The Proposal is more than just a popular Sandra Bullock flick showing down at the local Metroplex. It’s also one of the most important business tools used (and unfortunately often ignored) by electronic systems contracting sales professionals.
With its Version 7.1 upgrade, BidMagic improved its online product library with more than 200,000 AV and security products plus a new Web Product Grabb
Companies offering even the most well-designed proposal package would be foolish to promise a profitable and efficient home integration project just by using their software. Most, however, can practically guarantee failure to any ESC using nothing but a pen and paper to draw up their next sales proposal.
A properly designed proposal software package, BidMagic’s Rich Riehl argues, should automatically calculate all equipment, labor, cable, and accessories with speed, accuracy, and completeness. “Without this type of software, salespeople must painstakingly type each proposal, perform manual calculations, and waste lots of time because they do not have a system to manage their products, prices, and labor,” Riehl noted. “Without proposal software, there is no workflow structure, no connection to accounting, ordering, tracking, etc.”
THE DATABASE BACKBONE
The proposal, while being highly visible and one portion that many business owners focus on, is only part of the story. It is also critical for an ESC to have a strong product database, complete with necessary installation items and pre-engineered labor to ensure accuracy in all projects. It is equally important that all facets, including accounting, CRM, design, documentation, purchasing, invoicing, and inventory, all track together, noted Simply Reliable director of business solutions and training Tom Coffin.
Simply Reliable’s SmartOffice is designed so an ESC firm can tailor the look of its proposal with company branding. SmartOffice’s other competitive strength, Coffin said, is its ability to tie all data together and provide for a clear view of how an ESC company actually works, while providing transparency on the profit outcome by project or the company as a whole.
Simply Reliable’s Control Integration tool, which is the result of a partnership with Control4, is the most recent addition to SmartOffice. “Once a prospect says, ‘Yes, I will accept your proposal,’ the integrator pushes what we call ‘The Button That Changes Everything,’ and it creates the base program for a Control4 system,” Coffin explained.
Simply Reliable’s SmartOffice is designed so an ESC firm can tailor the look of its proposal with company branding. The software’s Control Integration tool works with Control4.
It works the other way as well. The integrator can build a Control4 design in their Composer software and press “TBTCE” button, and it will build a proposal from the file.
“When using control systems, there are drivers necessary so that the control system knows how to deal with a certain device, IR, RS 232, Ethernet, etc. In SmartOffice, once you tell the system a device is able to be controlled and point to its driver, you never need to perform that task again. This is another way of ensuring accuracy and speeding up the programming process,” Coffin said.
Simply Reliable is working out a similar design arrangement with Crestron as well as other control companies.
D-Tools, one of the pioneering proposal software companies in the CEDIA channel, most recently released Version 5.5 of its System Integrator software with the goal of reducing time and cost associated with creating bids, system design, and project documentation for multi-room audio and video systems. The company links together information from its database across drawings, lists, and other documentation. Any changes to pricing, availability or other important information can be instantly updated across the entire project file, empowering managers to make single or wholesale changes at the click of a mouse.
D-Tools marketing and PR manager Jill Reddy says that within SI 5.5, any changes to product pricing and availability can be instantly updated across an entire project file, empowering managers to make single or wholesale changes at the click of a mouse.
“SI 5.5 seamlessly integrates with other software, including AutoDesk’s AutoCAD, Intuit’s QuickBooks, and Microsoft’s Visio, PowerPoint, Word, Excel, and Project,” Reddy said. “The product database tracks more than 40 available fields of critical information, such as dimensions, input and output information, phase of installation, time to install, price, cost, and vendor SKU.”
Need Help on Your Next Proposal?
Firefly Design Group founder Ron Callis believes that an AV sales professional’s time is better spent getting potential clients pumped up about AV, rather than back at the office cranking away at proposal software. Some of Firefly’s clients do their own proposals and then let Callis and his team create engineering graphics or sales presentation graphics to help illustrate concepts for a homeowner. Others, however, simply hand off their discovery intake documents, letting Firefly do a custom-branded D-Tools proposal on their behalf.
“We try to tell dealers, when you’re a sales guy trying to make things happen, just be sure to collect good information,” Callis said. “And, we’re trying to train the industry to collect design fees to justify the cost of the designers or engineers that are then going to go back and sit behind a computer and engineer the solution.”
To download this sample set of design drawings from Firefly, click here.
D-Tools recently added workflow and ease-of-use enhancements to its software, as well as new search functionality, drag-and-drop data management tools, and 3D libraries for Google SketchUp users. Previous versions had added client and contact management, a complete scheduling suite, Outlook integration, and service order management. Going forward, D-Tools is focusing on improving its entire data collection as well as publication tools to enable customers to better manage their catalog of equipment.
With its Version 7.1 upgrade, BidMagic improved its online product library with more than 200,000 AV and security products plus a new Web Product Grabber that pulls current product data from Google Product Search. AVAD dealers can directly access real-time product data, including dealer cost. This version also includes new Visio integration with AV shapes that creates floor plans, elevations, rack drawings, and wiring diagrams.
A little over a year ago BidMagic introduced its Project Management/CRM system. The company is looking next to add Outlook Exchange Server with hosting to this product, enabling clients to deliver installation calendars to Outlook and directly to NATIVE cell phone calendars for iPhones, BlackBerry’s, and Smartphones. “Field techs will see their calendars and contacts, view and markup work orders, and clock in and out of jobs from their cell phones,” BidMagic’s Riehl explained. “The resulting timesheets can be sent directly to QuickBooks for payroll and billing. We plan to add a Google Apps version, as well. In addition we are working on advanced project management, change order tracking, and additional professional features.”
Jeremy J. Glowacki is editorial director of Residential Systems.