What is Product Configuration?
Product configurator software, usually included as part of CPQ software, allows companies to market, sell, and manufacture their products more effectively and efficiently. Product configurators transform traditional product inquiries into real-time, auto-generated estimates, product descriptions, bills of material, and even more — if you belly up to the right manufacturing CPQ solution.
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Without delay, these are the 6 absolute “must haves” for product configurator software if you are a manufacturer:
1.) Visual Product Configuration
Visual product configuration is a very powerful tool for salespeople, distributors, or customers to self-select options and view immediate results as they build out a product in 2D or 3D space. Modern product configurators allow for dynamic updating of almost any element of a product and sale: base options, add ons, pricing, upgrades, discounts, and more – the list can be truly endless.
This elevated visual product configuration experience is what all buyers are demanding. Many people are accustomed to an eCommerce experience when purchasing consumer goods that these lofty expectations are now expected as part of the buying experience, even for the most complex of products. Frustratingly, even though CPQ and visual product configurators are considered cutting-edge technology for most organizations, it’s quickly becoming a baseline expectation that manufacturers provide this level of customer experience.
2.) Flexible Product Rules Engine
A rules engine is the most critical aspect of a product configurator as it defines all of the rules and conditions to allow for the proper configuration, pricing, and outputs of the order. CPQ rules engines can be tricky, though. Many vendors offer product configurators as part of their CPQ solution and most claim to have rules engines to drive the experience. Upon further inspection though, these CPQ vendors are typically using basic filtering, bundling, and/or custom code and scripts to allow for control of the buying experience in the product configurator. Make sure that it can handle your complex product rules.
The rules engine is one of the areas a buyer looking for product configuration should pay the most attention. Make sure you are taking on a rules engine that is simple to administer, maintain, and will require little to no special training in order to use. Make your vendor show you, in detail, how they orchestrate their rules prior to buying so there are no messy surprises during implementation. Learn how Epicor CPQ solves this with Snap.
3.) Document Generation Lending to Manufacturing Automation
Your sales people, partners, or customers spent time providing valuable data in a very controlled environment when using your product configurator. It would be foolish to ignore the rich data collected during configuration and fail to use it to expedite and improve downstream processes. Product options, customizations, and other related info capture from the product configurator should be able to be pushed to your CRM, ERP, PLM, or other critical business systems.
But that isn’t all. Best-in-class CPQ solutions will use the configured product rendering, including all of the selected options and customizations, to generate an actual CAD drawing that can be used to work out details with the customer or the engineering team until the order is final. This important CAD information can be sent to the production team in order to aid in manufacturing automation and quality assurance.
The production team will also benefit from other auto-generated documents (if the solution is able to provide them), such as detailed pick lists, bills of manufacture (BOMs), cut sheets, shipping/packing lists, assembly instructions, blueprints, and product renderings.
4.) Integration with Critical Business Systems
Your product configurator could, but definitely should NOT, operate in a silo on its own. Your CPQ solution should have the proper APIs and connectors to allow for easy mapping of data, real-time syncrony, and simplified integration with other custom systems, databases, and apps. Let’s talk about this from an I/O standpoint – the data flow going in and out of the product configurator:
These are examples of how you might bring in data to dynamically change the configuration for the person using it:
- Product options or attributes from a PLM or other database that the rules engine will use to dynamically update options in the interface
- Customer information from a CRM that can be inserted into dynamically generated PDFs
These are examples of how sending out data can dramatically improve the collaboration and cycle-time surrounding the product life cycle :
Your solution needs to be able to connect with core systems (CRM/ERP/PLM)
- CRM – for proposal/quote data (SKUs, line-item data, renderings) and customer preferences for a personalized experience
- ERP – as order information to generate POs, invoices, packing/shipping lists, and more
- PLM – to query product designs in PLM in order to satisfy individual and customized customer requests for product variations
5.) Sales Automation Processes
When we talk about Sales automation in regards to product configuration, we often are looking to aid the process in these key areas: Dynamic Pricing, Auto-generated Proposals, and Workflows.
In order to introduce sales automation, it is assumed that the first three items of this Must Have list are already in place. You cannot control dynamic pricing, auto-generate proposals, or orchestrate these transactions without the previous core building blocks in place. I guess that’s why we call them “Must Have’s”, huh?
- Pricing should update on the fly as product selections are made
- Pricing should be controlled by a central set of pricing rules for maintainability
- Product configuration data should flow through to auto-generate proposals in your CPQ/CRM system
- In a perfect world, all information from the transaction would be sent as an order object to these other business systems and can include the orders’ line-item details on product options, visual renderings, pricing, discounts, taxes, and more.
- Workflows should notify teams, approvers, and customers what needs to happen during the product life cycle
- Internal and external emails, approvals, and signatures for the estimating, discounting, and ordering phases of the life cycle
- Handoffs of production information to manufacturing team
- Delivery of CAD drawing to sales and production teams as needed to close the deal or build out the product
6.) Omni-Channel/B2B2C Capabilities
What is omni-channel or BCB2C sales?
Omni-channel sales means that you can expose your product sales through multiple audiences and channels. This could include internal sales teams, partners and distributors, and even direct-to-customer audiences. Digital interactions and sales with these audiences can take place on an internal portal, extranet, or internet facing websites.
B2B2C sales has come to mean different things to different people. Some believe that B2B2C refers to an eCommerce strategy where both B2B and B2C models can be employed to facilitate a complete product transaction. This is the definition that is most akin to Omni-channel.
Others define B2B2C as a business model where a company will access a consumer market via another business, rather than doing so directly.
How do product configurators and CPQ enable omni-channel or BCB2C sales?
The best-in-class CPQ solutions will employ a single platform that can serve salespeople, distributors, partners, and direct customers independently, yet simultaneously. When these potentially diverse set of experiences are controlled by a single product configurator, then they can also controlled by a core set of rules with some variations for each audience. This makes the solution infinitely more maintainable – especially when spread across these divergent audiences and end points.
In order to be available to these outside sales channels, it is imperative that your product configurators are able to be embedded on your internal or external websites. This allows for every audience to self-service and configure their product as needed. This is a must-have for this direct model.
Companies who employ product configurators as part of a larger CPQ strategy realize increased profitability and increased customer satisfaction.
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