Nternal Records System

Marketing managers rely on internal reports on orders, sales, prices, costs, inventory levels, receivables, payables, and so on. By analyzing this information, they can spot important opportunities and problems.

The heart of the internal records system is the order-to-payment cycle. Sales representatives, dealers, and customers dispatch orders to the firm. The sales department prepares invoices and transmits copies to various departments. Out-of-stock items are back ordered. Shipped items are accompanied by shipping and billing documents that are sent to various departments.

Today's companies need to perform these steps quickly and accurately. Customers favor those firms that can promise timely delivery. Customers and sales representatives fax or e-mail their orders. Computerized warehouses fulfill these orders quickly. The billing department sends out invoices as quickly as possible. An increasing number of companies are using electronic data interchange (EDI) or intranets to improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of the order-to-payment cycle. Retail giant Wal-Mart tracks the stock levels of its products and its computers send automatic replenishment orders to its vendors.4

ALE INFO MA ION

Marketing managers need up-to-the-minute reports on current sales. Armed with laptop computers, sales reps can access information about prospects and customers and provide immediate feedback and sales reports. An ad for SalesCTRL, a sales force automation software package, boasts, "Your salesperson in St. Louis knows what Customer Service in Chicago told their customer in Atlanta this morning. Sales managers can monitor everything in their territories and get current sales forecasts anytime."

Sales force automation (SFA) software has come a long way. Earlier versions mainly helped managers track sales and marketing results or acted as glorified datebooks. Recent editions have put even more knowledge at marketers' fingertips, often through internal "push" or Web technology, so they can give prospective customers more information and keep more detailed notes. Here are three companies that are using computer technology to design fast and comprehensive sales reporting systems:

■ A , I . Before heading out on a call, sales reps at this telecommunications equipment company use their laptop computers to dial into the company's worldwide data network. They can retrieve the latest price lists, engineering and configuration notes, status reports on previous orders, and e-mail from anywhere in the company. And when deals are struck, the laptop computers record each order, double-check the order for errors, and send it electronically to Timeplex headquarters in Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey.5

■ A a Ha Ca Formerly called Baxter, Alliance supplies hospital purchasing departments with computers so that the hospitals can electronically transmit orders directly to Alliance. The timely arrival of orders enables Alliance to cut inventories, improve customer service, and obtain better terms from suppliers for higher volumes. Alliance has achieved a great advantage over competitors, and its market share has soared.

■ M In 1996, San Francisco-based Montgomery Security was in a bind. To remain competitive in the financial sector, this Nations Banks subsidiary had to find a way for more than 400 finance, research, and n sales or trading employees to share information about companies whose stock they were considering taking public. Yet all of the departments at Montgomery had different database formats for their records; some even kept files on notepads. The company solved the problem with Sales Enterprise Software from Siebel Systems. It gave Montgomery significant gains in productivity. With a common database format, everyone could share information and keep confidential information secure.6

The company's marketing information system should represent a cross between what managers think they need, what managers really need, and what is economically feasible. An internal MIS committee can interview a cross-section of marketing managers to discover their information needs. Some useful questions are:

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