[Note: This originally appeared on David Gardner’s Fast Company Expert Blog ]
– Your company offers disk and tape storage sub-systems that attach to every type of computer ever offered by a longstanding, major computer manufacturer—a very large number of computer types.
– Each storage device could potentially attach to a myriad of different storage controller devices in conjunction with many of those computers but each device/controller/operating system combination requires engineering development and testing to ensure that it works properly.
– Every storage device, controller, cabinet type, external cable set, etc., could be ordered a la carte but your company provides little guidance to sales or customers about which storage devices had been released or will be released on specific controller interfaces and operating systems.
– A VP of Sales who guided his team to “sell whatever you can and put the pressure on headquarters to make it work.”
Sound implausible? It’s not; I know this first-hand. The permutations and combinations were nearly infinite and worsened each time a new storage device became available. New products were constantly being added and deleted from the company’s offerings.
The company’s key challenge was keeping track of allowable configurations and providing a means to order new storage systems as well as sell storage add-ons to existing systems (50% of revenues).
The business need was similar to an air traffic control system where guidance is needed about what’s arriving (new offerings), what’s departing (products no longer available for sale) and what is currently available and under what circumstances.
Company headquarters focused not on simplifying the challenge of letting sales and customers know what was available for sale but in creating discrete SKU’s reflecting each permutation and combination that might be ordered. This was, of course, an incredible waste of energy and time to create this mass of nearly irrelevant information that no one in field ever saw, understood or cared about. Frankly, no one benefited from this approach, not even the folks at headquarters.
Regardless of the industry you are in, if your customers want to order a la carte, then the customer-facing and sales-facing approach must be consistent with the a la carte approach.
Not having a process to support a la carte ordering in what is really an a la carte world creates organizational gridlock, disappointed customers (when they later learn that what they bought hasn’t been created or is not feasible) and inefficient sales teams. An a la carte approach simplifies the business for everyone on the front end as well as the back end.