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Pitfalls in SAP sales order management common to many

Struggling with SAP sales order management? You’re probably not alone. It’s a complicated system, but some careful planning can help avoid mistakes.

While no one in business wants to make mistakes, when it comes to managing sales orders with SAP, companies can rest assured that others are likely grappling with similar problems.

“The mistakes you’re making are the mistakes every other company is making,” said Gil Magana, founder and president of CRMintel LLC, a Dallas-based consulting firm.

Inadequate training

With technology changing at a lightning pace, companies are rapidly trying to keep up with and implement the latest software. But sometimes in the race to put in a new process, salespeople aren’t properly trained on how to use it, resulting in a breakdown in the system.

“The training is not done adequately or efficiently,” said Joshua Greenbaum, principal consultant at Enterprise Applications Consulting in Berkeley, Calif. “So there’s a lot of people who are staring at a screen not completely understanding it.”

The best solution, Greenbaum said, is to make sure all stakeholders are on the same page when SAP is implemented and that users are shown the proper way to manage not just their contacts, prospects and leads, but the sales order itself. Companies should invest in high quality, one-time training seminars so that users learn the most effective way to handle the system and don’t need to relearn the basics later on.

“The most common mistakes are going to be related to poor training more than anything,” Greenbaum said. “The software is pretty effective software.”

Process over technology

Companies often make the mistake of implementing a strategy based purely on technology rather than trying to define the sales process and tailor their software to it, said Greg Langston, vice president of sales at the Harris Products Group, a subsidiary of the Lincoln Electric Company, in Mason, Ohio.

“If you do that, you just automate a dysfunctional process,” Langston said. “The key is to make sure it works on paper first. Once it works on paper, even though it’s tedious, it guarantees a better result.”

When Harris Products launched SAP CRM, Langston first clarified expectations and weekly metrics for his salespeople -- like entering itineraries and sales calls-- and worked them into his SAP system. 

“You need to be very specific in terms of your expectation,” Langston said.

Just be prepared to stick to your guns when it comes to convincing superiors and subordinates that streamlining does help business.

“It’s like walking through glass to get it implemented,” he said. “You’re changing the status quo.”

Customization overload

One benefit of SAP is that organizations can build out their own applications onto its stable base. But some companies tend to go overboard with the extras, leading to confusion among users, data that is difficult to access because of additional layers and repeated processes.

“Something I’ve been saying lately, especially when doing consulting, is try and stay as vanilla as possible when it comes to SAP applications,” said Tom Leddy, the principal engineer for SAP CRM at OfficeMax in Naperville, Ill.

For example, in his prior work as a consultant, Leddy had a client company that customized its system to hide fields and menu options in an attempt to streamline business. In the end, the business would have benefited from the hidden fields: It had to spend time undoing the customization, he said

Data duplication/data quality

With orders constantly pouring into the centralized SAP system, there is potential for signals to get crossed, creating data duplications that go unnoticed and hurt recordkeeping.

The biggest potential for duplicated data comes when the data is fragmented -- for example, if someone in marketing enters a sales client’s name into the system without checking to see if it is there already. Magana said some employees sometimes want to keep their client lists to themselves, for fear others could see them and the customer relationship they’ve built up could be altered, and do not enter it into the system.

However, by not having the data in a centralized system, it can negatively affect data quality, leading to problems for both company and client.

“If data is centralized,” Magana said, “everybody has access to the same information. It’s transparent across the organization, and you’re able to make the types of decisions you need to deliver on the requirement that are necessary to provide value.”

But those decisions must be based on accurate data.

“If they feel they can’t trust the data they’re getting from the system, they feel like they’re not going to be very efficient to do the jobs they have to do,” Magana said.  

Changing the entire system can take time, he said, and he recommends that users at the “grass-roots” level speak to managers and executives about the issues surrounding data duplication and management. While SAP has an application that can help, Magana suggests companies also take proactive measures to prevent duplication.

“There needs to be an organization, whether through business processes or systems reengineering, to design something that tries to keep the data as clean as possible at all times,” Magana said. “It ensures data is not always at 100%, but 90 to 100% is better than most organizations have, anyway. It’s just not a priority.”


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