Management and New Technology
General Electrics’ Lighting Division has consistently invested in technologies to streamline their channel management operations. The Lighting Division generates over 80% of its revenues from indirect channels, relying on distributors, resellers, partners, and service organizations to accomplish sales into key commercial accounts. In order to support channel partners and increase the sales of GE Lighting products with them globally, the division has created a series of channel management applications aimed at increasing channel partners’ productivity. The span of support that must be delivered to channel partners including lead generation and escalation, pricing for standardized and exception products, training on new products and installation tips and techniques for existing products, and a comprehensive set of after-sales service and support applications. As the majority of distributors, resellers, partners, and service organizations are non-exclusive to GE Lighting, they can also resell competitive products. GE Lighting therefore is challenged with not only making them productive with their current sales levels, but also increasing their sales productivity and loyalty in the process. The strategic goal of bringing together the applications mentioned is aimed squarely at creating higher levels of sales productivity and as a result, loyalty, for GE Lighting products.
Current Technology Approaches in GE Lighting
At present GE Lighting Division relies on a series of Intranet sites created in Microsoft SharePoint for sharing leads, training materials, and service bullets. These are content management repositories and as a result of SharePoint’s architecture allowing only for the publishing and sharing of information, GE Lighting’s channel management team must send out many e-mails a day with links to documents that might of interest to resellers. There is no personalization, and given the SharePoint platform, no opportunity to add in new applications. In essence GE Lighting today has an electronic filing cabinet that allows for the storing and retrieval of documents only.
The senior management of GE Lighting has specifically set the following goals relating to their channel management strategies. First, at a minimum 25 leads a month need to be forwarded to each channel partner globally, with lead escalation logic applied to each. Lead escalation logic says that if the sales lead is not followed up on in 72 hours it will be sent to the next adjacent reseller in the general geographic area. Second, the channel management system needs to be able to respond to customized pricing inquiries and price exception requests automatically. Today this process takes 24 hours for a pricing inquiry through the Sales Operations Desk and 72 hours for a price exception to be created. While these processes have given GE Lighting the ability to win business, they are losing much more than they are winning due to competitors being faster to respond. Third, creating interactive learning materials and tools including online courses and OnDemand webinars specifically on complex installations of existing products and in-depth learning on new products is critical. Fourth, the need for being able to automatically generate Return Material Authorizations (RMAs) and have them tracked within the Services Systems is also a critical requirement. Fifth, the need for generating quotes that include both products and services is critical. All five of these objectives are difficult yet attainable when only SharePoint is used, yet the stress placed on processes is very significant. The many processes surrounding these five objectives would most likely slow down and possibly fail in certain instances. As a first step to these objectives however the many processes in each of these areas needs to be evaluated, re-designed for greater efficiency, and then selectively automated beyond a content management system like SharePoint that is in reality a shared, electronic file cabinet with little functionality or application depth beyond that.
Technology Strategies Anticipated to Accomplish Business Goals
GE Lighting Division’s expectations for SharePoint were not realized, and as a result, the division moved to adopt a globally-based Partner Relationship Management (PRM) system that includes integration to both reseller order capture and distributed order management systems so that all channel partners could place orders and track them through manufacturing to fulfillment. GE Lightings’ channel management had found that through discussions with resellers that of all applications designed for the five objectives, having a coordinated order capture and order management system was critical. Second, the objective of managing pricing both in terms of quotes and handling pricing exceptions was accomplished through the development of a Special Pricing Request application. As Columbus (2003) has stated, the automating of special pricing requests is one of the highest ROI activities for a channel organization to pursue. Third, the automation of lead generation and escalation in conjunction with the development of quoting and custom product ordering was developed both at the process and software application level. The lead generation application specifically focused on creating a lead escalation roadmap that allowed for any reseller to see the status on a 24/7 basis of all leads, and also see which ones were going to be escalated if no activity was completed in 72 hours from time of receipt. This led to a 30% increase in lead closure rates in the first month, on a global scale. The ability to tie leads to quotes is also a critical workflow for resellers, and to accomplish this goal, GE Lighting implemented a that spanned both lead closure and quoting completion applications, which gave resellers a significant boost in productivity overall. As AMR Research (2003) has stated, the ability of to traverse the simplistic to the most complex product configuration requirements and encapsulate them into a quote for commercial customers is critical for . Further, quoting for customized products also allows for greater potential for higher margin product sales as well. The last objective, which is the automating of the Return Material Authorization (RMA) process, also was accomplished through the use of the PRM system installed, once integrated to the services systems.
GE Lighting began with five strategic objectives and initially relied on a relatively simplistic content management system in Microsoft SharePoint to accomplish its objectives, which were only partially attained. After interviewing resellers, completing process re-definition and analysis, and implementing a comprehensive PRM system did GE Lighting attain its channel management series of objectives. The key lessons learned are to first look at the processes that are critical to the channel objectives being attained, and secondly, to define only those applications that compliment and not hinder the attainment of objectives. Third, getting resellers and their customers involved in the system design and providing them an opportunity to contribute to its definition, functionality, and scope was critical. As a result of doing this, both resellers and their customers adopted the system more quickly than they would have otherwise. In the end, GE Lighting was successful with this implementation due to their ability to to their resellers while attaining their objectives at the same time.
AMR Research (2003) – Configuration is the Heart of Customer Fulfillment for Complex Product Manufacturers. AMR Research Report. Monday March 31, 2003. Retrieved from the Internet on May 31, 2007 at http://lwcresearch.com/filesfordownloads/ConfigurationIstheHeartofCustomerFulfillmentforComplexProductManufacturers.pdf
Columbus (2003) – Squeeze the revenue out of your Special Pricing Requests. AMR Research Alert. Tuesday November 11, 2003. Retrieved from the Internet on May 31, 2007: