This machine looks great, but where is my one?

When a customer came out with this statement, there was a rude awakening for a machine tool manufacturer who had just shown the client the machine they had supposedly ordered. By the time the salesperson from the manufacturer told us about this, he was able to laugh about the whole thing. But when it happened, no one was in the mood for laughing. So what had happened? The salesperson had generated the offer for the customer using an Excel tool with standard options, prices and descriptions. They noted the customer’s requirements simply by overwriting the default text. When the order was processed, the responsible office colleague entered the order into the SAP system using article numbers from Excel. The text modifications with the customer’s requirements remained unnoticed. The employee just typed the code of the default option into SAP - an error with costly consequences for the machine manufacturer!

Almost nobody in mechanical engineering can afford to ignore the special requirements of customers. In fact many manufacturers provide their clients with highly specialized solutions. With a well-thought-out modular strategy, the engineering effort as a percentage of total sales can be reduced – but the costs of customization can rarely be completely avoided. In case of doubt, the customer requirements are key. Providing bespoke solutions thus remains a central process. It does, however, involve a high risk, as the above extreme example demonstrates. It is therefore all the more important to master this process! It is at this point that Excel-based price lists, with which many machine manufacturers still generate their offers, reach their limits.

A professional sales configurator helps to reliably process orders that involve special components. When preparing offers, the sales staff can manually insert a new special item or modify existing standard options. In both cases, the configurator ensures that everyone always immediately sees that the offer includes items that differ from the standard. If the modifications are relevant for the price and if the technical feasibility has to first be checked, a workflow is automatically started. This saves internal communication effort and speeds up the clarification. Should an offer document already be required at this stage, it will note that the offer is subject to change and must first be technically checked. Only when a sales engineer has verified the technical feasibility of the engineering components and has set a price can a binding offer be sent.

And there’s another advantage: If the pricing process for engineering components is incorporated in the system, it is highly transparent. Should the subsequent calculation reveal that the costs were higher than initially assumed, the reasons for this deviation can be analysed – information that is extremely useful for future estimates.

So carry on offering your customers tailor-made solutions – but use a process you can rely on!


By the way: the cartoon in this article was penned by our student of computer science Tjark Engelke.