Scoping the Deal

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It was the kickoff, after all, so why not have a referee—zebra shirt and all?

What made his presence a little startling was that this was no gridiron match, but day one of a week-long working conference to detail how Tamlin Software Developers could help Puentes Brothers, a Salem, Ore.-based manufacturer and distributor of Mexican food products, automate its business processes to accommodate an annual growth rate of approximately 20 percent. A proposed quarter-million-dollar deal was on the table.

However, before inking any contract, Tamlin was calling for a dialog. As Linda Bryan, president of the Dallas-based reseller and Softline AccountMate vertical business partner, observes, “If the needs of the customer are not properly understood and documented on the front end of a project, it is highly unlikely that you will have a happy customer at the end of the project.”

Partner Insights

These days, of course, meeting customer needs can get very complicated very fast. A Web-enabled, industry-specific, front-office/back-office implementation will probably require input from the client’s sales, marketing, customer service, production, IT, accounting, and other departments, not to mention the business owner or chief executive. On the consultant’s side, it’s likely they will need to bring in one or more reseller specialists. That’s a lot of people, with a lot of different viewpoints.

Thus, the presence of a referee—in this instance, a stripe-shirted Tamlin project manager Jeff Naden—who was there to function as “facilitator” for the Puentes Brothers implementation. This is a team member who is well-versed on the client’s needs and the potential solutions, but who also can run a meeting so everyone’s thoughts are heard. Also, he keeps sessions focused and on track.

Others are adopting their own approaches for getting their arms around an ever-expanding product mix. For instance, Irvine, Calif.-based Best Software has set up a two-day implementation “boot camp,” along with classes in Solution Selling. These have generated over two hundred support tools such as prospecting questionnaires and an ROI calculator. Over a thousand partners have gone through Best’s boot camp.

“The idea is for partners to go about [doing due diligence] in a particularly structured way,” comments Taylor Macdonald, senior vice president overseeing Best business partners. “This [boot camp] is a great way to get them started.”

At the outset of a large, multi-application deal, “you need to do enough of a high-level review so you understand the scope of the job and can generate a proposal,” advises Mike Bongiovanni, senior vice president of sales for Pleasanton, Calif.-based Accpac International. He notes “the more successful” VARs are billing for this up-front analysis, and meeting little resistance because “Clients understand that this is in their best interest.”

Successful VARs also have an implementation methodology in place, according to Bongiovanni. “It’s part of surviving in this industry,” he says. “When you have that level of organization and preparedness, you almost ensure a positive outcome for you and the client.”

Take Epicor reseller Emerald Consulting Partners, headquartered in Norwood, Mass., as an example. Emerald makes a point of collecting sample client data up-front. “I don’t think there’s any magic template,” says president Armand Brunelle. “We try to find out first of all, what are the biggest challenges their organization is facing. Then we earn their business by showing them, using their own data, how they will improve their business.”

At Bat with BANT

Exact reseller Gary Chervitz, president of St. Louis-based Professional Business Solutions, isn't sure at what seminar he picked it up, but he relies on the BANT matrix—Budget, Authority, Need, Timing—when scoping a deal. He ensures there are "real dollars" committed to the program, that he's speaking with "influencers," that he understands the client's "true needs," and there's a near-term time schedule "before we start rallying the troops."
He tries to convene all the key decision-makers in one room. "I usually share this BANT with them face-to-face, and they have to be able to address those four factors in-depth."
Experience has taught Chervitz quite a lot. For one, he always explicitly asks the prospect, "What's the true need? And what are the consequences if you don't do anything?" According to Chervitz, "They better have a good answer or there's not a true need."
He also advises, "You have to shoot high." Even though the client has outlined their pain points, they might not realize their business processes are faulty in some other area and Exact has a remedy. Chervitz isn't hesitant about mentioning modules that may be of help.
Then this final piece of advice: "We hold all the technical questions to the end. That helps keep us focused on business issues and not technical issues."

It’s crucial, of course, to identify and meet with the key decision-makers. “Sometimes the people who have the vision don’t necessarily have all the answers” regarding business processes, affected personnel, costs, and the like, notes Brunelle. “We have to get the right people involved,” which a collaborative review process can do.

Going with JAD

To better understand a prospect’s business objectives, Tamlin has adapted the Joint Application Development methodology created by IBM back in 1977. Bryan stresses the “drastic” differences between the JAD process and traditional needs analysis. The latter essentially stops at project definition and research, with the consultant conducting surveys and interviews at the client site to assemble data for a working proposal.

The problem here is that interviews are conducted piecemeal, with little or no attention paid to establishing a consensus. After all, what the order entry department might consider a top operational priority can vary hugely from what inventory control thinks, even though both have overlapping inventory concerns. Also, as the software consultant picks up new information, it might require him or her to re-interview personnel, stalling the whole process and sapping it of urgency.

The remedy, in Bryan’s view, are JAD working sessions, where management, end users, the solution provider team, and internal IT staff can review the preliminary proposal page by page. “We discuss ‘Should we do this or that?’ and then document why we decided on the final result,” explains Bryan. The discussion involves implementation and training issues, with an eye toward developing a consensus. That’s less difficult than it might sound, for as Bryan has discovered after forty-some JADs, “People start to understand each other better in the different departments.”

In the case of Puentes Brothers, they simply had outgrown their Visual AccountMate LAN system. For one thing, they were now manufacturing 2.5 to 3 million Don Pancho tortillas a day, which needed to be loaded onto trucks and delivered to stores or restaurants throughout the Northwest. For another, they were operating with 150 employees out of three facilities in Salem, Seattle, and Yakima, Wash., which had yet to be electronically networked. Moreover, the company was planning to move into a new 100,000-sq.-ft. building in Salem this summer.

AccountMate business partner Solutions Unlimited in Portland, Ore., got the lead. However, owner Terry Colton quickly discerned, “This was going to be a manufacturing solution with, hopefully, AccountMate as the accounting back-end.” She brought in vertical partner Tamlin, whose proprietary Manufacturing Conductor Shop Floor Control and MC Scheduler seemed to be the obvious solutions.

Also, Tamlin has the database know-how to implement AccountMate 6.0 for SQL, designed for businesses with high transaction volumes. Modules encompass enhanced inventory management, consolidated ledger, price and lot control, and business intelligence.

Asking the Right Questions

Best Software Boot Camp attendees learn how to question prospects in a thorough, systematic fashion, module by module. For example, here is a sample checklist of questions to ask a MAS 90 candidate with inventory concerns:

• Do you have an inventory numbering system currently? What is it? Does it work well for you?
• How often do you do a physical count? Do you use or have a need for cycle counts?
• Do you need a cross-reference for your vendor/customer part numbers?
• Do you need more than 30 characters to describe your inventory items?
• Do you use bin numbers? If so, do you have multiple bins for the same item?
• How many warehouses do you store your inventory items in?

Sources: Clifton Gunderson, Best Software

Tamlin did all the necessary project definition and research, and drew up a preliminary proposal. Now was time for the JAD working sessions, held over a week this past November. Colton was there, as were Tamlin project manager Rosanne Wade and Puentes operations chief Walt Olson, who would help guide the implementation through to its completion.

Puentes Brothers had all key departments represented; chief executive George Puentes was there as well. “I wanted everyone to know I was 100 percent behind this process,” he says.

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