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Estimating For Custom Products: A Quick Guide To Speeding Up Your Quoting Process.

08 Apr 2024
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Businesses who supply or build custom products have unique challenges that are not solved by traditional software solutions. In this article we explore what these challenges are and what businesses can do to streamline their quoting process.

The Pursuit of Efficiency

In the fast-paced world of business, efficiency reigns supreme. Management consultants and industry think tanks have spent the best part of the past century focusing on standardisation and predictability and the impact has been huge – mega factories that churn out millions of identical products in the most efficient way possible have been the backbone of modern supply chains for decades.

To enforce efficiency, the majority of computerised systems have been designed with standardisation in mind, focusing on the consolidation of common processes and materials into economic batches that reduce the manufacturing cost. Products themselves are ‘fixed’ in design and there is no room for manoeuvre if consumers want something different. 

When it comes to quoting, determining the cost price and selling price for standardised products is relatively simple: “Standard Product A at markup percentage B”.

Yet, for businesses specialising in custom or complex work, the quoting process can be a frustrating anomaly. Unlike selling pre-configured widgets, determining the cost of bespoke solutions requires a deep understanding of client needs. Experienced professionals need to translate the customer problem into a viable solution, and this can involve a complex set of logical decisions and calculations, as well as gathering the latest supplier costs and compiling them into a coherent and easy to understand quotation.

This article delves into the challenges businesses often face when quoting for custom work.

Catering to Uniqueness vs. Streamlining Processes

Many quoting software solutions promote standardisation as a benefit. This approach works wonders for companies offering pre-defined products or services with minimal variation. However, for those crafting bespoke solutions to address unique client challenges, standardisation offers little benefit. It’s like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole – forcing your offerings into a rigid mould can stifle innovation and alienate clients who value your unique expertise.

Businesses then find themselves caught in a catch-22:

  • Standardisation for Efficiency: Sacrifice your competitive advantage by simplifying your product or service offerings to fit a standardised mould. This might streamline quoting and reduce production costs, but comes at the cost of potentially losing clients who require a custom touch.
  • Reliance on Experts: Lean heavily on skilled staff who can decipher complex customer problems and tailor solutions accordingly. This ensures high-quality quotes but can bottleneck the quoting process due to time constraints or a lack of readily available experts. Additionally, relying on a handful of experts can hinder growth as the business becomes overly dependent on their specific and scarce skill set.

Both options present significant drawbacks. Sacrificing your unique value proposition by offering a watered-down version of your services undermines your expertise. Conversely, relying solely on experts creates a bottleneck and hinders scalability.

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Beyond Widgets: What Are Complex Products?

So, what defines a complex or bespoke product or service? Here are some key characteristics that differentiate custom work from standardised offerings:

  • High Degree of Customisation: Solutions tailored to specific client needs and specifications. These projects often involve in-depth consultations and a deep understanding of the client’s unique challenges.
  • Technical Complexity: Custom work frequently involves intricate components, integrations, or configurations that require specialised knowledge. This can range from complex installations to custom-built machinery, each demanding a nuanced understanding of the technical aspects involved.
  • Variable Scopes and Costs: Unlike standardised products with fixed prices, the size, complexity, and pricing of custom projects can vary significantly based on client requirements. Accurately estimating costs for bespoke solutions requires careful planning and consideration of potential variables.
  • Unforeseen Requirements: The nature of custom work often involves a certain degree of uncertainty. There’s always a chance of unforeseen technical challenges or project complexities that need to be accounted for in the quote. Failing to anticipate these potential roadblocks can lead to inaccurate estimates and project delays.

The Hidden Cost of Inefficient Quoting

The consequences of an inefficient quoting process extend far beyond frustration and wasted time. Here’s how inaccurate or slow quotes can negatively impact your business:

  • Lost Sales Opportunities: Imagine a potential client needing a custom solution you excel at, but your lengthy quoting process pushes them towards a competitor with a faster turnaround time. Missed opportunities like these can significantly impact your bottom line.
  • Unhappy Clients: Inaccurate quotes can lead to budget overruns, project delays, and ultimately, unhappy clients. Damaged client relationships can not only affect repeat business but can also destroy reputation.
  • Wasted Resources: Creating inaccurate or inefficient quotes wastes valuable time and resources. Your sales team should be focused on closing deals for customers who need your product or service, not wrestling with complex spreadsheets or software that works against you.

Spreadsheets Rarely Solve The Problem

It’s a familiar journey. A business is started by a technical expert, who can take a customer inquiry and work out a design or solution in their head, or on the back of a piece of scrap paper. Then, they grow and hire more staff and they put together a spreadsheet to help others do the same. Spreadsheets offer a sense of control, however, this approach comes with significant drawbacks:

  • Error-Prone: Manual calculations and data entry are prone to human error. A single mistake in a complex formula can throw off the entire quote, leading to inaccurate pricing and potential project budget shortfalls.
  • Limited Collaboration: Spreadsheets are not designed for collaboration. Sharing and revising quotes can become cumbersome, leading to confusion and version control issues. Imagine multiple team members working on a single spreadsheet, making edits simultaneously – a recipe for disaster!
  • Lack of Scalability: Spreadsheets become unwieldy as projects become more intricate. The sheer volume of calculations and data points can quickly turn a spreadsheet into a confusing mess, making it difficult to manage and update.

The limitations of spreadsheets can significantly slow down the quoting process and increase the risk of errors. Furthermore, relying on spreadsheets can stifle innovation and growth. As your business expands and the volume of quotes increases, the limitations of spreadsheets become more apparent.

The Software Trap

Another common approach involves using dedicated quoting software. There are benefits to this approach – quoting software improves collaboration, helps with tracking conversions, and makes the presentation of quotes much easier with the use of templates.

However, while seemingly like a more sophisticated solution, traditional ‘line-by-line’ quoting software can present its own set of challenges:

  • Expertise Required: A quoting system that includes a database of parts or raw materials, still needs an expert to put together a viable solution. To get around this, businesses will typically configure the estimate in a spreadsheet and then copy the output into a quoting system line-by-line. 
  • Limited Flexibility: Traditional quoting solutions often rely on standardised options and configurations. While this can be beneficial for repeatable products, it can hinder the flexibility needed for truly custom work. Unforeseen complexities or unique client needs might not be easily accommodated within the software’s limitations.
  • Time wasted: Using a combined approach by configuring the job in a spreadsheet, and then again in a simple quoting platform, is an unnecessarily inefficient process that slows down the sales cycle.

These limitations highlight the need for an all-in-one quoting solution that caters specifically to the needs of businesses offering custom work or complex services. Quotis offers a different approach, one that empowers businesses to streamline their quoting process without sacrificing the flexibility and customization required for unique projects.

Quotis: A Smarter Way to Quote Custom Work

Quotis breaks the cycle of complex quoting by focusing on the logic behind product and service specifications, not the products themselves. This innovative approach allows even less experienced team members to create accurate quotes for your unique offerings. Here’s how Quotis empowers your business to tackle custom work with confidence:

  • Logic-Based Configuration: Instead of pre-defining every single product or service, Quotis focuses on the logic behind your custom work. This allows for a more flexible approach, enabling you to create unlimited variations within predefined parameters by answering simple questions. Your team doesn’t need to be technical experts to utilise Quotis effectively.
  • Reduced Reliance on Experts: By simplifying the quoting process, Quotis frees up your most skilled people to focus on other areas of the business where they can add more value. This allows for a more efficient allocation of resources and helps to eliminate bottlenecks in the quoting process.
  • Faster Turnaround Times: Quotis streamlines the quoting process by automating repetitive tasks and calculations. This allows your team to generate accurate quotes faster, enabling you to respond to client inquiries promptly and capitalise on potential business opportunities.
  • Improved Accuracy: Eliminate the risk of human error associated with manual calculations and spreadsheets. Quotis automates calculations and ensures consistent pricing across all your quotes.
  • Scalability for Growth: As your business grows and the volume of quotes increases, Quotis can easily scale to meet your needs. The logic-based structure allows for easy configuration of new offerings and accommodates the unique demands of even the most complex projects.
  • Enhanced Client Experience: Quotis empowers your clients by giving them access to self-service portals where they can review quotes, request revisions, and ask questions. This improves communication and transparency, leading to a more positive client experience.

By focusing on the logic behind your custom work, Quotis allows you to streamline your quoting process without sacrificing the flexibility and customization required for unique projects. You can win more deals, grow your business faster, and maintain your competitive edge by delivering the unique solutions your clients need.

Conclusion

The world of custom work presents unique challenges when it comes to quoting. Understanding the limitations of traditional methods like spreadsheets and line-by-line quoting software is essential. Quotis offers a smarter solution, one that empowers businesses to embrace the flexibility and innovation of custom work while maintaining efficiency and accuracy in the quoting process. By adopting a logic-based approach, Quotis allows you to showcase your unique value proposition, win more clients, and achieve sustainable growth.

If you’d like to learn more, why not book a demo?

See the power of Quotis for yourself.

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