The company Baria Planning Solutions is a specialty provider of spend analysis and management services to its customers. BPS was an early entrant into the market but rapid market growth in the past few years has attracted larger software companies to the market. In order to remain competitive against larger companies BPS has expanded beyond the energy sector to acquire other industry-niche providers. Once additional industry sector firms were acquired BPS was tasked with integrating parts of their operations across sectors to ensure operating efficiency.
Each industry firm provided services to address the same general type of customer needs but they all differed in technology requirements and service delivery. These differences made it difficult to integrate operations between industry sectors. At the most recent year end the company realized a drop in new client sales and client renewal rates. The sales support team had faced challenges meeting the deadlines promised to clients and as a result they could not capture new sales or retain existing clients.
Sales opportunities varied between quarters and across industries. BPS has not yet effectively designed the sales support process to meet varying demand levels throughout the year, therefore causing delays in the process. Variation in demand throughout the year caused the industry groups in the proposal support division to have inconsistent productivity levels. Capacity was being inefficiently utilized in the proposal process. As a result the sales support division had trouble meeting proposed deadlines. This then resulted in customer dissatisfaction as well as delays in assisting the salespeople. BPS believed an industry centered approach would be beneficial and provide a competitive advantage but they did not adequately structure their operations to support such a centric process. The sales support process is fragmented and there is no evidence of shared responsibility or employee empowerment. Because the process is fragmented adequate resources should be provided at each stage in the process and utilized at an efficient level to meet demand.
The acquisitions made by BPS are the precedent reason why the sales team is divided by industry sector and the sales leaders believe it is important to maintain an industry specific orientation. The sales team is divided by industry sector while the sales support team only has one of its divisions divided by industry sector. The salespeople have not been able to receive sales support assistance in a timely manner. Directors have suggested the sales support team organize into divisions by industry sector to provide more focused and dedicated support assistance to the sales division. The sales operations group leader disagreed with the proposal to separate sales support by industry division based on the belief that such a structural change would require hiring additional staff. The director of the sales operations group and the previous director of sales support played an influential role in the implementation of the current hybrid structure of the sales support group. In an effort to streamline the sales support group after the acquisition, all functions within sales support were integrated into teams that could serve all industry sectors acquired except for the proposal support group.
The reasoning behind the proposal group separation was to allow BPS to continue offering and industry centered, consultative sales process. The hybrid structure was unique to the market, as most similar companies were organized into geographic divisions. BPS believed they could differentiate themselves from competitors with an industry centered niche. However, the industry specific focus could quite possibly be the reason why the sales support team hasn’t been able to meet deadlines and has been missing out on new sales and renewal opportunities. The entrance of competitors in the market has increased customer buying power and their evaluation of alternatives when buying business solutions.
Quality assurance of the proposed value BPS offered was an emerging requirement for customers. BPS adopted a solution selling process to meet customer quality expectations and expected the additional performance would create demand which in turn would increase new sales and renewal rates. Because solution selling was a consultative sales process, a considerable amount of additional effort was required in the pre-contractual stage of the sales process to demonstrate value to customers in the proposal. It is important to have the proposal ready in time for the customer. Any delay will discredit the quality and service promised in the initial selling process resulting in lower customer retention rates.
*Hire additional resources to handle the large workload place on the proposal support staff. Sales support is a service process that requires human capital rather than physical capital. If additional resources are acquired they should be additional staff. Additional capacity should first be added at the bottleneck before it can effectively be added to other divisions. *Integrate all areas of sales support and get rid of the industry centered structure of proposal support. BPS has relied on the unique industry-centric organization of their sales support and salespeople for competitive advantage. Customer surveys to gauge how much they actually value the industry niche approach could be useful in determining what effect any deviation from industry focus would have on demand for BPS services. *Organize all sales support divisions into industry centered processes.
This would likely require a significant amount of time and resources dedicated to training and salary expenses. This would be a mid range solution. For now the focus should be on immediate solutions. *Continue or discontinue with the solution selling process. The current trends of consumer choice in the industry, BPS should continue using the solution selling process. In such a service sector, customer satisfaction is vital to stimulate future demand especially if there are other available alternatives. *Cross-train or hire new employees to meet demand and improve utilization. It is relatively inexpensive to cross-train employees [($105,000/52)*3=$6,058] but additional hires might be necessary to meet the demand that cross training cannot. Analyzing utilization rates would help to make this decision.
In the service sector, demand management involves scheduling customers while capacity management involves scheduling the workforce. Often in the service sector managing demand is not feasible, so companies must focus time and resources on managing capacity. The Theory of Constraints provides a useful framework to address the issues faced by BPS. There is obviously a constraint in the sales support process that must be identified. Exhibit 4 in the case shows the maximum sales support hourly times spent on each function fall outside of 3 standard deviations from the mean amount of time spent on each function. Once the sales support has been redistributed to the highest demand industry sector each quarter, the process should be able to handle the capacity required to fulfill the requests in a more efficient timely manner. Thus, the seasonal variations in demand can be met and assignable variation can be eliminated. The process time variation is expected to be reduced and more reliable utilization estimates can be determined. The utilization rates shown in Exhibit 7 of the case should be calculated for each quarter to identify how much pressure there is on a division each quarter and how feasible it is for the division to handle their workload without delay during each quarter.
By doing so, it becomes apparent that the seasonal variations in the workload are the reason in proposal delays because the current staffing levels make it impossible to complete such variable demands. The utilization rates by division by quarter are displayed in Appendix 1. Cross training workers and/or hiring additional workers would enhance the capacity to meet the demand. The industry sector proposal divisions are the constraint in the system and can be fixed by offloading the work or increasing the capacity. Adding human resources and distributing them throughout the division will decrease the effect they have on the proposal delays. To improve utilization of resources the following scheduling and staffing requirements are recommended and the subsequent utilization rates are shown in Appendix 2. Hire two part time workers and cross train two full time workers. For a total equivalent of 14 workers on the Proposal support team.
In Q1 move 2 full time people from government to retail. Place one part time worker in energy and one part time worker in government. In Q2 no full time workers will change but one part time worker will go to retail and the other will go to energy. In Q3 move 1 full time person from retail to government. Place one part time worker in government and the other in retail. In Q4 move 1 full time person from government and 1 full time person from retail to manufacturing. Place one part time worker in retail and the other in manufacturing. For now, only the proposal support staff will be redistributed. Ongoing quality management will indicate the need for additional staffing changes. By redistributing the proposal staff each quarter, utilization becomes more efficient and capacity is more consistent with expected demand.
Variation due to seasonality should be eliminated. Continuous quality improvement through monitoring the sales support process will provide additional information as to how capacity can be further managed. Process cycle time will provide evidence of the proposed utilization improvements. Customer service is an important aspect of quality than BPS will need to access often if they want to continue with a solution selling process. The solution selling process is essential to the value proposition and will enable BPS to remain competitive in the spend analysis service sector. Utilization improvementswill result in improved cycle times by eliminating variation in the process. Minimizing delays will create value to the customer as well as to BPS and improve customer satisfaction which will almost guarantee increased win and renewal rates.