When selecting a vendor for product and sales configuration there are a number of things to take into consideration. Below we have made a list of key functionality and critical questions that you should include in your questions and Request for Information (RFI) to the different vendors.
Your company’s needs may be different so we recommend either using an independent consulting company to help you with the screening and to read other resources as well.
1. What is the track record and experience of the configurator vendor?
The track record of the vendor is the best way to determine if the vendor is a serious competitor in the market. A vendor with experience from a multitude of business verticals is usually good, but even more important is the vendors experience with the type of products your company produces. It is important to be allowed to speak to the vendor’s references, preferably from your company’s business vertical.
2. Does the vendor offer to rent or buy the application?
Some vendors only offer only one or the other option, and this may be a problem for your business if your requirements are the opposite of what the vendor is offering.
3. What kind of project model does the vendor use in their implementation projects?
Every configuration project will require some customization of some kind, and since this may be costly if done inefficiently it is important to make sure the vendor has a good project model that fits your needs.
4. Can the configurator be seamlessly integrated into other systems that your company uses, such as ERP, CRM, PDM/PLM, CAD or e-commerce? Do connections already exist to your systems?
All vendors state that integrations are easy, and that they may integrate to any system. However, deeper integrations are always expensive. If you need integration to a specific system, make sure standard connectors already exist.
5. Can your resellers and customer access and use the configurator tool?
If your company’s products are sold through resellers or bought directly by customers on the web you need to make sure these requirements are covered. This applies both to the licensing model and the technical properties of the tool.
6. Does the vendor offer/demand to host your application?
Hosted solutions have both advantages and disadvantages which we will not go into here, but the question is whether the vendor offers the type of solution you are requesting.
7. Can the application be used offline without an internet connection?
The need for offline applications decreases every year, but some places do still not have Wi-Fi. If your company requires the tool off-line, make sure the vendor offer this out-of-the-box because it is not simple to implement with custom coding.
8. Does the platform have built in ways of adding information texts, information images and 2D/3D visualization?
For your company’s sales people to be able to start selling a new product with a lot of options, the tool needs to include help functionality for the options. A platform that can be used out-of-the-box should be prepared with some content management functionality to be able to add information texts, images and visualization for these options.
9. Does the platform have document generation included? How do you create templates for quotations and specifications?
A quote document should be configured based on the information in the configurator. These quote documents are put together using different methods, but all are time consuming. Make sure it is easy to create and update quote documents (drag-and-drop from configurator or simple tags), and make sure that there are very few button-clicks between an update and a test.
10. Is the configurator technology capable of solving challenges presented by your sales and product configuration?
A configurator must look beyond article numbers and simple relations. A myriad of factors can affect the configuration of a product, and you must be able to use properties of components and describe why things work together. You must also be able to determine the final price and specific delivery requirements. Make sure your chosen configurator can handle these complex variables.
11. Is the platform modern and will it continuously to be developed?
This is a difficult question to get a good answer to, but you may ask the vendor how old the platform is. A new platform will be missing functionality, but is most probably continuously developed. An older platform may be discontinued within a few years – which may be a problem for a tool that has a long lifetime.
12. How long time does it take to add a new article or component in the sales configuration? Does the administrator have to change any rules or constraints to do that?
This question might not get a good answer in a RFI, but you may ask to get this demoed in the first meeting with the vendors.
13. What kind of competence does an administrator need to do the maintenance job in the configurator?
If the vendor states that you need programming skills to develop the configuration logic, the configuration logic may be too difficult to maintain.
14. How long will the implementation take? Does the vendor have references that support their claim?
Vendors tend to diminish the implementation time of the configuration tool during sales. Please ask for references about the implementation times.
15. Can your company maintain master data in currently used databases?
There is an obvious advantage of not being required to store the same product data in several tools or databases. However, this requirement should not be taken as a given to be included in your company’s requirements. Sometimes it may be worth documenting the product in two places due to the nature of sales configurators working with sales modules rather than nuts and bolts which may be documented in other tools or databases.
16. Can the configurator have time restricted rules or constraints for the different release dates of new articles in the product?
This is a very important requirement for some companies with a very dynamics product structure.
17. Is it possible to automatically test the configuration logic?
Make sure the vendor has proper testing tools for the configuration logic, because without proper testing before each release you will have an erroneous configurator and your users will not accept the solution.
18. Is it possible to distribute the maintenance of the configuration logic to a team of people?
Unless your company has a very simple product, you will need to develop the configuration logic in a team. Make sure you may split the logic into smaller units that may be developed and tested separately.
Ease of use
19. How does the configurator make sure that the selected solutions are not just any solution but the best solution for the customer?
This is one of the open questions to the vendor, where they may have different answers to how to solve this important request. The priority of a configurator is obviously letting the user configure a valid product; however to be competitive in the market place the configured product must also be a good solution.
20. Can the user answer the questions in any order?
The user should be able to answer some questions in any sequence; otherwise you will never be able to make all users happy with the solution. This is based on how the end customers state their requirements. For example, some users prefer to select color before shape and other the other way around, while none of them are strictly more correct.
21. Does the configurator inform the user about which selections are invalid in the questions not answered yet by marking them?
Options that become incompatible due to selections made should be marked as incompatible to help the user configure the product of choice. However, these options should not be removed from the user interface because that will hinder the user from finding certain important options which may be more important than the options already selected.
22. Can you make the configurator help the user with invalid selections, and make it give automatic and correct help on how to resolve the conflicts?
An important requirement is not to let the users run into dead ends where no solution can be found, and the tool should somehow give an automatic resolution when running into incompatible solutions.
23. How does the configurator help the less skilled user to select good products without being forced to answer technical questions which are not always understood?
This is a very open question, because the vendors have different approaches to this. Some speak about visualization, other about help texts and some about optimization of the configuration solution. Make sure that you are able to test the tool on your own within your organization.