Complex products require complex sales solutions, but that complexity has to be in the background. Selectica’s sales and product configuration tools have tried to address this need in the past, but mostly for its customers to use at their own places of business. Until now, that is: Selectica today released the 9.2 edition of its Simplexity Configurator, built to serve the needs of field sales personnel and others who can’t bring powerful desktops or corporate servers with them on the road.
The key features the new release are technical enhancements for laptop deployment of configuration tools. Chief among these is Disconnected Mode, in which, according to Selectica, users only need to load 28 percent of the product-model knowledge base to operate. It can load sales and product models five times faster than previous versions could, and the configurator engine stores any missing information for later synchronization.
Selectica Simplexity Configurator (SSC) 9.2 makes use of advances in notebook PC technology as well. The software supports low-level multithreading, allowing dual- and quad-core computers -- generally the top-of-the-line models -- to distribute the workload across several processors. Built for computers running the Windows operating system (OS), the application is also compatible with Windows Vista -- Microsoft's most recent version of the OS -- in anticipation of wider acceptance.
"A configurator is a massive application; field salespeople want it, but it couldn’t run on a laptop," says Stephan Sorger, a vice president of product marketing for Selectica. "Now, as a sales agent, you can upload only those product lines you need and still have full functionality."
More important than the new product's value to salespeople is what it brings to maintaining channel partner relationships. "What we hear time and again is the Alice in Wonderland story, where you have to run fast just to stay still," Sorger says. "Companies have to grow just to support where they are now, and one way is through channel partners. But if you don’t have easy product configuration -- or you do but it can’t go on the road -- the partners will sell whatever’s easiest for them."
The release also follows a general trend in the sales force automation (SFA) market of putting better productivity tools in the hands of sales reps, according to Robert Bois, a research director with AMR Research. "SFA and CRM have in many cases given sales better insight into their business, but rarely help a rep be more productive; SSC 9.2 is all about making field sales reps smarter about their complex configurable products -- and ultimately better at meeting customer demand right there on site, rather than jotting down requirements and following up days or even weeks later," Bois says.
"Complex manufacturers are finding that speed-to-quote is a key lever for deal closure, and we usually find sales configuration is an easy application category to build [a return-on-investment] model around," Bois adds. "So while SFA and CRM get all the marketing buzz, sales configuration gets the buzz among the actual feet on the street trying to meet a quota."
SSC 9.2 is significant for another reason, Bois says: "In addition to the new functionality, the new release also marks Selectica’s re-coming out party for sales configuration. Not that the product ever went away, but Selectica has brought in a new management team to breathe some fresh life into the configuration side of their business. Given [its] history as one of the founding companies of the configuration market, [the] brand still carries a lot of weight."