For many years, and many businesses, Microsoft Office Excel was a heartbeat application—from accounting to front-end sales, procurement to analytics. It’s a superb application on its own and continues to serve small businesses as their core solution. It’s played a major role in the development of ERP solutions, in particular Microsoft Dynamics—it’s an employee’s familiar friend, both feature-rich and easy to use.
Microsoft has ensured that Excel is a critical component in Microsoft Dynamics solutions. As part of a complete business management solution, it can integrate with SharePoint and/or Dynamics web portals and connect with the ERP database for instant refreshing of data. Critical user interfaces look and feel like Excel—for many daily processes, including reporting, users have the experience of using Excel “on steroids.” That integrated development of Excel as an organic part of ERP has led to many small businesses taking the leap from spreadsheets to a full ERP solution. It’s also helped larger companies who have deep investments in Dynamics ERP, CRM, and the Microsoft platform make sure that their employees actually work in the ERP system and don’t create separate worlds of spreadsheets.
Excel is integral to ERP and CRM, why would we want a sales configurator?
We run into a twist, however, when it comes to manufacturing, in particular for make-to-order companies. Whether they’ve been using Excel standalone and developing it with add-ons, or using it as part of their ERP solution, it’s been their tool of choice for quote through order processing. For companies making custom goods, Excel simply can’t keep up with thousands of variables, hundreds of options, business rules, growing demand for real-time visualization, a quote process that connects smoothly and precisely to production—there’s more. There’s a host of reasons why companies using Dynamics ERP with or without Dynamics CRM can benefit from moving from an Excel-based approach with quotes and orders to an integrated sales and product configurator. We’re advocates for e-Con, of course, and we think you’ll appreciate why.
The need: Closing the gaps across quotes through production
As part of the Microsoft solutions family, Excel is an excellent tool for use with ERP, but manufacturers can be hit with serious errors and slowdowns if they’re using it as a quote and order tool:
- Salespeople working with Excel typically still use it as a homegrown tool that does not contain always-current product and pricing information. Result? Inaccurate pricing, product information, and delivery promises. The selling process isn’t connected to the checks and balances of a rules engine that prevents them from creating “product impossible.” Version control quickly becomes a massive problem. An integrated configurator not only ensures that all information is accurate and real-time—it also ensures that changes flow across the entire organization quickly.
- With Excel, quotes can’t be pushed through as orders that are instantly ready for processing and connected to the ERP database. Nor can it serve as the starting point for an automated quote through production process. A configurator such as e-Con can and does. When salespeople quickly convert approved quotes into orders and send them to the ERP back office, they trigger a chain of processes that are all connected and that land as accurate production, delivery, and installation. Goodbye to ad hoc!
- Excel may have automated functions, but it’s still going to require significant manual efforts to create quotes, send them to back office, and convert them to orders. Manual intervention is in open door for errors and omissions. Just as important, you won’t get a crucial benefit that comes with a sales and product configurator like e-Con—a predefined BOM and routing, with relevant information centrally available to different teams.
- As a standalone tool, Excel can compromise security of confidential information than a configurator that’s connected directly to ERP system security features. It’s far easier to hand over or e-mail an Excel sheet with confidential information to competitors or producers of subsidiary products.
The alternative: An investment that could pay for itself within 6 months
We’ve noted or alluded to some of the many benefits that an integrated sales and product configurator can offer over Excel. There’s centralized information that flows directly from the product configurator rules engine and integrates fully with ERP data. You gain a streamlined quote-through delivery process that’s designed to safeguard accurate product availability, versioning management, and rules-based control over all sales processes.
Here’s a start—explore yourself
Your salespeople will impress potential customers with a sophisticated, well-branded sales configurator that offers a rich product catalog, guided selling, and 3D visualization. What prospects see is a company with a well-defined portfolio, easy ways to tailor products, and proposals, quotes, specs, and orders that can be accessed online or printed in the format they prefer.
And a configurator like e-Con can offer what might be the benefit that seals your decision—a user experience that works much like Excel for many critical tasks. People will use it.
You’re the best judge of your business’s needs, but if you’ve been challenged by the issues of parting with your employees’ favorite tool and the need for something more, have a deeper look at configurators, in particular those that cover both sales and products, offer mobile and web-based access, and offer an experience that doesn’t make people feel like they’re losing Excel. There are great offerings on the market—our favorite is e-Con of course, but we realize it’s most important you get your business’s needs met. At the least, you can explore e-Con and see the advantages of investing in a tool that can give so much and offer a quick ROI. Have a look at our customer story for StarGrup, a glass producer in Turkey, and explore our product pages for Sales Configuration and Product Configuration. Of course, don’t forget to visit our demo-lab for a hands-on demo. It’s worth exploring how you can expand from Excel and see great results that include satisfied employees.