales person create a customer access area to the quote and making the sales person enter his experince/opinion of the interaction while delivering the quote - the company can capture that information for use by rest of the company.

  4. Collecting statistics of the online quote usage, a statistical model of customer behavior can be built once a sufficient number of samples are collected.

    Statistics should be collected regarding the frequency of web visits, frequency of any data collection or capture, and the dates of access.

    Tracking the dates will help us build statistical models in future as to how much time it takes from submitting to access to purchase order

Architecture for Online Quote delivery system

The customer portal must be created by the concerned sales person - A standard template & processes can exist, but the salesman creates a customized customer portal which contains the quote details. Salesman creates a user ID & Password for the customer and gives that to customer. He also has to input the contact person in customer company, a customer champion (if any), winning strategy for that account, customer’s pain point as perceived by him/firm, his opinion/confidence on winning the account, and his experience when meeting the customer.

The quote as such will be displayed in a series of web pages. The quote should not be available as a single downloadable document online. Each web page of the online quote will be copy protected, and user can download that single page. This will enable the firm to tack who is reading which page, how much time is spent on each page and how many times its downloaded.

A separate section for customer’s question in each page or a comprehensive customer feedback/question page must be provided to enable customer to clarify his/her doubts. The question page can be linked to cell phone or pager of the sales person responsible for that account and it will alert the salesman when ever the customer sends a question.
All the customer to firm interactions over this web page and all the statistical data collected from that web page will be collected and stored in a database for future analysis.

Web based quote system will have the following section:

Admin Section: For Sales person to create a quote portal for the customer

User Section: For customer to log-in and see the quote. Customer needs to login with a password to see the quote.

Super Admin section: To create the quote template, data capture features and database integration.

Analyst Section: For Sales/Marketing department to collect & analyse data.

The quote will be presented in multiple web pages, each page dedicated for a particular information:

  • Project details
  • Manufacturing/Engineering details
  • Schedule/Effort required
  • Pricing
  • Payment terms & conditions
  • Legal disclaimers, terms & conditions Etc..

Each page will be copy protected. But an option can be given for customer to download that section of the quote in PDF form. This will allow the firm to track the web page visits & downloads.

Each web page will have a question section, where a customer can enter any doubts or questions regarding the quote. This page is linked to email &/or cellphone of the sales person - who is alerted of the customer’s question as it arrives. An query escalation system can be built if necessary.

Data Analysis

Basic use of data capture will help the firm to know if the quote is being accessed & how often. Over a period of time, a whole range of data can be collected for analysis and the system, quote, quote delivery can be further improved based on the analysis.

Data in the quote and customer segmental information can also be captured by this system. This will help the firm to detailed analysis regarding their market segment, process details, schedule improvements, pricing information etc. This will be of immense value for management & Board to improve the business process.

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